Painting interiors requires precision and an eye for detail – especially when working on an older structure with intricate moldings and trim. Even if you’re painting under excellent natural or household light, it’s not hard to make a mistake or two without adequate backup lighting. Under poor to no natural light, work lights are a necessity.

There are plenty of factors to consider. Brightness and mobility are two major selling points with most painting contractors, but size, bulb type and price are also important.

Types of Work Lights

Two old standbys — an incandescent bulb in a plastic cage and the clamp light — are very portable, inexpensive and highly mobile. Some lamps, which are available as floor and table models, can feature an adjustable tripod base while others are stationary. Some lights are hand-held and some are cordless, while others feature rechargeable batteries or moveable heads to help pinpoint the area you’re painting. Price, typical jobsite needs, and your personal preferences will dictate which type of work light you choose.

Types of Bulbs

In the end, it all comes down to the bulb, whether you own a high-end lamp, a photographer’s tripod or an old-school floor lamp. Many painters prefer to use incandescent bulbs because they’re inexpensive options, but they do use more electricity than others.

LED’s provide white light, which provides better paint color representation. They also last for years before they need changing. The bulbs contain no filaments and generate little to no heat. The smaller versions work well as headlamps, especially when working on detailed trim around intricate returns.

One thing to check before purchasing an LED work light setup is the flicker rate. Some of the less expensive models have a noticeably high “flicker index,” which can be annoying.

Fluorescent and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs provide a cool, bright light, but they tend to cast a slightly greenish or yellow hue on the wall or surface which can skew paint colors.

Halogen bulbs are the brightest options, although they cast harsh shadows and throw off significant heat. This is often not a problem during winter, but many painters feature unique burn patterns on their arms from accidentally touching a bare bulb.

From Basics to High-Tech

Here’s a look at several different work lights. All will brighten any job site.

Woods Clamp Lamp Light with Aluminum Reflector : This basic, UL-listed work light is available with an 8.5-inch or 10-inch adjustable reflector, a 6-foot cord and a push button on/off switch. It holds a 150-Watt incandescent bulb and the clamp is protected by rubber sleeves. This might not be the best light to use when painting large rooms, but at less than $10 each, one or more will surely brighten up a smaller job.

Hallowall Spotlights Work Lights : Advertised as a camping light, this adjustable fixture contains 24 bright LED lights that provide a color temperature of 6000k. The aluminum alloy shell is lightweight and waterproof and the unit contains rechargeable lithium batteries, a wall charger and two USB ports and one cord that can be used as battery chargers for mobile devices. This small (7.2 by 6 by 4.8 inches) unit weighs 2.2 pounds and is priced at less than $30.

Sunlite 30W 120V LED Portable Work Lamp Fixture : This portable floor or table-based LED light fixture is UL listed for damp locations. Despite its compact size (8 by 4.7 by 10.7 inches), the light provides 2,000 lumens and offers a decent CRI of 80. The unit is priced at slightly over $40.

In360Light LED Work Light with Tripod : This heavy-duty aluminum light provides 360-degrees of bright LED light (20,000 lumens). The entire unit, including an adjustable tripod base, weighs only 9 pounds. At about $300, it’s a good thing this can light up an entire room.
Good work lights are just as important as any other tool, so choose those that will serve you best. Even better – look for lights you can use off the job too.