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Creative Bookcase Lighting Ideas Using Eco-Friendly LED Bookcase Lighting Techniques

Bookcase lighting ideas with LED puck lights and fixtures

Nothing draws attention like a spotlight. In fact, the human eye is naturally drawn towards light like a moth to a flame. That’s why anything that has a light shining on it or in it tends to stand out. That includes illuminated bookshelves. Use this to your advantage and create a focal point in your room with these bookcase lighting ideas using eco-friendly LED bookcase lighting techniques and fixtures.

Types of fixtures for bookcase lighting & how to use them:

Most bookshelf lights are a type of accent lighting. Some also provide ambient light, but they generally aren't used for task lighting. After all, no one reads their book while it sits inside a bookshelf. Bookshelf lighting can make it easier to find what you’re looking for and highlight certain items on the shelf. However, the actual task of reading a book is usually done elsewhere. Lights are used in a bookcase to draw your attention to its contents. They can make the whole bookshelf stand out, or only certain shelves and sections. Like an art installation, bookshelves with lights are sure to turn heads. But you need to set them up correctly and use the right fixtures for the job. There are several different options available. However, the best choices always involve eco-friendly LED bookcase lighting techniques and fixtures. Try these bookcase lighting ideas in your home to highlight your favorite reads and treasures.

LED Puck Lights

Custom storage unit featuring glass display shelves with lighting surrounding a television
Custom storage unit featuring glass display shelves. LED puck lighting functions as a light bridge to highlight the centrally located television and lower cabinets.

Puck lights are the workhorse of display lighting. These small, hockey-puck-shaped lights mount under a shelf to illuminate the next shelf (or shelves) below. If you want your puck light to brighten more than a single shelf below the light, be sure to use glass shelving below the puck light so that the rays can pass through your shelves. The shelf that the light is mounted to needs to be wood or laminate, however, so that you can drill for the light and hide wires with the wood. Available in different levels of brightness, go for a unit with a dimmer so that you can more easily control the amount of light.

Puck lights always shine down on the shelf below. That makes them good for illuminating sculptures, collectables, and other mementoes displayed on your bookshelves. They are less effective for illuminating large books packed from one side of the shelf to the other, because the light will be cast on the top of the upright book rather than the book’s spine where you need it to be able to read titles. If you do prefer to use them on shelves containing books, make sure your puck lights are positioned close to the front of the shelf. Books should be relatively small and pushed towards the back of the shelf so that the light falls in front rather than on top of them.

Bookshelves with LED puck lighting system surrounding a television
Bookshelves with recessed LED puck lighting surrounding a television. The center lights illuminate a single row of wooden shelves. The puck lights over the glass shelves on either side illuminate multiple shelves because the light passes through the glass. The bottom shelf receives less light than the top shelf directly under the light.

Display/Picture Lights

Picture lights can be used on a bookshelf to highlight specific sections of shelves or individual items on the shelf. Similar to a piano light used to highlight sheet music, these powerful little lights extend forward from the wall or an upper shelf to shine brilliantly down on the front of items displayed on a shelf immediately below the light. It isn't an even light. However, the intensity of these lights is sure to focus your attention on a particular area of the bookcase. Use them for favorite books or display items that you want to accentuate. But keep them on their own switch. That way, you control the final intensity of light, allowing a change in focus for your shelves at any time. This type of bookshelf lighting is often used in conjunction with puck lights and other, more ambient light sources.

Closeup of bookshelf lighting
This bookcase uses a combination of display/picture lights and puck lights to highlight specific areas of the shelf.

Horizontal LED Strip Lights

LED strip lighting provides a nice, even light source when used to illuminate bookshelves. Use it for both ambient and display lighting on your bookcase. The LED strips mount to the underside of the shelves to cast light on the shelves below. This look is especially attractive on a compartmentalized or "cube" shelving system where each shelf is illuminated like a light inside an open box. But it can also be used to great effect on long expanses of shelves since the light strips come on a reel that can be cut and used at any size.

Though not required for electrification, use strip lighting inside a channel with a cover. This offers a more polished look than bare strips. The channels can be routed directly into the wood shelves to disguise the source of the light or purchased and surface mounted.

Closeup of bookshelves with horizontal strip lighting
These bookshelves use horizontal strip lighting to illuminate individual sections. Notice how even the illumination is as opposed to puck or picture lights. The strip light sits in a channel that is routed out of the underside of the upper shelf. This provides a polished look and disguises the source of the light.

Vertical LED Strip Lights

Vertical LED strip lights are the most efficient way to illuminate shelves with even lighting. A single strip can provide light to an entire side of a bookcase. These lights work best on tall bookcases with shelves that run top to bottom. It doesn’t matter what material the shelves are made from. Wood shelves work just as well as glass. But the individual shelves should be no more than 30-inches wide between panels to ensure adequate light from the vertical strips.

Install the vertical strip lights in a shallow, recessed channel that is routed into each vertical end panel of the bookcase. Do this before the shelves are positioned. Wide bookcases with multiple sections will need a channel on either side of the center vertical panels. The goal is to ensure that strip lights run along the vertical side of each 30-inch-wide (or less) shelf. Do this to ensure an adequate amount of light makes it to the middle of each shelf and overall lighting appears even. Glass shelving will aid in the flow of light from one side to the other but are not necessary to use this type of lighting.

Glass display shelves with vertical LED strip lighting system installed
Glass display shelves with vertical LED strip lighting system installed. Notice how the vertical center panels also need the light strips. This means that even illumination is cast from the sides of every shelf.

Up lights Above the Bookcase

You'll be surprised by the amazing look and soft ambiance that can be created by installing up lights above your bookcase. The light shines up and reflects off the ceiling. Start with the same low voltage LED strip lighting used for your horizontal and vertical shelf lighting but run it on top of the bookcase this time. You don't need to route any channels or worry about the wires because everything can be hidden behind a piece of crown moulding or other trim. Just set the lights on top of any bookcase that doesn't reach the ceiling. It's not only easy to install, but easy to service as well. All you need is a ladder. It works best on bookcases 84-inches-high or less. Use this bookcase lighting technique to create a soft glow throughout the room.

Cabinet with lighting system on top
This cabinet has an LED strip lighting system installed behind crown moulding to reflect light off the ceiling.

Track Lights

Track lighting provides a contemporary touch to any home. It’s easy to direct the light with this type of fixture. Track lighting is usually easy to retrofit into a home with an existing ceiling fixture because it can use the exiting electrical box. This simplifies installation. It’s no wonder these lights are so popular with homeowners.

Track lights are also very versatile. They can create task, ambient, and accent lighting depending on how you use them. This is because they offer the ability to direct your lighting. As an example, point a track light towards a desk or work area for use as task lighting. But they make excellent accent lights as well. Use them in this manner to light your bookcase. Just shine your track lights on your shelves as spotlights to draw attention to particular sections that you wish to highlight. The ability to control the direction means your bookcase will be lit in just the manner you like. An advantage of this bookcase lighting technique is that soft illumination will also be reflected back into the rest of the room providing, indirect, ambient light for the whole space.

dressing room closet with rotating closet shelves
Dressing room closet with rotating closet shelves.

Dimmers and zones are always good bookcase lighting ideas.

Further control the amount of light on your bookshelves by using dimmers and lighting zones. The ability to increase the amount of brightness with the touch of a button is always a good bookcase lighting idea. Use dimmers to increase the light when you're working or lower it for a relaxing mood after hours. And whether wired or wireless, dimmers are very easy for the average homeowner to install.

Zoned lighting is advantageous when working with multiple types of fixtures. Use the zones to turn one type of fixture off while leaving the other on. Zones are also useful in homes with libraries where the bookcases may line the whole room. You may not want to light every part of the room all the time, especially if some shelves are located near windows or a natural light source while others would sit in darkness if it weren't for the bookcase lighting. But no matter why you decide to use them, zones should be used in conjunction with dimmers for total light control.

Installation Considerations

Bookcase lighting can be wired in the wall or use a low voltage system depending on the type of fixture. Picture/display lights and track lighting should be wired to your home’s in-wall electrical. However, LED puck lights and strip lights are available in low voltage kits that can be installed without the services of an electrician. These low voltage lights are the same as those used in LED closet lighting. A transformer plugs into one of your home’s electrical outlets. From there, multiple low voltage fixtures feed from the transformer providing lights for your bookcase. It’s easy to set up zones this way. The controls and dimmers are always wireless. Plus, these low voltage LED lights use very little electricity, making them eco-friendly.

Bookcase Lighting Techniques

  • Use low voltage puck lights over each section of the bookcase when you want to light your top shelves. Recessing the fixtures provides a more professional look than surface mount fixtures.
  • Use display/picture lights to highlight special pieces of art or treasured books on the top shelf. These lights combine well with puck lights to provide varied illumination in different sections of the bookcase.
  • LED strip lights are eco-friendly, low voltage, and easy-to-install. They provide the most even lighting for your bookshelves. However, the strip lights should be installed in shallow, covered channels either routed into your bookcase or surface mounted to the panels.
  • Use track lights when you need directional lighting with a contemporary feel. Track lights install on the ceiling but can often use the same electric box as the old, center ceiling fixture, simplifying installation.
  • Install LED strip lights as up lights on top of your bookcase to create an "above cabinet" lighting effect with a soft ambience. Hide the up lights on top of the bookcase with a piece of crown moulding or other trim.
  • Always place your bookcase lights on dimmers for greater control of the light.
  • Use zones for larger installations or when you have multiple types of fixtures in your lighting plan.

Use these eco-friendly LED bookcase lighting techniques to light up your shelves. The variety of fixtures available ensures numerous ways to draw attention to the bookshelves in your home. The low-voltage LEDs are particularly easy to install and won’t use much electricity. Whether you're lighting art displayed on shelves, showing off a collection of historical volumes, using the bookcase to indirectly reflect ambient light, or just want to highlight a good read, these bookcase lighting provide the options to make it happen.