Written by the CPM team, this guide is for agencies, creative firms, and marketing groups looking to quickly bring themselves up to speed with the terms behind projection mapping.

3D Projection Mapping – The art and science behind creating projected visual effects on three-dimensional objects. By “mapping” visuals to fit an object, this creates the illusion that the light cast by the projector is actually emanating from the object itself.

4D Projection Mapping – Similar to 3D Projection Mapping, 4D Projection Mapping utilizes additional sensory effects to heighten and accentuate illusions. This includes temperature, scent, interactive controls, and additional feedback like fireworks or water effects.

Architectural Mapping – Exterior projection mapping on a building, featuring specific content designed to highlight the building’s architectural features. E.g. outlining windows, tracing bricks, effects where content builds and collapses.

Activation – A term commonly used by the event marketing industry to describe projection mapping displays/installations.

Beamer – Informal term for projector.

Content – The media that is being projected at any given time during a projection mapping display.

Content, Abstract – Visual content that is not specially designed for a surface. Alternately referred to as “stock effects” or “filler effects”.

Content, Mapped – Content that is specifically designed for a singular architectural surface, object, or building. Requires much more thought and precision than abstract content. Alternately referred to as “architectural content” or “high quality content”.

Three-Phase Power – A broad term for 208-220V AC power, a high-voltage form of electricity that some large-venue projectors require.

DMX / DMX512 – Digital Multiplex. A standard used for traditional lighting effects. Projection mapping software can be integrated into a DMX512 “universe” to synchronize visuals to lighting.

DVI – Digital Visual Interface. A common kind of HD-ready connection and cable used in projection. Most often used in professional applications.

Generator – An external power source, commonly using gas or propane. An easy alternative for power needs when using large projectors.

HDMI – High-Definition Multimedia Interface. A common kind of HD-ready connection and cable used in projection. Appears in both consumer and professional applications.

Large Venue Projector – A broad term used to describe high-brightness projectors, generally over 12,000 lumens in brightness. The three most common brands of projectors used in large venue applications are manufactured by Christie, Barco, and Panasonic.

Lens – The focusing element included in the front of a projector that directs the projected light. Common variations include short throw lenses (for projectors placed close to their surface), zoom lenses (for projectors variable amount of distance to their surface), and long throw lenses (for projectors very far from their surface).

Lumens – A standardized measurement of projector brightness. An average projector is ~3,000 lumens. Most large-venue projectors used in projection mapping are 20,000 lumens or brighter.

Media Server – A stand-alone projection mapping system designed for highly reliable playback for a show or performance setting. Includes mapping software for content mapping. Popular brands of media server include Pandora’s Box and the Hippotizer. Can alternately be used to refer to a conventional computer running mapping software.

Mapping – The art and science behind conforming projection content to a three-dimensional surface by altering and distorting content. A very broad term that encompasses everything from simple distortion corrections to complex 3D surfaces.

Mapping Display – A popular term to describe a one-night projection mapping show.

Mapping Software – A software application that can alter and distort projection content in real time, allowing the creation of mapping effects. Popular mapping software include TouchDesigner, Resolume Arena, VDMX, and Madmapper.

MIDI – Musical Instrument Digital Interface. A kind of digital interface that allows external “controllers”, such as piano keyboards or lighting consoles, to interact with projection mapping software.

Projector – A device that projects an image onto a surface using a high-powered light source. Projectors used in projection mapping range from small models like those seen in conference rooms, to enormous cinema-grade high-definition models.

Projection Hardware – A catch-all term for the projectors, cables, and power considerations required to physically create the projected image used in a projection mapping display.

Projection Mapping Installation – A projection mapping display designed for semi-permanent or permanent use. Oftentimes requires special considerations for projector placement.

ROI – Abbreviation for “Return On Investment”. Projection mapping is popular for its high return on investment, as mapping effects translate well to large crowds and active social media interaction.

Scaffolding – Metal truss and associated hardware that allow a projector to be hoisted into the air.

Scaler – A standalone device used to convert unusual video signals in a signal flow.

Screen – A rectangular specialty surface designed for projection.

Screen Gain – A measurement of a screen’s brightness when projected upon. Higher gain screens are better for brightness, while lower gain screens are better for image fidelity.

Short Throw Projector – A projector with a lens designed to be used a short distance from a projection surface. Typically creates a much larger projected image than one comparable projector at the same distance.

Signal Flow – The chain of cables leading from a media server to a projector that send a video signal. Generally, the simpler a signal flow is, the better, as there are less possibilities for technical malfunctions along the way.

Surface – The object that is being projected onto during a projection mapping display. This term is very broad, and can include buildings, screens, objects, constructed staging, and more.

Spatial Augmented Reality – A mostly-outdated term for projection mapping. Due to the use of projection on 3D objects, the projection looks like “augmentations” of physical space.

Throw Ratio – A measurement of the width of a projector’s image. The lower the throw ratio, the closer a projector can be placed to a surface to create a comparable image.

VGA – Video Graphics Array. A common kind of cable used for older model projectors. Cannot carry a high-definition image, and is generally considered outdated.

Video Mapping – Interchangeable with “projection mapping”.

Video Signal – A catch-all term used to refer to the content being sent by the media server to a projector.

VJ – Video Jockey. Traditionally, a professional media skill involving mixing video sources in real time. Modern VJ’s often use projection mapping as a key part of their sets.

Window Treatment – A temporary surface treatment, like a cling or filter, applied to glass windows to allow them to be used as a projection surface. Glass windows cannot be used for projection otherwise.