Lamp Shade Buying Guide

Topping your lamp with the right shade will make the piece more attractive, and help to achieve your desired lighting effect. This lamp shade buying guide outlines your options.

Lamp Shades 101

Size, shape colour and fabric are all important factors when shopping for lamp shades. There are two basic types, hardback and soft. Hardback shades are generally sturdier, while soft shades are easier to clean. Both are available in a wide range of shapes, including school bell, square, rectangular and hexagonal. Ensuring you get the right size, shape and fitter for your lamp base is key. Otherwise, the hot bulb could burn your too-small shade, or the lamp hardware might peek out over your fitter. It's also important to choose a material suited to your lamp's purpose. An opaque paper lamp shade with a wide bottom directs light downward for reading, while a translucent silk shade allows some light to pass through for more effective general lighting.

Types of Lamp Shades


Hardback Lamp Shades

A hardback lamp shade consists of a decorative outer layer of paper or fabric that is laminated onto a plastic liner. This piece is attached to a top and bottom ring, creating the shape of the lampshade, and then secured with glue to form a seam. The plastic liner helps maintain the shape of your shade over time and, depending on the level of light required, can be either translucent or opaque. The choice of fabrics includes linen, silk and satin, with a broad range of colours and patterns from which to choose. Hardback lampshades tend to be affordable because of their simple, sturdy construction. However, they're not washable and their inner liner may yellow with age.

Softback Lamp Shades

While softback lamp shades are often referred to simply as soft shades or silk shades, they can actually be made from any number of fabrics, including linen and satin. Unlike hardbacks with their inner plastic layer, both layers of soft shades are made from fabric and then attached to top and bottom rings with side wires or struts. This frame construction allows for a greater variety of shapes than is possible with a hardback shade. Your options include bell-style shades, scalloped edges and rounded corners. The outer fabric layer can also be stretched, shirred or pleated for added visual effect. Softback shades can be washed, but the liners may eventually tear or become discoloured from the heat of the light bulb.

Lamp Shade Styles


Bell Lamp Shades

The bell lamp shade is a soft shade that's narrow on top and flares out at the bottom like a school bell. It casts light downwards, making it a good option for desk lamps and reading areas. The elegant and traditional styling of bell lamp shades complements a formal or conservative decor and is a good match for antique lamp bases and floor lamps.

Drum Lamp Shades

With its clean, simple lines, the Art Deco inspired drum lamp shade can complement a modern space or a retro-inspired room. These cylindrical shades are generally the same width at the top and bottom. As a result, they reflect light up and down equally. Drum lamp shades are available in a range of sizes, with drum depths varying from shallow to extra deep. Drum lamp shades work well with column or round-based table lamps and floor lamps. They're also a shade option for ceiling light fixtures.

Empire Lamp Shades

If you're looking for a sophisticated lighting accent, the empire lamp shade is a classic choice. This cone-shaped shade is similar to a bell lamp shade, but with straight sides. The diameter of the bottom of an empire lamp shade is usually double that of the top. This design directs light downwards, making it a good option for a desk lamp, floor lamp or ceiling fixture. Softback empire lamp shades are typically better suited to traditional decor settings and work well in dining rooms, bed rooms and living rooms.

Square & Rectangle Lamp Shades

For a geometric effect, consider a square or rectangle lamp shade. These shades are available with a number of interesting design details, including sloping sides with rounded corners and flat sides with sharp edges. Cut corners and inverted corners can also change the overall look of this lamp shape. Some square shades are the same diameter at the top and bottom, like a square drum. Others are larger at the bottom, similar to a pyramid. Pair it with a square base for a balanced look, or a round base for more contrast.

Coolie Floor Lamp Shades

The coolie lamp features a dramatically flared shade that directs light downwards, keeping seating areas bright and ceiling lighting to a minimum. This shade is similar to the bell lamp shade, though generally shorter and squatter with a more pronounced difference between the top and bottom diameters. Coolie floor lamp shades are the widest of the cone-shaped lamp shades. They also work well on pendant lamps over dining tables and on many table lamps, particularly end tables.

Hexagon Lamp Shades

The hexagon lamp shade instantly grabs attention with its multi-sided shape. Some models are the same diameter at the top and bottom, while others have a wider bottom to direct light downwards. The hexagon lamp shade is available in a wide variety of sizes, with short, standard and long lengths. For an added style statement, choose a model with a different print on each of its six panels.

Lamp Shade Buying Tips:

  • Consider how you will use the lamp, whether for reading, general light or decoration
  • Match the style and colour of the lamp shade to the lamp base
  • Measure your lamp base to ensure the shade will fit
  • Consider the drop size to ensure your lamp's hardware will be covered
  • Pick a lighter coloured shade if you want more light to shine through


Lamp Shade Luminosity +

The degree and direction of light your lamp gives off can be controlled by the type of shade you select. Both hardback and soft lamp shades can be either translucent or opaque. Translucent shades let light through and diffuse it gently for a general glow. Opaque shades excel at focussing light and directing it for specific tasks such as reading. When choosing fabrics for translucent lighting, look for silks or satins. Hardback shades made with paper or parchment are good options for opaque lighting.

Lamp Shade Fitters +

The mechanism by which your lamp shade attaches to your lamp base is called the fitter. On many lamps, the fitter attaches to the lamp's harp. Fitter types can differ, depending on the type of lamp base you are combining with your shade. The commonly used washer fitter is placed between the harp and a finial, which screws in to keep your shade in place. Slip uno fitters sit between the bulb and socket and are held in place by the bulb. Threaded uno fitters are screwed into place for greater stability. Clip fitters, which are typically seen on chandelier shades, loop directly over the sides of the light bulb for quick and simple installation.

Lamp Shade Materials +

There are many different choices of lamp shade materials. A hardback lamp shade with an outer layer of paper or parchment will provide bright, focused lighting, ideal for working, reading or brightening up a dark corner. A soft shade with a cover made from silk, satin or velvet can create diffused light ideal for bedrooms, dining rooms and living rooms. Glass, linen, faux leather, metal, plastics and other materials can all work for lamp shades, each bringing its own unique aesthetic to your lamp and your room.

Decorative Accents +

From pleats to shirring to beads, decorative accents are a great way to add visual interest to a lamp. Shades featuring bold colours and patterns stand out and get noticed. To create subtle lighting in a bedroom or dining room, consider a shade made from frosted glass or a flocked fabric. Elegant details such as crystals or fringe can elevate a simple base, making your lamp appropriate for a formal environment. Similarly, funky details like an animal pattern can make the same base complement a more casual space.

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Lamp Shade Maintenance Tips:

  • Follow the manufacturer's care instructions to wash soft lamp shades
  • Remove or replace the inner layer of a soft shade if it becomes torn
  • Ensure fitters attached to the lamp's base are tightened securely
  • Prevent fading and fire risk when tilting shade by ensuring sides do not touch light bulb
  • Wipe down plastic or paper shades with a soft cloth
  • Vacuum lamp shades with brush attachment to remove dust

How to Choose a Lamp Shade

Consider How You Will Use Your Lamp
When selecting a new lamp shade, consider how you will use the lamp. If you're looking to create lighting for reading or working, an opaque shade with a wide bottom (such as a bell, coolie or empire shape) is a good choice. This style of shade casts light downward and can be effective in reducing eye strain. For warm accent lighting that doesn't distract with brightness, your options include a silk or glass lamp shade. A drum lamp shade reflects light both upwards and downwards for good general coverage that will brighten up a bedroom or dining area.
Get the Right Size of Lamp Shade
Choosing a lamp shade that's the right size for your lamp is important for both fashion and function. Here are some basic rules to remember: your shade should be approximately three quarters the height of your base; the width of your shade should exceed the width of your base; and the taller your lamp, the larger your shade should be. Ensuring your shade is large enough to keep unsightly hardware concealed is essential from an aesthetic standpoint. For safety reasons, it should also allow adequate room for venting the light bulb. Another general rule is the bottom diameter of a table lamp shade should be 16 inches or less, while that of a floor lamp shade should be 16 inches or more.
Coordinate Your Lamp Shade and Lamp Base
Whether you are trying a new shade on an existing lamp base or buying both at the same time, coordination factors include size, shape, style and colour. A larger lamp base will require a larger lamp shade to provide visual balance and conceal the lamp hardware. If your lamp has a unique base that you want people to notice, go with a simple shade that won't steal the attention. Conversely, a dramatically shaped or brightly coloured shade will draw the eye upward to take attention away from a basic lamp base.
Choose Your Lamp Shade Fitter
If your lamp base has a harp (a metal frame that connects the base to the shade), choose a shade with a washer fitter. This type of fitter allows you to attach your shade between the harp and a finial top cap that screws into the washer. If your lamp base doesn't have a harp, go for a slip uno fitter, which is built into the shade and slips over the socket. It's held in place between the bulb and the base by screwing in the light bulb. The threaded uno fitter is designed for down-bridge lamps. It attaches above the downward facing bulb. Other types of fitters include clip-ons, which feature a built-in wired loop that clips onto the light bulb (most commonly used in chandeliers), and chimney fitters, a type specific to hurricane-style lamps.
Select the Right Drop
The distance between the top edge of your lamp shade and where your lamp-shade fitter attaches to the base is known as the "drop." The purpose of the drop is to hide the fitter hardware from view. In doing this, however, it also raises the position of your lamp shade. The drop distance will vary depending on the type of fitter on your lamp shade. Washer fitters have the lowest drop distance at ½ inch to an inch, while slip uno fitters have the highest with up to several inches of drop. In the case of lamps with harps, metal cylinders called "risers" can be added to increase the distance between the fitter and the harp so the shade sits higher on the base.
Use the Right Light Bulb
In choosing your new lamp shade, you'll also want to take into consideration the type of light bulb you intend to use with it. For instance, to avoid damage to your shade or risk of fire, you'll want to ensure there's a minimum of three inches of space between the bulb and shade. When using lower wattage incandescent bulbs or compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs, this distance can decrease to one or two inches. The higher the wattage, the more heat the bulb will produce, so ensure your lamp shade provides adequate ventilation and don't use a higher wattage than the one recommended for your shade.
Choose the Right Material
Silk is a traditional and more formal choice for a lamp shade. Linen is the most common shade material as it brings a more casual aesthetic to a room. Leather shades have a masculine feel and can work well in a den or study. Glass and metal lampshades create a more modern look, while paper lampshades are among the least expensive. White and cream the most popular lamp shade colours, but you can also choose a colour that coordinates with your decor. Be aware, however, that shade colour can change when the lamp is turned on.
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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