An Introduction to LED Disco Lighting in 2020

An Introduction to LED Disco Lighting in 2020

Disco lighting – it’s fast moving and exciting, both on the dance floor and behind the scenes. Disco lighting manufacturers are continually fighting tooth and nail to provide customers with the most exciting lighting rigs or large scale installations. And, with the nights being long at the minute, now is arguably a great time for you to look at the different LED disco lighting available to you for this year!

Note: This article will concentrate on what is commonly known as “effect lighting”, the type of lighting you might see at a club or disco meant to create a visual display. This is rather than “stage lighting” which is intended to provide illumination for performers.

When it comes to disco lighting in 2020, the buzzword will once again be ‘LED’. Whilst in previous years, the lighting industry has relied on hot, inefficient halogen lamps, in recent times there has been a paradigm shift to using cheaper, cooler, and longer-lasting LEDs.

The most basic type of disco lights are referred to as “LED effects”. These units contain one or more LEDs which emit light of various colours. Pre-programmed sequences turn the LEDs on and off in various patterns to create a sense of animation. Some units mount the LEDs on motors, creating rotating effects. A good example of an entry-level LED effect such as this is the Equinox Duo

Consider Using a Smoke Machine

Whilst LED effects can simply be used to create exciting patterns on flat surfaces such as walls or floors, they take on another dimension entirely when used with a smoke machine. Injecting a room with smoke makes the beams of light visible as they move around and change colour, filling up the room with a three-dimensional display. Try combining this with a laser for some amazing effects (lasers are discussed later in the article).

LED Scanners

Another common category of disco lights are scanner units. These units can have all the features detailed above but have the added advantage of incorporating motorised mirrors, reflecting the light from LEDs and adding to the visual intensity of the display.

Mirrors can usually move on two axes so can direct beams up, down, left, and right. Sometimes mirrors are flat, reflecting just a single beam of light, such as ADJ’s Revo Scan.

Some scanner units are equipped with multisided “barrel” mirrors which rotate, creating a wheel and spoke type effect as they split a single beam into several beams simultaneously.  A good example of such an LED Scanner is the Acme Revolver.

Larger units, such as the Quatroscan from QTX, incorporate multiple mirrors each of which can move independently creating complex, interweaving light shows.


Some disco lights incorporate ‘gobos’, semi opaque shutters which light is shone through to create defined shapes. It’s very common for units to have one or more gobos, switched either by an internal motor (such as the Dyno scanner) or manually by the user (such as the ADJ quad scan).  Typically, a selection of different gobos is provided by the manufacturer.

Add a Laser to your Disco Lighting

Whilst LEDs produce relatively large beams, there’s a whole other world of disco lights out there: lasers. These units create intense, narrow beams light giving a strong contrast to typical LED effects. There are two main types of lasers available: Animation lasers and cluster lasers. Animation lasers project a single pattern; sometimes these could be simple shapes or themed animations. Lasers can often scan, moving the direction of the beam around the room.

Often, a single unit may incorporate two, three, or more lasers each with the ability to scan in different directions, a great example being the soon to be released Trinity Laser from Equinox.

Cluster lasers, on the other hand, disperse light over a wide area, filling an entire room with hundreds of small beams. Simpler units such as ADJ’s Micro Galaxian, project dots, lines, and circles whilst more complex units such as the Equinox Aquarian can project multi-coloured firework-like patterns or even small animations.

Red and green are the most common colours of lasers used currently with many units displaying patterns made up of both. More recently, blue lasers have hit the scene and hot off the press are white lasers, combining red, blue, and green light together into a single white beam.

Moving Heads

At the high end of the disco lighting market are moving heads. These units are mounted on two-axis, motorised devices, allowing the direction they project light in to turn 360 degrees horizontally and tilt up and down vertically. Though they tend to be very expensive due to the technology involved with manufacturing them, recently, more affordable models have become available to purchase.

DMX or Standalone?

The most basic disco lighting units run stand alone; simply turn them on and they run through their internal programs, no set up required. Often, these units will have a sound activated mode which is great for clubs and discos as these units have a small internal microphone which ‘listens’ out for the beat in the music, giving a striking synchronisation of sound and light. Master/slave capability is common on many units; one unit is the “master” and one or more unit(s) are the “slaves”. The master synchronises with the slaves via a DMX lead.

For those who are seriously into lighting control, most disco lights are DMX controllable, meaning they can be linked to a hardware DMX controller or laptop which communicates with them over the DMX protocol. Each unit is given a DMX “address” so it knows when the DMX signal is communicating with it. An individual unit will have a number of DMX “channels”.  Each channel controls a different parameter for the light, for example, what gobo is being used, the tilt of a mirror, or the speed at which a pre-programmed LED “chase” runs through its program.

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