10 Tips to understanding modern lasers used for the entertainment industry

1. What is a LASER?

The laser is a bunch of energy waves (streams of photons called radiation) with the same amplitude and phase that are flowing the same direction, meaning they are coherent - they stick together and form a laser beam.

The width of a single wave is measured in nanometers and defines the colour and visibility of the laser beam.
 
Visible spectrum of light

2. What makes the laser beam visible?

Mainly it is the particles of dust and water in the air that the laser beam hits on its path. That’s why we “laserists” use haze or smoke machines to make lasers more visible. Too much of the haze or smoke will kill it, but the right amount will make all the difference between no show and a great show.

When outdoors, lasers mainly reflect off dust and mist in the air but due to unpredictable wind conditions we can never make sure the hazers or smoke machines will be effective enough. And that’s why we use high power lasers for outdoor shows - to substitute for the lack of dust, haze and smoke.

3. How far does the laser light go and can it get to the Moon?

Depending on the power output of the laser system and weather conditions, the laser can be visible for miles - that is why we need to be cautious about aircrafts when performing outdoor laser shows.

And if you get a system that is powerful enough then YES, it can reach the Moon.

Architect 55: powerful 55W full colour single beam laser

4. How the colours work?

Standard full colour analogue lasers use three primary colours: Red, Green and Blue. By mixing those together you can pretty much get any secondary colour.
 
Color mixing laser

Of course the number and precision of the colours is determined by stability and linearity of the modulation of the system. If the system is not stable enough, it will produce different colours every time making it virtually impossible to match the colours of two systems at one time - there are tons of these on the market so be careful.

5. How do I recognise a quality laser?

You won’t unless you are experienced.

We recommend you to do some research. The online forums and other people’s references are probably the best for that. In general, the laser market is one of those where you get what you pay for and there’s no way around it.

The quality will always cost you fair bit of money, but even then you need to make sure you are getting the quality you pay for.

KVANT Laser Display Systems
 
Quality laser system

6. Main factors that determine the quality

Laser source technology and quality of build – Anyone can bolt some components together, but building a quality and long lasting laser takes a lot of precision and that’s the issue here.

It is quite likely though that long established manufacturers who do have facilities for their own development and manufacturing will do their job well. We recommend you to be careful though. Some companies are only in it for the money, whilst we do it because we love lasers and that helps us to be better.

Size of beam and divergence – The smaller and tighter the beam is over a distance, the better visibility and concentrated power you will get.

Also matching beam sizes and beam profiles of all the colours are very important when it comes to full colour lasers.

7. What is a modern laser system made of?

Enclosure - these days it can get pretty sophisticated and IP rated with many clever and useful features for touring and dry hiring.

Laser source - quality laser modules are essential for reliable and decent performance as well as a long life span of the system.

Scanning system - the scanning speed and precision determines the graphical performance of the system.
PSU - if this fails, everything else fails too. KVANT uses only high quality power supplies with very low failure rates.

Driving Electronics - there’s a great deal of development going into the driving electronics as the laser modules performance heavily depends on the quality of its driver board and temperature stabilization technology.

Safety Features - these are firmly established by law, but very often ignored. Make sure your system is up to date and legal to use otherwise you are risking a lot!

Optical components - non quality optics can get damaged by the heat of the laser source; this in turn will cause great losses in power and/or misalignments.

Connectors, Cables, Fuses, bits and pieces - every one of these are absolutely critical. What difference will a good quality laser make if you use poor quality signal cables? NONE.

8. Scanning system, how it works?

scanning systemA scanning system is essentially two tiny mirrors, each moving the laser beam on X or Y axis. By working together they can “scan” the laser beam into any forward direction. Once a shape is scanned more than 20 times per second it appears static to human eye.

So any shape drawn by a laser is actually produced by one single laser beam running around like crazy. Every scanning system has a mechanical limit of how many points it can display at any one time and that is usually represented in Points Per Second (pps).

Tunnel effect explained: if you make a single beam form a circle at a fast enough pace, you will see a static circle on the wall. However, when you turn around to face the laser you will stand in a tunnel of light.

9. ILDA and 3D laser?

ILDA is an acronym for International Laser Display Association, but it also represents standardized laser signal protocol used by the majority of laser manufacturers.

The fact that a laser is ILDA compatible (meaning you can control it from any ILDA compatible control system) does not give you any quality assurance at all. Even the cheapest and worst lasers can be “ILDA”.

3D lasers are bit of a myth and just part of marketing tricks. Any laser can create 3rd dimension by projecting into a space. Lasers can have various additional effects mounted in for different purposes, but those have hardly anything to do with 3D projection.

10. Control systems

There are plenty of laser control systems on the market to choose from and the overall performance of a laser system is heavily dependant on quality of the control system you use, so don’t hesitate to invest a fair amount of money into it.
 
Laser Control system