Learning how to get started with lasers is one thing but trying to decide how to get control of lasers is entirely different. There are a few approaches to getting control of lasers and in this post we’re going to dive deeper.
Just as you would working with stage lights, you want to seriously consider what you’re looking to accomplish with lasers. Are you looking to incorporate the beams and patterns or are you looking to add more effects?
Controlling with DMX
When it comes to controlling lasers it can be a challenge to choose a method because lasers are sort of a hybrid of lights and video projection.
If you’re considering your laser show and want to keep it more basic such us using beams and patterns, you can do this by controlling your lasers with DMX. Just as you would with stage lights, you’ll have to consider how many DMX channels you have available to work with.
At the basic level of working with lasers, controlling them through DMX is definitely an option. You would have the ability to program and set up beams and patterns.
The downside to this option is you will be very limited on what you can create with your lasers.
However, on the other side of things the less functionality you have, the less programming time you would need to commit to.
Controlling with ILDA
In most cases, when adding lasers to a lighting rig you’re going to want the capability to do more than just beams and patterns.
The more old school lasers tend to use ILDA as the laser controller. This means you can program your lasers using software such as QuickShow and Beyond. Just as you would when programming stage lights, you select a program to work with and then begin building your laser show.
You can then map those to DMX through the ILDA software. Output to the lasers is via a USB-ILDA interface that typically comes with the software when you purchase it.
The downside to ILDA is that the cables are thick, huge, and can be a pain to deal with. Also, some users are not a fan of integrating with another program just for laser control, when many modern lasers can get some really good control via DMX.
But, if you want to do a lot of text and video-like FX, then you need to use something like QuickShow, Beyond, or LaserOS…
Controlling with LaserOS
Another option for controlling lasers would be using LaserOS. These can be connected via USB and connect with Android, Windows, and Macs. Through LaserOS, you have the same control that you would with ILDA minus the huge cords.
Out of all of the laser control options, LaserOS is one of my top choices because so far it’s been the easiest to get started with.
The downside to working with Laser OS is you would need a LaserCube or an ILDA based laser. It’s a very easy setup and easy to learn how to use but this also means it’s not able to do all of the complex effects very quickly.
The software just is not going to be able to do certain things very fast but it’s a great way to get started and still have the capability to do a lot with lasers with little learning curve.
Controlling with Mercury
There is actually another method that is easier and has the ability to do everything that you would want to do with lasers. These are systems to control lasers like you would a moving light.
xLasers has their own and it’s known as Mercury. Another similar option would be FB4 from Pangolin. These systems take a laser and break it down so that it can be controlled similar to a moving light.
With Mercury, you’re not able to control exact strings of text but there are hundreds of pre-built effects or gobos that you can select. On top of that, you get to work with the usual parameters like Pan/Tilt, Color, and Beam in lasers.
If you’re looking to get started with a basic laser that can do beams and patterns, you can get started with DMX control. If you want to work with the basics plus exact text and even logos you may want to consider either ILDA or Laser Os.
But if you’re looking to do all the patterns, effects, and beams then using Mercury or FB4 would be a good option if you don’t need specific text or patterns. Many people integrating lasers with a lighting show will use the 3rd option!