Drafting the Lightplot
Theatrical Design Logo
Drafting the Lightplot

Drafting the Lightplot

Now it is time to begin to draft the actual light plot. Vellum is translucent so that you may place it on top of your groundplan and rough draft drawings -–so that you may trace from those important pieces of paper.
Before laying out and taping your vellum, check to remove any tape or foreign objects that would be trapped between papers. Unsmooth areas are bound to cause dark marks on your final drawing, or smudges on and from your T-square and other tools.
Rough Plot with vellum laid over
Draftings have certain types of codes and indicators for various types of objects and situations. On a lightplot, the instruments are the most important items; therefore they should be drawn darkest on the plot.
Because your drafting will safeguard the emulsion on blue-line paper when run through a blueprint machine; the darker the line on the paper, the darker that final image will be displayed.
Units Drawn
Typically, there are two methods of drawing instruments darkest; you may apply more pressure to the pencil you are using, and/or you can use a softer “lead”. The softer the graphite; the easier it s to draw dark lines.
Lead Weights
For those who are new to drafting, I recommend starting with a 4H for light-weight (guidelines), 2H for medium-weight (lettering) and H for heavy-weight (lights, pipes). Personal preference is primarily developed depending on what a person usually uses for writing (ball point pens/hard or gel rollers / soft).
Mars Pencils

Because it would be very confusing to draw a great deal of detail for each lighting instrument, we use standard symbols to indicate lighting instruments.
United States Institute of Theatre Technology (USITT) standard lighting symbols.
USITT Lighitng Graphics Standards Chart View Larger
You may like to keep this open in another tab for quick reference.
Stage fixture template

Information that should be indicated for each unit includes:
  • Area of focus
  • Color
  • Instrument number
  • Channel number
    • Circuit number and
    • Dimmer number if appropriate.

This information tends to be “medium weight” so that the letters are resistant to smudging (as compared to heavy weight lines), but are still legible.

Note: Although I’m indicating Circuit and Dimmer number here: often that information isn’t written on the plot – and is added by the electricians when the plot is being hung.

Often times, some of the information (like circuit numbers) are not known when you are drafting your plot. Because of this, it is useful to use various borders around various types of information.

In order to list this information, one follows a lighting key that they also place on the lightplot for reference. This key indicates the relative relationship between an instrument and the information. If the color is listed in front of the unit, which is typical, the color should be listed in front of the unit even if the unit is flipped around.

Instrument numbers should be listed sequentially by hanging position. Here, again, we tend to number units from right to left, so that an electrician standing on the stage floor can easily identify units. If units were simply labeled sequentially, it would be difficult to troubleshoot and identify problem units.
Keep relevant unit information in the relationship dictate by the key.
Unit Numbers
Instrument numbers should be listed sequentially by hanging position.

Now that all of the secondary information has been listed, draw in the pipes (breaking for instruments and clarity) so make it easy for the electrician to find the appropriate position.
Add Pipes

Now place all additional lighting markings and notes on the plot.

This would include:
  • Areas
  • Labels for positions
  • Lighting key (described earlier)
  • Instrument schedule (a legend explaining the symbols used, and identifying each type of unit)
  • Boom markings
  • Channel assignments
  • Center-line
    • and a Scale rule if possible.
Try to be kind to your electricians and put a scale rule directly on the plot. If it makes them happy, you’ll have an easier time working with them when it’s time to focus.

Trouble viewing the video? Watch it directly on Vimeo.

A legend would include only the unit types you’re using in the production. If possible; if the theatre color-codes their instruments by type (most do): include that information as well.
You might also include the total number of each unit type.

You must include a title block on each drafting; this indicates the designer, how many pages are in a set (you may know there’s only one “plate” for the lightplot; but how do others know?), the date of the drawing (in case you need to modify the drawing, you can tell when each copy was created), scale used (since most people can’t draft at “full-scale” – ½” is standard). Production name, producer’s name, theatre, and anything else you feel is relative (I’ll often list the director’s name, and the name of my ME / Master Electrician so that they are part of the history).

There are different types of title blocks; from borders to floating. I prefer floating so that when folded, it is easy to identify all of the information about the blue-line before you unfold it.

Now that all of the most important information is on the plot, you can move to the additional markings including:
  • Border of page (typically 1/2" from the edge of the paper - this is important, so that a viewer knows they are looking at a complete drafting plate).
  • The walls of the theatre
  • Possibly specifics about the counter-weight system (if applicable)
  • Indications of masking (often the scenic designer consults with the lighting designer about the masking set-up)
  • And a light drawing of the set – making sure not to interfere with the clarity of the primary information (the lights).

All of these marks, aside from the heavy weight border, should be in lightweight – as to not distract from the primary goal.
Done? Time to blue-line!

Why wouldn’t you want to give the electrician the original plot? It would get dirty and trashed. You should hold on to the original so that you may update and archive it in case the show is brought back to that theatre, etc. Even if the same show isn’t brought back; an old lightplot can be a valuable tool when designing a new production; now that you know about various quirks of the space, so that you may see what you did, what instruments you used, etc. for that specific theatre.
Blueline Machine