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LED Stage Lighting – Why Buy RGB LED Stage Lights?

LED lighting for stage and theatrical use has never been so cheap to buy. It seem like every major stage lighting manufacturer has dived into the LED lighting fixture market while cheap imported lights mean that even a small band or DJ can get a slice of the RGB colour mixing action. On Stage Lighting has a guide for anyone thinking of buying and hoping to learn more about LED stage lighting fixtures.


Why Buy LED Stage Lights?

High Powered LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology means that we can now use those funny little glowing things that used to live on the front of your television, in theatre shows, live music gigs and corporate shows. LED fixtures have many advantages over “old fashioned” lanterns that make them attractive in stage lighting.

  • Low Power Consumption – Because the LED uses a fraction of the power of an normal lightbulb (lamp), the power consumption of LED lighting fixtures is very small, meaning you can use a lot of fixtures on small power supply such as a 13A domestic socket. This is great for small band lighting rigs and the disco/party DJ.
  • Low Heat Radiation – Although LED stage lighting does produce heat, the fixtures produce light without getting extremely hot. Modern stage lighting lamps produce more heat (and light) than they ever have and this has been coupled with improved lantern casings to minimise the risk of burning the operator. There are, however, some environments where the low heat properties of LED stage lighting are desirable.
  • Lightweight and Portable – The hardware that LED fixtures are packaged in does not need to be heavy and, although the various power supplies and elements all add weight, LED units are usually fairly light.
  • Colour Effects – The most common way for LED lights to be used for stage lighting purposes is using a combination of different coloured LEDs. A fixture with all three three lighting primary colours, Red, Green and Blue (RGB) LEDs blended together in different combinations gives the lighting designer loads of colour choices. This is using a principle called Additive Colour Mixing, where the coloured LEDs mix on any surface that reflects the light.
  • Small and Compact – LED lighting fixtures can be made in small, discreet packages which suit applications where size and brightness are important such as exhibitions stands.
  • High Brightness – This really comes down to the ratio of light brightness to power consumption. The new high powered LEDs are very bright considering small amount of electrical power they use.

So, What Types of LED Lighting Fixture Might I Choose?

For the purposes of stage lighting, the RGB colour mixing (see above) capabilities of the LED fixtue is it’s selling point. The main forms are in a lighting batten, a long strip with an array of red, green and blue LEDs or in a compact array that produces a beam of light, similar to a conventional PAR can or a Floodlight. The batten are useful for lighting up flat areas, such as a wall or backcloth, while the PAR / Flood fixtures will give you a beam of light, similar to their conventional stage lighting relatives.

Moving Light technology has also joined the LED bandwagon, with LED arrays being packaged in all shapes and sizes of “waggly” LED Moving Head fixtures. Another stage and theatrical use for the LED is in a large, screen-like array which can be used to show colours, patterns and moving images like a low resolution television screen.

How Do I Control My LED Stage Lighting?

Stage lighting is usually controlled using the standard DMX512 protocol, and LED fixtures are no exception. Different DMX channels control the Red, Green, Blue while other channels may deal with overall instensity or special chases and effects. The LED lights are linked to the DMX signal chain in the same way as other intelligent stage lighting fixtures and do not require extra dimmers to control them.

If you don’t have a DMX lighting controller, many LED stage lighting units can be used in “standalone” mode or can have control locally, using a simple controller/power supply that enable you to change the colour and run simple effects.

What’s the catch about LED stage lights , then?

LED stage lighting is cheaper than ever, uses less power, is smaller and doesn’t get hot. It also offers you a range of light colours, without using lighting gels. What more do you want?

Well, there is a few things you might want to know about LED stage lighting, before you go out and buy a van full.

  • LED arrays can’t “focus up” like a conventional lantern. Because there are many sources of light in the fixture, you can’t get a sharp spotlight or project a gobo using an LED fixture.
  • The “endless” colour choices have limits. Different LED stage lights have various colours that they just “don’t do”. A good quality white light is one of them. Because of the way that all three colours (RGB) are mixed, a good even white light is near impossible to achieve with most fixtures.
  • LED lighting fixtures are bright – but not that bright. Although power for instensity-wise LED stage lighting fixtures are really efficient, they do lack the punch of their conventional lantern relatives (for the moment). A PAR can with LEDs in it is nowhere near as punchy as a PAR64 CP62 (or even a PAR56, for that matter).
  • Intensity drops off quicker over distance. Or at least , it appears to. Because most LED lighting units have neither a lens nor a reflector, the light they produce scatters and struggles to maintain intensity when thrown much of a distance.
  • Colour mixes better over distance(?). Because the three coloured LEDs need to mix on a surface to create an even light, this mix improves further away from the light source. This produces the dichotomy of a fixture that colours mixes well when it is too far way to mantain a good intensity.
  • You get what you pay for. All LED stage lighting fixtures are not the same. Even though you can buy them cheap doesn’t mean that you should and all of the above points are more apparent in cheap LED lighting fixtures. A good quality lighting manufacturer will always be more expensive but, in general, the quality of the light and fixture will be far superior.

*UPDATE* The fully updated version of this article can be found at http://learn.onstagelighting.co.uk/led-stage-lighting/

While having their faults and limitations, DMX controlled LED lighting fixtures are an important development in the techonology of stage and theatre lighting. They expand the armoury of the lighting designer and will help save the planet – a bit. If you have any thoughts on LED stage lighting or have a question to put to On Stage Lighting, please use our comments box below.

Click here to see a range of LED PAR fixtures and LED Battens

131 Responses to LED Stage Lighting – Why Buy RGB LED Stage Lights?

  1. Blake Cox January 15, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    I have recently been introduced to the ETC Express 24/48 console. and my question is with this console can you control RGB-led fixtures and scanners such as the Martin Roboscan 518PRO? I know it can be done but with the dimmer racks that i’m using i’m somewhat confused.. Help is appreciated.

    Thanks!!
    Blake C.

  2. adrian January 18, 2011 at 5:28 pm #

    hello.,
    I recently bought myself a 24 stairville credetima lc console and beautiful please help me and give me I have not managed its head fail to make any program or use LED lights seem scena ca 64 mounted on a T-bar . where I find myself tutorials or even a manual for beginners or a site where they can learn.
    Thanks !!!!!!

  3. Abraham January 20, 2011 at 8:57 pm #

    Hi, I’m planning to buy lights to control with my ELATION DMX OPERATOR 192

    I have 2 questions:

    1- What would you choose:
    Chauvet Color Palette LED Bar Wash
    American DJ 64B LED Pro

    2- are this LED lights good enough to light the singers face(small stage), if not, what led light would you recomend, that would help me light faces.(I can’t have warm / hot lights)

  4. Bee January 31, 2011 at 2:56 pm #

    Hello Rob

    I’m just starting an event decorating business -mainly for weddings. I have a low budget at and need advice.

    I have no lighting experience whatsoever but thought it would be nice to have wall-washers and up-lights to set the ambience for venues. I’ve bought 10 par56 cans (not LED) but everyone keeps talking about LEDs so I’m getting jittery. Are par cans totally off?

    Also, I need to get lamps for the cans, do you think I should get the narrow spot or the medium flood beams having in mind what I need them for.

  5. mark March 1, 2011 at 3:59 am #

    1.If you have them use them. You can purchase leds in the future

    2. It all depends, depends , meaning, power available. Conventional lamps draw as much as 90 percent more electricity. This means if electricity is scarce, then you will be limited in the amount of lanterns you can use. I say check out the venue to determine what will work.

    3. In a static look such as set lighting . One color or two complimentary are acceptable. remember colors of the same compliment each other. Nice thing about color filters is you can get the exact color/hue you want . RGB lacks this ability.
    The disadvantage is heat. Heat means fading, the darker the color better the chance of this happening. This bring us to the next answer.
    4. The lamp., Your choice is 300w or 500w, Narrow, medium, and wide. You can google the beam spreads Narrows are good for slashes ,, cris croosing the lights are efective. also good for columns. If you choose narrows, you can change the beam angle by using diffusion. A material know as silk works great for rotating the beam.. To bad par color holders are not round. They work well with medium floods also. It also allows the use of darker colors .. It limits fading.

    Led is nice because of the convenience. of color. and its powe consumption.. In the end it will be the better choice for you.
    My opinion anyways..mark

  6. Shane April 20, 2011 at 11:43 pm #

    I have a customer wanting to replace 500 & 1000w par64’s….do they make LED pars that will match that brightness??

    Thanks,
    Shane

  7. mark April 22, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    It depends,,, on qty of chips,, power of the chip,, and the grade type.. also if light has white chips, or amber chips.. the combinations can easily out power a conventional when compared to colored plastic filters.. I would say anything above 36 , 3 watt chips can equal a 500w source and 54 x 5w can out put as a 1kw par.. As a full on white source then it would have to be measured.. Just my opinion, Mark

  8. Patrick May 15, 2011 at 11:26 pm #

    Hey,

    I’ve just been asked to design a light plot for a black and white set. What is the best way to provide lighting but keep the black and white feel?

  9. Sue October 9, 2011 at 8:08 pm #

    Hi,
    I am in a 6 piece band and we are looking for stage lights. I’m on the LED Par Can vibe, but how on earth do you tell how bright each light is going to be? I always thought it was measured in Watts….but none of the descriptions seem to include the watts!! Im confused!! Sorry if its a dumb question!!

    Thanks in advance for your anticipated help!!

    Best,
    Sue

  10. Adrian Ball October 10, 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    Sue
    You need to compare the lumen output of the led pars to compare brightness. I may be able to provide this data on the qtx light products I sell.

  11. Derek November 11, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Hi Rob-
    My query is…..I’m buying a lighting rig for my son’s band and price wise have came across 2 different types of lighting for more or less the same price…the first one is 2 sets of 4 LEDS (4 each side)and the second is 2 sets of 2(2 each side) BULB type of lamps(with changeable gels) in cans with the option of adding another 2 sets.
    In your opinion am I best to go with the LEDS or the more traditional changeable Bulb/gel types
    Thanks
    Derek

  12. Tony November 16, 2011 at 8:50 pm #

    Hey I’d like a second opinion, can you use LED MR16 lights in normal low voltage transformer ?

    I would of thought it would reduce the life of the lamp

  13. mark November 21, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    as long as the the power supply is a constant voltage power supply..the lamp needs 12 v to operate.,, If you want to dim you will need a PWM type dimmer.. If you want to dim and also use dmx to control it, you will also need a dmx encoder, unless the dimmer has an encoder circuit.. Try http://www.liteputer.com.tw/ also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmPziPfaByw and you may want to build your own,, goodluck

  14. Greg December 14, 2011 at 1:35 am #

    Hi Rob,
    mate i will be constructing some tall boy dry bars for a hotel renovation and just wondering what would be the best RGB LED fittings with the most muliple colour change options to use to fully illuminate the inside stems of the bars as i will be rebating the name of the hotel through the craftwood stems for the light to shine through – Dry bar stems will be 1100mm high x 400 x 400 square. I will be facing the cutout outs with clear arylic and obviously the RGB for colour changes – Thanks mate

  15. Steve Fisher December 20, 2011 at 11:55 am #

    I take photos / videos of bands at smaller venues around Nottingham, the move to LED lighting has given me a few problems. The ‘purity’ of the colours ( narrow wavelength ) gives big white balance problems. If only the Red of Red, Blue, Green LED is used it drives Digital cameras mad. Digital cameras only seem to see about 4 shades of red and you can not produce any sort of decent colour image from these type of setup ( this is why you see so many black and white live music images, its the only way to get a presentable image). The same applies to using only Blue or Green LED light, only its not as bad.

    Do you know if a partial defuser is available of LED lights, it would help mix the light and spread the light in smaller venues ( in smaller venues the cool running LED lights are being installed only 1 metre away from the musicians heads).

    I have also noticed an issue with video, a lot of LED lights have a 50 hertz flash. The eye does not see it, but the video camera does, this results in phasing of lighting on the resulting video or even problems focusing as the focusing system starts hunting under LED lighting. This is only a problem with LED’s as they appear to switch on and off a 50 hertz, old fashioned Tungsten / halogen bulbs never had this problem as they took to long to cool down and stop radiating light.

    Do you have any tips on how to reduce these issues, I would pass on the advice to lighting engineers at Venues. But part of the problem is these guys are being seduced by the vivid lighting LED’s give.

    thanks in advance

    Steve

  16. Murray January 5, 2012 at 11:59 am #

    Hi,

    I’m looking for advice regarding LED UV lights. I supply UV active backdrops to raves and want to invest in some lighting. I have a couple of traditional 400W UV cannons which take bulbs. I’m thinking in investing in some LEDJ stagewash 18 or LEDJ stagewash 36 units. I’ve got over 20 backdrops, the biggest in size being 15m x 1.6m, but approx 150 m sq in total. Any advice? Or better units than the LEDJs to consider?

    Many thanks,

    Murray

  17. E January 29, 2012 at 5:31 pm #

    Please bear with me on what may seem like dumb questions, I’m a sound guy….
    I would like to add some normal incandescant lighting (par56 or some ray lights, small spots, etc) to my small, 8 can, PAR64 LED system. The LEDs are sufficient for wash but the system just needs a little….umph.
    Can I combine regular par cans via a DMX dimmer pack? How do I go about that? Do I program that dimmer pack’s channels beyond the LED programming I already have, i.e., my programming ends at DMX channel 128 so the dimmer pack would be set to operate beginning at 129? And, do I set the programming, intensity, etc., the same as I have for the LED pars? Will the lighting operated by the dimmer pack (par 56, ray lights, etc) come up where desired the same as the LED pars? Will all 4 channels od the dimmer pack come up in every programmed scene?
    Thanks.

  18. Amie February 10, 2012 at 8:17 pm #

    Hi!

    I am a novice, to say the least, with lighting. I have developed a program with a very specific application for LED lighting. I am looking to take a darkened space of approx. 500 square feet and “bathe” the room in various colors of light, one color at a time… blues, green, red, orange, pale purple &, my most challenging, yellow. Quality and mobility are also of great importance. I have sought guidance via several phone calls to on-line stage lighting companies and, it seems, I get as many “definitive” answers to my specific lighting needs as representative I speak with. I purchased 4 RGB “Hamsters’ at the suggestion of “rep #1” The intensity of lighting was ok(ish), but I couldn’t get my yellow & found the levers in the back to be a bit, shall we say, sub-par (one broke right off.) When I called back I was told I absolutely needed RGB “Studs” then I was transferred & told I needed RGBA “Turtles”. Then I was transferred & told what I REALLY needed was 6 RGB “wide 64’s” I have also been escalated from about $200.00 for the 4 “Hampsters” to upwards of $700.00 for the 6x’s “64 wide”… I told them I’d “get back to them.” I also need a DMX w/ 8 pre-programmable settings (I’ve been told this should be about $100.00.) As I have completely lost faith in anything this company tells me, I could REALLY use some guidance! If you could please suggest the best type of lighting for this application as well as what I should expect to spend for something of good quality & transportability… that would be GREAT!! Thanks so much!

  19. OS March 15, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    Hi,

    I am looking for something similar to the discontinued Element Labs Versa Pixel square 50mm.

    I would like to know if there is a replacement or a similar product can do the same effect.

    Thanks. OS

  20. Jamie Robertson July 20, 2012 at 7:13 pm #

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2q0pok-708

    A comparison between cheap Leds + 1 Watt Leds

  21. Rob Sayer July 21, 2012 at 4:42 pm #

    Interesting video Jamie. It looks like the auto iris on the camera is kicking in which makes the brightness comparison less obvious in shot, as it appears the iris stops down when the brighter units are used. Anyone else thinking of shooting this kind of test should remember to turn off Auto White Balance on the camera as it wrecks any colour test.

  22. Adrian Ball July 22, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

    We will soon have a “new on the market” eLumen8 100 watt LED zoom cool white fresnel fitting available for demonstration purposes.
    Here is a link to the product.

    https://prolight.co.uk/PRO/item.php?id=509399

    The fitting has

    •1x 100W Cool White LED (5600K)
    •Beam angle: 10-50 degrees, manually adjusted
    •400Hz refresh rate
    •0-100% dimming and variable strobe
    •4 dimming curves in both LED and halogen profiles:
    Linear, square law, inverse square law and S-curve
    •DMX channels: 1 or 3 selectable
    •Dimming, master/slave and DMX
    •4 push button menu with LCD display
    •Powercon in socket
    •5-pin XLR in/out sockets
    •Fan cooled
    •Filter frame included

    The fitting also carries a one year warranty, repairs can be carried out by Prolight in the North West (in and out of warranty) if required.

    Several theatres in the Manchester (UK) have shown an interest in this product from a maintenance an energy usage perspective, we now need to test it out.
    Retail cost is expected to be around £500 inc VAT, pm me for further details.

  23. Adrian Ball July 22, 2012 at 4:37 pm #

    Murray

    RE: LEDJ UV lights for raves – The LEDJ UV36, UV18 and stratos have a 40 degree beam angle, therefore if you mount one 10 metres away from your backdrop you will cover an area approx 7.2 metres wide. Two should be ok for your 15 metre back drops. The UV36 is £255 each and the UV 18 is £169 each inc VAT.
    We can supply them if required.

  24. Tim February 6, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    Fantastic site by the way !

    I have a quick question… would a 18 X 8W RGBWA par 64 work well lighting a boxing ring ? say 28 of them.

    The event is filmed and would need to be bright ! We have the above units and i cant see a problem but i could be very wrong lol 🙂

  25. mark February 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm #

    I think personally they are ok, also you can adjust the color temp appearance of the picture, Since it is a 5-1 chip. You may need barndoors, but most overseas units do not have this third ear/tab located at the bottom of the fixture. This would also allow for use of diffusion, like matte silk or silk. , You can purchase the tab from Elations parts department and drill and tap them yourself , if you have the ability. just my thought.

  26. Cyiza Rwanda February 15, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Thanks So Much for Information…

    I am an upcoming reggae musician based in Lilongwe, Malawi. I am now building a Musical Band and we have settled on an 11 Members Band… 1 Lead Vocalist (Me), 4 Backing Vocalists, 2 Guitarists, 2 Pianists, 1 Drummer, 1 Percussionist… Since there are no ready built arenas, or already lighted up venues or record companies, it falls on the musician to invest in his business… We are spending about $80,135.00 on band equipment, but now we are stuck on lighting… we want to revolutionize music as a strong band but, we need help on lighting… What exactly do I need to light up my band? We are targeting 3000 to 4000 maximum attendants at our concerts. I need help…

  27. mark February 17, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    Tim, This type is better, each chip is really a 3watt chip , but to conserve the life of the chip, it is underpowered at 2 watts. the pixel par is 90 x 1 watt@ red =30 green=30, and blue is 30. yours is 18 x 4 or 54 pcs@ 2 watt per color or 108w, this excludes fan draw and on board electronics and driver etc. The unit you have mixes the color at the chip , as the pixel par mixes the rgb in the air,, this can be as far as 3-4 mtrs from the fixture. If yours is a recent purchase , you may have the ability to also change beam angles with a retofit lens plate. Also you have a high colortemp white chip, this allows for you to make pastel colors, light pinks , etc.. The 5 into 1 has amber in the chipset and allows for more additive of colors. In reality it is called subtractive mixing.

  28. Tim February 18, 2013 at 8:25 am #

    So these were a good buy then by the sounds of it….

  29. 1127skyshinee November 27, 2014 at 3:06 am #

    eed help choosing stage lighting- Clueless! hot new housing 3w 637nm red rgb laser show light

    Hey guys
    I find this from this site: http://www.stagelasers.com/new-items-four-head-10w-rgbw-led-white-beam-moving-head-with-strobe-effects

    I hope you have time and inclination to check the specs if it is decent and say what you think about

    it.I’d like to use them for many years.It looks very good and Anybody can give me some advice, many

    thanks.

  30. Jinggo July 28, 2015 at 7:25 am #

    Hi.

    I am new to LED lights. I am planning to buy RMB 54 LED lights from a local store here in the Philippines. I will use the said lights for the stage in my school. 1) Are there specifications or suggestions as to the distance between these lights in a row? 2) If I will have 20 of such LED lights, which DMX controller will I buy–the 512 or the 200? 3) Is there a limit as to the number of LED lights that can be connected to and controlled by a DMX controller?

    Thanks.

  31. Stuart May 16, 2016 at 6:11 pm #

    Hi there,
    I have a question – we’re a school with the ‘old-style’ dimming racks and 15/16amp round-pin rig etc. but we’re branching out into LEDs… Any tips on how to power these properly – at the moment I’m having to buy huge lengths of 13amp extension cord and manually run it along the rigging to where we want the fixture… is there a way to have it powered using the dimming rig? If, say, during programming, the channel is always programmed to have 100% up…, which would obviously mean programmed black outs, and not using the black out key… sounds mad, and it probably is, but without installing 13amp sockets everywhere…
    Any thoughts/tips welcome!
    Stu

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