Architectural Home Designs & Decorating Ideas

Choose the Best Under-Cabinet Lighting to Brighten Your Kitchen

Gabriela Connell
6 minute read

The space under your kitchen cabinets is prime real estate for installing lighting that makes a big impact. Carefully chosen under-cabinet lights can provide much-needed illumination for food prep tasks, create dramatic accent lighting effects, and set the perfect mood for everything from weekday breakfasts to celebratory dinner parties.

But with so many under-cabinet lighting options now available, how do you determine which type best suits your needs? We’ll walk through the key considerations – from bulb types and installation methods to technical specifications and smart features – to help you find your kitchen’s perfect under-cabinet lighting match.

Why Under-Cabinet Lighting is a Kitchen Game-Changer

Under-cabinet lighting offers three main benefits that can dramatically improve the ambiance and function of your kitchen.

Task Lighting for Food Prep Areas

lights underneath kitchen cabinets

First and foremost, under-cabinet lights provide essential job lighting for common kitchen tasks. Mounted strategically under cabinets and above countertops, they focus bright illumination exactly where you need it most – in your main food preparation zones.

With an adequately lit workspace, you’ll enjoy better visibility when chopping veggies, reading recipes, mixing ingredients, shaping dough, cleaning up, and more. No more squinting or shadows!

Stylish Accent and Ambient Lighting

Beyond the practical advantages, under-cabinet lighting also opens up a world of design possibility. Instead of simply flooding your kitchen with glaring overhead light, you can create a much more refined ambiance.

Thoughtfully placed under-cabinet accent lighting draws the eye to showcase special details, like an elegant backsplash or glass-front cabinets displaying treasured dishware. Cove lighting grazing the ceiling line adds a pleasant glow. Wall sconces and pendant lights provide ambience.

Set the Mood with Dimming Features

With many under-cabinet lights offering dimming capability, you can adjust the brightness and color temperature to set the perfect mood. A warmer, dimmer glow is ideal for leisurely weekend meal prep, while you can opt for a brighter, cooler-toned light when tackling intensive cleanup chores.

Key Considerations for Picking Under-Cabinet Fixtures

With such versatile benefits, it’s no wonder under-cabinet lighting is an increasingly popular kitchen upgrade. But navigating the abundant options available can be daunting if you’re not familiar with the technology.

Here’s an overview of the key factors to consider as you shop for under-cabinet lighting to determine the best choices for your needs and style.

Types of Under-Cabinet Lighting and Features

The lighting type you select will directly impact the installation process, positioning flexibility, brightness, and other factors. Let’s look at a few of the most common under-cabinet lighting options along with their pros and cons.

LED Strip Lights

Thin LED strip lights offer an affordable and increasingly popular under-cabinet choice. Available in convenient reels, the flexible strip can be cut to length and bent to fit any space. The diffuse, non-directional light is ideal for general illumination along the cabinet underside.

LED Tape Lights

For those seeking a bit more power, LED tape lights come in wider dimensions, up to 2 inches, and provide greater light output than skinny strips. The tape backing usually contains an adhesive, allowing for peel-and-stick installation. Tape lights are also bendable to fit corners and edges.

Puck Lights

To spotlight specific zones like sinks or stoves, many homeowners opt for puck lights. The small, round fixtures aim light directly downward in a focused beam. Puck lights work well spaced at intervals for task lighting along a larger stretch of counter space.

Hardwired Lights

Hardwired under-cabinet fixtures provide the most heavy-duty illumination. Connected by an electrician directly to a junction box, hardwired lights have more power-handling capability than plug-in versions. The hardwired installation also allows for very custom light placement.

Installation and Wiring Methods

Understanding the wiring and installation requirements for various under-cabinet lighting options will help guide your decision making.

Plug-In Lights

Many strip, tape and puck light options connect directly to a standard electrical outlet without any hardwiring, making for simple DIY installation. Just position and stick on the adhesive backing. Take care not to overload outlets.

Battery-Powered Lights

For the ultimate in installation convenience, battery-powered under-cabinet lights require zero wiring. Instead, you’ll need to periodically replace the batteries that power the LEDs. Rechargeable batteries offer some eco-savings.

Hardwired Fixtures

For a permanent professional installation, hardwired under-cabinet lights will be connected directly to junction box wiring. Consider hiring an electrician to safely handle the electrical work of hardwired fixtures.

Light Output Specs

Understanding a few key specifications will ensure your under-cabinet lighting provides ample illumination for your intended purpose.


The lumen rating measures the total quantity of visible light from a bulb or fixture. For adequate task lighting, plan for at least 50 lumens per foot under cabinets. High-traffic zones like sinks may benefit from up to 100 lumens per square foot.

Color Temperature

The color temperature, measured in degrees Kelvin, indicates whether light appears warm or cool. Warm white light (2700-3000K) promotes a cozy kitchen environment, while cool white (4000-5000K) offers the visibility some prefer for intense meal prep.

CRI Rating

The color rendering index (CRI), ranging from 1 to 100, conveys how accurately a light source displays colors compared to natural sunlight. Choose fixtures with a CRI of 80 or above to optimally illuminate food colors.

Smart and Convenient Features

Many under-cabinet lights also offer features like these for even greater control and customization:

Safety First When Installing Under-Cabinet Lighting

Exercise caution when mounting any electrical lighting fixtures to avoid hazards.

Design and Layout Considerations

Planning the placement of your under-cabinet lights is key to making the most of their design potential.

Task Lighting Layout

For food prep needs, concentrate ample lighting over countertops and sinks, at least 50 lumens per foot. You may want to go up to 75-100 lumens for busy zones like stoves and islands. Space LED tape strips or puck lights at regular intervals.

Accent Lighting Plans

To artfully showcase your kitchen’s finishes and décor, graze puck or strip lights along the underside edges of glass cabinets to illuminate contents. Spotlight open shelves or light inside glass door cabinets. Accent lighting can shift focus to your style elements.

Ambient Lighting Ideas

Pair under-cabinet task and accent lights with overhead fixtures, sconces and pendants to provide the overall room illumination. Dimmed under-cabinet lighting also imparts ambience, or install strips pointing upward to create a cove lighting effect.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the main types of under-cabinet lights?

The most common types are LED tape lights, LED strip lights, puck lights, and hardwired lights. Tape and strip lights provide diffuse task or ambient lighting while puck lights offer more focused task lighting. Hardwired lights deliver greater power but require professional installation.

How do I choose the right color temperature?

Warm white light (2700K-3000K) promotes a cozy, intimate ambiance that works well for leisurely weekend meal prep. Cool white light (4000K-5000K) has a crisper, more energizing effect that some prefer for intense kitchen work.

What are the main installation methods?

Plug-in strip lights allow simple DIY installation without wiring. Battery-powered options like puck lights offer complete portability. For a permanent solution, hardwired fixtures must be installed by an electrician.

How much brightness do I need?

Aim for at least 50 lumens per foot under cabinets for adequate task lighting. Some guidelines recommend up to 100 lumens per square foot for busy kitchen zones like sinks and prepping areas.

Can under-cabinet lights be dimmed?

Many hardwired and plug-in under-cabinet options are dimmable, allowing you to control brightness and ambiance. Non-dimmable battery-powered lights can work with an inline dimmer switch.

What are some smart features?

Look for under-cabinet lights with adjustable color temperature, remote controls, timers, motion sensors, and dimming capabilities to make the most of these fixtures.

Combine ample task lighting over countertops with accent lighting to highlight decor details and ambient lighting from overhead fixtures and wall sconces to get the full effect.

With this overview of the most essential factors to weigh when shopping for under-cabinet lighting, you can now make informed choices to find the best options for showcasing your kitchen. Let the right lights shine!