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Band Lighting Gels – Best Filter Colours To Light Your Gig

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007 - Band Lighting - by:

Thinking about lighting for your band, you think colour. A few really cheap PAR cans with coloured gels in them can transform the mood of your stage. Stage lighting filters are available in hundreds of different gel colours so On Stage Lighting did an unscientific straw poll of some stage lighting designers to find out their best filter colours for lighting a small band gig – to help you choose your own.



There are several different manufacturers of lighting gels but Lee Filters in Europe and Rosco in the USA, are the most popular. Because we spoke to a number of LD’s in the UK, their favourite band lighting gel numbers were mostly in Lee Filters numbers, which are traditional in the UK. We have added Rosco Supergel/Roscolux similar equivalent numbers (R##) and many of the stage lighting filter manufacturers have been starting to align their colour index to match up with their competitors. A good expample of this is the Rosco E-colour range, which matches the traditional Lee lighting gels while the Lee 0## gels are similar colours to the traditional Rosco Supergel filters.

Stage Lights Shining
Image by Herkie

The filters are chosen to give you maximum impact while maintaining a fairly good light output, so the gels are all strong colours that are the backbone of stage lighting for a band gig.

Red Lighting Gels

No band gig is complete without some red lighting and these gel colours are the best reds in the live music business:

  • Lee 106 Primary Red (R026): The original red lighting gel, this gives a warm fiery red light.
  • Lee 027 Medium Red (R027): A good all purpose red gel that does what it says on the tin.
  • Lee 046 Dark Magenta (R046): A really deep red gel that is much less hot or orange than previous filters.

Amber/Orange/Yellow Lighting Gels

A warm amber gel is great for those upbeat cheerful songs and give a bit of sunlight amongst all those moody blues and lavenders:

  • Lee 105 Orange (R15): This gel is actually a really nice rich yellow colour that is warm and not too green.
  • Lee 134 Golden Amber (R321): The traditional amber for band lighting. Slightly more orange than L105.
  • Lee 777 Rust (R2002): A deep brownish orange gel that is great if you don’t want your colour too yellow.

Blue Lighting Gels

From moody Jazz gigs to huge boy-band spectaculars, blue is the biggest thing there is in band stage lighting design. Blue gels always look great. It can be worth putting “doubling up” (using twice as many blue stage lights as other colours) your blue lights as the light output for a really good rock ‘n’ roll blue is less than other filters:

  • Lee 079 Just Blue (R079): A vibrant blue that is not too green and not too purple. It also has a high-ish light output.
  • Lee 721 Berry Blue (R074): A deepish moody blue gel that can produce both warm and cold blue light.
  • Lee 120 Deep Blue (R384): A really deep dark blue that still has a decent light output. Lee 119 is slightly lighter.
  • Lee 181 Congo Blue (R382): No band stage lighting is complete without Congo Blue. Dark and moody purple/blue that is sometimes incorrectly called UV or Ultra Violet. A fantastic lighting gel though you don’t get much light through it.

Lavender/Purple/Pink Lighting Gels

The ability to look warm or cold gives lavender a useful place in band stage lighting. You can’t be without some of these lighting gels. Pink lighting doesn’t have to be too camp or Burleque. A good deep pink can go with blues or ambers (or green, if you like the halloween look):

  • Lee 180 Dark Lavendar (R337): Dark enough to be worth using while still give a decent amount of purple light.
  • Lee 142 Pale Violet (R355): A light violet/lavender gel that has a good light output and a bit of useful colour.
  • Lee 126 Mauve (R049): Proper band lighting deep pink for rock ‘n’roll.
  • Lee 328 Follies Pink (R344): Camp and Broadway-ish for all you disco queens. Also Lee 128 Bright Pink.

Green Lighting Gels

The least used colour gel in band stage lighting is green. It makes the band look ill and make the audience feel pretty sick. Most of our lighting designers would not actually choose any green gels [Update: Unless you are lighting a Death Metal band - as pointed out by Kjitel]. We have picked a couple of green filter colours anyway:

  • Lee 116 Medium Blue/Green (R095): This sea green/blue was pretty much as green as we could stand. Good light shining on metalwork such as drumkits.
  • Lee 124 Dark Green (R??): A space age metallicky green that would be OK on sets or backdrops.
  • Lee 089 Moss Green (R089): A warm dark yellowy green has a organic, nature feel about it. Not sure how useful that is for band lighting, though.

White Band Lighting Colours

The light you get from a normal PAR Can without a gel is pretty yellow. The big live music gigs get their really bright cold light out of a different kind of stage lighting bulb that is fitted to their expensive moving lights. This sort cold while light is pretty tricky to achieve with normal lighting gel but you can try Lee 201 Full CTB or Lee 201 202 Half CTB to make your lights seem colder. Any kind of very light blue filter will make the yellow light of a tungsten PAR bulb less warm.

If you would like to add your favourite band lighting gels to this article, please leave us a comment below and let our readers know your best filters a simple music gig.

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Rob is a freelance Lighting Designer and Moving Light Programmer currently lecturing in technical theatre production at Bath Spa University in the UK. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and runs workshops in stage lighting practice.

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39 Comments

  1. Duncan (engineer):

    sound advice plainly stated that confirms my own rather inexperienced coomonsense lighting experiments at live gigs, but takes me a little further. Many thanks!

  2. Rob:

    Hi Duncan. Hope to bring you some more advanced lighting articles in the future. But what with gigs etc… You know how it is!

  3. jeremy guest-smith:

    nice to see you DIDNT include 132 in the Blue section, I’m working on eradicating that colour in my world!

  4. Rob:

    Hi Jeremy,

    Lee 132 didn’t quite make it into the top group of blue gels. My own opinion is that it is too green, particularly at lower intensities, with all that tungsten yellow from a PAR lamp.

    Light transmission is good if you only have 300w PAR56s but L119 is similar to L120 with a better output.

    Glad to hear you are working to rid the world of L132 (I am trying a similar campaign to never use L106 – Isn’t that lighting heresy??)

  5. Duncan (engineer):

    Hi Rob

    I’m learning fast! Take a look at our website in a week or so – shd be some HD vid there. I run a mixture of tungsten PARs, barrell scanners and led PARs mostly under ‘auto’, but have a pair of Thomann moving heads under full manual steering, etc. On symmetrically-opposite pan. They are incredible value, hardly ever need bulbs (good dual-fan cooling?), and look awesome close up to our frontline- as good as a follow-spot, but so much more versatile! A steal, even tho’ the euro has gone up, at 500 notes the brace!
    The stupid barrellscanners eat twenty quid ’1,000 hr’ bulbs for breakfast, can’t wait to get shot of ‘em and spend the saving on beer!

    all the best

    Duncan

  6. Rob:

    Hi Duncan, great to hear you are doing well. Looks good.

  7. Kait:

    I am one of the few LD’s that uses green very frequently in backlight pars (when I use pars which is fairly rare these days I have to admit with Color Mixing movers my main choice of weapon) and always use L139. It all depends on the band though. It’s great for a gritty rock band but I’m not going to use it much on a girly folk gig (though even then there is often a bitter jealous love song just crying for some envy green).

    I am totally in agreement with the two other comments to eradicate 106 and 132. Although nearly all my shows have red and blue I would not use either of these gels by choice.

    Basically for me it is about considering carefully what kind of act I am lighting and trying to convert what I hear into color. We all have our favorites (027 and 181 for me) but sometimes the best gel of all is none.

  8. Rob:

    Hi Kait,

    Good to hear about your gel favourites. I reckon that L139 is the most common green gel found sculling about in dusty store cupboards everywhere. Glad you here you are putting it to good use – green backlight can be effective.

    Thanks for your comments.

  9. Matt:

    Does anyone know where the best place to get an online colour chart is so that all these references to gel colours can be seen?

    Thanks

    Matt

  10. Rob Sayer:

    @matt – Lee Filters has some fun toys for looking at colours. It’s also worth mentioning CablePick.com Gobo tool that allows you to see your gobos with gels.

  11. Kjetil:

    I agree with green being generally not-so-useful, but it depends on the genre. (Every colour has its place, and 106 and 132′s place is in 1982.)
    I just got back from busking a concert with several bands playing what I personally refer to as “Argh Metal” – where the lyrics mainly go “Roooaaaaaarrrrgh!” Anyway, I kept going back to Lee 325 Mallard Green as side fill (this was with Mac700s, not filters on conventionals, so of course the actual filter may look different, a lot of them do). It made them look ill and/or creepy, but that’s what they _want_.

  12. Rob Sayer:

    Kjetil – Thanks for pointing our that green has it’s place. I did some Argh Metal last year and must have pulled out the green looks from the washlights for that. Updated the article with your point, thanks for visiting.

  13. LD SHARUKH:

    Hi,
    Some pretty interesting comments on gels here. I am quite keen to know why Rob wants to get rid of lee106. I love that colour. Anyways heres a piece of news you may find interesting. I fell short of 106 gels at a show where large numbers of it were required. Well a little bit of research and i mixed 128 and 105, and out came 106. Yeah i know orange and pink makes red but then in our world there are different types of each arent there. Well to be honest the mix looks better than the original.Check it out. If you like and use 105and 128 in your gel stocks you may never need to buy 106 again
    Cheers
    Sharukh

  14. Rob Sayer:

    Hi Sharukh. Like most design decisions, it comes down to personal preference and Lee 106 is quite firey and harsh on skin/hair for my taste. Quite a number of other LD’s I know are are not keen on it but every colour has it’s place.

    Your 128/105 “hack” is interesting. It’s funny how problems are solved quickly in our business. On a show I was working on recently, we needed some straw/light amber to warm up two followspots. Not having much of a range of colour on site (field), the crew created split-gel masterpieces using a medium red and a bright yellow. They were folded origami style, as I don’t think we had any access to Scotch tape either, and Gaffa taped into the colour mag.

  15. Charan JP:

    Hi Rob! Tel me how do i organize lights for a five band orchestra (for 60*40 stage) wen i’ve 100 par cans to use? Wat are the other best colors other than green i can use for back lighting?

  16. LDSHARUKH:

    Hi Charan,
    You can use reds,blues,ambers,pinks,orange and even some darker yellows for back lighting.
    You need to see what kind of music the bands play. The softer the music the darker the colours. Essentially numbers like these work good for any show I have done and I have done all types from rock and roll,hard rock to Indian classical.The numbers are Lee 126,106,102,124,079,132,027,105. Chocolate156 i have just discovered is good to use for FOH PARS.
    As for distributing your 100pars. You should use about 36 on the sides(18+18) another 48(24+24) from behind and the remaining 16 from Foh. A 60 by 40 will need to be covered with atleast four 1000w wide parcans per colour.Thus that gives you four colours.For Foh i suggest u leave 4 white, put 156 on 4 and gel the other two sets of 4 with two dark colours of your choice.You must then make sure you never use too much white or 156 and wash out the stage.
    Remember, match your side and back colours.if you are using 12 colours of 4 each from the back then use the same colours with 3 each on the sides.
    Hope this helps
    Thanks
    Sharukh

  17. Rob Sayer:

    Charan – Sharukh has pretty much got it. With a specific band you can choose your positions and colour based on their music.

    If you need a all purpose, multi band rig then a 4/5 colour wash with most of the rig as sidelight or backlight/beam structure plus a little bit of front light.

    Thanks Sharukh. BTW, last Indian Classical gig I did was 2008, Partho Sarothy and Kausik Sen in the UK. Heavy stuff.

  18. Saravanan:

    Thanks Sharukh. But is it not necessary to use more colors in the FOH to wash the stage?

  19. LDSHARUKH:

    Hi Saravanan,
    Not totally necessary. There are no real rules, however I have found that the less pars used from Foh the better. You see what FOH PARS do is wipe everything else out, where as side lights are far better for colours on the face, body and kit.Backlights with the same colour as the sidelights will give the face body and kit a three dimensional look, without which your stage will look dull. Your FOH is better of with No pars and only profiles. However, if you cant or dont want to use profiles use your pars minimally. Use them just to light the face so the audience doesnt beat you up and say they cant see their favourite rock star.A 45′ angle from a truss or speaker scaffold is a good rigging position.
    You can keep the band members in semi darkness with the features just about visible and give bright light only when the song ends so its like a breath of fresh air in between all the flashing strobing lights. This scenario works for a rock show,bands of most types.
    On the other hand when U are doing a classical band(Indian/western) a little more light is better so you should keep atlease 40%white FOH light on and change your back and side lights per song instead of letting them flash to the beat.
    Well this works for me everytime so hope it helps.
    Sharukh

  20. Roman:

    I am looking for uv purple do you know where I can get that color gel?

  21. Rob Sayer:

    Hi Roman, sounds like you want a deep purple rather than an actual Ultra Violet output. Try something like L181 Congo Blue or one of the deeper blues in the L7## range.

  22. Saravanan:

    Hi Sharukh need advice for my upcoming 2 Events this week.

    1. The stage size is 30 * 16 with a 10 * 6 ramp. I have planned to use 6 pars (white) for the stage from a stand behind the centre camera (as you said to use minimal pars for FOH). Then 6 for the backdrop with 4 LED Washes. Now how can I distribute the remaining 36 pars. This is a typical corporate event. Presentation is the main part in the event. Wer I can rig my 2 profiles for the guest in the podium who gonna do the presentation and the rest of the part are comprises usual dance and minus tracks.

    2.This one is a annual dance performance show of a dance studio with all type of dance styles. 40 * 30 is the stage size. I’m using 4 scans and 40 pars (4 for the backdrop) for the stage. How can I distribute the pars here? Help me out. Thanks

  23. SHARUKH:

    Hi Saravanan,
    For number 1-Try this combination
    6PARS FOR FOH IS FINE
    6 BACKDROP PARS IS ALSO OK
    Your two profiles have to be rigged from a high FOH POSITION.
    RIG 24 PARS FROM BEHIND AS BACK LIGHTS USE 6COLOURS (ON 4PARS EACH)
    Rig 12pars (6on each side)with 1 of the same colour on each side.Thus you have totally 6colours on those side and back lights and 6colours of 6pars each = 36pars.

    Use bright colours that match the dancers costumes. Remember this is a conference and dance recital not a rockshow.Keep it bright and colourful

    For the 2nd event follow the same idea. Use more side lighting and less backlighting.

  24. Saravanan:

    Hi Sharukh! With slight changes from your suggestion i planned my rig. Both the shows came out well. Thanks.

  25. Steve:

    Hey Rob!

    Your article was very helpful to me, as someone who knows next to nothing about lighting! I would appreciate your opinion on the selections I’ve made for my application.

    I need to select colors for a small venue with only 7 stationary PAR’s. 2 for left, 2 for center, 2 for right, and 1 one more center wash that’s further away. It is mainly used for local bands, and the lights will generally just be set-and-forget, but I’d like the option for a bit of color occasionally.

    I figured on leaving the far center with its flesh tone gel (it seems close to the R04 you mentioned). For the rest, I am considering Amber R321 & Lt Blue R363 for the sides, and Red R26 & Lt Blue R363 for the center.

    For a second option, I considered using a deeper blue & yellow for the sides, with red & yellow for the center.

    I came to these combinations after playing with some color-mixing software, so I don’t know how it would work in real life. Do they sound like workable choices?

    Thanks.

  26. Rob Sayer:

    Hi Steve,

    The colours you suggest are ok, R26 is a good red. A few things strike me about your list.

    - Set and forget colour mixing can just produce a dirty white light if you are not careful, depending on the angle each colour hits the performers at. You might be better to choose a rich colour coming all from one side, another deep colour from the other and fill in some faces with a tiny amount of less saturated colour from out front.

    - You usually need less amber / yellow and deeper blues than you think.

    - Lavendar, particularly more saturated ones are useful for “fixed” band lighting because they are very flexible.

    Hope this gives you something to think about.

  27. Kjetil:

    “Lee 201 Full CTB or Lee 201 Half CTB”

    That’s L202 Half CTB, kids. :)

  28. Rob Sayer:

    Thanks K ;-)

  29. Steve:

    Try L141 for blue. It has a good 18.5% transmission compared to 132 of 8% and is a truer blue.

  30. TOMMMY:

    Hi, All !
    I’ve been looking for a forum like this for ages, but it’s not quite what I need.
    Does anyone know of a forum devoted to rock band spotlighting?
    I’m a roadie/follow-spot for a local Twin Cities 80′s cover band, and have been “developing” my style by trial-and-error (much of the last !)
    All our shows use either in-house stage lighting, or small scale ( 6-10 PARs) set-up by the sound tech.
    We’re using a Chauvet 400G, nice cheap little unit, with 7 gels, only 3 of which I can stand to use. I’d like to switch the unuseable colors for ones more suitable for FOH/followspot use.
    If any of you know of a forum devoted to follow-spot techniques, please reply here, or email me at RISROADIE@aol.com.
    Thanx for any info !
    TOMMMY

  31. Lampie The Clown:

    I also like the L 156 chocolate. It’s Rosco equivalent is R 99.

    BTW, you mention L126, and list its Rosco equivalent as R04. I believe it’s R49. 04 is a bastard amber.

    Nice site!

  32. Rob Sayer:

    Thanks L the C, an error slipped in there.

  33. TOMMMY:

    On June 12, Steve mentioned some “Color-Mixing Software”. Anyone have recommendations? Are these free-ware or share-ware?
    I’m trying to determine which (and how many) gels to use in my stage spot.
    It’s a Chauvet 400G, ~350W Halogen, but the color chips are only about 1″ square, about 2″ from the lamp and have to spread over a roughly 7′ circle about 30′ away. I’m thinking I’ll need at least 2 layers of gel to get the intensity of color I want. Would the software be able to help me ?
    Thanx !

  34. Steve:

    Hi Tommy,

    The software I used was a demo of Virtual Light Lab from Future-Light.com.

    Available here: http://www.future-light.com/products/vll.html

    There’s a screen shot on the home page.

    Steve

  35. Steve:

    By the way, if I recall, the demo is limited to 2 lights at a time.

  36. Nick Saiki:

    Hey everybody, I know everyone has mentioned Rosco and Lee as the main gels to use, but if you’re looking for a good white color gel I’ve found GAM 872 to have less of the red and green that R60 and L201/202 tend to have.

  37. jan:

    hi…i just want to ask what is the best way to maximize the use of our lighting system in our church..considering that we use 6 par64 lights..

  38. jim:

    Hello… I am a mobile dj who was ask to possibly start doin the lights for a few local rock bands. I have the following dj jights at my disposal 6ea. Chauvet dmx rgb colorstrip mini’s 4 american dj led par 64′s (that do not change color) red,blue,green and yellow and a chaser box, a american dj galaxian 3d laser (dmx), an american dj revo 4 (dmx) and 3 par 64 cans with bulbs and primary color filters (non dmx), a chauvet 512 controller, 3ea t-bars or a 10′ truss w/ t-bars and 1 15′ t-bar i have had pretty good light shows at my dj gigs and have received a lot of compliments on my display. however lighting a band is a totally different animal could I pull off a fairly decent show with the above mentioned lights if so what configuration would you all suggest any and all advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks

  39. Elise tobin:

    Hi l. Will make a band stage my friends

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