Building Your First Light Show Part One (Wash Lighting)

July 19, 2017 by Jordan Nelson

DJ lights; a seemingly never-ending stream of new technology that can both help to fill (and empty) your wallet. With the hundreds and thousands of choices available across dozens of websites, it’s easy for anyone (let alone a new DJ) to get confused about where to start. Lux? Watts? Power Linking? LASERS?!? Never fear my friend, because in this series of posts on building an effective light show I plan to (briefly) break down some of the many types of DJ lights, their uses, and how to incorporate them together for maximum impact.

Wash Lighting

Today’s topic of discussion is wash lighting. Whenever a new DJ asks me for a recommendation for their first DJ light, I always steer them in the direction of wash lighting. A wash light serves to literally “wash” an area (be it a wall, ceiling, or dance floor) with light. Washing a dance floor with color allows you to turn off the venue’s harsh overhead lighting and instantly create an atmosphere that’s conducive to partying.

Wash lights come in multiple forms, such as LED par cans and LED bars. The shape of the light will alter the output of the light; par cans can have more focused beams while LED bars can have a wider dispersion. My personal favorite wash light for mobile DJs, the Chauvet Wash FX, has a shape that gives it a much wider spread of light than traditional par cans, allowing you to cover a larger area with fewer fixtures. If you decide you love the look of pars or bars there are great multi-light packs available that contain 2 or 4 fixtures (or more) at a discount over purchasing the individually, often with an included bag and cables! Some examples of this are the American DJ Mega Flat Tri Pak Plus (one of my favorite uplighting options) and this great Chauvet Slim Par 56 4 pack with a DMX controller!

When choosing wash lighting for a beginner I would say that brightness and LED diode color are some of the most important factors. You obviously want your light to be bright enough to illuminate the spaces you find yourself in most often, and different LED types can allow you a greater color palette. The easiest way to compare the brightness of different wash lights is using the online user manuals found for pretty much every lighting company. For example, below are manuals for the Chauvet Slim Par 64 ($99) on the left and the American DJ Mega Par Profile Plus ($79) on the right, which are both great entry-level lights. I’ve boxed the areas in both manuals that describe the LUX (brightness) values for the light. Always compare LUX values as opposed to the watts, which is just a measure of how much power the light is using (but not how efficiently the light is using that power). Additionally, always compare those LUX values at the same distance (2m in this case).

LED diodes also come in different colors. You’ll most commonly encounter wash lights with RGB diodes (red, green, and blue) but lights with UV (ultraviolet), white, amber, and more are available. Colors are made by combining different diodes, and the greater number of diode colors you have the easier it is to create more colors such as warm white, hot pink, and lime green that RGB lights struggle to produce.

The last point for a beginner to consider when purchasing wash lighting is the way the LED diodes are arranged in the fixture. Older (and cheaper) LED lights often have dozens or hundreds of tiny LEDS in them, each supplying a smaller amount of output that combines with the others to give you your total brightness (both lights mentioned above use this technology). Many newer lights, however, are using tri, quad, or even hex combo LED diodes that combine all the colors into larger, brighter diodes instead of many smaller points of light (the American DJ Mega TriPar Profile Plus ($99) is a great example of this).

Building a light show around effective wash lighting forms a great base to build on. Wash lights give you great bang for your buck and are some of the most budget-friendly lights available. Are you looking at a particular wash light and aren’t sure if it’s right for your business? Let me know in the comments!

This post contains affiliate links. I will receive a small percentage if you purchase a light using the above links.

Jordan Nelson Jordan Nelson (11 Posts)

Jordan Nelson is the owner of SLC Mobile DJ in Salt Lake City, UT. A native of the tiny southern Utah town of St. George, Jordan began his mobile DJ journey as a junior in high school in a similar fashion to many other DJs, with a pair of cheap speakers, a dual CD mixer, and a few sound-activated lights. After traveling to Salt Lake to attend the University of Utah, Jordan completely revamped his business and invested heavily in sales and master of ceremonies training, turning his $400/event company into a $1,200/event company in under a year at 22 years old. Jordan is currently a pre-med student at the U while he continues to run his successful business delivering high-quality entertainment to couples, schools, and corporations along the Wasatch Front. He developed a strong passion for lighting and lighting programming during his early years and has written 2 books for mobile DJs on the subjects. When he is not spending his weekends at weddings and events, you can find him at the local gun range or hiking with his beautiful wife.


Filed Under: Digital DJ, Lighting, School Dances, Weddings