How Does a Disco Ball Work?

Disco Balls have been used since the 1920s, became uber-popular in the 1970s during the Disco era and have made a resurgence lately, both at the center of the dance floor and in the home to spruce up almost any room.

But is there more to a disco ball and how it works, or is it as simple as we all think?

For a disco ball to work properly, it must be connected to a motor on a stand or ceiling, that rotates in a circular motion. Pinspots direct light usually on opposite sides of the ball. The light reflects off the surface of the ball which is comprised of many mirrored facets to create the desired effect. 

Before you decide to purchase a Disco Ball or try to install one right out of the box, let’s explore all of the essential components in more detail so you save time and money in the long run.

The Disco Ball

Disco Balls, often called Mirror or Glitter Balls, come in many different sizes (and usually only one shape, spherical). Selecting the size of the ball is the very first and most important step in the buying or creation process of pleasing any party goer with a speckled dance floor.

Standard Disco Balls can be found online with a radius range in size from 4 inches to 72 inches or roughly 10cm up to 183cm. Smaller sizes (less than 4 inches) can be found but are not for practical use, rather party favors or other tchotchke gifts.

Disco Ball Purple

What size is right for you? That depends, as there are a lot of factors that could impact your decision. What is the size of the room? Where do you plan on hanging it? What is the height of the ceiling?

In most cases, a 12” or 16” diameter disco ball will work, especially in a smaller setting. If you are using for a wedding reception party, as an example, you may want to go with the 20”. Most Disc-jockeys we polled are using a 16” or 20” ball.

The size of the ball will help determine the type of motor you will need as well as how the ball should be hung, what stands to get, or even how many pinspots to aim for maximum reflection.

Disco Balls tend to be made from styrofoam, polystyrene, or even a solid plastic core. There will be a hanging rod positioned in the center of the ball with one end having an eye-hook for easy connection to the motor. Larger size balls or the frequency of use may demand a stronger rod.

Last, but not least, the ball’s surface is covered with tiny, mirrored facets or tiles that can dramatically increase the weight of the ball and have an effect on the output quality.

The Facets of a Disco Ball

After you determine the right size ball to meet your needs, you’ll want to look into the material of the facets. If you notice major differences in price from the same size ball to the next, it’s likely because of the tiles used.

Real glass, mirrored tiles are regarded as higher quality from a durability and reflection standpoint. They will also be much heavier in weight compared to the other options.

If you are knee-deep in a DIY project, a real glass mirror can be bought in self-adhesive sheets or hand-cut tiles in .5” x .5” or 1” x 1” squares. They also can be found in a variety of colors outside of the traditional silver, such as champagne or blush rose, and have an array of different finishes like gloss or polished.

Mirrored tiles are secured to the ball by an adhesive like double-sided tape, glue, cement, caulk and the like. Disco balls typically have hundreds or even thousands of mirrored tiles.

If you prefer not to have real glass mirrored tiles, you can look for balls made of carnival mirror, metallic foil, or even old CDs that could work for you DIY’ers.

The Motor of a Disco Ball

For your disco ball to spin and project tiny dots all around the room, you’ll need a motor. There are a few things to highlight when determining what motor is right for you.

Back to size! The size, and more importantly the weight of the ball will dictate the type of motor. There are small, portable, battery-powered motors that claim capable of handling 12”, 16” and even 20” balls. But BEWARE, you need to know both the size and weight (if you missed it, read facets section above on how this impacts weight).

Stationary, heavy-duty motors also have limitations with the size and weight they can handle. Typically, a heavy-duty motor should have no problem holding and spinning a 30-pound ball. Although, some heavy-duty motors are capable of supporting 40” balls and a whopping 90-pounds. Just remember to read the fine print on the product information page before you pony up some ‘shekels.

The other feature to review when considering a motor is the RPM (Revolution Per Minute) settings. RPMs measure how many full rotations your disco ball will make every minute. This is very similar to the RPM meter in your car.

The higher the RPM (anything above 6 RPM is high), the faster the ball will rotate around the room. A high RPM would suit best in a nightclub and not a house party unless you want your guests spewing up your retro appetizer.

The average speed for a mirror ball motor is 2-3 RPMs. For a more dramatic effect, yet more relaxing and overall enjoyable experience, we recommend using a slow RPM, like 1 or 1.5.

Now that we covered the motor and rotation settings, let’s discuss the lighting.

The Pinspots on the Disco Ball

Pinspots are specialized devices that have a narrow, tight beam of light focused on an object such as centerpieces, signs, artwork, and most certainly, disco balls! In other words, virtually anything you want to put on display.

Pinspots are relatively inexpensive with the average price around $20-$30 and around $50 for a higher-end model. Pinspots vary in shape, size, wattage, and mobility but are usually built with a metal casing/frame and now that we are in the 21st century, an LED bulb. Most LED bulbs have a 50,000-hour lifespan so you shouldn’t ever need to replace the bulb.


Power consumption varies based on the wattage of the bulb (3w, 5w, 10w), and also if the pinspot is charging – yes, they make rechargeable, battery-powered pinspots. Most pinspots can be recharged a total of 500 hours and last 4-5 hours of straight use time. If you plan to have a permanent setup for your disco ball, please plan accordingly and ensure you’ll have enough power before you begin.

Some units may come with different color lenses and if not, don’t worry, you can always acquire that separately.

For a smaller sized ball (8”, 10”, 12”), 1-2 pinspots would be ideal. If you are handling a larger ball (16”, 20”, 24”), then 3-4 pinspots would be needed to deliver the ultimate star effect.

The placement of each pinspot is personal preference but a good rule of thumb (our recommendation) would be 3 total pinspots to ensure the ball has nice coverage. One pinspot, to the left of the ball horizontally, and another equidistant on the opposite side. The final pinspot located on the floor or somewhere below the ball aimed directly at the front surface at a 45-degree angle.

If you can avoid it, make sure your pinspots are not obstructed by anything such as the truss, support beam, or tripod legs.

The Stand or Mount of a Disco Ball

The last crucial element standing between you and getting your groove on is how to hang your disco ball?

The answer is by an adjustable stand or a mounting bracket.

If you purchased a motor, there should have been brackets included that can be used to secure the motor into the studs of a ceiling as an example.

The installation would be very similar to that of a ceiling fan. Wire for power, hide the wires but a fancy fixture and drill two screws until firmly in place.

Perhaps you’re a disc-jockey and are not looking for a permanent home for your mirror ball because you’ll always be on the go. If this is the case, then you’ll probably want to consider a stand.

There are a variety of stands in the marketplace today. And not to “beat a dead horse here”, but most will define the requirements or limitations based on the size and weight of the ball.

The nice thing about a stand, aside from being able to take your setup anywhere, is that they can be an all-in-one solution, meaning they come with a tripod, mounting bracket, motor, pinspots, wires, and cover. They also tend to be adjustable which gives you so much flexibility when faced with challenging spaces. 

Mark Plevyak

Thanks for reading! Throwing events can be overwhelming but to me one of the most thrilling and rewarding experiences. Since we all grew up in different decades, we can't always relate to iconic time periods of the past. There is so much to celebrate so if you are thinking of planning an event, plan a Retro one. And, if you're attending a party, ensure you relive it to the fullest. Party Unique!

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