Wall Washing or Wall Grazing? What’s the Difference?

Wall washing and wall grazing; we’ve all seen these two terms thrown around in the lighting industry, but how many of us are confident in the answer we give when we’re approached and asked about the difference? Now’s the perfect time to set things straight as the spring season is fast approaching and many projects requiring exterior lighting are coming up for tender.

What’s Wall Washing?

We’re not talking about household cleaning here. Wall washing is a lighting technique that places the fixture far enough away from the wall plane to uniformly light it up from top to bottom.The effect is a smooth “wash” that has been traditionally used to hide imperfections and eliminate shadows, while putting an emphasis on the vertical surface, making smaller spaces perceptually feel larger. Using this method outdoors, it can add depth to architectural features and provide true ambience.

What It’s Not:

You’re not wall washing if the fixtures are placed so close that they create light scalloping. Trying to illuminate polished stone or dark colours also won’t make for a very successful attempt at wall washing.

Three Rules of Wall Washing:

  1. Mounting distance = spacing distance = ⅓ of the ceiling height
  2. For spaces 9 feet or lower, mount 2 to 3 feet from the wall, while spaces 9 to 11 feet high, mount 3 to 4 feet from the wall
  3. It’s best to use wall washing on light-coloured, matte finish walls

What’s Wall Grazing?

Different from washing, wall grazing is the method of positioning a fixture close to a wall in order to highlight its special texture and architectural character—this makes materials such as natural stone, wood, fabric, etched glass, polished stone, and mosaic tiles the focal point of the space. Wall grazing really works well at skimming the surface of a wall from a narrow angle to bring out the beauty of a wall’s special material and features.

What It’s Not:

Wall grazing is not lighting strips in coves (they can’t cover the walls fully). It isn’t grazing when you have track fixtures in coves that are individually aimed (think inconsistent light pattern). Nor is it grazing when you use super bright fixtures that are meant to light a wall from a distance (this washes out the texture of the wall when so close).

Three Rules of Wall Grazing:

  1. Mounting distance = spacing distance = never more than 12 inches
  2. Avoid unsightly wall textures or badly taped drywall or walls
  3. Stay away from walls that will have things mounted on it (unwanted shadows and glaring reflections)

Wall Washing vs. Wall Grazing: Visualize It with Our Infographic

Wall Washing and Wall Grazing: A Visual Definition

So there you have it. Wall washing vs. wall grazing; they’re not the same, and each technique’s purpose is different, with outcomes that provide totally different effects.

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