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Thread: Starting laser show business

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2007

    Default Starting laser show business

    Hello- I am new to this forum and apologize upfront for my ignorance. I'm considering starting a light show business for small venues, such as store grand openings, sales promotions, and business conferences. At this point I'm just trying to determine if I it would be something I could afford. If it is, then I will continue to educate myself on laser shows before I even attempt to actually buy the equipment. If anyone can help, I'd like to know if it would be possible to start such a business for $10 or $15 thousand dollars for equipment. I've been told that I could probably get by with a high power green for outdoors and a 1 watt rgb for indoors. Any suggestions? Should I look at used equipment? Should I forget the idea because the money I can spend won't even approach what is needed?

    Thank you again!


  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Flying over a town near you


    Hey I would suggest a lot of reading and trying to gather what works for others and make a chioce based on what you see and can learn of. There are a lot of ways to go about what you want to do. And a lot of regs you may want to investigate as well....CDRH. Sounds like fun to me....but reality takes an onset. Looks good with carefull planning and a LOT of reading and asking questions.
    Just me all started out with a pointer.
    You are the only one that can make your dreams come true....and the only one that can stop them...A.M. Dietrich

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    Connecticut, USA


    couple imprtant things-

    1. where are you located? whats the market like for where you are?
    2. is it the USA? if so, familiarize yourself and learn ALL the laws (and there are zillions of em!) for lasers and safety.
    3. 10-15K is a pretty decent start for equipment to handle small to medium typed basic shows.

    in my *opinion* i would start with as high power of a yag system you could do. reason being, a 2-3W (or whatever you could get for you budget) yag system could handle some pretty decent BIG shows where you can charge more. even some medium to big type indoor concerts and even outdoor stuff. (not aerial shows). but a 2-3W yag could do a pretty nice over the crowd beam show for a 5-10,000 or even more type of concert or fair. if you get a weather permitting night, youd be surprised what a 2-3W yag could do.

    then, when you get the smaller venues like clubs or grand openings or laserads, you got a seriously powerful laser where the people will really be like, WOW- HOLY SH*T!!

    of course, a nice full color system is ideal. but you would be getting a relatively low powered RGB, and a relatively lower powered yag. not to say thats wrong or anything, but wheni started my business, i went HIGH powered yag FIRST and foremost!!!! but again, not saying my way is right or any other way is right or wrong. depends on you and your market!

    also, have you considered ion lasers? or strictly solid state? 10-15K could get ya a BEAUTIFUL high powered argon system, but of course you are dealing with a laser system that requires watrer cooling, 3 phase power (most of the time) and SERIOUS knowledege of electronics and photonics! (of course, all laser types require knowledge of that though!!)

    i am sure other members here will have other ideas and their own experinces. but IMHO, a high powered yag would be a damn good start to get your ball rolling.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2006
    Charleston, SC


    Welcome to the forums, Chrometrex! Sounds like you're chasing the same dream that a lot of us held in the back of our minds at one time or another. While it's a fun idea to be able to combine your hobby with your job, with very few exceptions Laser Shows aren't going to pay the bills.

    You certainly can build both a 1 watt RGB projector and a multi-watt green-only projector with the amount of money you're talking about, and still have money left over to purchase some world-class hardware / software to run it. However, the payback on that investment is going to take a *very* long time. (many years) The problem is that laser shows just don't pay a lot of money. Well, let me rephrase that... Your typical nightclub laser shows don't pay very much.

    A corporate gig *can* pay very hansomly, but usually those customers are looking for a complete package. That means sound, video, stage setup, lighting effects, and then lasers almost as an afterthought. So unless you can offer a complete package containing all those elements, you're likely to loose out to larger production companies that can offer a turn-key solution. Of course, turn key solutions cost more money to provide, and usually require a staff to set up... Then there's expenses, employee benefits, taxes... You'd need to build up all of this overhead to be able to compete in that marketplace.

    I'm not saying that it's hopeless; I'm over-simplifying things to try to give you an overview. However, there are some members here that suplement their regular income by performing laser shows. Others have managed to find niche markets that work well for the limited equipment that they have. There are even a couple people here that are operating sucessfull laser show companies full time.

    But it's a difficult industry to get into. Most sucessful people either start out very small and slowly build their way up, or manage to partner with another firm and grow their business from the cast-off contracts of the larger partner. Neither path represents a quick path to riches, however, so you'll need another steady source of income to keep you afloat.

    I suggest that before you seriously consider sinking 10-15 grand or more into the idea, you might want to first try it out as a hobby. See if your passion for lasers (and laser shows) will last through the early problems of building a projector and learning how to use it. Play around with the software and see if it's something you're comfortable spending a lot of time with. (Because you'll need to do exactly that if you go into business...)

    Then, if you find that you're still really into lasers and laser shows, you can take the next step. Apply for a variance from the CDRH. Then try to book a couple small nightclub gigs and see how it goes. But I honestly don't think it's realistic to expect to be able to recoup your initial cash outlay (not to mention the time you'll have invested) for several years at least. More likely that it will simply provide you a little money on the side that you can use to buy other cool laser toys.

    The real question I would ask yourself is this: How much do I love lasers? Is this a dream that you've had since high school, or is it a relatively new interest? Is it something that you'd be willing to do even if you never made a dime, or is there an absolute requirement that you be able to make money with the idea before you proceed?

    If it's your passion, and always has been (like it was for a lot of people here), then you're in the right place. Dive in and start reading. You'll pick it up fast. Forget the business idea for now and just think about what you want to be able to do with your lasers. Ask questions. Learn. Dream. And plan. When you think you're ready to buy, there will be plenty of people here willing to offer advice (and assistance even) with the process.

    On the other hand, if it just sounds like a neat business idea - a way to make money doing something cool - but it's not your main passion in life, then I'd say to be very cautious. You can spend an *insane* amount of money on lasers and end up with some very expensive toys that won't earn you nearly enough money to pay back what you've spent on them, let alone pay for your mortgage.

    Either way though, welcome to PhotonLexicon pal!


  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2007

    Default Great information

    Wow-Thanks everyone for such great info. To answer the questions I live in Colorado near Denver. So, there is a fairly large population to sell to. This has been an interest for a while but I haven't gotten too deep into it yet. And I do have an electronics background. It's starting to sound like I can get some equipment to start a business but that I won't be able to make a living doing it for a while. My idea was to start very small as a side business and see where it goes. Any additional information is greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!


  6. #6
    Join Date
    Nov 2007


    I'm a newbie, too. Nice to meet you all

    Official website:

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Jan 2007
    Yorkshire, UK


    Hi Joe

    Glad you've made it over here from alt.lasers

    Welcome to the forum, you've already had a taste of the friendliness here and have been given some good advice

    Ask away with all your questions, it's important that you understand that for most people here lasers are a passion that is deep rooted within us, so you'll always get good friendly advice. Sometimes the answers you receive may not always be what you want to hear, but it will be good advice nevertheless and may serve to calm over eagerness.



  8. #8
    mixedgas's Avatar
    mixedgas is offline Creaky Old Award Winning Bastard Technologist
    Infinitus Excellentia Ion Laser Dominatus
    Join Date
    May 2007
    A lab with some dripping water on the floor.


    hello, I'm the voice of xmas past.

    consider the following

    Anything less then 2 three watt yag lasers is a waste of your investment.
    And those should be European, Not chinese.
    derate that to 2 1 watt yags for club work indoors.

    Anything less then Pangolin for corporate work is a no-no
    Anything less software wise then x29 or a FB3 for club work is a no-no

    You need cambridge scanners for reliability.

    You need 2 of everything for corporate work.
    There is no forgiveness if a show fails.

    A medium frame mixedgas (4-7 watts) with a pcaom for indoor color logo work or at least 1-3 watts of solid state Hungarian RGB

    A 171 ion laser (440V, 3Phas 60 amps per phase) or a KTP532 (20-40 watts of qswitched green) for outdoor beam shows.

    You take home only 15% of the payment for each gig, everything else is folded back into the business.

    25% of your profit goes to advertising, hire a marketing person.

    I hope you can draw, commercial artists are a pain in the neck and expensive.

    I hope you have music skills, if you dont know what I mean by "4-4 time, count to 16, 120 beats per minute ", quit now. I had to pay a commercial musical type to go to a friends rave gig rave with me and work on my timing.

    for every 1 second of corporate laser, 20-40 minutes are spent programming
    for every custom graphic, you spend 15-40 minutes per frame, and good graphics run at 15 frames/sec.

    CDRH compliance is easy, FAA outdoors is not, and they require 90 days notice if possible. You cant be outdoors even with terminated beams without FAA approval, so unless your local FAA likes you and your paperwork, your business is strictly indoors, ie if Walmart calls you up and says, I'd like a 40 watt outdoor show in two weeks, FORGET IT!. IT HELPS TO BE or Know A PRIVATE PILOT. if you cant read a aeronautical chart and use a GPS, your dead for outdoors. basically NOTHING outdoors within 7 miles of a airport, and nothing with out hired, trained, optical spotters. God help you if your show is on a approach path or in a area commonly flown by airliners. You need 2 active phone lines to the FAA, and they can and will terminate you remotely at a pilots request, so often you need 2 lasers at different angles.(opps that was a trade secret)

    you need insurance for safety reasons. The classical story is" A 30 year heart surgeon claims he can no longer see well enough to operate after attending your show, and sues you for income until he would have retired", That is what Disney's safety folks told us at a ILDA conference is the minimum you can expect if something goes wrong.

    dont start as a hobbyist and work your way up, you need to buy good gear right off the bat. When there was no solid state, only ion lasers, I would tell you to buy a hobbyist level argon and learn off that, not anymore, go straight to high power solid state unless you have a permanet gig site with 3 phase power.

    Nough said.


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Nov 2007
    Southampton, UK


    Don't forget 3rd party insurance.

  10. #10
    clandestiny's Avatar
    clandestiny is offline Eleventy-Billion Watt Ar/Kr >:)
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    somewhere between orlando and san antonio


    mixedgas comments = right on the money ( or possibly lack there-of )
    go big or go home

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