Cart is Empty

Find the Perfect Lamp Shade Shape

Last Updated on May 05, 2015 by Steve Brielmaier | 2 comments

Share this Page

4 Main Lampshade Shape Types

Lampshades diffuse the light so you are not staring at a bare light bulb throwing off glare, as well as adding a stylistic touch to your lamp. The shape of the shade will help determine its style and your enjoyment of your lamp.  Shade shapes each have their own origin and purpose. They are divided into four main groups based on the ratio between the top and bottom dimensions and the overall proportions of the shade.

Drum Lamp Shades - Drum lampshades are also called "cylinder" or "barrel" shades because they are almost straight up and down.   The top dimension is usually 90-100% of the bottom dimension, and the shade looks like a cylinder.   Drum and cylinder shades typically feature vertical or near-vertical sides and vary in height.   Drum shades tend to be wider and cylinder shades tend to be taller. In some cases the difference between them is hard to distinguish - a tall drum shade maybe similar to a short cylinder shade.  Drums were very popular in the 1960s (you can catch them on Mad Men or the Brady Bunch) and are experiencing a big revival as designers go big and bold.  Drums are best matched with retro bases, or tall bases that make a bold statement.
Empire Shades - Empire lampshades have straight-sides and usually feature a top dimension about 50-80% of the bottom dimension.  Empire shades are usually "hardback" because they are constructed using a hard inner styrene shell rather than a metal vertical framework.  The outside layer can be fabric or parchment.  Empire shades have a more modern look and are best matched with a contemporary base. Empire shades have a long history, growing out of the 19th century French Empire movement. The word "empire" derives from the French "ahm-peer" so empires can do double-duty as Victorian or European styles.
Bell Lampshades - Bell shades have a concave shape like the liberty bell.  Similar to Empire shades, bells are much wider at the bottom.  Bells are usually "soft-back" shades because the fabric curves around the shade frame.  Bell shades are graceful and add a "feminine" touch.  Best to match with a traditional lamp base. 
Coolie Lampshades -  Simple designed straight-sided shades that usually feature a bottom width 3-4 times larger than the top, resulting in a shade that emits most of the light from the bottom.  Coolie lampshades resemble an old-fashioned "Chinese hat" because the bottom is dramatically wider than the top.  

Beyond The Basic Lamp Shade Shapes

Most lampshades conform to one of the above 4 groups.  If you want to go beyond the basic shapes and get more adventurous, there are some specialty lampshade shapes that give decorators more options.
Square - Square lampshades can be shaped like boxes, straight up and down, or tapered square shades are also popular.  These resemble pyramids with the top cut off.  When measuring a square shade, you will need 2 top dimensions and 2 bottom dimensions.  Square is a bold, masculine look that conveys strength and power.
Hexagon - Similar to Square shades, a hexagon contains 6 sides of equal length.  Some "octagon" shades even contain 8 sides, but these are rare.
Cut Corner - Usually Cut Corner shades are square shades with the 4 corners cut at an angle.  Technically this is an 8-sided shade, but the corners are cut to a very short length.  Cut corners are a modern style that is more adventurous than a straight square shade.
Inverted cut corner - Same as a cut-corner with the corner cuts concave or "inverted" so they bend inward towards the bulb.
Gallery - Gallery shades are typically old-fashioned or "victorian" style.  Often these start with a bell shape and then a bottom or top vertical band or "gallery" is added to give the shade additional flair.  Sometimes a fringe of crystals, lace, beads, etc. is added to the bottom of a gallery lampshade.  Best paired with a traditional lamp base.
Oval - Oval shades are popular and are wider than they are deep, requiring two diameter measurements for both the top and the bottom to describe their shape. An oval shade generally is paired with a round or oval lamp base.     
Scalloped - Scalloped lampshades include a distinctive "variegated" contour of the top and/or bottom edge of a lamp shade. The shape of the scallop suggests the shade material is draped and hanging.  Scalloped edges are often offset by fancy trims, tassels or beads.


Lamp shades come in many shapes.  When you match the shade to the base, you will achieve harmony in style and function.  Knowing your alternatives will help you choose the best shape for your lamp.  

Steve Brielmaier, 2015


Decorative Lamps categories you may find useful  See all Decorative Lamps


  • Elyse

    This helped immensely. Thanks!!

  • Donna

    Your illustrations really help me picture how each shade will look and gives me alternatives. I think now I know what my options are and I can eliminate shade shapes that don’t work for me.
    Thanks for this guide!

What did you think of this article? Let us know in the comments below.

We'll check your comment before display it publicly.

Decorative Lamps Best Sellers  See all Decorative Lamps
© LampsUSA All Rights Reserved