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10 Tips: Getting Started with Laser

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Interested in laser effects for your lighting rig, attraction or DJ setup but don’t know where to start? Here are 10 tips to know if you’re considering bringing your lighting to the next level:

Tip #1: Know the effect(s) you want

Some laser systems are engineered strictly for aerial beam effects, some systems are better for graphics projections, and some systems can do both. Typically, projectors meant for aerial beam displays will produce wider beams, while graphics projectors typically have narrower, sharper beams. Our Aurora 4C and 4G projectors are a perfect option for getting started with aerial beams only, while our Mobile Beat Mirage is the answer for an entry-level graphics system.

Tip #2: Know the safety basics

Laser lighting systems operate differently from just about any other lighting effect, and because of that, laser users must take care to protect themselves and their audiences. The two biggest guidelines to know are to never project laser beams into the sky, and to keep laser beams 9′ (3m) above where the audience can stand. Eye safety is key, and one should never shine laser beams into an audience unless their projector system is fitted with a legal, safety-tested audience scanning system like X-Laser’s Polaris technology.

Tip #3: Know the basics of fog and haze

Beams of light, whether laser or traditional, must have some sort of material in the air to reflect through and become visible. Even ultra-high-power lasers need their beams to pass through atmospheric material like fog or haze for the aerial effects to be vivid and bright. Check out an in-depth post we wrote about this awhile ago: Fog and Haze Basics.

Tip #4: Know the laws

In the United States, high-powered laser projectors are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that anyone who wants to use a laser projector with power of more than 5mW (.005W) needs an FDA Variance, which is basically a “laser license” similar to a driver’s license. We have much more on this topic here. For information about laser safety laws in the U.S. and other countries, we recommend visiting ILDA (International Laser Display Association) at their site, www.ILDA.com.

Tip #5: Know your venue

Knowing which laser(s) will appear best for the venue(s) you usually perform in is critical to making the right decision on a laser system. A good rule of thumb is that for every audience member, it’s good to have at least 1mW of laser power. For example, in a 1,000-person venue, a 1W laser should suffice. For the biggest venues like arenas and major concert halls, lasers like our Skywriter HPX Tour series (5W, 10W, 20W or 30W) work wonderfully.

Tip #6: Know your environment

Lasers are complex machines with sensitive electronics. While some are outfitted with heavy-duty housings to protect them from environmental hazards, most standard lasers should be operated indoors and away from excessive smoke, confetti, pyrotechnics, mist, humidity, grease, sand or other substances that can damage a laser’s internal components. To maximize the life of a laser’s diodes, it should be operated and stored in places with a temperature of 60F to 85F (link to more info).

Tip #7: Know your control

To get the most out of your laser system, and to do so safely, a proper laser control system is worth the investment. This can be something as simple as an 8-channel DMX controller, or a full software setup on a PC to control ILDA-connected projectors. For DMX controllers, we like the Elation SD2, and for PC software, we have our own version of Quickshow by Pangolin that we recommend for anyone looking to create a custom laser show with custom effects.

Tip #8: Know the terminology

Need a quick lesson on laser lingo? These definitions will help:

  1. ILDA: International Laser Display Association and the name for the 27-pin connection protocol used for lasers connected to PC software.
  2. Scanners: A system of two mirrors mounted to a galvanometer that moves rapidly to turn laser beams into projected images and designs. Rated in “K” as in how many thousand points per second a scanner system can “draw” or trace. For example, our Mobile Beat Mirage‘s 30K scanners can trace 30,000 points of a pattern per second.
  3. Analog/TTL: The type of color modulation that a laser diode has. Analog diodes can be dimmed, while TTL diodes are either simply “on” or “off.”

Tip #9: Know your value (and how to boost it)

Based on your typical audience, determine how adding laser effects to your arsenal can boost your revenue. For example, if you are a mobile DJ, adding a laser lighting package to your services for $100 (or more) will not only boost your income but can make your performance even more memorable, leading to more referrals. With a laser system that can project graphics and text, you also won’t need to worry about buying any more gobos that you’ll only use once and then toss. Strategies like this can actually help your laser system pay for itself rather quickly.

Tip #10: Know your resources

Whether you have questions about laser hardware, software, safety, repairs, or any ideas covered in this guide, we’re here to help. Our expert technicians and product specialists can get you the info you need to help make an informed decision about laser. If you are ready to take the next step and purchase a laser system, you can do so directly from us at www.x-laserstore.com OR check out our map of the hundreds of authorized dealers we have across the U.S.

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American Disc Jockey AssociationCanadian Disc Jockey AssociationU.S. Food and Drug AdministrationInternational Association of Amusement Parks and AttractionsInternational Laser Display AssociationNAMMSPIE