What are Fixture Numbers and Why Do I Need Them?

lighting basics Mar 01, 2023

The first lesson I learned on a modern lighting console was how to patch fixtures. And if you use pretty much any modern software or console, you’re going to run into this!

The 2nd lesson I learned was how to set fixture numbers.  I quickly was immersed in to the world of efficiency as I learned the value of the fixture number and how it could correlate to my plot and paperwork.  It was all starting to make sense….

What is a Fixture Number?

A fixture number is the number that you give to a whole fixture in your rig for selection.  In your console, it may also be called a user number or something else depending on your specific software or console.  

 If we use fixture numbers well, they can save us a bunch of time and frustration.

By default, your console will most likely just start assigning fixture numbers at 1 and go upward from there.  Installers and system integrators are notorious for leaving churches and other venues with a lighting rig that starts at 1 and goes up from there, with little to no meaningful organization.  

This is nice, but we can do much better!  When you don't use fixture numbers well, it simply slows you down, frustrates you more, and creates confusion.  When you DO use fixture numbers well, it makes your life easier, allows you to program faster than ever before, and makes you look amazing in the eyes of whoever is in charge of you!  And you want to look amazing, right?

 Since most modern lighting consoles or software work via a command line where you select fixtures by number, then do stuff, setting fixture numbers wisely will ALWAYS help you move faster and more effectively.

The cool thing about fixture numbers is that you can format them inside your console in any format you’d like.  So basically, you can define an order for your lights that makes sense to you.  If your rig is starting to get a little large for memorization, this is a great tool to make your life easier.

Let’s look at an example:

Today’s mythical lighting rig is going to contain 24 dimmers, 24 Super-Bright LED fixtures, and 8 Cool-Hip Spot 300 moving lights.

When the console automatically patches the fixtures, the user numbers are going to look like this:

Dimmers #1-24

Super-Bright #25-48

Cool-Hip #49-56

Now you may look at this, thinking “Well that’s all good and everything, right?”  It seems like everything makes sense, they all just start at 1 and go up from there.

Where we run into issues is when we want to select fixtures from the command line.  Remembering that your Super-Bright LED’s begin at 25, or that your Cool-Hip movers begin at 49 is not worth the brain power it takes!  We can do SO MUCH BETTER!

How can Fixture Numbers Make My Life Easier?

Simply put, fixture numbers make your life easier because they can make selecting fixtures in your rig second nature.  This saves you time, frustration, and makes you a better and more confident programmer.

Yeah, I’m sure that’s never happened to you, right?  It’s always a good idea to simplify things when we can.

Let’s try this example for a change:

Dimmers #1-24 Exactly the same as before

Super-Bright #101-124 See that?  We’ve assigned our next fixture at 101, so we can still remember them as 1-24, but starting at 100.

Cool-Hip #201-224 Exactly the same thing.  Again.  Rinse and repeat for more fixtures.

The goal of choosing your fixture numbers is this: What system can I use that will allow me to quickly and easily know in my head what fixture I need to enter in the console?

The system I was taught (and still use), is to number my main front light starting at 1, left to right from the console perspective.  Then, my moving head spots start at 101, second spot type at 201, washes at 301 and 401, LED stuff at 501 and beyond.  I typically put house lighting systems at 1001. 

The point is not that you have to copy me, but you should work sequentially and have a method that you use on every show for numbering your lights.  Because when you do this, you make finding the correct fixture in the console second nature.  You're very quickly able to visually look at your stage, and know what fixture you are going for when you type on your console.

When you can simply begin typing because you know exactly what fixture you need to access, without referring to paperwork or pausing, you know you’ve found a system that works for you!

If you’ve got an even larger lighting rig than that, or perhaps have a vendetta against the system I use, feel free to change it up.

But please do notice the freedom that comes with being able to have someone point at a light, and know that within just 2-3 key presses you can have it up for modification.  And that’s what matters when you’re programming.


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