Introduction: Old School Psychedelic Light Show

About: I'm a 41 year old theatrical designer and educator. I have boundless curiosity, chimerical aesthetic, and Sisyphean perseverance. The results of my whimsical adventures can be found here and on my instagram.

Were you alive and kicking in the 1960's? Do you remember going to concerts at the time? Barbarella? Are you looking to recreate the psychedelic world of days long past? Want a great background for you computer? Look no further this Instructable will walk you through how to do a psychedelic light show like a hippie!

Step 1: What You Need to Start Your Trip

For this project you are going to need the following

  • Old school overhead projector(a newer one will work as well)
  • Shallow round bottomed glass dish (traditionally and in this Instructable the glass comes from a clock)
  • Mineral oil or other clear oil
  • Oil dyes (I used Firefly oil dyes)
  • Food coloring
  • Water
  • Containers for mixing your colors (not shown)

Step 2: Mixing Up Some Colors

Time to start mixing up the colors for our light show. I personally am fond of dying the water orange and the oil blue. You can mix any color you like so don't be afraid to play around it is a grand time.

To mix the Orange I used three drops of yellow food dye and two drops of red. For the blue oil I used a full eyedropper worth of blue oil dye.

A note about light passing through your colors. By passing white light from the projector through our different colored liquids we are subtracting the wavelengths of white light leaving only the colored wavelengths behind. Why is this important to me you might ask. Well to know why it is important you would also have to know the primary colors on light. Which are red, blue, and green. So as you mix your colors if you use red, blue, and green colors at the same time you will end up blocking most of the light. Also the more saturate(aka the more drops of color you add) your colors are the less light will make it through. Empowered with this new knowledge mix up colors and experiment like it is 1968!

Step 3: Glass Down, Projector On, Pour Away!

Now that you have you colors mixed pick out a song you want to rock out too. Turn on your overhead projector, place your glass dish down on it, and pour in your colors. Start with your dyed water first, then your oil. Make sure to leave some room in the dish we are going to be rocking and rolling this dish till the our consciousness has expanded enough that we can see the music. You can also set your focus at this time. To set the focus old overhead projectors have a knob that moves the top lens closer or farther away from the surface of the projector. Turning the knob one way gets you a sharp crisp focus turning it the other way gets you a softer edge. You can clearly see the edge of the overhead projection surface when the focus is sharp. If that is harshing your mellow feel free to soften it up. I like the sharp focus but definitely play around to suit the mood of the song. Now it is time to rock so fire up your song and lets make psychedelic magic.

Step 4: Techniques

I put together a picture in picture video of the techniques I use when playing with this medium. It does an awesome job showing the different impacts of the following techniques.

The Jiggle

For the Jiggle you rock the glass dish up and down. Be careful not to spill it can get messy fast. This causes a sloshing action directly proportional to the amount of tip. You can do little tremors to big shifts.

The Spin

For this one you spin the glass dish at first it might not seem like anything is happening but you will begin to build up a flow going in the direction of your spin. This is good for a slow moving effect. Stopping the dish or even reversing the spin can help break the oil blobs into smaller strands.


By adjusting the focus you can make the lines between oil and water not as well defined. This can add subtle shifts in the viewers perception of what is going on in the light show.

Not shown is the do nothing.

Eventually things will heat up enough to start moving on their own.

Step 5: Have Fun! Also Some Further Reading.

You now know all you need to know to channel your inner hippie and produce awesome psychedelic light shows. So put on your favorite psych rock album and have fun. I made some close up videos of the color combination I used in this Instructable to show how you could make some stock footage for trippy green screen backgrounds. I hope you enjoyed this Instructable and if you did please vote. Even better I would love to see any thing you do with your new found knowledge so if you do anything please share in the comments.

Also if you want to know more about this practice and its history check out the Wikipedia article on it.

Oil Contest

Second Prize in the
Oil Contest