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Special Effects

There are a wide range of special effects available: in fact, for any effect required there is a product that can achieve it. This section will briefly describe some of the most common effects, and how they are used to best effect.

The section is split into three main areas:

Smoke & dry ice machines

There are several types of smoke effect available, each of which will produce a slightly different result. Smoke is particularly effective at bringing the beams produced from moving lights and lasers to life, and has become an essential part of some lighting displays.

Smoke Machines

Conventional smoke is the well-known white cloud effect, which rises and spreads throughout the air. Thicker smoke is produced by increasing the length of the smoke burst

Haze machines

These produce a very fine mist, or haze, in the air which is largely invisible to the naked eye until a light beam is shone through it. This type of effect is very good for dynamic lighting displays, allowing the moving beams to be seen without the need for lots of white smoke!

Dry ice machines

These machines produce the well known (and much loved) effect of thick white smoke that lays on the floor. Dry ice is solid carbon dioxide, which forms at -78.5°C (-109.3°F). When this is placed in boiling water, the resultant gas reacts with the moisture in the air, which condenses to form a white cloud.

Because the low-lying cloud contains a high level of carbon dioxide, it is dangerous for people to lay down for even short periods in the effect. Storage of dry ice is difficult, as it needs to be kept at low temperatures. However, the resultant effect is often hard to beat.

Heavy smoke

Also known as low smoke, the effect produced by these machines is similar to dry ice. The machine uses a standard smoke machine, connected to a chiller unit. This makes the smoke colder than the surrounding air, hence it falls to the floor in a similar manner to dry ice. This is often a good compromise when the storage problems of dry ice are taken into consideration.


Pyrotechnics are essentially fireworks, although the system used for firing them is electronic. As such, they should be used with extreme caution and respect. A professional system must be used in order for pyros to be fired safely and reliably.

The firing system generally comprises of a control console with a security key switch which, together with firing pods, is used to detonate effects cartridges.

There are many different types of effect cartridge available, ranging from simple flashes through streamers to confetti cannons. When using pyrotechnics, the prime concern must be safety: please see our pyrotechnic safety advice.

The Le Maitre Pyroflash system has been widely used within the entertainment industry for many years, however other systems are becoming more popular and some have better safety features.

Ultra-Violet (UV) light

Ultra-violet fittings produce light that is just beyond the blue end of the colour spectrum. The light is most often put to use by using fluorescent fabrics and paints, which respond to the light to give vibrant colours. Non-fluorescent materials do not respond to this wavelength of light, and so remain dark (or invisible). Blacklight is an ultra-violet light from which the harmful radiations have been filtered.

Stroboscopic (strobe) lighting

A strobe is a device giving a fast series of very short intense light flashes. These pulses can be achieved by either mechanical or electrical means. The light pulses can have the effect of making action appear intermittent, or of freezing movement altogether, by varying the frequency (speed) of the flashes. Strobe lighting used in the entertainment industry is usually produced either electrically by using a special strobe lamps (normally Xenon filled flash tube), or mechanically using metal shutters in front of a lamp (normally used on moving lights).

When using stroboscopic lighting effects, a key concern must be safety: please see our strobe safety advice. A proportion of people with photo-sensitive epilepsy may be affected by strobe lighting, and the effect may produce undesirable sensations amongst the general population if used without due regard.

See also:

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