Lighting a Fine Craft Trade Show Booth - Options for the Budget-Conscious Artist

Good lighting is a main ingredient of a successful trade-show booth. Just the right lighting system can help an artist generate the atmosphere of a fine-craft gallery. This will lure gallery owners off the isles and into your booth – the first step toward development a sale.

Lighting is a relatively costly investment. So how does the budget-conscious artist find the right solution?


When it comes to selecting a lighting system, artists new to the trade show circuit often come to be overwhelmed. Prices vary wildly, and each custom center may have its own lighting rules. Lighting technology is changing rapidly, development the choices harder still.

This article details what I learned while tackling the challenge of lighting my 10’X10’ booth at the American Craft Retailers Expo (Acre), a large wholesale show for American and Canadian craft artists. As I am new to trade shows, this information is meant only as a pointer for artists in the process of selecting lighting, and possibly also for more seasoned artists seeing to update their systems.

In examining many dissimilar lighting options, my objective was to illuminate my glass jewelry beautifully but inexpensively. I wanted the lights to be lightweight and modular, to fit in boxes for shipping to the show. I was seeing for modern styling, in silver or black. And I wanted to have at least one extra lighting supervene – not too flashy – to give my booth a unique element.

In his Cd on booth design, art company advisor Bruce Baker suggests 1,000 watts will light up a 10’X10’ booth very effectively. I decided to stay at or under 500 watts, however, because the Acre show includes 500 watts with the booth price, and the halogen lighting I finally decided upon illuminates my displays very well. Since I bought the lights at a “big-box” store with sites in virtually every city in the U.S., I can add more lights once I’m at the trade show if necessary.

The Battle of the Bulb

Contractors option Lighting ( says a light fixture is plainly a “bulb holder.” The bulb, therefore, should drive one’s option of a fixture. This is somewhat true for trade-show lighting, although the fixtures may dictate the types of bulbs, depending on the choices ready at the store where one shops for the lights. The Ccl website offers a “Bulb Photometrics” page ([]), whose graphical representation is a refreshing departure from the complex descriptions of lighting options that have proliferated on the web.

Halogen is the bulb of option for many trade show exhibitors. It offers a crisp, white light. Although habitancy generally refer to halogen as non-incandescent, it is in fact a kind of incandescent lamp. It generates light by using a thin filament wire made of tungsten, heated to white by passing an electric current straight through it. Agreeing to normal Electric, the first halogen lamp was developed in 1959 – not too long ago for many of us!

Halogen bulbs differ significantly from the former type of incandescents we grew up with. The halogen bulb’s filament is surrounded by halogen gases (iodine or bromine, specifically). These gases let the filaments operate at higher temperatures. The end supervene is a higher light yield per watt.

The gases also do something rather miraculous: Tungsten tends to evaporate off the filament over time, and the gases verily help re-deposit the tungsten onto the filament. This extends the bulb’s life way beyond that of the former incandescent bulb, whose evaporated tungsten clings to the walls of the bulb like a smoky apparition and finally the uncoated filament snaps. Who hasn’t rattled a burnt-out light bulb and enjoyed the jazzy cymbal sound of the broken filament inside?

In addition to giving off more light than former incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs emit a whiter light that provides great color rendition. “For highlighting and bringing out true colors, use halogen lamps,” suggests Usa Light and Electric’s website ( “Nothing looks great than the drama brought in with halogen lamps.”

Baker also suggests halogen lights – floodlights in particular – for a modern look, especially for jewelry and glass. It’s leading to reconsider that other fine craft materials such as ceramics and wood might be great enhanced with halogen spotlights, or even with some of the more former incandescent lights that emit a warmer color.

Having decided upon halogen lighting, my next task would be to pick bulbs. The Acre show takes place at the Las Vegas custom Center, which has instituted a literal, halogen lighting policy. Each light cannot exceed 75 watts, and all halogen bulbs must be premise sealed in glass (not in a detachable lens or linear shape).

Thankfully, there is plentifulness of factory-sealed halogen lighting, in the form of Par halogen bulbs. Par is an acronym for “parabolic aluminized reflector.” Par bulbs have a built-in reflecting covering made of pressed glass. The glass provides both an internal reflector and prisms in the lens for operate of the light beam.

Par bulbs are numbered, as in Par 16, Par 20, Par 56. The Par number refers to the bulb shape. has a halogen section of the site where you can quickly compare the various Par bulbs visually. Within a given kind of Par bulbs there are various wattages, wide and narrow spotlights and floodlights, dissimilar base sizes, and even dissimilar colors.

Fortunately I was able to skip the process of deciding on a Par bulb by deciding first where to shop for my lights (more on that below).

Power Issues

When you go to shop for track lights, you’ll observation there’s a option between 12-volt and 120-volt fixtures. 120 is the accepted voltage that comes directly into most homes and offices – and custom centers.

For a lamp using 120 volts, no further parts are requisite beyond a regular socket. 120-volt fixtures generally are lighter than 12-volt fixtures because they don’t need a transformer. They also cost less and can use halogen or regular incandescent bulbs.

I stopped short of investigating 12-volt fixtures, except to find out that they step down the number of vigor being used to a lower voltage, and thus are more vigor efficient. They require a transformer to convert the 120-volt household current to 12 volts, and they may require hardwiring (although one artist I know found a 12-volt fixture with a built-in transformer which she was able to plug into a 120-volt outlet. A 12-volt fixture accommodates very productive bulbs that offer a variety of wattages and beam spreads, along with the 50-watt Mr-16, which is favorite in galleries.

I decided on 120-volt lighting for the trade show, because I wouldn’t have to worry about transformers and could just plug it in.

Choosing a Store and Track Lighting

I read the Acre online forum for clues about where to buy lighting. What one artist said struck me as eminently sensible: He buys all his lighting at Home Depot, because if anything goes wrong at the show, he can find a store nearby for change parts.

This was something to consider: Tempting as the beautiful designs might be, special-order lighting of any kind introduces the risk of having a malfunctioning light for the period of a show.

Another artist on the Acre online forum said he buys his lights from Lowes. It probably doesn’t matter which big-box store one chooses, as long as there’s one in every city.

Since I was new to trade shows and this was to be my first lighting kit, I resisted selecting from the many good suppliers on the web. I placed on the petite but interesting option at Lowes. A side advantage of this was that my choices were favorably narrowed.

Within the kind of halogen lighting, you can get either track lights or stem-mounted lights (with arms extending outward). I went with track lights. This was partly because the stem lights I found on the web were relatively costly and Lowe's didn’t offer them, and partly because with track lights I could have one cord instead of several hanging down.

The Lowes lighting salesperson was helpful in putting together a full package from the track lighting on display and in stock. I decided on four, two-foot tracks to keep the size of my shipping boxes down. Here’s a rundown of what I bought:

· 4 two-foot track sections, folder brand, black finish, Item #225678. Each section holds 2 lights, for a total of 8. Total: .12

· 8 Flared Gimbal Track Lights, folder brand, Item #120673, with a satin chrome cease for a modern look. They are easy to attach to the track by following the directions. Total: .76

· 8 halogen bulbs, Par 20, 50-watt, for bright, crisp light. I bought several floodlights and a consolidate of spotlights. The bulbs are very packable, at a petite over 3” long and 2.5” in diameter. Total: .00

· 2 petite straight Connectors by Portfolio, Item #120716, for joining two of the track sections end to end. The idea is to have only one cord to plug in from a row of four lights. Total: .92.

· 2 Cord and Plug Sets, folder brand, Item #120827, to power track from a accepted Ac wall outlet. I associated these to the end of the two of the track sections by unscrewing the covering on one side of the track. Total: .06

· Various Multi-Purpose Ties (cable ties), by Catamount, for attaching tracks to booth pipes. Total: .00

· 2 heavy-duty postponement cord/power strips – 14-gauge, 15-feet, with three outlets each, Woods brand, from Lowe’s, Item #170224, model 82965. Total: .00

Grand total: 3.86

The Gimbal lights I chose only accept a 50-watt, Par 20 bulb, which made it easy to pick out the bulbs. So in this case, the fixture drove the option of bulb, not the other way around.

According to the Bulb Photometrics page at Contractors option Lighting, a Par 20, 50-watt halogen flood bulb will emit a beam of light with a 5’4” diameter when it reaches 10 feet away. It offers about 12 foot-candles worth of light at 10 feet away from the bulb (a foot-candle is the level of illumination on a covering one foot away from a accepted candle.)

For the sake of comparison, a Par 30 beam offers a diameter of more than 8’ at 10 feet away, and you still get about 14 foot-candles at that distance. What happens if you notch it up to a 75-watt bulb? You get a lot more foot-candles (38) at 10 feet away. This suggests that larger trade-show booths might want to take advantage of higher Par and higher watt bulbs.

All together, the track lighting system I chose uses 400 watts of electricity. This left me someone else 100 watts to add specialty or accent lighting to my booth, while still remaining at the 500-watt limit.

Cords, Plugs and Hanging Lights

The Las Vegas custom center has very literal, rules for cords, plugs, and hanging lights.

The two-pronged, 18-gauge cords that the maker has attached to your lights are accepted (leave the Ul tags and labels intact). These lighting cords cannot be plugged into the custom center outlet, however. Instead, you must plug them into a three-pronged, heavy duty, 14-gauge postponement cord – or a breaker strip with a 14-gauge cord. You can then plug that 14-gauge postponement cord into the custom center outlet.

A 14-gauge postponement cord is capable of handling 1,825 watts. It’s helpful to read the brief extension-cord sizing and protection information on the web pages of the Underwriters Laboratories ( and the University of Florida Cooperative postponement aid ([]) before purchasing a cord.

Bruce Baker suggests the cord be 20 feet with six outlets, and that it consist of a cord reel. I couldn’t find this type of cord at Lowe’s, so I decided on two 15-foot, heavy-duty, 14-gauge postponement cord/power strips, each offering three outlets. If you have a larger booth, you can find a 25-foot cord with three outlets at Lowe’s.

There are so many dissimilar approaches to hanging lights, and so many variables to consider, that it could be a topic for someone else article. In general, you can hang or clip lights onto a cross bar or onto the “hard walls” of your display if you have them. Depending on the rules of a particular trade show and the size your lighting system, you may be permitted to attach the lights to the booth’s existing pipe and drape.

Since my booth make does not consist of my own walls, my lights will attach either to the existing pipe or to a cross bar. Cable ties (commonly called “zip ties”) appear to be tool of option for attaching tracks to the pipes or bars, and even for attaching further cross bars to existing pipe and drape. One artist I know uses Velcro strips, followed by cable ties to fetch the attachments. There are a few whole websites for cable ties. One of them is .

I purchased Multi-Purpose Ties from Home Depot. They can bundle 4 inches in diameter, withstand temperatures up to 185 degrees Fahrenheit, and hold up to 50 lbs.

Accent Lighting: Leds

There are many ideas for accent lighting – although a fair medicine of the topic is beyond the scope of this article. Light-emitting diode (Led) lighting is one technology that is experiencing breakthroughs and growing fast. It takes many Leds to equal the light yield of a 50-watt bulb, and Leds are fairly expensive, so Leds aren’t ready for prime time when it comes to lighting a whole booth.

There are several close-up applications for Leds, however, that are worth seeing into now. An example is the in-counter light bar sold by Mk Digital Direct at (at a whopping 5 per foot). The more affordable Mk Sparkle Light Pocket () is a portable gadget that has extra long-life of over 100,000 continuous hours and promises to give jewelry “maximum sparkle and scintillation.”

The Nexus mini Led light system (, meanwhile, offers a lot of illumination for its size – a puck shape not much bigger than a quarter. The company says it is for direct display lighting of crystal and glass, and it can even be submerged in water. The light is attached to a 12’ cable that ends in a plug, and has “mode switch” with seven dissimilar color choices. Unfortunately, white is not one of the color choices, and at it’s a bit expensive. Still, a few of these lights combined with room lighting could draw viewers into your booth and toward your most dramatic displays.

Leds also consist of tube lights, flexible lights, linear lights, and bulbs. Superbright Leds ( ) has a variety of 120-volt screw-in Led bulbs for accent and other low-lighting applications, as well as a host of other interesting products such as “plant up-light fixtures.”

At this writing, the hunt was still on for accent lighting to give my booth an extra extra glow. Stay tuned for a hereafter article on the results.

Online Resources

The following list is not an endorsement, but rather a starting point for investigate on lighting systems, cable ties, and accent lighting. - uncostly and many choices, has “Bulb Photometrics” page to help decree how much light and what kind you want from a bulb - stem-mounted and track lights - large option of lighting and bulbs - quick optical comparison of Par bulbs (in halogen section) - Cable (zip) ties for securing track lights to pipe - Led lights for jewelry cases - a nice option and optical layout of stem-mounted and other lighting (but not cheap) - good technical information and images of lights set-ups for trade shows; several stem-mounted clip-on designs - Led accent lighting, along with screw-in bulbs and light bars

Lighting a Fine Craft Trade Show Booth - Options for the Budget-Conscious Artist