There are five key differences between a hardback lampshade and a silk lampshade – the
construction of the shade, the number of style options, the aesthetics of the shades, the ease of
cleaning and finally, the price.
1. Lampshade Construction
Hardback shades are made by laminating a fabric or paper onto a plastic liner. Each shade has a top
ring and a bottom ring, and the laminated fabric is cut to attach to each ring, and then glued on one
or more sides, forming the seam. The inner plastic liner can be translucent or opaque, while the
outer, visible fabric can be any type of woven fabric including linen, silk, satin, muslin, or one of
many different types of parchments or paper.
The name "silk shade" is a little bit of a misnomer because these shades are not necessarily made
from silk fabric. Generally, the term "silk shade" is used to refer to a shade whose liner is made
from fabric, while the outer fabric can be silk, satin, linen, or a variety of other fabrics. Each of
these fabrics may be stretched, shirred, or pleated. A silk shade has top and bottom rings that are
connected by side wires, or struts. The placement and contour of the struts give the shade its shape
and allow the material on the outside to follow the shape of the frame.
2. Lampshade Style Options
A hardback lampshade is made using a stiff plastic liner and two rings, top, and bottom. While
hardback lampshades are available in a variety of shapes, including drums, empires, ovals, and cones,
as well as round corner rectangles and squares, the simplicity of the design elements prevent the
the ability for curves or bell-shaped lampshades.
Because a silk lampshade is built on a frame, you'll have more shape and style options with a silk
lampshade than a hardback lampshade. Silk lampshade shapes include can be round, square,
rectangular, octagonal, triangular or hexagonal. And the lampshade shapes can be further
enhanced with bells, scallops, rounded, cut or inverted corners, v-notches and galleries.
Hardback Hybrid Lampshades
Over the last 50 years, we have witnessed the “merging” of hardback and silk constructions to
create a hybrid – a hardback lampshade built on a silk frame. As an example, a square bell, a cut
corner rectangle bell, or a hexagon or hexagon bell are now available as hardback lampshades.
These lampshades are built on a frame with top and bottom rings connected by vertical wires, but
the panels are fabric laminated to hard plastic.
3. Lampshade Aesthetics
One of the attractions to the hardback lampshade is that when the lampshade is lit, the surface is
smooth, not interrupted by the shadows caused by the wires of a frame. The smooth, sleekness of
the hardback lampshade is further enhanced when the top and bottom edges of the lampshade are
not finished with a trim, but instead, the edges are rolled over / under the shade wires.
The construction of the silk lampshade is such that when the lampshade is illuminated, the wires
used to construct the shade can be seen behind the fabric. One option is to place a trim, or what we
call “vertical piping” on the fabric, over the wires. For some people, the use of the vertical piping
gives the lampshade a more finished look. Others prefer not to use the vertical piping, allowing the
wires to show behind the fabric.
4. Ease of Care
In general, hardback shades are not washable. However, we have seen over the last few years,
some manufacturers are offering lampshades made from the Sunbrella fabrics, and also,
lampshades made from fabrics that have a clear vinyl covering. These types of lampshades are
particularly useful on three-season porches and camps. Over time the plastic liner of the lampshade
will yellow with age, distorting the quality of the light produced by the lamp, and sometimes after
that, the plastic will begin to crack and fall apart.
Silk shades can be washed by immersing them in warm, soapy water, then washing with a cloth or
very soft brush, drying immediately, and evenly. While silk shades generally enjoy a fairly long life, in
time, the constant heat generated by the bulb will begin to darken the shade and the lining may
deteriorate and tear. If you decide to continue to use the shade, remove the lining altogether to
avoid the risk of fire. These shades may be re-lined.
In general, hardback lampshades tend to be less costly than silk shades. The cost advantage is due
to fewer materials and less labor. However, depending upon the fabrics and papers used to
construct the hardback lampshades, the cost advantage may disappear. While inexpensive linens
and papers are still available, the “fabric” offerings have been enhanced with a wide range of silks
and satins and expensive papers.
Because the manufacture of a silk shade is labor-intensive, these shades tend to be more expensive
than the hardback shades - though generally, they also enjoy a longer life than their hardback
counterpart. Further, the cost of a silk lampshade will increase if designed with a pleat of special
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