Unreal Engine 5 Lighting Guide

An introduction

Hello, in this guide we’re going to explore lighting in Unreal Engine 5 a little bit. So I’m going to show you the basics, like the different types of lights you’ll encounter, and we’ll also get into some of the new features of Unreal 5’s lighting system, including the new Lumen System.

Here’s a full breakdown of Lumen.

By yours truly.

And here comes another one:

RTX vs LUMEN, which is better and why.

Why use Unreal Engine 5’s Lumen?

Lumen is the new realtime global illumination system in Unreal Engine 5, it allows you to move your lights around without lightbaking, and it looks more beautiful and natural than regular baked lights.

It can be the difference between a beautiful game and a AAA quality bestseller.

How do you activate lumen in Unreal Engine 5?

It can be enabled through the project settings, in the global illumination category. We’ll get into it below, so read on.

Oh, hey check out the official docs too, from my betters at Epic Games, I say that unironically, unusual for me, but I am not on that level yet.

My experience with lighting

Lighting has always been a mystery to me, it probably is to you as well, I need to sit down and study it in earnest, for about 3 months, to get a really good feel for it, although I feel like I should wait until Unreal 5 is released first, because it’s going to be the new gold standard. But many of the techniques will translate over pretty directly, so perhaps the time has finally come.

Lighting can really step up your game, if you get good at it, it make you a lot more employable, and certain companies will seek out lighting specialists. It’s one of the more lucrative elements of game design you can get into, and even for your own projects it is mandatory to understand lighting.

We’re going to get into the basics of it today. This is a tutorial for beginners.

Starting up

Anyway, booting up my project, here’s how my western desert town looks in Unreal 5. Yes, bronco, I could see building a nice wild west game in this map, yessir, I sure can. Yes that is a pretty scene, hombre.

Very nice but that’s not what we’re doing today. Sorry, Western Desert Town, I’m closing you down, you know what you did.

Opening up my Suburban Neighborhood Map Pack.
The Scene starts loading up.
Alright, texturing….

Suburban Neighborhood Pack

The Suburban Neighborhood Pack is one of the most beautiful environmental assets on store, it is just a lovely neighborhood, with daytime and nighttime options, you just can’t go wrong with this asset. It’s a high quality piece of work I plan to use within my own games, as one of the core elements of the hub world, and I’m certain you could find a use for it in your own game.

So here’s what we’ll be working with today:

Soak it in, this is the Suburban Neighborhoods Pack.

What is Lumen?

As we discussed in a previous article on Lumen. Lumen is the new Global Illumination System for Unreal Engine 5. It allows real-time global illumination at runtime, meaning you can move your lights around and they’ll update naturally and dynamically instead of being static and baked into the level. This allows for much more beautiful lighting, more interesting gameplay with regard to lighting, and an easier time as a developer, without having to constantly waste time bake your lighting for hours to get anything resembling good results.

Lumen is the next stage of evolution, in Unreal’s Lighting system. It is a marked jump in improvement, and we’re going to be using it for a long time, so you better get familiar with it.

Enabling Lumen

Enabling Lumen is easy, once your project is started up or converted, just go to the project settings and activate it. No problem.

Easy Street.

First let’s go to Project Settings -> Rendering -> Global Illumination -> And set Dynamic Global Illumination Method to Lumen.

And with Lumen enabled, in all it’s shiny, attractive glory, here’s how it looks;

As you can see, it has a cooler hue. The shadows are more defined, and the lights are less overpowering, it looks nicer, but also lacks some of the charm of the original. Still I’d rather have this than work with baked lightmaps, ew!

I still have nightmares of baking the lighting for 5 hours. Just leave it baking overnight, they said…. grrr…..

Check out our subscription service to learn about lighting

One of the things we can teach you with our subscription service is lighting, actually you can learn about every aspect of game design with our tutorials. Have a look, you won’t regret it.

You can learn to make your own games in no time at all. You can even make decent money at it. Check it out!

What is Nanite Mesh

As we talked about earlier, Nanite Mesh is the new static mesh system for Unreal 5, it works in conjunction with the Lumen System, to create very beautiful scenes. With Nanite Mesh, billions of triangles can be represented on screen at the same time, it also saves on processing power by only rendering objects that are visible on screen at any given time, instead of rendering everything and only needing a fraction of what is being utilized.

It only works on static meshes though, so your skeletal meshes will not be functioning as Nanite, unfortunately. Nevertheless, it is a fine system, and can produce some really incredible results.

Just look at this, and try to wrap your head around how good it looks, it’s not just beautiful, it might even be more beautiful than my cat.

No, I said that in anger, I take it back.

If this is the future of gaming, beam me up Scotty, I want in on the ground floor. I’ll be needing a new gaming PC soon.

Enabling Nanite Mesh

So to enable Nanite Mesh on large batches of meshes, simply find the meshes you wish to convert in the content browser, select them all, right click, and choose Nanite -> Enabled. Make sure to also enable Virtual Shadow Maps in Engine -> Rendering -> Shadows -> Shadow Map Method, or it won’t work right and you’ll get errors in the console window.

Do that for every mesh in your level. Then once everything is done, and all your meshes are wrapped up and set to Nanite, we’ll build the lighting, and see how she looks.

As you can see from this video, the lighting is fully dynamic, you can move your objects around in realtime and see it change on the fly.

And here’s how it looks after we build the lighting again. As you can see, it is a very nice system. The improvement is instantaneous.

Post Processing Volumes

We can also create a post processing volume, with Create -> Volumes – Post Processing Volume. A post processing volume adds visual flare to your lighting, first add one to the scene, then make it big enough to affect your entire level. There are a wealth of options to choose from, but, here’s how it looks with some bloom enabled.

WOW, just wow 🙂

As you can see, everything looks MUCH more beautiful now, it looks smoother, cuter, nicer, prettier, and more professional. Kind of looks like it’s been polished to a shine. Let’s change the saturation a bit, and bump bloom up to max, while tinkering with a few other settings.

There it is now smooth and silky, like the most perfect milkshake. Anyway, let’s experiment with the different lights available to you.

The different lights available to you

Click Create -> Lights -> And you have a selection of lights available to you.

  • Directional Light
  • Point Light
  • Spot Light
  • Rec Light
  • Sky Light

These lights all have different functions and features, some work with Lumen and some don’t.

Ok, let’s go over them one by one.

Directional Light

Put a directional light in your scene, let’s rotate it around a little bit and see what happens?

Our Nighttime Scene is now a Daytime Scene. A directional light is essentially the sun in your level. Rotate it to change from day to night. It is a very useful light source, which will be one of the staples in your game, almost guaranteed.

If it is an outdoor game, which does not take place exclusively during the night, you will probably be using a directional light in your game. Ok, I’m deleting it and we’ll try out a point light.

Point Light

A point light is simply a light, placed in the scene, that functions as a streetlamp or another type of physical light source, you can move them around and it will update dynamically. Here, I increased the intensity and lowered the temperature.

And here’s how it looks with the temperature way up.

Spot Light

Here’s a spot light:

Actually a spot light is probably going to be better for your street lights, because a spotlight shines in a directional cone shaped pattern, while the point light simply shines equally in all directions, this one could be centered on a stage with the main character singing on it, something like that, or just fill your city with these as common street lights.

Rect Light

Not exactly sure what you would use this one for, here’s a Rect Light:

As you can see, it is a rectangular plane, projecting light out forwards from it, it can me moved and rotated as normal, I would imagine this would make a good signpost in the entertainment district full of fluorescent club signs and neon.

Sky Light

Hah, so here you have it, the Sky Light:

Um…. in all it’s glory. =\

Hahah, looks like it does not play well with Unreal 5’s lumen and nanite systems. I’ve never used Sky Lights, so I can’t really speak to their function in this game, but, considering it doesn’t really work with the new systems, maybe just avoid it.

My apologies, dear reader, I just can’t figure it out.

It looks like it might have something to do with Lumen not liking static lights, and wanting everything to be moveable.

Emissive Textures

In Unreal 5 with Lumen, you can create emissive textures, and apply them to almost anything. This will give the textured object a glow, and will turn it into an instant light source.

So, let’s create our object and apply the emissive texture to it. First we spawn our object. Create -> Shapes -> Sphere.

Then go to Materials, and in Element 1: Choose “Emissive Mesh Material”. Your object should now glow like a lightbulb.


There are a wealth of lighting options available to you in Unreal Engine 5, and it’s just going to get better and better. Soon everything will come to this, this Engine will take over the world. Poor Unity, I feel for you.

We’ve only covered a bare fraction of the basics here, if you want an advanced lighting tutorial, there are a wealth of options on youtube, also read the Unreal Engine Documentation, for further insight.

Lighting is one of the most important elements of your game, and the most oft forgotten. If you get really good with lighting, and you write your own shaders, you can get high paying work at a big corporation, no problem, if you’re good enough.

But if you just need lighting for your own personal game, don’t neglect it either. Good lighting is the difference between an ok looking game and truly beautiful one. It can can take your game to the next level.

Invest some time in lighting,
on your journey through game dev.

Gamedev.gg out!

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