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Projection Mapping and the Law: What Advertisers Should Know editorial staff editorial staff

Before your next eye-popping event, make sure you know the rules.

  • Before your next event, learn how projection mapping can be an eye-catching way to present your ads.
  • Projection mapping is a type of technology that allows users to transform everyday objects into projection screens.
  • To do projection mapping on a large scale, you need permission from the owners of the building, permits, an assurance that you will adhere to all public safety regulations, and more. 

Projection mapping can be an eye-catching way to present your ad. This video projection technology entails you mapping your ad message onto a surface. It turns common objects, such as buildings, into interactive displays. It's not a cheap proposition, but it definitely makes a memorable impression.

Before hiring an agency that specializes in projection mapping, or before your next event, there are a few legal issues you should know about. 

Projection mapping and how it works

According to Frank Gatto Lighting, projection mapping is technology that projects images onto various surfaces. This allows everyday objects to be transformed into projection screens, which allows us to create movie-style visuals and effects virtually anywhere we wish. These projections can be entire landscapes as well as simple things. For example, you can project small objects on a screen to improve the look and feel of a particular room or event.

Projection mapping's pre-production process involves fitting images onto a 3D model of the area where the image is to be projected. The same image is then projected onto the 3D model as a means of recreating the way the image will be projected in real life. This allows production teams to recreate and accurately design the projection before doing it in real life.

The cost of projection mapping

The costs of projection mapping tend to vary. If you are doing this on a smaller scale, the costs will obviously be significantly lower than when projecting images onto buildings and larger landscapes. However, in this age, those situations are more of the exception than the rule. According to ON Services, the average cost of a mapping projection is $10,000 per minute. While this may sound very costly, keep in mind that these projections are often solicited by major organizations and require a large production team to create.

These factors can also affect the costs of projection mapping:

  • Surface area: One of the top factors in the price of projection mapping is the surface you choose to project on. For instance, if you are using a large public or private building, you may need to pay for the cost of using the building as well as the permits required to do these projections in public spaces.

  • Size and type of projection: Not all projections are created equal, depending on the type, size and complexities of a projection.

  • 2D or 3D: You must choose between a 2D and 3D projection. While 3D is often the first choice, due to its highly realistic properties, 2D is also a great option for those looking to save some money. This is because 2D involves less rendering, which makes the process less expensive overall.

  • Return on investment: No matter how much you are paying for your projection map, you should also consider the return on investment. For instance, if you are using your projection map at an event that will allow you to acquire lots of new customers, the ROI may be worth the costs. While this is not a way to lower the initial costs, if you are using this for marketing purposes, it is possible that the projection map will eventually pay for itself. 

Permission from owners

Obviously, the owner of the building or structure needs to grant permission first. You may also have to get permission from neighboring properties if the projection equipment will be set up there.

Permits from the local government

Because projection mapping is still a novel way to display visual media in a public space, you should be prepared for local government not to be familiar with it. Projection mapping could legally be considered cosmetic lighting, OOH (out of home) signage, or a live event that requires a stage permit. The local government may not allow such productions outdoors at all.

"Municipalities … love to hold on to their idiosyncrasies, and, certainly, each jurisdiction will use its own terminology and categories," said Brian Wassom, a practicing attorney who focuses on copyright and trademark law. "Understanding the terminology and subtleties of each jurisdiction's ordinances, and how those subtleties can be used to one's advantage, is where good lawyering comes in." 

Public safety

The unique visual aspects of projection mapping raise hypothetical questions about how your production could have an unintended, negative effect on the public.

Will making a building appear as if it's crumbling at night, for example, stun nearby passersby to where they become terrified and injure themselves? Could automobile drivers or cyclists seeing your event's imagery become distracted and cause an accident? Could the lights from the projectors impair the eyesight of those inside or around the building?


You and the production company need to be aware of any possible copyright issues with a building or public structure that you plan to project your image on. Creating a 3D graphic model of the building or physical subject in question without the permission of its owner, or without a license to do so, could be considered infringement.

Guerilla-style projection mapping?

When asked about using guerilla tactics to display an ad using projection mapping, Wassom said, "Risk is inherent in any guerilla marketing campaign. It's all about realistically ascertaining that risk ahead of time so as to accurately judge whether the risk is acceptable." 

"Any company that offers unpermitted or 'guerrilla' mapping services is likely not following local code, which means without legal protection," said Matthew Nix, director of development at Chicago Projection Mapping. "It is possible to have the event shut down and equipment confiscated at any moment."


You should work with a production company that has experience executing projection-mapping events and securing the necessary permits and permissions. The initial burden may appear to be on the production company, but both parties (you as the advertiser and the production company as the vendor) can be liable, so it's imperative that both sides understand what is expected.

"Define precisely what is to be done: where, when, how and by whom," Wassom said. "The advertiser should expect to bear the risk of what it requests, but defining the engagement precisely allows the advertiser to be very direct in requiring the vendor to bear the risk of anything falling outside those parameters."

Image Credit: scyther5 / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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