Shedding Light on Lighting Terminology

What is a PAR64 LED Can with Barndoors?
As we were getting together the equipment for an event last week, someone looked at the kit list and asked “what does PAR64 LED Can with Barndoors mean?”. Although my initial reaction was to point quizzically at the pile of lighting units sitting on the trolley, after a moments thought, I realized that we use such terms every day without really knowing what they mean.

Parabolic Aluminized Reflector
The first part is simple: PAR means Parabolic Aluminized Reflector, which refers to the type of bulb used in the lighting unit, or luminare, as they often referred to in theaters and film making. A parabolic aluminized reflector lamp (also known as PAR light, PAR can, Parcan or simply PAR) is the type of light which has a reflector behind the filament, with the reflector shaped in a parabola. This is so that a substantial portion of the available light is projected forward in a parallel beam, similar to the headlights used in cars. In the lighting world PAR normally refers to a one piece light like a car’s sealed beam headlight. The number indicates the diameter of the housing in eighths of an inch, so a PAR64 is eight inches in diameter.

High Power Light Emitting Diodes
Just to make things interesting, as we are now using more Light Emitting Diode (LED) based lighting rigs, it is sometimes possible to see descriptions like “Par64 Can with LEDs”, PAR64 LED Can or LED PAR64. This refers to an eight inch diameter can fitted with LED based light source. LEDs have the advantage of consuming much less electrical power than a filament based equivalent, but the down size is that on average you need twice as many to provide the same light. Another advantage of LED Lighting is that you can control the colour of the light dynamically. This is achieved by having either lots of Red, Blue and Green high power LEDs in a close matrix, or the more expensive alternative of fewer high power three colour LEDs.

Colour Wash The Stage
Traditionally the effect of colours was achieved using coloured gels or filters which slot into a holder in front of the lighting can. No band gig would be complete without some red lighting, and moody Jazz gigs or huge boy-band spectaculars love the effect of a blue stage wash. These effects can be reproduced in more intimate surroundings using LED lighting, sometimes writen as RGB LED Stage Lights, which can switch colour according to the desired mood. As LED technology becomes cheap, using LED stage lights is a hot topic in the world of stage lighting.

Finally, Barndoors (or flags) are the wings (or doors!) often added to the front of lighting units where there is a need to control the area of the stage which is illuminated. We us them when setting up a stage with a display screen on each side and lighting on the presenter. This prevents light from spilling off the stage on to the projector screen and detracting from the impact of the movie, image or presentation slide being shown. Barndoors are frequently identified in terms of the cans they will fit, so a Barndoor for PAR64 Cans (or PAR64 Barndoors) means an attachment for an 8 inch lighting can. Simple really!

Common Reflector Sizes

Inches Approx mm Where Used
PAR64 8 inches 203mm Commonly used in large venues such as large churches, schools, theaters and large clubs with 500 to 1000Watt lamps. Most common as the Par64 1000W.
PAR56 7 inches 177mm Used for for touring or permanent installs in smaller venues. Maybe found in clubs, theaters, schools, fashion shows and exhibits, with 300 to 500watt lamps.
PAR46 5.75 inches 145mm Often used for shops and display stands or for small clubs, small theaters and tent lighting.
PAR36 4.5 inches 115mm Used for pin spots, with a beam angle around 5°
PAR16 2 inches 50mm Ideal for hiding in small parts of a set or along the downstage edge of the stage. Also known as a Birdie because it is smaller than a Parcan, or “One under Par”

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