How Do I Find Out What DMX Channels My Lights Have? And How Do I Control That from My Stage Lighting Console?

Jul 04, 2023

Here is a question that I get all to often here on Learn Stage Lighting –

“I’ve got __________ no-name brand light.  I don’t have a manual, and I need to get it working, what do I do?”

Whether you’ve bought something off eBay, or “from a friend”, walked into a venue that you need to control or inherited some “free gear”, you’ve faced with this problem!

5 years ago, getting a no-name light figured out and into your console was very difficult.  But today, with a few simple steps and an internet connection, you can get up and running quickly.

Step 1: Figure Out the Channels

The first thing that you wanted to do is to find the name and model number of the light that you have.

This probably means that you need to get up close to the light. If this is possible, do a web search with the name and model and hopefully, you will find a manual and or DMX chart for the light.

If that’s the case, then you’re off to a great start and this process has gotten much easier!

If you can’t get up close to the light, and/or doing a web search doesn’t find you any information, then we’ve got to dive deeper.

If the venue has a software lighting console or some kind of professional grade console, then you should be able to access the patch and find out what type of light it is and what mode it’s in. If you can find this, it’s going to save you a lot of time.  Talk with the venue’s staff, and get their blessing before touching their gear!

But let’s assume that you can’t find any of this information, and all the venue has is a simple lighting controller with a bunch of faders on it. Nothing is labeled, and you can’t get up close to the lights.

In that case, what do you do?

Open up your console or software of choice, and start a new blank Show. Plug in the DMX to their lights, and patch 512 regular dimmer channels. (a full DMX universe)

This will now give you the ability to get the most basic control possible. The point here is not to get full control of the lights, but simply to poke around and figure out how these things are controlled.  Keeping them as all simple “dimmer” type channels will allow you to get full, linear control out of your console.

Grab yourself a pen and paper, or at least an open text document on a computer or phone.

Depending on what console you using, this next bit of the process might vary a little bit, but start with the first channel and bring it to full.

Does anything happen? If so write down what happens.

If nothing happens, leave the channel is full and move to the next channel.

Leaving the first channel at full is important because that channel may need to be up in order to make another channel work.

For example, if it’s a master intensity channel on an LED light, bringing it up by itself isn’t going to enable any output. However, if you don’t bring it up, none of the other channels will do anything!

Bring up the rest of the channels one at a time, and observe what happens. At some point, as you observe and write down what all the channels do, you’ll be able to start figuring out how the light is controlled and what each channel does.

You may have a few channels that you don’t know what they do, or they seem to activate some kind of special function – and that’s okay.

The point of this exercise is to find the channels that you’re going to need to run your show and to figure out where they sit in the whole of the fixture’s DMX layout.

Once you do that, it’s time to match the channels you’ve found to a fixture that you can patch into your console.

Step 2: Find, or Create a Profile

The Onyx Fixture Finder

Since you now know what most of the channels do, it’s time to match up the functions you found with a profile for your console.

No matter what console you use, there is an amazing website called the Onyx Fixture Finder which allows you to search a large database of lightsand find the one that matches what you have.

The names of the fixtures and the modes that you’re going to see on this site are all in the Onyx console.  However it’s likely that at least some of them will be in other consoles, so you should be able to find a match.  I don’t know of any other site that has a function like this – it’s really quite amazing!

On the site, you’ll select the total number of channels that you found and enter in the channels that you know.  For channels that control macros or any other special functions, just leave those blank.

As you enter in the basic channels, like intensity, pan, tilt, and color channels, you’ll begin to see results come up on the right side of the website. These names of fixtures and mode names, are what you’re going to use to find a fixture in your console.  These names may or may not match the name written on the side of the light – it doesn’t matter.  If the DMX channels match, it will work (or at least mostly work!)

Now, if you use Onyx, any of the names that you see on this website are going to be in your console, assuming you’ve updated to the latest fixture library.

If you don’t find any of these names in your console, then you’re going to need to create a profile or email the manufacturer of your console to create one for you.

Step 3: Patch it Into Your Actual Show File

Now it’s time to exit that test file that you created with all of the dimmers.

Reload the show file that you’re going to use for the show you’re doing, and now you should be able to enter in the fixtures that you found and patch them into your console at the DMX addresses you found them at.

Congratulations, you’ve just figured out how to control the lights!


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