Design and Operate DMX Lighting for Your Next Holiday Celebration


Have you ever wondered how to set up dynamic lighting for your event or party? There are several low-cost and easy-to-program lighting systems that will allow you to create beautiful and engaging atmospheres for any occasion. In this article, we’ll explore various options of available lighting equipment and DMX, the programming language developed to control lighting equipment and related accessories.

DMX-512 is a serial protocol, digital, unidirectional, and with no error checking. Like most digital cables, the signal quality degrades over long distances, and repeaters can be used to increase the distance, or split the signal with the equivalent of Ethernet switches. A DMX universe consists of 512 channels, which can be used to control anything from a complex moving head (pan and tilt), patterns, and colors or a simple color strip or par can with color and dimming. There is a wide range of hardware and software controllers available for any budget. Low-cost DMX light boards offer simple stand-alone operation, automated chase programming, and audio input controls, which allow for a dynamic, ever-changing sequence that is triggered by the beat of the music. Additionally, there are several expensive, but infinitely powerful boards that can control several universes with thousands of channels. Computer systems can offer the best bang-for-the-buck with extremely powerful functionality, high channel counts, and a multitude of effects. With a computer setup, you will need a USB to DMX converter, software, and you’ll probably want some sort of MIDI controller to give you physical controls over the software.

Let’s focus on the inexpensive DMX light board, such as American DJ DMX Operator 384 Lighting Console, which allows you to control up to 12 fixtures, each with up to 32 channels (for a total of 384 channels). The board also features 240 programmable scenes (30 banks of 8 scenes). A scene is simply a snapshot of the status of all your lights. The chase feature allows you to program several scenes in a row, while the speed and fade sliders control how quickly and smoothly the Operator changes from scene to scene.

American DJ DMX Operator 384 Lighting Console

Next, let’s pick out some lights that will work with our DMX Operator. American DJ offers the Pocket Pro, which are tiny moving heads that are lightweight, yet powerful enough for most events or smaller venues. What’s more, they are offered in a Pack with two fixtures, cables, and a carrying case. Another type of intelligent fixture is a scanner, which instead of moving the entire light around, projects the light onto a mirror, which is controlled by DMX. American DJ offers the Pocket Scan, which is also available in a Pack of two fixtures with cables, and a carrying case. Next, let’s add some static slim par can LEDs to our setup, which is great for atmospheric lighting and can be used on the floor for up-lighting, or hung for spotlights or washes. American DJ offers the Mega Flat Pak Plus with four fixtures, and includes cables, and a soft case for transportation. It’s always a good idea to purchase a DMX Terminator, which lets your devices know that the last fixture in the chain has been reached and helps alleviate communication issues.

American DJ Pocket Pro - Compact LED Moving Head Light

We currently have eight fixtures selected, so let’s set them up to be controlled by the DMX Operator 384. Connect the DMX output of the Operator 384 to the input of your first light. Next, you’ll connect the DMX output of the first light to the DMX input of your second light. Keep connecting the output of lights to the input of the next light, effectively chaining them serially. Once the last light has been connected, be sure to connect the DMX terminator.

On the left side of the DMX Operator 384, you’ll see the 12 fixture-selection buttons. Each fixture button represents 32 channels. Starting with the first light, set it for DMX operation with an address of “1.” For the second fixture, set it for DMX operation with an address of “33.” For the third light, set it for DMX operation with an address of “65.” The fourth should be set to “97,” the fifth should be set to “129,” and so on (multiples of 32).

Once all your lights have been set up to receive on the proper channels, you can simply select each light individually or in multiples and have them react as a group. Programming is done by the eight channel faders, with each channel representing a function. On the Pocket Spot, channel 1 controls Pan, while channel 2 controls Tilt. Channel 3 is Color, channel 4 is the Gobo wheel, channel 5 is Shutter/Strobe, channel 6 Dimmer, and so on. The manual has the full breakdown of what each channel controls, with a numerical range of 0 to 255.

For instruments with more than eight channels, you can use the buttons to the right of the channel faders to access 9-16, 17-24, and 25-32. Programming a scene is achieved by pressing and holding the “Program” button. Once the desired scene is set using the channel faders, select the “Rec” button, followed by the bank and scene button. Repeat this step for as many scenes as you wish to record. Once finished, exit from the programming mode by pressing and holding the “Program” button once again. Now, selecting a bank and scene will recall that snapshot. What’s more, you can program chases into the 12 chase slots to create an automated show, or you can use MIDI to select modes, banks, and scenes. This is especially useful for bands or DJs wishing to program their lighting with tight integration for each song.

If you can’t hang lights, you may wish to invest in a light stand. They come in all shapes and sizes, from trussing to tripods. This will allow you to get the lights off the ground and provide appropriate coverage for your event. This is also a good bet if you are mobile, because you won’t have to bring ladders or worry if the ceiling can withstand the weight of the lighting. Other accessories that you may find useful are DMX wireless transmitters and receivers. Blizzard Lighting makes simple, yet effective units with its wiCICLE Wireless DMX Transmitter, which is capable of transmitting up to 1,000' without the need for DMX cables, while the wiCICLE Skywire Wireless Receiver can receive DMX512 info from up to 1,000' with zero lag time. American DJ also makes a line of WiFly products, which include DMX lighting, transmitters, receivers, and lighting consoles with wireless capabilities built right in. Some even have battery-powered operation, which allows you even more flexible placement since the fixtures don’t need wires or power for controlled operations.

Blizzard Lighting wiCICLE Skywire Wireless DMX Receiver

For holidays or special events like weddings, you can invest in a Gobo Projector, which lets you produce custom images and text to project onto walls, ceilings, or the floor. The American DJ Focus Spot Two is one of the company’s top selling higher-end fixtures, which features interchangeable gobos in a moving head and can project custom images or text anywhere in the room. It is also worth mentioning that a fog or haze machine will add texture to the lighting and help define the light beams, making them far more dramatic than without. The Chauvet DJ Hurricane Haze Machine is DMX controllable. Haze is less noticeable than fog since it doesn’t create a huge cloud, but quietly and subtly adds texture to the air.

CHAUVET DJ Hurricane Haze 1DX Water-Based Haze Machine

Do you have any holiday lighting tips you’d like to share? Use the Comments section just below this article.


Where are the programs and hardware available to utilize an existing Laptop as DMX controller? Is this possible?



The American DJ myDMX 3.0 DMX Controller and Software B&H # AMMYDMX30 would allow you to control DMX compatible lighting from a Mac or Windows laptop.