Strengthen Your Lasers by Marc Andrews

July 9, 2009 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

Raising a laser show to the next power: Proper procedures can lead to profit

There is a certain mystique surrounding lasers, high powered lasers in particular. And since lasers have really gotten hot in the last year or so, with all of the exciting new products now on the market, we thought we should give some attention to helping you make the very best laser show you can, and of course sell it for a profit.

Blowing Up Your Laser Show

Until very recently, most mobile DJs have stayed in the realm of the Class IIIA laser which is the category that limits you to 5mW (5/1000ths of 1 watt) that have been so common for so long. With the introduction of the new star field style lasers and the “fat beam” lasers before them, mobile DJs now have access to much more powerful lasers without a license. These are still are somewhat limited; for example, If you want to do a liquid sky or project custom graphics, you are restricted to a 10mW fat beam, at most, which is not necessarily impressive enough to sell as an upgrade. But of course it can still look great as part of a light show.

There are big advantages to stepping up to more powerful lasers that go way beyond just being able to up-sell them. Being able to advertise that you are licensed to perform high-powered laser shows can make you stand out from your competition and give you a real competitive edge in booking events in the first place. And, realistically, taking the leap is not really as hard or risky as some seem to believe. Here is the high powered laser breakdown…

Due Laser Diligence

First of all, you MUST make sure that you purchase an FDA-certified laser system. Period. Lots of laser manufacturers talk about this but it is much more than just a selling point; it is the law. There are literally dozens of laser inspectors across the country who check laser systems and fine those who do not have a certified laser system and/or do not have a variance (this is the license for high powered lasers). If it is Class IIIB or IV (more than a 10mW fat beam) and you buy it from an auction site or foreign vendor, you are virtually guaranteed to be getting an illegal laser no matter what the auction says. There are a small number of notable exceptions, but this is the rule of thumb.

Certified lasers tend to be more expensive than illegal ones for a number of reasons, including quality of components, incorporation of safety features, and even little things like making sure that a 100mW green laser is not also producing an extra 200mW of invisible radiation that is harmful to your eyes. This is a very common problem with cheap laser products and obviously should be avoided. Finally, if you choose the cheap way out, we wish you luck getting your insurance to cover use of an illegal laser. Indoors, outdoors, at home, in public, whether buying, selling, or renting-the laser must be certified.

Next, you will need a license-type approval called a “variance.” While a variance is not technically a license, it does certify you as someone allowed to operate high-powered lasers. Many laser vendors offer various licensing options ranging from free to several hundred dollars or you can do the paperwork yourself and filing is free. Be warned though, laser light show variance paperwork comes in two parts, not just the variance application, and can be more difficult than doing your taxes. But almost all of the variance options on the market are affordable or are even included with the cost of the laser device.

There are several simple rules to follow when using high powered lasers all of which are covered in the variance but mostly amount to common sense. The biggest rules are: 1) Do not allow lasers to hit guests (this is also known as the “3 Meter Rule” which creates a safety buffer between your laser show and guests) and 2) NEVER allow lasers to shoot into the open sky (or outdoors in general to be safe). Laser beams keep their power over long distances making them excellent for big crowds or venues but potentially dangerous for aircraft. To sum up: Use them indoors and don’t shoot them at people. Simple right? We have already covered most of the big items.

You will also be required to post a sign or two at the venue where you are using the laser to let people know that a high powered laser show is going on. Most manufacturers will provide the sign for you. Also, whenever you do a high powered laser show you need to mail a one page form to the FDA letting them know where and when the laser will be used. These are stock forms which do not require approval from the FDA; and again, are provided by most manufacturers.

World Domination with Minimum Frustration (Yeah, Baby!)

So you have your variance and you are ready to do your first big laser show. What now? Most manufacturers will provide a checklist for your convenience that will walk you through setting up the laser safely, basic things like making sure you can turn the thing off if some fool dances into your crank tower and the laser gets bumped. Use the checklist to make sure everything is good to go, make sure the laser is safely rigged as you would any light, and make sure that the beam blocks (these are physical items provided with the laser which cover part of the laser hole to make sure the laser can’t hit the guests) are in place. Fire it up and light up the night.

Worst case scenario, what if you do everything right by having a legal laser and getting your variance and the laser still hits someone in the eye? Well, with most laser products on the DJ market the answer is probably not much. Laser eye injuries are quite rare, in part because of the licensing requirements and are even more uncommon with Class IIIB (under 500mW lasers). In most cases you get some flash blindness like looking into a photographer’s flash, which wears off in a few minutes. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, the terms of your variance, and the commonsense guidelines we’ve outlined here will make the possibility of injury almost non-existent.

So to recap, most manufacturers will help you file for a variance or even file it for you, will provide you with the two pieces of paper (check list and notification form) that you will need, give you a copy of the sign to post at the venue, and give everything you need to do the show safely. Five minutes to file the form and another five minutes at the show setting the beam blocks is all you need to increase your laser power almost infinitely and wow guests at your next event. In short, you can be the first in your area to produce beautiful high-powered laser shows, with a lot less difficulty than you may have expected. If you have questions, contact any of the laser manufacturers that advertise in Mobile Beat or demonstrate their gear at the MB shows for more information. Have fun with your new-found high-powered laser prowess!

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Mobile Beat Staff Writer (228 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.


Filed Under: Issues from 2009, Lighting