Design Issues and Solutions DIY LED Adventure


New Member
Hello! (See below for a TL;DR)

I am a high school student, and I do lighting design for my school. Needless to say, the budget is a little bit tight for our theatre, despite the sports facilities being renovated every year...but that's none of my business. We have a wonderful ETC board which supports DMX, and one moving Chauvet Intimidator Spot 355z IRC. The other 50 or so Altman fixtures have served many a show for the past 17 and a half years, but are now fairly rusty and unreliable.

The department could hardly afford one single $600 Led Par let alone a whole new theatre's worth of them, and our school says they have no money to give, and is very restrictive about allowing fundraising. I'm scared to buy the cheap Chinese units simply because I've heard so many bad things about them, and used lights are rarely the price that I need them to be.

So I got this idea, let me know it its crazy, but there are a bunch of colored LEDs for purchase online, and so wouldn't it theoretically be possible to make a 'ghetto-fixture' if you will by stringing a series of these LEDs together and getting a DMX driver and hooking it up and seeing what would happen.

I have absolutely no expertise in this at all (read: I have no electrical know-how) but from what I can tell, a day with a soldering pen, some wire and a lot of hard work would maybe get me somewhere, which I can totally get. I don't have any frame of reference for how much it might cost, or really any way to go about doing this. I would love some guidance. There are some links at the bottom for what I was looking at in terms of LEDs and DMX drivers but really, I'm clueless

Another thought with the DMX, was to make a dmx controlled dowser for our school projector but I, again, have no clue how to approach the problem.

TL;DR: Everything costs too much for my highschool's budget, how do you make your own stuff?


Active Member
As an experience in frustration you could do this. Without the ability or skills to print a silicon board and without solder experience this would be very time consuming. Also I would be concerned about generating a fire hazard. I would advise against using homemade lights. Also most brands you would recognize have a process called bin matching where they match the color of LED's so the light output of two fixtures match, you would not have led that are matched so the color of each can would not match the next. Something to look for might be non LED options. I continuously see color scrollers or color commands come up for sale used for relatively cheap. Also if you have a professional theatre somewhere near you a friendly email giving your situation and asking if they have retired equipment they would be willing to donate might be an option as well.


Active Member
I would not try and make your own LED stage lights. Sure go ahead and make one just for the heck of it, but:

1. What are you going to encase the entire contraption in?
2. How they would stand up heat-wise on a pipe full of incandescents. (fire hazard)
3. Reliability/maintenance- how often would you be fixing them?
4. what would you be mounting the actual LEDs to? In most fixtures they are soldered onto circuit boards.
5. IF your building was ever inspected, i don't think they would pass....

If you did end up making one yourself, it would be capitol GHETTO. Most LED fixtures have printed circuit boards and intricate electronics that run them. I don't think replicating that would be an easy task, especially if you don't have whole lot of knowledge of small electronics.

I understand your budget situation. I am very lucky in a sense that my schools auditorium was built in 2005 and a large amount of money was put towards lighting. I understand where you're coming from with low budget- after our auditorium was built there has been no school money to do ANYTHING. All tech costs come out of the theatre account. But athletics get all kinds of new stuff each year...:snooty:

If you are looking for funds, try and talk to your theatre supervisor/director and talk to them about writing grants. We have had luck with grants at our school. Just keep in mind it takes about 1.5-2 years to actually get the funds. Thats the best advice I can give.
You are not going to be able to do LED on the cheap. Hell, even SMD5050 LED strips can be expensive for decent ones. Take it from someone who has been there, you have heatsinks, thermal design, cooling, power, control, lensing, mechanical engineering...this cannot be done on the cheap for less than it would take you to outfit your production with new fixtures. Also, you would not want to stake your lighting reputation, or your school's reputation, on ghetto-fixtures.

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