Beams, Spots and Washes: Dizzying Array of Fixtures for Church

Technology has come a very long way regarding light source options. LED will have an LED light source, whether it's multicolor additive color mixing, or if it's a white source, utilizing subtractive color mixing.

If you are looking to purchase a few new lighting fixtures for your worship space, you might be wanting something more than just a couple static or even color changing fixtures to suit your needs.

Don't all lights produce a beam? The simple answer: Yes.

Maybe you want the wiggly-doos for your light shows.

From there, you look to poke around by opening up the ol' internets, after which you then realize that there is a dizzying array of whirly-dirly lights to choose from.

Let's boil down some of the choices that are available to you.

We can start with a type of light you should never buy:

1)  Anything that's meant to sit on top of a t-bar at your buddy's wedding.

2)  Anything that sits still and shoots out multicolored gak onto a dance floor. It might look "cool" at first on the *insert hotel name* ballroom floor, but in reality, inside a worship experience, it's just not such a great look. Especially if you plan on letting that joker of a lighting fixture run in sound active mode.

Let's take a look at some of the other choices, such as beams, spots and washes, along with LEDs and hybrids, and everything else.

Once again, it can be a lot.

First, to make a couple things clear from the beginning. When someone references a fixture as an "LED" or "tungsten" or "discharge," they're referring to the lamp source.

Technology has come a very long way regarding light source options. LED will have an LED light source, whether it's multicolor additive color mixing, or if it's a white source, utilizing subtractive color mixing.


Don't all lights produce a beam? The simple answer: Yes.

Beam fixtures do this by producing a very narrow, very bright shaft of light. While spot and wash fixtures can produce relatively sharp beams, their beam ends up being conical.

A beam fixture, by contrast, has specific lensing and reflector features that reduce these conical shaped beams to less than 3 degrees. Beam fixtures shouldn't be your first choice of light, not until your lighting rig has a nice combination of many other types of fixtures.

Beam fixtures don't often have color mixing, but will have fixed color wheels. These fixtures will also include gobos, which we will cover in detail in the next section. These gobo and color wheels tend to be very simple given the compact size and shape of these fixtures. These fixtures are intended to be very small, so they are lightweight, and can move very quickly, giving you some very dynamic effects and movements.


A spot fixture is about the most versatile type of fixture one can buy. You will hear them being called by a couple different names like profiles, hard edge, spots, and perhaps a few other names.

Spot fixtures have one main advantage over other fixtures, in that they have a focusable beam. This focus can be motorized, or in less expensive fixtures, it must be done physically on the fixture itself. Rarely do lighting fixtures not have a focus feature. This focus feature allows you to dial in the sharpness of a gobo.

Hold up, what's a gobo?

A gobo is essentially a metal or glass plate that has a pattern cut or etched out of it that will produce an image from the light.

Gobo is a funny word, isn't it? It is a bit of an acronym for GO Before Optics. That's literally where it's placed: before the optical train of a fixture.

The optical train is a series of lenses that focus, or in some fixtures, allows you to zoom the output of the light.

To get a detailed look at such fixtures, check out the one slide that shows a rendering of a page of a booklet for the Martin Professional Mac Viper. These patterns are what a designer can use to change the shape of the beam as it exits the fixture, to provide stunning aerial effects, or project patterns, onto a surface.

Depending on the fixture, you could have up to three of these "wheels" stacked, one on top of the other. A gobo wheel contains multiple gobos that are user selectable. You can even purchase custom made gobos, to install in your lights to represent ministries, churches, or special events and inside of these fixtures.

Aside from the ability to make a hard edge and a focusable fixture, spot fixtures can also change colors. There are a couple of ways these lights can change colors, color wheels or color flags. Color wheels are fixed color discs on another "wheel" inside the light; these are fixed colors.

A fixed color, though, can be somewhat of a hindrance in your programming. For example, if you're on a good looking congo color, and you want to switch to a lavender, but congo is on position 1 and lavender is on position 10. Well, your fixture is going to have to cross all those colors to get to that desired second color. This won't make for some really pretty programming, if you need a slow and smooth transition, or if you need to do create an effect between the two.

Some fixtures might have multiples of these wheels, or simply one wheel. The color flags or discs in some other fixtures allow you to change colors almost infinitely. These use a subtractive method of color mixing by removing parts of the white light spectrum to make the colors. These flags or discs can smoothly and almost instantly make color changes, depending on your programming preference.

As you can imagine, these features can greatly impact the price of a fixture.


The wash fixture is the simplest fixture out of the bunch.

Oftentimes, as in the example of the Viper graphic, common fixtures will share common features and parts. For example, the fixture will be almost identical, but may be missing some, or will have other features installed. These fixtures are dedicated to washing people, scenery, audiences, or providing a specific kind of aerial effect.

I'm honestly a huge fan of using wash fixtures everywhere. There are essentially two types of wash fixtures, additive and subtractive. Additive fixtures are fixtures that have the diodes directly facing the audience, save the lens. The LED chips will contain red, green, blue, and sometimes other colors. These colored diodes vary their output, to produce a massive amount of colors. Other options would include zooming or other beam shaping effects.

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