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Laser Stage Lighting For Beginners Guide

Did you know that in 2020, the laser will celebrate its 60th anniversary? And now, more than ever, lasers lights are enjoyed in stage performances around the world. This is no new thing, laser light shows began emerging in the 1970s. But now they are far more technologically advanced, much safer, cheaper to run and beginner laser light projectors are cheaper than ever before. In this guide to laser stage lighting for beginners, we will teach you all you need to know about modern laser stage lighting and show you what your best options are for buying your first laser stage lighting products that will really enhance your stage events audience experience.

Laser Stage Lighting Basics: What is a laser?

The first ever laser was invented back in 1960 by Theodore H. Maiman in the United States. The word laser came from an acronym meaning ‘Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation’. Unlike other forms of light – lasers are a very thin, focused beam of light of usually a single color. Laser light does not spread out as it travels through air space, this is the property that gives lasers their sharp, crisp appearance through the air that looks so fantastic, especially when viewed in a darkened room with haze or fog, but more on that later.

What’s a laser projector?

A laser projector is a device that projects changing laser beams onto a screen that in turn creates a moving image that look great at entertainment events. They consist of a housing that contains lasers, mirrors, galvanometer scanners as well as other optical components. A laser projector can contain either one laser light source for single-color projections or three sources for RGB (red, green, and blue) full color in more high-end laser projectors.

How do lasers work?

Basically, lasers work by shooting a very tiny beam of light through some mirrors and then out of the front of a laser projector. In particular, stage lighting laser projectors usually have mirrors that allow for complex movements that in turn produce amazing looking laser shapes in the air (if haze or fog is uses) and onto surfaces that the laser is aimed at. But stage laser light operators must ensure to always aim lasers at least 3 meters above andy surface that an audience member could stand on for safety. This is because lasers can damage your eyesight and also camera equipment as well.

Are there laser regulations I need to follow?

Back in the early days of laser stage lighting in the 1970s, an operator or safety watch (known as a ‘laserist’ in the industry) was required to oversee that the lasers didn’t overheat or catch on fire. Laser projectors back then were huge boxes and emitted a large amount of heat. Thankfully, in today’s world – lasers are a lot safer and smaller events using 3R lasers don’t usually need a laserist to monitor the laser show for safety reasons. That said, there are laser use regulations that we need to follow. When it comes to entry-level stage lighting lasers there are generally-speaking two kinds of laser projectors – Class 3R and Class 3B.

3R stage lighting lasers


3R classified lasers are lower power and have less than 5mW in the visible region. However, some 3R laser projectors used a ‘scatter’ effect that can sometimes be greater than the 5mW power – but due to the scattering of the light over large surfaces, some of these projectors can still be classed as 3R. Take a look at this 3R laser light projector by SUNY here:

SUNY Laser Lights Music Show DJ 128 3R Projector

3B stage lighting lasers

3B classified laser lights are allowed to be over 5mW power and therefore these require what is known in the industry as a variance to use. However, getting a variance to use larger laser projectors is actually quite straightforward if you live in the US. Think of it as a kind of ‘driver’s license’ to operate the most impressive (and expensive) laser stage lighting projectors. 3R lasers tend not to travel as far or look as vivid as 3B laser projectors do but are suitable for smaller venues and can save you a lot of money than forking out for more expensive 3B projectors. In the case of a 3R laser projector using a scatter effect to maximize the power it can use, it sometimes loses some of the vibrancy that you will get on a 3B rated projector. 
Please note: Although 3R stage lighting lasers are variance-free they can still damage people’e eyes if not used responsibly and if they are not pointing at at least 3m above audience ground level. Be careful when using any kind of stage lighting lasers. Check out a top-quality 3B laser projector by V-show here:

V-show Laser Projector with Dmx Laser Scanner & DJ Beam Effect

Obtaining a Variance & Using High Powered 3B lasers

Obtaining a variance is quite straightforward. You can apply for one through the FDA. Some vendors of laser stage lighting in the United States will supply their lasers with an ‘Easy variance kit’ – the easiest way to apply and also to keep it active. You can check out such a seller here.

When using high-powered stage lighting lasers that require a variance – there’s a number of safety precautions to follow and you will have to report back to the FDA on what shows you’ve used the lasers for that year. Some of the requirements to bear in mind if you’re planning on purchasing a high-power laser projector that requires a variance are as follows:

Users of stage lighting lasers requiring a variance must ensure that they:


  • Keep lasers at least three meters above any surface that an audience member may stand on and away from any mirrors or windows
  • Post warning signage that high powered lasers are being used in the premises
  • Make an endpoint for any lasers used outdoors (known as to terminate in the industry)
  • Provide two methods of disabling the lasers
  • Have an operator or safety watch (a laserist) keeping an eye on the laser display at all times, ready to disable the lasers if needed

There are other requirements as well but the above are the main ones you should consider before you decide to purchase a high-powered 3B laser projector.

How to make laser stage lighting look great for my shows?

It’s important to make your stage lighting lasers look as good as possible after you’ve invested in purchasing some. One of the main things that you’ll need to do is make sure that you’ve got some haze or fog in the air. This is because without it, your laser display will only appear on the surface that it’s beaming onto. So it wouldn’t show up in the air. But, add some haze or fog and you’ll see the fantastic laser lights shining in the air above your audience and around the stage area. Check out a great fog machine with LED lights here.

If using lasers in your performances combined with haze or fog it’s best to keep the room as dark as possible. Doing so will make your laser display pop and be super vibrant. Any excess unwanted light will only dilute the vibrancy of your lasers, especially if you’re using 3R projectors.

It’s also advised that you position your stage lighting lasers behind the stage to ensure that the room will always be visually in focus that way. For maximum effect when using lasers together with haze or fog you should position the lasers to be at the opposite side of the audience viewing the display. Here’s an example of a fog machine that also has its own LED controllable lights:

Donner DFM-500 500W Fog Machine with Controllable LED Lights

Beam LED lights for a lower budget

If real laser projectors costing a lot of money are outside of your stage lighting budget, you can of course consider LED beam lights instead. Many modern LED fixtures are made using a small number of high-output diodes that will allow the beam to be focused on a hard edge which allows full use of gobo and beam effects. And you can get great lighting displays using DMX automatic or pre-programed light show sequences (using a console) via beam LED lights. Let’s take a look at some things to consider when shopping for LED lights.

Basic Laser Lighting Setup For DJs

For a basic DJ lighting setup you’ll want to make sure that DJ area as well as the dance floor are well-lit. To do this, we’d recommend getting started with bar lighting kits. Bar lighting kits are a great way to get started right away without breaking the bank. Good bar lighting kits will come with a DMX which is a sound-activated mode that means that the bar will react to the music it hears – without the need to pre-program your lighting set. Using a bar lighting kit is the most cost effective way of getting started. You could consider the following bar lighting kits below as recommended by Guru’s Guides.

Intermediate Level Moving LED Beam Lights

When looking for a more expensive, intermediate level lighting setup – You should look for laser lights that have the following capabilities:

Pan & Tilt:

Most moving lights will specify in degrees how far they can pan and tilt. Look for a wide ranging pan and tilt such as a 540°rotatable Pan and an automatic 230°rotatable Tilt such as this moving LED beam stage light.

Intensity:

Any moving head should come equipped with a dimmable intensity, either via a mechanical dimmer or an electrical dimmer. All good laser LED moving heads should have an electrical dimmer like this HSL moving LED stage light.

HSL LED Moving Head DMX512 Stage Light

Focus:

Some very high-end laser light projectors with moving lights will come with the ability to control the focus of the laser beams from your console – This means you can make your gobos nice and soft, or hard-edged and easy to see in haze or fog. The majority of intermediate moving head models will have manual focus like this moving light 2 pack set.

Color Mixing:

Additive RGB or Subtractive CMY mixing allows you to create a wide range of colors from your console. With color mixing, you’re not limited to 8 or so color swatches as with a color wheel, and you can get beautifully smooth transitions as well. Look for a laser projector which has color mixing features like this Everbeam stage light.

Gobo Wheels:

Rotatable or fixed gobos can be placed in front of the beam of the light to make a awesome pattern. If your light has motorized focus as well as multiple gobo/FX wheels, you can often morph and switch between gobos on 2 wheels seamlessly. Check out this 8 gobo pattern head light 2 pack.

XPC 90W Moving Head Light with 8 Gobo Rainbow Colors

Prisms:

Placing a prism in your light will multiply the laser beam by three, five, or however many facets your prism actually has. Some lights such as this prism light with 8 facets produce amazing laser displays.

Strobe/Shutter Lights:

Strobe lights allow you to rapidly kill and open the light which creates the strobe effect. Be careful with people who can suffer fits due to strobe lighting though. If you would like a good strobe capable light, check this one out.

There are some other things to look out for but as this is a beginner guide to laser stage lighting, we hope we’ve already provided you a good grounding to get your started and make more informed buying choices. Good luck and happy stage lighting!

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