How to Select a Lamp Shade

If you’ve never selected a lampshade or have not purchased a lampshade in a long time, you’re not alone. Most people accept the lampshade that Grandma chose or they inherited or found at a yard sale as suitable not knowing the vast variety a good lampshade can offer in creating drama, and a feeling of clean, bright light that illuminates their personal style. The whole experience can be quite fun if you have the proper tools and the best lampshade source, illumé!

Complement the Lamp Base

Assess the general shape of your lamp base. The shape of the base of your lamp determines the best shape for its lampshade. The shade should complement the base's silhouette, drawing upon the shapes and angles in the base in order to be harmonious with the lamp's design. Designers group lamps into three basic shapes: round, square or angular, and candlestick. If your base is round, then a round or hexagonal shade will usually work best. A square or angular silhouette tends to look better with a square or rectangular shade. Of course, there are always exceptions to any decorating rule – candlestick lamps, with their combination of curves and angles, can handle just about any shape. And, if your lamp is square and your table is round, a round shade can complement both. Here are a few examples of well-paired lamps and shades:

A base with a curved profile is complemented by a curved bell shade. The pattern of a curve ending in a platform is repeated from the base to the shade. Bell shades match well to a curved base.

A barrel, drum lamp shade or cone-style lamp base is reflected well by a rounded drum/cylinder shade. Rounded/cylindrical bases tend to work better with rounded shades than square shades.

Sometimes shapes are directly repeated in the base as in the shade. Here, trapezium shapes occur multiple times and the shade is an extension of the base's overall design theme.

Bases with a square or rectangular profile do well complemented with a rectangular shade. Since these angular shapes tend to be more modern, a square/rectangular shade is a good match.

Proportions of shade and base should be reasonably similar. Here a tall/thin lamp base is well complemented by a flat/thin drum lamp shade. Also, very narrow lamp bases look good with a drum or rectangle shade.

While both lamp base and shade are circular, since the base features a bold shape, the shade also features a boldly contrasting shape. Use a partly contradictory or balancing shape of shade for added drama. 

Sizing the Shade

Now that you have considered the lamp base shape, it’s time to determine the size of the shade. Proportion is the key. Here are our guidelines for sizing a shade for a table lamp:

1) The height of the shade should be about two-thirds the height of the base. That proportion assures that the lamp won’t look top or bottom heavy.

2) The width of the shade base should be roughly equal to the height of the lamp from base to fitting. Alternately, the base of the shade should be roughly twice the the size of the widest part of the base. If you’re debating between two sizes, it’s usually better to go for the larger (although having said that, very thin and tall lamps can often be well-suited to smaller shades).

3) Floor lamps will generally take a shade with a base diameter of 16 inches or larger. Similar rules apply as for table lamp shades, where the shade needs to be tall enough to cover the hardware so that you don't see the lamp socket or fitter from the side. Also consider that because a floor lamp is much taller, it will tend to look better with a lampshade that has less of a slope to the sides, either a drum shade or something similar. The shade also will generally be larger than that of a table lamp to keep in proportion to the base.

4) Chandelier or wall sconce shades are typically much smaller than regular shades, usually in the range of 4 to 8 inches across the bottom. You'll need to make sure there is some room around the light bulb to allow for heat to flow out of the shade without presenting a safety hazard. Mini shades are specifically designed for this use. Most are designed to clip directly onto the outside of a light bulb, since the mini chandelier lampshades are relatively light weight.

Sizing the shade

How to Measure a Lampshade

Measure a lamp shade using a straight ruler or taught tape measure, measuring in inches. You will need four measurements:

Top Width x Bottom Width x Slant and lastly, the Drop

1) The width across the top: should be measured from the outside edge of the top rim, to the outside edge of the top rim on the opposite side. Make sure the ruler passes through the "center" of the shade to ensure you are reading the maximum distance between the two sides.

2) The width across the bottom: should be measured from the outside edge of the bottom rim, to the outside edge of the bottom rim on the opposite side. Ensure you measure "through" the center of the shade so that you are reading the maximum distance from edge to edge.

3) The slant: should be measured in a straight line regardless of whether the shade has straight, vertical, sloped or curved edges in profile. Measure from the outside edge of the top of the shade, to the outside edge of the bottom of the shade. It's okay for this to be diagonal when the top of the shade is smaller than the bottom. Do not measure the "vertical" height. Always measure the slant from the outside edge of the top rim to the outside of the bottom rim, even if the sides of the lampshade are actually vertical.

4) The drop: is the distance from the top rim of the shade, to where the shade attaches to the lamp. This drop may be more significant for a tall cylinder or drum shade.

5) Rectangular or oval shades: have an additional measurement when viewed from above or below, the depth from front to back. 

How to Measure a Shade

Rectangular and Oval Shades

Hide the Hardware

The harp and socket should never be visible below the lamp shade. We mount shades such that at eye level, the bottom of the shade should cover the base of the socket and be mounted at mid point of the neck. The shade should be long enough to cover the socket when viewed at eye level. 

If shade looks good, but vertical positioning is the only problem, the shade can be raised or lowered by using a different size harp or a shade riser. A taller harp will allow the shade to be mounted higher up, or indeed lower down, so that you can center it and cover the hardware. A shade riser is a small adapter which extends the threaded pole on top of the harp fitter. 

The lower the lamp is displayed, the higher the shade should sit. The higher the lamp is displayed, the lower the shade should sit. 

Hide the Hardware

Location and Use

When choosing a lampshade, examine the lamp’s location. Take note of the room’s décor. Is it traditional, transitional or modern? Do you want your new shade to complement and blend in with what’s already present or to stand out as a statement piece?

The location of the lamp will also determine its use. For high traffic areas like bedrooms and hallways, smaller, flatter shades are best to avoid bumping them. In workspaces, consider shades with wide bottoms to diffuse light and create a pleasing, productive work environment.

Shade styles

Softback shades refer to a shade whose liner is made from a fabric, while the exterior fabric can be silk, linen, or a variety of other fabrics. The liner fabric and exterior fabric are hand-sewn to a wire frame. The exterior fabric can have a variety of treatments such as pleating, shirring, smocking, stretched, stretched and piped and more. Because a silk shade is sewn on a frame, it is possible to achieve a wide variety of shapes including bells, scallops, rounded corners, v-notches and gallery bottoms. The luminance of a softback shade is always translucent. 

Hardback shades refer to a shade whose liner is made from styrene plastic onto which the exterior material or fabric is then laminated. The exterior material can be silk, linen, or a variety of other fabrics. The exterior can be made from various materials such as wallcoverings, natural wood, mica, parchment paper, or any other material that can be laminated to the styrene liner. Hardback shades can either be finished with a self-trim, welt or gimp or have a rolled edge. A rolled edge is most preferred for modern interiors. The interior lining can be white styrene, specialty options such as gold and silver foil, a contrasting paper, fabric, or wallcovering. The luminance can be either translucent or opaque. 

Hardback Shade with a Rolled Edge finish vs. Self-Trim Finish 

Painted shades refer to a hardback shade that has a hand-painted exterior. Illumé offers your choice of any paint color for the exterior of the shade. The finish can be either high gloss lacquer or smooth matte. The interior can be white or even specialty options such as gold and silver foil. Painted shades are typically opaque.

String shades refer to softback shades that are made by hand-wrapping silk cord onto the wire frame. The interior liner is fabric. Light shines through the silk cords casting a subtle iridescent light. The luminance of string shades is always translucent. 

Softback Shade

Hardback Shade

Painted Shade

String Shade

Softback Shade Common Pleat Styles

Softback Shades can come in a variety of treatments. Refer to the below images for some of the most common treatments. 

Closed Box Pleat

Open Box Pleat

Knife or Side Pleat

Shirred Pleat

Ripple Pleat

Smocked Pleat


Stretched and Piped

Bottom Gallery

Common Lampshade Shapes

Lampshades come in numerous shapes that span the range of decorative styles including traditional, contemporary, art-deco, mid-century, modern and more. They can be sleek and minimalist or ornate and fanciful. Below are a few common shapes for inspiration, however the possibilities are relatively endless!

Luminance: Translucent vs. Opaque

Translucent shades allow light to filter out the sides of the lamp and are best suited for reading and ambient light. A translucent shade may be either a hardback shade or a softback shade. A translucent shade lets the light through with a gentle diffusion. There are many degrees of translucency. For example, silk is more translucent than coated papers or parchment. The inner surface of a translucent lampshade should be white or off-white for the best results.

Opaque shades let no light through the sides, but rather casts it upward and downward in a focal glow. Opaque shades create up-and-down beams that set dramatic moods and highlight objects. The exterior material of an opaque lampshade can be any color, while the inner surface can be white, gold or silver. Opaque shades are distinctively modern, especially when in dark colors like black and gray.




A fitter is simply the way the shade connects to your lamp. Most lamps have spider fitters. Other common fitters include UNO or clip-on fitters. Check your existing lamp against the diagram and descriptions below to determine what type of fitter you need.

Harp/Spider Fitters: If your lamp has a harp you will need a shade with a spider fitter. The spider fitter is part of the lampshade itself. It sits on top of the harp and is secured by a finial.If your new shade is not EXACTLY the same size as your old shade, a new harp may be all you need for a perfect fit. Harps typically vary from 7” to 12” and they affect the vertical position of your lampshade. If you do not have a harp but wish to use a shade with a spider fitter you must also purchase a harp. Harps are made in different sizes, which affects the vertical position of the lampshade. The most common finial thread size for harps is 1/4"-27.

UNO Fitters: If your lamp requires an UNO fitter you must purchase a lamp shade that has an UNO fitter. The UNO fitter is built-in to the lampshade. There are two types of UNO fitters, slip-UNO and threaded-UNO.

     a) Slip-UNO fitters: sit on the socket and are held in place by the bulb.

     b) Threaded-UNO fitters: typically for down-bridge lamps and feature a screw thread for installation above the downward-facing bulb.

Clip-on Fitters: Clip-on lamp shades are typically for chandeliers and wall sconces. The clip fitter is built into the lamp shade and clips over a standard medium or candelabra bulb.

Reflector Bowl Spider Fitters: If your lamp has a reflector bowl inside the shade, a reflector spider fitter may be needed to secure its position. These fitters feature grooves in the spider arms for the secure positioning of reflector bowl. Reflector bowls are not sold as part of the lamp shade - they are usually shipped with the lamp base.

Harp/Spider Fitter

Slip-UNO Fitter

Threaded-UNO Fitter

Clip-on Candelabra Fitter

Clip-on Bulb Fitter

Reflector Bowl Fitter

Lamp and shade terms

Refer to the below diagram to understand the anatomy of a lamp and lampshade pairing and the terms for each component. 

Anatomy of a Lamp and Lampshade