How to Wire DMX for Stage Lighting – Learn Stage Lighting .com

How to Wire DMX for Stage Lighting

For beginners in stage lighting, one of the ideas that can be baffling is how to wire up all of your fixtures.  Back in the “old days” you simply ran control cable to your dimmers, and power out to your conventional fixtures.

Today, however, this all gets to be a little more complicated!  Most if not all fixtures in a modern lighting rig require DMX signal, and so it can get a little confusing when you’re trying to manage it all.

Check out the video below for the basics, and then we’ll talk go a little deeper into detail:

Video Notes and Reminders:

  • Daisy-Chaining When you wire fixtures together, with each fixture looping out of the previous fixture to create a line of fixtures connected back to the console.
  • 32 Fixture Rule – DMX only allows you to connect up to 32 fixtures in a single daisy chain for signal strength.  Sometimes, depending on the fixtures and cable length, this number is less.  As Nook mentioned in the comments, it’s a good idea to plan never going over 16 fixtures – a rule I think I’m going to stick to in the future!
  • Splitting DMX – To get around the 32 fixture rule, you can split your DMX signal and create multiple daisy-chains.  Splitting your DMX also can help you make your cable runs cleaner, and isolates different runs of fixtures.  Check out my favorite DMX splitter here.
DMX 101

From John Lemieux on Flickr.

A DMX splitter can also protect your console in the event that you connect a faulty light up to it!  I recently was talking with another lighting designer, and he shared with me a story of a client who fried a $15,000 lighting console because they hooked it up to a cheap LED fixture.

The LED fixture was not a name brand, and something went wrong internally, sending voltage down the DMX line and killing the DMX chip in the console.  Not cool, and an inexpensive DMX splitter would have taken the heat instead of the console had they used one!

  • Remember that you can’t use 3 and 5 pin DMX jacks on fixtures as a split!
  • Multiple Universes – If your console has multiple universes, you can “zone” your lighting rig by different universes to stay organized keep your wiring simpler.  DMX splitters can’t span multiple universes, though some allow you to input 2 universes and choose which ports you want to assign to each output.

I hope you really enjoyed that video, and that it helps you to create great lighting.  There’s nothing worse than hitting a technical hurdle in your lighting!

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  • Steve Henry says:

    Nice video; thanks for sharing!

  • Nook Schoenfeld says:

    Nice blog you have going on here. I like that you are giving back the knowledge that someone taught you. Or you taught yourself. One little thing. It is an unwritten rule in the concert touring biz that we never link together more than 16 fixtures, because as you said cable lengths and inpedence issues caused by signal drop can occur if you stretch it too far. So if you have power and signal cables over 100′ long it will probably be no problem 9 out of 10 shows. But on that 10th show it may just bite you on the behind.
    If you turn your lights on and a few of them seem to be jiggling and moving by themselves while others are working, chances are you have overloaded that signal and will need to run another dmx line up to split those lights into groups of 16. Hence the unwritten rule. If you have 16 lights daisy chained together you should have very little trouble with signal flow.

  • Andrew says:

    Hi David,

    Can I daisy chain power?

    • David says:

      Hey Andrew,

      The answer to that is….sometimes! Many modern LED fixtures do have the ability to daisy chain additional fixtures, and have listed the maximum # of fixtures you can do this with (VERY IMPORTANT!).

  • Danie says:

    quick question for you david. in my lighting i often run a martin acrobat and a martin mx1 one or both depending on how much room i have. i have a chauvet obey 70 console. the problem is getting the older martins with dip switches properly addressed. any ideas. love your videos and info, learned alot from them.

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