The Scrim Effect

Written by alistair wilkinson
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The Scrim Effect
A scrim diffuses light to create a special effect. (studio flashes image by sasha from

A scrim is a piece of material very similar to gauze. It is lightweight and has low opacity, making it the ideal material for lighting effects. The scrim effect is caused by using the material to diffuse light. It must be placed between the subject and the light and/or between the audience and the light. This could mean direct contact for lamps or varying sizes of screen for lighting or sunlight. A scrim is used in television, film, theatre and photography.


A scrim provides special effects by subtly changing the appearance of whatever the user wishes, from tempering the light on a subject’s face in portrait photography to changing the colour and background of the stage in theatre. A scrim won’t make your subject darker. It will lessen the brightness and therefore make the shadows less harsh. Depending on how you light a scrim, it can be translucent or opaque.


The sharkstooth scrim is an open weave material that can be used to achieve the opaque or translucent effect described earlier. Most material can be a scrim. Your decision will be made by how much light you want–the more light, the more open the weave of the material. A material with more open weave than a sharkstooth scrim is called bobinette. A scrim can be arranged in any shape or size, depending on your needs and how much you want to affect the light. A simple square of material stretched onto a frame or an awning the size of a marquee can be used.


Much can be achieved with a scrim. By using several scrims in the theatre, a stage designer can create depth and distance. He can also hang objects from a scrim, making them appear to float in the air. By careful arrangements, hidden entrances and exits can be created on the stage, allowing actors to appear and disappear by stepping through the gaps in the scrims. The ability to make a scrim translucent or opaque is a valuable effect. If it is lit from the front then the audience, the screen becomes opaque, and whatever colour you light it with and if lit from the back it is entirely translucent. This allows the audience and stage to be transported to different environments, and anything behind the screen can appear or disappear with the flick of a light switch.


Used in portrait photography, the scrim is essential for diffusing but not dampening light, particularly sunlight. In a portrait, you need the subject to be well lit but the shadows shouldn’t be harsh. By placing a scrim between the subject and the light, this special effect can be achieved. See the Resources section for tips on making your own scrim.

Film and Television

Lighting is an important part of film and television, and is used to generate emotion and mood in the audience and to create all manner of special effects. The scrim is used to diffuse light and shadow on the set using screens and curtains. It can be any size or shape and can simply be fitted over the lens of the camera, meaning its effect is constant.

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