What Is A Legal Laser?

Making sure you purchase a "Legal" laser for use in the United States is the single most important thing you can do when buying a laser. Why? The FDA has strict guidelines for lasers in the US. If not used properly, they can cause permanent damage, distract planes, and cause you a lot of headaches and more importantly cost you a lot of money. In fact, the FDA can fine up to $1500 per day for using an illegal laser and actually fine up to a year previously if desired (up to $355,000 in fines), per laser infraction. Obviously keeping you safe is the most important thing for us as a company, but also making sure you know your rights and staying knowledgeable is just as important. By reading and watching the videos below, this will give you some great knowledge of lasers and their rules, and also keep you out of trouble. 

First things, first. What is a Variance, and why do I need one? I plan on using this in my nightclub. 
The FDA has the ability to give two different types of Variances, a Manufacturer''s Variance and an End-User Variance. Anyone who manufacturers lasers in the US or imports lasers into the US must hold an FDA Manufacturer''s Variance to legally introduce lasers into US commerce. What this Variance says is that all lasers you are introducing to the public are FDA safe, certified lasers. We hate to say this, but 99..9% of all lasers sold on auction sites, or even sold at your local Pro-Audio store are illegal lasers, with no variance. As a general rule of thumb, if it seems too cheap, it''s probably illegal. 

The second type of Variance is an End-User Variance which is required on all lasers over 4.9mW in emitted power. If an end-user has a laser under 4.9mW, no Variance is required by the FDA. Think of the End-User Variance like a driver''s license, in which it allows the End-User to vary from the standard safe 4.9mW of power and that they are certified to use it. Just because someone has a Variance, does NOT mean that they don''t have to abide by certain laser safety rules, just like a driver''s license doesn''t allow you to go 120mph on the freeway. The Variance is simply stating that you, the Variance holder has been trained and any laser operator in your staff has had the proper laser safety training. When you buy a laser from Ellumiglow.com, we include a FREE laser training safety video which gives you the DO''s and DON''Ts of laser operation. 

Not only do we at Ellumiglow.com have our own Retailers Variance, all of our vendors we work with also have a Manufacturer''s Variance, which keeps our paperwork squeaky clean and out of trouble. Our EZ End-User Variance Kit allows you to be legally covered within seconds and is 100% legal before you receive the laser in your hands. 

I''ve seen lasers with more than 5mW of power that don''t require a US Variance, why is that?
Lasers can have "native" power (the power actually generated by the diode before it passes through the optical train), which can be many times over 5mW and still not require a variance, but many VERY specific conditions must be met, prior to this being true. Generally speaking, aerial lasers and scanning lasers that are more powerful than 5mW require a variance (10mW for Fat beam lasers). The biggest exception to the rule are Diffraction lasers, which basically use a large prism to break up the beam many times which render each individual beam a far lower power rating. 

There''s a bunch of different classifications that I''ve seen, Class IIIA, Class IIIR, and Class IIIB. What''s the difference?

Class IIIR and Class IIIA lasers are essentially the same thing, but A refers to the United States, and R refers to the rest of the world (think America [A] verus Rest of world [R]). They each have their own ratings, but a simple mathematical equation produces the same results (please don''t make us recite this!). Very similar to how the US uses inches and everyone else uses centimeters. 
Class IIIB is the beginning of high powered lasers and ALL Class IIIB products (no matter what) require that you have applied for a Variance prior to being allowed to purchase them. At Ellumiglow.com, we have provided the FDA with endless amounts of paperwork over the years and have a 100% record for approval of variances for our customers. This perfect standing record has allowed us to get you instantly approved so your laser will be 100% legal by the time it hits your doorstep. 

Who or what is the "CDRH"?
The CDRH or Center for Devices and Radiolocial Health is the division of the FDA that handles radiation emitting devices like lasers. They make, enforce and protect everyone when it comes to lasers and laser safety. Let''s just say those are the really smart people... 

If something says it''s FDA Certified, is that the same as a Variance?
Yes, and No. All of the Class IIIB laser products (or any other products requiring a Variance) sold on Ellumiglow.com have been tested, inspected, and certified by the FDA. Once tested, the FDA certifies these products that they meet all safety, performance and labeling standards. This is REQUIRED for any laser products that are introduced into US commerce, and exist because the FDA wants to protect all of us from dangerous products. 

However, just because our products are certified, doesn''t mean you are allowed to use them. This is why the FDA requires an End-Use Variance to show that not only are you buying a product that has gone through the testing, but also that you have been trained to properly use that particular device. 

My Pro-Audio Store has some pretty good deals on Lasers which were purchased offshore. Can I just apply for a Variance after I purchase one of those?
No. If the laser itself is not certified by the FDA, they have no way of knowing its capabilities, fit and finish, safety, performance, labeling, etc. It pains us to say it, but there are even companies out there that put fake safety labels on these devices which have never been approved, nor will ever be approved by the FDA. Just because your laser has a sticker, does NOT mean it has been certified. Unfortunately the few bad seeds make it far more difficult for the masses. The good news is using and selling illegal lasers will only get these people so far, and eventually the FDA will catch up. Being inspected by an FDA Laser Safety Officer, or local Fire Marshall, means the end of their run and they will not only confiscate any illegal lasers they see, but also slap on a hefty fine. 
Please note: If you are using an illegal laser in a public place, your lasers will be confiscated, your venue could be shut down, and you will most likely receive a stinging fine. We''ve seen it go as far as the FDA contacting your liability insurance company and businesses losing their insurance because of these infractions. This information is not here as a scare tactic by any means, only to show what the steep penalties are for using illegal devices. By purchasing 100% Legal Lasers, you stay out of this type of trouble and our customers sleep well knowing this. 

The store I bought my laser from said they had their FDA Accession number, so they are legal, right?
Oh boy. We''ve heard this more than a few times. An accession number is a paperwork tracking number and has NOTHING, ZERO, ZILCH, NADA to do with a manufacturer''s legal ability to introduce high-powered lasers into US commerce. This is a common misconception with eBay sellers. You could send a Christmas Card to the FDA and receive an Accession number. Basic rule of thumb here, if you are unsure, ask the manufacturer for a FDA Certification. LEGAL manufacturer''s will gladly produce this and supply you with one. Last point here, a TRUE FDA Certification does NOT look like an award with a seal. If you are seeing this, chances are they made this at their local Kinko''s. 

Why does my Laser and literature say that this is only to be used indoors, it looks so cool pointing it into the sky?Even low powered lasers shoot for extremely long distances. Unless the beam is terminated (or broken), lasers can shoot for literally miles into the sky, which is why using lasers outdoors raises the possibility of beams striking aircraft''s or impeding flight paths. This is a federal crime and is considered dangerous. 

Our crowds always want us to shoot the lasers down into the crowds. Is it OK to do this?
No. In the US, this is very illegal and considered dangerous. Crowd scanning with high powered lasers can be accomplished with a relatively good degree of safety, however doing so takes skill, lots of practice, special equipment, special variances, and even then is still considered dangerous. Keep this one phrase in mind when using lasers, "Don''t Point Lasers At People". 

What happens when I get my laser. How will I know what to do?
Inside every laser is a laser safety guide, DVD with instructional videos, documents, publications and more. This will tell you everything you need to know about your new laser and what to expect. 

Take a moment to watch the two videos below for more information regarding laser safety. 

Illegal Laser Training Video (Part 1) 

Illegal Laser Training Video (Part 2)