How to Do DMX Lighting

Written by mark morris
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How to Do DMX Lighting
Digital Multiplex, or DMX is a control language used to dim and control lighting. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

DMX, or Digital Multiplex signal, is a universal programming system used to control intelligent and theatre lighting. It requires specialised equipment including a DMX light board, controller and DMX dimmer units, or individual lights with DMX inputs integrated into them. DMX not only controls simple dimming, but, with specialised lighting fixtures, can control movement, light beam shape and colour as well. Each light fixture, or "channel," on each dimmer unit can be set to a specific "address" that allows it to be controlled by a single slider on the light board, or a specific conrtoller, such as a joystick. Groups of lights can also be assigned to the same address to work in unison.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Dmx control board
  • Dmx cables
  • Dmx dimmer
  • Dmx lights

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  1. 1

    Plug in power to the control board, or controller. This is done with the DC adaptor that came with your controllers. Plug it into a standard outlet. Plug each DMX light into a dimmer unit and each dimmer unit into a standard outlet using the power cord that came with it. This allows the light to be turned on and off.

  2. 2

    Connect a three prong DMX cable to the outlet of the controller or control board. The female end of the cable will attach at the board to one of the outlets on the rear of the unit. There may be up to four, each will be labelled to indicate which sliders, or channels it is connected with.

  3. 3

    Plug the male end of the cable to the light dimmer unit. This will allow communication between the control board and the dimmer to tell the dimmer which channels to activate and control the amount of power used, to dim the lights as desired.

  4. 4

    Plug a DMX cable into the inlet of every DMX light fixture your will be controlling. The male end will connect to the light fixture. Plug the female end into the controller, or control board. The DMX fixtures can be linked in a line, or "daisy chained," so that only the first in the series must be connected to the controller, or control board. The same can be done with the dimmers. Connect a DMX cable from each fixture, or dimmer through the DMX outlet, which is the male connector on the back of the unit, to the next dimmer or light in the chain.

  5. 5

    Assign each dimmer or light to its address by setting the "dip switches". These are a series of small white switches loctated on the rear of the light, or dimmer. There is typically a chart showing you which of the switches should be up, and which should be down to assign the unit to a specific number, which corresponds to a channel, or slider on the control board. (1 equals the first slider and so on) Use the tip of a pen, or other small pointed tool to move them. Each dimmer is assigned a range of channels, for example, the first four channel dimmer in a line would be 1 through 4 and so on, each DMX light is assigned a specific channel.

  6. 6

    Turn on the power to the board, DMX lights and dimmers. Each has a standard on/off power switch. The board should light up and depending on the model, may have an LED screen with instructions or information on it. Each dimmer and DMX light, should have two lights. The red light indicates that power is on, the green light indicates the DMX signal is being received from the board.

  7. 7

    Consult your control board owner's manual to program the automated portions, each is very specific. The manual functions should work without any special programming, provided the board is set to manual operation, which is unique to each board. Move a slider up to increase the light or down to decrease it for each light on that channel. DMX moving, or speciality light controllers, will use either a series of sliders, joysticks, or both to control the light. Each brand requires specialised controls, study the owner's manual for a basic overview.

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