Laser Shows Work - Introduction
shows are complex, expensive, fragile, high-tech systems filled with
precision optical components. Here we will give a brief and basic explanation
of how laser display systems produce the exciting effects we all love.
An array of colourful beams
- Photo by L. Michael Roberts
Lasers can also
be dangerous if improperly used. The greatest danger is from beams projected
into the eye. These can be focused by the lens (in the eye) into a very
small and powerful spot capable of burning the retina and blinding people.
If you are planning to experiment with lasers, we urge you to read the
If you are not familiar
with the terms used here, please see the Glossary
in the Laser Science Projects section.
of light show effects
Laser effects for
displays and light shows can be divided into two main categories; beam
effects and screen effects.
Beam effects are the effects created by the laser beam itself traveling
through the air towards or over the viewers. Beam effects include:
- Static beams. These are beams that do not
move but are switched on and off (with and without bounce mirrors).
Static beams are typically generated from a beam table. Static
beams can be the most dangerous type of laser effects and must
be separated from the audience to prevent contact with the viewers.
- Dynamic (scanned) beam effects. These are
beams that move rather than just turning on and off (such as
the fans shown in the photo). Dynamic beam effects are generated by X-Y scanning systems and include fans of
beams, beam sequences, sheets of light, cones and tunnels of
beams and some moving diffraction grating effects.
effects from a laser show in a night-club -
L. Michael Roberts
Projected abstract spiral
Photo courtesy of Pangolin
| Screen effects
are projected laser effects that require a screen (or other surface)
to make them visible. They can be projected onto screens, planetarium
domes, walls, buildings, billboards, the sides of mountains and
even (under optimum conditions) clouds.
Examples of screen effects include graphics and animations, cycloids,
abstracts, lumia, diffraction gratings and other projected optical
There are six major sub-systems in a
laser light show;
Laser and exciter (laser power supply);
Laser projector (containing colour
control, beam table and scanning sub-systems);
Laser Graphics system;
In addition there
may be additional equipment such as screens or scrims, power
distribution systems, scaffolding and water
Clicking on a part
of the system in the diagram below will take you to a page that will
give you more detailed information with pictures of the equipment. There
are also links on each page to our sponsors who manufacture the equipment
and systems used in laser shows.
and exciter | Projector
| Scanners | Control
console | Graphics system
| Outboard Equipment ]