Everything you need to know about lasers and what makes X-Laser the right choice, right here in our FAQ.
Q1: Who is X-Laser?
A1: X-Laser is a U.S.-based, and FDA-varianced, non-ionizing radiation system developer and integrator. That is a fancy way of saying that we develop and manufacture some of the best, most innovative, and affordable entertainment, architectural, and industrial laser projectors in the world. We work with dozens of firms spread across the globe that specialize in a wide array of disciplines; from optics and diodes, to millwork and circuit boards.
We take the best solutions and technology we can find, along with the technologies we invent ourselves, and combine them into both stock and custom built laser products which deliver the best performance/cost and ROI ratios in the world. We are also a family company which stands behind every unit we make and strives to provide the most responsive customer service in the industry.
All of these factors, along with unique United States FDA compliance procedures, have come together to make us, by far, the most popular high powered entertainment laser manufacturer in North America. Delivering more new high powered laser systems than all of our other competitors combined. Having added industrial laser offerings to our product portfolio and extensive R&D capabilities, X-Laser stands alone ready to make pretty much whatever you can dream up.
Q2: Do I need fog or haze for my laser show?
A2: Generally, yes, if you’re looking to display aerial effects.
Our full explanation can be found by clicking here.
Q3: Do I need a laser light show variance?
A3: Yes. Ninety five percent of our clients (rentals included) will need a variance regardless of what “your buddy” told you. We rigorously follow U.S. law for our protection and yours. If you think you don’t need a variance, please contact us and we will happily render an impartial opinion, because there are a small number of circumstances where a variance is actually unnecessary, and we are happy to rent to you without an FDA variance in that case.
For those who need a variance, we have made getting one super easy. First-time renters with us will have the option of purchasing an EZ Variance Kit access code. You can then go onto our Web site, fill out the Web form, digitally sign the documents, and then we take care of the rest for you. Our EZ Variance process is easy, safe and totally secure.
Q4: What is ILDA?
A4: This is a good question for anyone getting into laser light show projection as ILDA is both a “who” and a “what.”
ILDA stands for International Laser Display Association. ILDA is the trade organization dedicated to supporting the “laserist” community. ILDA does everything from laser safety standards to technical standards to industry awards. ILDA also works with government regulators when regulations are proposed that would restrict the use of laser projectors. For example, when pilots first reported being temporarily blinded by lasers, it was ILDA who kept U.S. outdoor laser shows legal and safe. ILDA is also the organization that sends out requests from those outside of the industry in need of a laser show company. ILDA is currently working on new standards for professional projectors and for laser light show safety guidelines. ILDA’s annual conference and awards show is the biggest gathering of professional laserists in the world.
Defining ILDA becomes confusing for many folks who are new to the laser light show industry, because most of the time when someone brings up ILDA regarding laser projectors, they are talking not about the organization, but rather the standard communications protocol and connectors developed by the ILDA Technical Committee years ago to ensure that all laser projectors and software packages could be compatible with each other.
The ILDA communications protocol is a specification for the electrical signals sent from your computer or laser light show playback device through an ILDA cable to your laser projector. Without a standard for this signal, all laser projector manufacturers and control hardware/software creators would probably have different signal types, so you would only be able to use your laser projector with the software the manufacturer specified. Thanks to the ILDA standard, almost every laser projector on the market since 1996 has used the same ILDA connector, cable and signal levels. This is a huge victory for you as the laserist, as you’re not being locked into any single hardware or software solution for your show, and you don’t have to buy multiple types of communication cable.
If you would like to learn more about ILDA as an organization and its benefits, please see www.ILDA.com.
Q5: What is the ILDA interface?
A5: An ILDA interface is a standardized interface used in the laser industry just as DMX is a standard control interface and protocol used in most of the entertainment lighting industry. An ILDA interface allows the importation of custom graphics, text, and effects into animation lasers and is run by a PC software package used to create the content. Many other control options exist for lasers these days, including X-Laser’s Mercury control system, but ILDA is a good option for beginning laser users.
Q6: I have a project coming up involving lasers – what can X-Laser do for me?
A6: Everything. From design, to CAD drafting, to component sourcing, to building, to legal compliance… we do it all. We have two in-house formally trained laser safety officers, a CAD suite, CNC mill, design engineers, rapid prototyping equipment, and and army of outstanding professionals from a wide variety of disciplines ready to tackle whatever anyone can throw at them. Most projects go from design to prototyping in less than two weeks, and from prototype to manufacturing in less than a few weeks thereafter.
Q7: What quality assurance processes does X-Laser use?
A7: X-Laser’s QA process is second to none. Regardless of whether FDA rules apply, you can proceed knowing that you are buying a laser that is certified to exceed the world’s most stringent standards of quality and safety.
Each laser is built, serialized, and then run through almost 30 quality checks, including having our technicians physically test every aspect of each unit’s performance and then put their name on the results. The results of each round of tests are stored in a custom database application where we track the laser through its’ entire life including any future service, part replacements, etc.
Q8: If I want a custom laser, will you make it for me?
A8: Beyond our normal stock offerings, X-Laser routinely builds fully customized laser systems to serve a variety of functions. At any given time we are also engaged in developing a half dozen specialized projects in a variety of industries, from industrial signaling to digital signage, and of course, entertainment. Contact us about your custom project and we’ll be excited to help!
Technical / Best Practices / Safety FAQ
Q1: How do I maintain my laser projector?
A1: For a good overview of how to keep your laser projector running strong, watch the video below.
Q2: What is the duty cycle for a laser? (How long can I run my laser?)
A2: Many people believe that lasers have no specific duty cycle and that you can leave your laser turned on for hours on end. We recommend a fairly simple duty cycle guideline for our range of laser products:
- Do not leave your laser projector running for more than four hours at a time.
- After four hours of operation, let your laser cool down for at least 15 minutes before starting to use your laser again.
- If the ambient temperature is very warm (80+ degrees Fahrenheit) where you are operating your laser, let your laser cool down for more time (30+ minutes) in between cycles.
Q3: How do I fix my laser projector?
A3: Do not attempt to repair your laser on your own.
Laser projectors, including X-Laser products, are regulated by the U.S. FDA. Any change to laser hardware requires the laser to be re-certified by qualified technicians. Legal, authorized repairs can only be done by such technicians like those in our workshop. Attempting to repair your X-Laser product on your own will void its warranty and will likely make it illegal due to hardware changes without proper FDA-spec recertification. If your X-Laser is built to allow end-user field realignment, you can call our support team (866-702-7768 ext. 155) and they will guide you through the process.
Q4: What kind of environments are best (and safest) for laser?
A4: What’s in the air where you operate your laser is also important, especially for lasers without sealed housings. Any dust, sand, grease, smoke, confetti or similar materials can get inside your laser and cause the scanner mirrors to get dirty or cause general damage to the electronics inside.
- Laser effects always look best with plenty of fog and haze in the atmosphere, but be careful as to not shoot fog or haze directly toward a laser if your laser has an open aperture, as it can get inside the laser housing and cause scanner mirrors to get dirty. Oil-based haze can cause a problem as well, as its residue can build up inside the laser on its electrical components and scanner mirrors.
- Temperature is a key factor in where to rig and operate your laser. When installing a laser as a permanent or semi-permanent fixture, keep in mind that the upper part of a room near the ceiling is usually much warmer than a dance floor or guest area, so make sure that lasers mounted near the venue’s ceiling are properly cooled with clean air.
- Operating the laser in very hot (above 85 degrees Fahrenheit) or cold (below 50 degrees Fahrenheit) environments will have a large effect on the life of a laser’s diodes as well.
Q5: How should I store my laser?
A5: A rule of thumb for how to store your laser while it’s not in use is to consider if you would be uncomfortable spending the night where your laser spends the night (or time in storage).
This typically means that your laser should be stored (preferably in its box or case) somewhere where the temperature stays between 60 degrees Fahrenheit and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
Q6: How should I ship or handle my laser?
A6: Lasers contain sensitive optical and electronic components that can easily be damaged or misaligned if the laser unit is handled incorrectly. A common problem that comes from mishandling a laser is that the internal optics will shift slightly, causing the laser’s projections and colors to come out of alignment. In some cases, this will require the laser to be sent to us for repair.
- When packing your laser to take it to a show, remember to make sure the laser is snugly packed in its box with the proper packing materials.
- When setting a laser in the car, for example, place it gently into a spot that will not experience too much motion or impact during the trip.
- Generally, a good rule is to handle a laser like you would a laptop or any other fragile electronic equipment, even if it is in a heavy-duty case. Many lasers made today have rugged optical hardware, but dropping or tossing a laser while it is in its box or road case can misalign or damage its internals.
Q7: How do I connect my laser to a PC via ILDA? (For Pangolin FB3 USB)
A7: To run Pangolin laser software (Quickshow or Beyond) with your laser, you need to connect the laser to your computer. For Pangolin software, the first step is to connect the USB dongle/FB3 DAC to your computer and set up the dongle/DAC in the software. Next, you need to connect the ILDA cable to the dongle/DAC and then to your laser. Once you connect the PC to the Pangolin dongle and the Pangolin dongle to the ILDA cable, you can connect the ILDA cable to your laser.
If you try to plug in an ILDA cable into your laser without the connection pins aligned correctly (like upside-down) and apply too much force, it can cause the ILDA board to break, resulting in a malfunction. Replacing a laser’s ILDA board is a costly repair. Here’s how to properly and securely attach an ILDA cable in a matter of seconds:
- 1) Make sure the pins are aligned on both the cable and the projector.
- 2) Gently push the ILDA cable into place and secure the connection by tightening the screws. Make sure not to over-tighten the screws.
Q8: How do I clean my laser’s fan filter?
A8: Keeping the inside of your laser unit cool is critical to its performance and the life of its diodes, so clean, cool air must be able to flow into the housing. Not all X-Laser projectors have removable fan filters, so this applies to XA and X-Series models including: Mobile Beat MAX, Caliente, Aurora, X2, X-Beam, Sapphire and X4C/X4G.
A simple way to improve the quality of the air flowing into your laser is by keeping its fan filter clean.
- 1) Remove the fan filter (pliers are helpful but not always required depending on the laser model).
- 2) Gently wash the filter in cool water and let it dry completely before reinstalling.
- 3) Simply place the filter back into the fan housing and clip the fan filter cover in place to make sure it fits snugly.
With regular cleanings, your laser’s fan filter should last as long as the laser itself, and regular filter cleanings will help your laser function properly and efficiently for longer. If you need a replacement fan filter, we’ll happily send you a new one for free.
Q9: How do I clean my laser’s scanner mirrors?
A9: If your laser’s scanner mirrors become dirty, the quality of the laser’s beam projections will suffer, both in brightness and sharpness. Giving the mirrors a quick cleaning easily solves this. Use a lens cleaning towelette, and gently wipe each mirror. You can apply very gentle pressure to the back side of the mirror during this process to keep the mirror stable while wiping it. If you can’t reach the mirrors, try wrapping the lens wipe around a cotton swab and access the mirrors that way.
Q10: What’s the difference between TTL laser color and analog laser color?
A10: In the context of laser projectors, the terms TTL and analog refer to the modulation of the laser diodes, or put another way, how the lasers turn off and on.
TTL stands for “Transistor-Transistor Logic,” and is another way to say that the laser diode modulates digitally, and it’s always either 100% on or 100% off, never anywhere in the middle. TTL laser diodes are generally cheaper, and in some situations can appear brighter than a system of analog-modulated laser diodes with the same peak power level. TTL laser diodes are usually used in lower-cost, entry-level systems where maximum brightness is required at all times and you don’t need a wide color palette. An RGB laser projector system with TTL modulation can only make 7 color combinations; red, green, blue, yellow, cyan, magenta and white.
Analog modulation means that the laser diodes can do more than just turn to 100% on or 100% off, and can emit laser at a large range of power levels. Analog-modulating diodes are the industry standard for galvanometer-based projectors, and while costing a little more than TTL diodes, analog diodes offer a much wider color palette than TTL systems. Analog modulation also allows you to fade the laser beams in and out, which gives you a lot more creative control for your show programming. Analog systems can create anywhere from dozens to thousands of possible colors, depending on the specifications of the system.
Frequently, if a laser is said to be “seven-color,” its diodes are TTL, and analog diodes usually go with lasers said to have “1,000+ colors.” For example, our Caliente Aurora’s diodes are TTL, and our Skywriter HPX has analog diodes.
Want to learn more about the differences between TTL (digital) and analog signals? Check out this excellent tutorial on the subject by our friends at Sparkfun. https://learn.sparkfun.com/tutorials/analog-vs-digital
Q11: Realistically, will a laser hurt someone?
A11: This is a difficult question to answer because there are opposing schools of thought. However, the mere fact that it is a difficult question to answer means that there is very little data to report (ie. few if any injuries are known). According to data from the FDA, Rockwell Laser Industries, and the U.S. Consumer Protection Agency, there are no known cases of accidental injury from Class 3A (IIIR) or 3B (IIIB) laser beams emanating from properly built and certified projectors used in an entertainment setting.
Are there cases where someone has intentionally injured themselves or someone else? Yes, a very few. Are there cases of injuries from very high powered entertainment lasers? Yes, a few and mostly undocumented. Is it possible to injure someone with a 3A/3B laser system? Yes, and that is why we preach safety and the importance of having properly built lasers at every turn. However, we are heartened that among Class 3B high powered FDA certified entertainment laser projectors, like X-Lasers, there are no known cases of injury in the United States, ever.
We are proud to make laser products which are certified to exceed the world’s most stringent standards of performance and safety. We feel that with a little education and a reasonable amount of attention to safety that it should be possible for virtually anyone to operate an X-Laser safely.
Q12: What are the basics of laser safety?
A12: In general, the cardinal rule of operating high powered lasers is: Do not shoot lasers AT people. In the U.S., laserists are required to keep the lowest laser beams about 3 meters above the floor, so there is a few feet of clearance between a tall person and the bottom of the display. Laterally, a 2.5 meter clearance is observed.
In addition, NEVER allow laser beams to enter airspace. Laser beams striking the windshield of aircraft (made with special glass) causes light flare and can blind pilots.
Basically, lasers are “NOT FOR EYES, NOT FOR SKIES.”
If you want to “crowd scan” or intentionally shoot lasers at people, different countries have different rules. Again, in general, there is a concept called MPE which is an amount of power under special conditions that it is safe for the human eye to absorb. Most of the world observes this standard, though enforcement is spotty. In the United States, limiting audience scanning to MPE levels is the law, and is enforced.
Beyond that, US law requires, and best practices in the rest of the world dictate, that you have a reliable means of stopping the laser in case of emergency. This means that the laser operator has at least a base level of training to be able to run the laser safely, and that certain procedures for setup and alignment are observed.
For crowd scanning applications, we recommend our Polaris Audience Immersion Technology.
Q13: Is it safe to use lasers outdoors?
A13: *Please read this answer entirely, it’s actually important*
Whether or not you can use lasers outdoors is actually two separate questions. The first question is whether or not the lasers themselves are rated for outdoor use, and the second question is whether or not it is legal to use lasers outside. The answer to both is “sometimes.”
Unless you have a weatherized laser system, it is best to treat your laser as you would your computer. If you would feel comfortable using your laptop outside for short periods of time, your laser should be fine as well. However, just as you would not leave your laptop outside all day or night, nor should you leave your laser. Protecting it from excessive humidity, rain and extreme temperatures is essential.
The second part of this answer is for U.S. laserists. If you are outside of the U.S., please check your local laws.
The short answer is that if you want to do an outdoor show in the United States, check with your local FAA field office to see what they recommend. Be honest with them about what you want to do and they will point you in the right direction.
In the U.S., there are two kinds of outdoor shows: terminated (where all of the beams stop on a tent, or the side of a barn, etc.) and unterminated (where the beams either by design or even by accident might shoot up into the sky). The real issue with unterminated beam shows is that they might hit airplanes (see Q12). The U.S. FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) can approve or disapprove all outdoor laser shows.
Q1: My laser rental is absolutely critical to my show and I am nervous only having one projector to use. What are my options?
A1: We strongly recommend that if you have date-critical shows or contractual obligations, that you consider renting a backup projector at the same time as your primary rental. We will make any backup unit available to you at a 50 percent discount, because we want to make it easy to guarantee the success of your event. If you use both units, you will be charged full price for both units, but for mission-critical applications, we call this “cheap insurance.”
Q2: What happens if the equipment I rented arrives damaged?
A2: Your rental equipment will have left us in perfect mechanical condition – every piece is checked twice before we send anything. However, shipping damage does happen. You must check the equipment to ensure that everything arrived properly the same day it arrives to you. This is essential to ensure that we have enough time to ship you a replacement if something is in fact damaged.
If your equipment arrives damaged, we will ask you to immediately call us for a return merchandise authorization (RMA). You will place the provided return shipping label on the damaged parcel, and we will ship you a replacement laser via three-day air at our expense. If you need it faster than three-day air (or ground shipping for East Coast clients), you are welcome to upgrade the shipping.
However, we strongly recommend that if you have date-critical shows or contractual obligations, that you consider renting a backup projector at the same time as your primary rental. See Q1 in this section.
Q3: What do I do if I want someone to make a laser show for me to use, or if I need help running the laser show during my rental?
A3: We suggest contacting a local laser specialist. In some cases, we can help with this. Please inquire for more information about your particular situation.
Q4: What do I do if I need technical support during my rental?
A4: We stand behind the products we make, but our rental rates do envision and assume that the client understands how to set up, program, and safely use high-powered laser systems. As such, we include 15 minutes of free telephone technical support (301-543-1981 ext. 155) with each rental in case any issues arise.
As a whole, our telephone (866-702-7768 ext. 155) and email (email@example.com) technical support is available during most waking hours virtually every day of the year.
For any support, we recommend visiting our service and support page, as many resources, including product manuals, are listed there.
Q5: Is laser training included with my rental?
A5: Yes, each rental comes complete with our suite of resources including setup videos, a digital user manual, and a quick setup guide. That should be enough guidance to get most people operating the laser safely.
However, we cannot fully train users how to properly and safely use laser systems solely via a guide or remote connection. It comes down to the fact that (in 95 percent of cases) we can’t physically be there to see the performance space adequately, and even video chatting does not provide sufficient detail. Therefore, we are unable to make safety or show content-related determinations without being able to be there in the venue. We are happy to help you get up and running with your laser(s), although this service may cause you to incur technical support fees.
Q6: What are the shipping policies for rentals?
A6: X-Laser will ship your rental via FedEx, which the client prepays for as noted on their rental quote. We then include a pre-paid return label with your equipment, which you can just slap on and drop off at any FedEx location to return to us. We do not use UPS. Any damage to X-Laser equipment due to improper return shipping will be billed to the client and their security deposit will not be refunded.
Q7: Can I rent to own? If I like the rental equipment, can I just buy it?
A7: Yes. In fact, many of our clients over the years have bought their X-Laser systems right after their first use. If you would like to purchase one or more pieces of equipment you have rented, we will take the rental fee you prepaid at the time of rental and then apply it to the total purchase price.
Q8: How can I start the rental process?
A8: First, complete our Rental Request Form on the rentals page of our website (click here). Once we have a better idea of your needs and provide you a quote, we will reserve the equipment upon your approval of the quote and submission of rental documents and a security deposit. The documents include our Master Rental Agreement, which will cover all of your future rentals and provide us with standard renter’s information like a copy of your driver’s license. We also require proof of insurance and that X-Laser LLC be named as an additional insurer on whatever policy will cover the equipment while it is in your care. Lastly, an FDA variance is required for most renters, and we either need proof that you hold a current and valid FDA laser light show variance, or you will need to use our EZ Re-Variance Kit.