First, what are laser Christmas lights? This term usually refers to lights that use a laser or high powered LED light that is projected through a prism resulting in hundreds if not thousands of individual lights being reflected . These lights can be purchased from a number or sources, but the important measurement of light is the wattage or lumens. Therefore a light that has 5 watts should be 2 times as bright as a light that has 2.5 watts. We carry a line called Sparkle Magic laser Christmas lights. It is a great, reliable, affordable laser light, but there are others that have similar products. Be mindful with what you are buying. A good light, mounted in a solid plastic base or in a less expensive package works just a well as the same light in an expensive package or mounted in a solid brass fixture. The light is the important component.
When I first saw these lights, I thought they would become a major part of our lighting efforts. We have used these lights in a number of displays that we have done (including at Glendale Glitters) with varying degrees of success. While I do like the look they produce, there are some challenges to using them. What follows are the lessons we have learned.
For the lights to be seen, they have to have an area to be projected on (for lack of a better term, the “screen”). Imagine shining a flashlight up into the sky. If there is nothing to reflect on, the light is not seen by anyone. This “screen” can be the side of a building, trees or other objects. Just like any light, the further the light is placed from the “screen” the dimmer and more dispersed the light will be.
Ambient light can have a large effect on how the projected light is perceived. Think of a flashlight in a dark room, versus one in the daylight. For the best result, the light should be used in near total darkness. This limits the areas where laser lights can be used. We installed some in a municipal park, but due to the amount of ambient light, the effect was less than optimal. Also, if the lights are the same color as other ambient light, the lights will get “lost” in the other light.
Because these lights are directional, you may need to light a tree or other object from several different directions, meaning you will need more than one laser Christmas light. If not, you may have a great effect when viewed from one angle, but very little effect when viewed from a different direction. Like all Christmas lights, the more laser Christmas lights the better it will usually look. A common mistake is to use only one or two laser Christmas light where several are needed to make a good display.
The distance from the light source to the “screen” has a major impact on the brightness and the “spread” of the lights. In some applications, there is not a good place to mount the lights at a distance that will give you a good look.
The main advantage of laser lights over other Christmas lights is that they can be projected onto trees or other objects where installing lights may be very impractical. This could be due to factors such as steep or uneven terrain, or on delicate plants or trees that would not support heavy lights.
- Different colors have different characteristics. Green and blue seem to give off the brightest look. Red and white (Warm white or cool white) tend to blend in with ambient lights and usually just do not look that bright.
- The distance from the projector to the area where the lights are projected has a great effect on the density and the brightness of the laser Christmas lights. For best results, keep the laser light within 30 to 40 feet of the projection source. More than that and you will lose much of the impact.
- The laser lights can damage eyes if projected into the eyes. Keep projectors in locations (off the ground) where they can be kept from shining directly into the eyes.
- Trees with sparse or little foliage will have very little area to project on and are usually not a good choice as a screen. The lights work best on an almost solid surface. Trees such as Evergreens, pines, fichus or other dense trees work well.
- A small amount of wind or movement of the branches or leaves will make the lights appear to twinkle and usually look much better than static branches. Of course, you cannot control the wind, but areas that are not well shielded will work best.
- These lights still require a power source and so mounting consideration must take into account near sidewalks or other areas where an obstruction would be a problem.
- The laser lights must have an unobstructed path between where they are mounted and where they project. If people or other objects get between the source and the screen, the effect is lost.