Skip to content


Stage Lighting Tips

Moving Head Lights Guide


Moving head lights are known simply as 'movers' in the stage lighting industry. They've been around since the early 80s but really became popular in the 90s. Back then, they were super expensive, but their price has been consistently coming down over the years. Nowadays, even your local pub will likely own a few to use over the dance floor and stage area. There are two main types of these popular kinds of lights: moving head and moving mirror. We will discuss and show examples of both styles in this moving head lights complete guide.

A Quick History Of Moving Head Lights

The concept of creating adjustable lighting is nothing new; in fact, there are sketches dating back to the 150s showing primitive moving head light technology utilizing pulleys, cans, and candles. Thankfully, we no longer use candles, and, with the invention of electricity, great advancements to moving head light design were created. Although we can't say with 100% certainty, it appears that the creator of the modern moving head light was a German company named Pani. There is evidence showing that in the 1950s, they manufactured a multi-light system complete with basic automation functions. However, around the same time, a Yale professor and theater consultant, George Izenour, was working in conjunction with his students to create lights that moved with the help of basic robotics. Interestingly, Izenour is also the creator of the first mirror light, which he equipped with an ingenious liquid cooling system. Although incredibly brilliant in theory, it turns out water and electricity don't pair well together, but it did pave the way for more advanced cooling systems in the future.

Moving head lights were first popularized in rock concerts in the 1970s by artists such as Van Halen to great effect!


Whoever is the true founder of moving head lights, one thing is certain; they changed the direction of stage lighting forever! By the 1970s, after just twenty, moving head lights were already making an impact on the concert scene, where they were famously used in rock and roll concerts, including the likes of Van Halen. The problem was that the rigs used to hold up the massive lighting systems created an issue for many venues, whose designs didn't account for the bulky and heavy instruments. But, as with every problem, it forced a solution, which created smaller, more powerful lighting systems in response.


A company named Showco was working on colored lighting for use during concerts and reached out to the band Genesis to see if they were interested in using it on their tour. Since the band was always up for trying out new technology, they agreed and ordered fifty-five fixtures. Although there were many naysayers that believed the new lighting direction was a fad, everything changed with an accidental discovery. The original fixtures were meant to turn off and on as they moved positions around the stage; however, once it was discovered that leaving them on and moving them was incredibly eye-catching, it wasn't long before moving head lights were taking the world by storm.

Showco Inc. t-shirts - One of the first companies to develop coloured lighting for use in concerts. As the years progressed, moving head lights found their way beyond the concert scene and became commonplace in many venues, including: Award Shows, Houses of Worship, Theaters, Corporate Events, Olympic Ceremonies, and Operas.

Now anyone can take advantage of the amazing impact moving head lights create.


The Many Uses Of Moving Head Lights

Moving head lights are a common sight for both large and small events, creating ambiance and invoking emotion while helping convey the story the performer seeks to share. Head lights have a multitude of uses in different areas, which is why they are such a popular option worldwide. When considering purchasing or renting a light fixture, you must first consider how you will use them. Knowing what you want to use them for and where you plan to put them, helps you decide which fixture will work best.


Moving lights are invaluable for theaters for their various features. Using tools like animation and gobo wheels can create carious textures or scenic elements, while the use of colors can create emotion or mirror the actor's feelings. Being able to follow the actors as they move around the stage or draw the audience's attention to a specific area makes moving head lights a must-have for every theatrical production.

Outdoor And Indoor Locations

If you're considering moving head lights for an outdoor space, it's crucial you choose one with at least an IP65 rating. Before installing any lighting in a building, you must also consider how much power is available. Options like LED lights draw less power than their lamped counterparts but may not be as bright.


If you're using your lights for television, your main concern is the color temperature. You want to make the on-air talent look good, and the CRI is directly responsible for how their skin tone looks on camera.

Live Events

Using moving lights in live events is a standard occurrence, whether it's for music festivals, churches, concerts, etc. To choose the correct fixture, you must first consider the venue's size, which directly affects your throw distance; your light output will always vary depending on the venue's size. It's also important to consider how durable the fixture must be, which you can determine by thinking about how long the product is and if there will be multiple venue changes. Finally, consider any effects you would like to use. Do you want simple lighting or something flashier? Everything combined will help you choose the best fixture to fit your needs.


Moving Head Light Classification

When considering which fixture will best fit your needs, it is helpful to understand their classifications. There are three main types of moving lights: wash, spot/profile, and beam.

Wash Fixtures

Wash fixtures create a softer edge and don't include the same level of beam control as the spot or beam options. Wash lights are excellent for lighting a large area. Spotlights have a sharper edge and usually include one or two gobo wheels, an animation wheel, and an iris. They are excellent for general texture, highlighting objects, and follow-spots.

Beam Lights

Beam lights produce a thin, non-tapered laser-like beam and are generally used during live events.


Other Popular Forms of Moving Light Include:


Hybrid lights are designed for multipurpose lighting and contain different effect lighting fixtures. Each fixture will have a less intense beam, wash, or spot fixture compared to its counterpart with only one primary function.


There are many options for effect lighting fixtures, and they are categorized by their individual pixel control abilities, which include:

  • Pan
  • Tilt
  • 360A
  • Unique built-in effects

Types of Moving Head Light Bulbs

Moving lights use specialized software which controls their movements and is usually built into the device. Weighing around sixty to a hundred and ten pounds, they aren't light, but the large variety available on the market ensures there is a size to fit every need. You can choose between an arc lamp or an LED version, each with its own benefits and disadvantages.

Arc Lamps

Arc lamps are efficient and create a powerful light beam. They are more fragile than LEDs but are perfect when you need a bright light source.


LEDs are more efficient than arc lamps and are an incredibly common option. The light they emit is less powerful but still good and works best as wash lights. LED lighting is growing more sophisticated by the day, so there is no doubt that as time progresses, it will become more powerful.


Moving Head Light Features

Moving head lights may have various features depending on the type you choose. These features can include:

  • Effects
  • Strobe
  • Patterns
  • Color
  • Pan and tilt
  • Zoom and focus

What You Need To Make Moving Head Lights Work

To make your moving lights work, you will need the following:


Your fixture requires two inputs to work data and power. The industry data standard is DMX-512 with a 5-pin XLR connector.


You will need to "address" the fixture, so it knows what to listen to.


You will need a controller to power your fixtures, especially when you have multiples running at once.


Where To Find Information On Moving Head Lights

Moving head lights are an excellent addition to any venue, event, concert, etc. They give you the opportunity to create an impactful and unique experience for the audience. There are many different models, brands, and fixture options to choose from, which can get very overwhelming. That's why at Stage Lighting Gurus, we do the hard work of researching, comparing, and finding the highest quality moving light fixtures available, so you don't have to.

Prev Post
Next Post

Thanks for subscribing!

This email has been registered!

Shop the look


Choose Options

Edit Option
this is just a warning
Shopping Cart
0 items