The Lightworks Crash Course for Beginners (Part One): The Basics

This crash course is written for those who want to explore Lightworks to know whether it is the ideal NLE for their workflows or not, and to learn what might be in store for them. It is assumed that you have never seen or worked with Lightworks.

By the end, you will have hopefully understood Lightworks thoroughly, and will be in a strong position to learn how to take your education and work forward.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.


Which version of Lightworks should you use?

Lightworks is almost 25 years old (at the time of this writing), and is (was?) one of the big names in the NLE space. Today, it is owned by Editshare:

EditShare is the technology pioneer in networked shared storage and tapeless, end-to-end workflow solutions for the post-production, TV and film industries.

According to Wikipedia:

At the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters, NAB Show, on 11 April 2010, EditShare announced that they plan to transform Lightworks into Lightworks Open Source.

They plan to make money from proprietary plugins offered in their associated online shop, including plugins needed to access professional video formats.

As of today, Lightworks is available on Windows (version 11.1, which is what I’m using to write this course) and on Linux (as beta). It is scheduled to have a Mac version before the end of 2013, after which point it is expected that the code will be released.

Lightworks comes in two versions:

  • Free
  • Lightworks Pro – about $60/year

Which version should you opt for? Start with the free version and see if you like the features. However, if you’re a professional editor, then you’ll need Lightworks Pro more often than not. At its price point, it is probably the cheapest world-class NLE out there.

What can the Pro version do that the free version can’t? Here are some important differences:

  • Codec support for import and export. The free version is seriously limited.
  • Blu-ray and DVD export.
  • Titles.
  • Project sharing.

I will be using Lightworks Pro 11.1 for this crash course. You can try the Pro version on a 30 day trial. For a full list of features, click here. Lightworks Pro comes in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. If you have more than 4 GB RAM and Windows 64-bit on your system, get the 64-bit version.

Finally, there are two ‘hidden’ costs to Lightworks Pro:

  • Avid DNxHD Activation – $65
  • Lightworks Pro Support – $595

If you don’t take the support plan, you can still pay for one-time issues that need specialized support.

Where to get help

The only way to get support for Lightworks without paying is by:

  • The manual, called the User Guide.
  • The Lightworks Community and Forum. The forum goes in depth into each area of Lightworks, so you’ll definitely find help to whatever trouble you’re facing.

Hardware compatibility for Lightworks

Half the strength of any NLE is its ability to work well with hardware. One of the great strengths of Lightworks is its relationship with the hardware solutions offered by Editshare.

To improve your editing experience, Editshare provides a Lightworks Console (about $2,800), Keyboard (about $140) and turn-key computer systems designed to make the best use of the software.

What products do Editshare sell? Here are a few:

  • Flow – a digital asset management. system
  • Geevs – broadcast servers that can do “simple ingest, complex newsroom integration, live sports with instant replay, multi-camera studio ingest and 24/7 scheduled play-out.”
  • XStream – Scalable storage for collaborative post production, in both broadcast and cinema industries, etc.
  • Energy – scalable storage for post facilities, etc., but cheaper than XStream.
  • Field 2 – portable storage system.
  • Ark – backup and archival systems – tape or disks.

If you compare this infrastructure with Avid and Grass Valley you’ll understand that all these products are designed to work in tandem to meet the toughest demands of broadcasting.

What third-party hardware devices do Lightworks support? Here is a list from their website:

  • Matrox MXO2
  • Matrox MXO2 LE
  • Matrox MXO2 Rack
  • Matrox MXO2 Mini
  • Blackmagic Design
  • RED Rocket
  • AJA (support in development)

Regarding GPUs:

Lightworks is able to use the power of your graphics card or chipset to accelerate video processing. We get good results with NVIDIA and ATI graphics cards.

Any GPU with more than 1 GB RAM should be sufficient.

How to set up Lightworks for best results

Lightworks Pro is one of the smallest programs that you can download and install (less than 80 MB). The installed app only takes about 200 MB!

How should you set up your hard drives? According to Lightworks:

Separate media and system drives (these can be internal or external as long as the the interface is suitably fast. eSATA is an example).

This is keeping with the principles I’ve outlined in How to import video into Adobe Premiere Pro. The larger the data rate, the faster your read drive should be.

The full list of recommended specs can be found here.

To use Lightworks, you’ll need to register first. You’ll need to be connected to the Internet to register and activate the software for the first time.

LWKS Project Screen

It’s a little confusing not to see 23.976, 29.97 and 59.94 frame rates. We’ll go into this later.

On the top right is the settings icon (gears). This will allow you to select the location for this project. If you’re on a single computer, you can change the default under Local Projects. By default it is the system drive.

Once you have created your project, you can click on the top left ‘Project <projectname>‘ and change the project settings (called Project Card in Lightworks):

Lwks Project Settings

As you can see, your project is limited to 1080p, and up to 10-bit (Under Precision). This is standard for most NLEs. However, the timeline is resolution and frame rate independent. More on this later.

You can change R3D decode quality – from full resolution to one-sixteenth resolution. On a 1080p monitor, ‘half resolution good’ or ‘quarter resolution’ should be sufficient.

Audio sampling rate is limited to 48 KHz. Under Misc, you can test your GPU or I/O hardware capability, which is a cool feature. The results in fps can be compared to similar systems. You can also change the background image (wallpaper)!

When working, Lightworks recommends that the number of bins and racks (see below) visible be kept to just those that are absolutely necessary. This is similar to how Avid Media Composer works.

The Lightworks workspace

Here’s what the bare bones Lightworks workspace looks like (click to enlarge):

Lwks Workspace 1Here’s what it means:


At the top left is the project settings for easy access. Next to it is the Rooms drop down. You can set up all the windows as you like, and then save them as a ‘Room’. It is easy to switch between different viewpoints or windows this way. Rooms are only saved within projects – you won’t get the same layout in another project.


This is the tool panel. On the top right you’ll see a ‘pin’ icon. This icon, when clicked, will pin or lock the position of that window to where it is right now. If you try to move it after pinning it, it won’t. However, you can still resize windows after pinning. Not all windows can be pinned.


The Red Shark icon is a png file that displays help. If you don’t like it, you can remove it, or replace it with an icon of your choosing. Talk about branding opportunities!


This is the basic window, of which there are many. Some of the important ones, common to most NLEs, are:

  • Bin
  • Views (Monitors)
  • Timeline
  • Waveform and Vectorscope (Lightworks calls these ‘Video Analysis’)
  • Import and Export
  • Effects


These are playback, trimming and logging controls, standard to every page.

All said and done, the Lightworks interface is simple, intuitive, responsive (not sluggish at all) and elegant. A lot of thought has gone into weeding out everything unnecessary to the pleasure of editing.

Some important terms

Most NLEs have their own terminology or meanings for established concepts. Lightworks is not as bad as the others, and goes to great pains to explain and clarify its terms. Some of the important ones in Lighworks are:

  • Clip – your source footage, which includes both audio and video.
  • Log – the log file contains clip data that is relevant to the editing process (separate from metadata). When you make changes to a clip within Lightworks, the changes are written here.
  • Material – the actual audio-visual material (the meat) of the clip. Changes to the Log does not affect the actual footage residing in your media drive.
  • Subclip – a clip that is formed by either trimming, logging or joining other clips. When you trim the ends of a clip, e.g., a subclip is formed with just the log file. It does not create a new video file on your drive. Syncing audio and video clips also creates a subclip. These are just terms, so don’t worry too much about it when starting out.
  • Bin – the primary organization of clips in a project. When you import files for editing, you’ll always import them into a bin.
  • Rack –  a higher level virtual folder to further organize bins and clips. One weird quirk of racks is that it can only contain up to 15 items. On the flip side, both bins and racks can be made permanent. This means, if you delete a permanent bin or rack in a project, it is still saved on your drive for future use. That’s very handy.
  • Edit – the timeline, your edit of a sequence of clips and subclips. The actual timeline is still called the Timeline.
  • Tile – thumbnails are called tiles.

In Part Two we’ll look at the typical Lightworks workflow, how to import media and how to deal with various codecs.

Exclusive Bonus: Download my free guide (with examples) on how to find the best camera angles for dialogue scenes when your mind goes blank.

2 replies on “The Lightworks Crash Course for Beginners (Part One): The Basics”

  1. I don’t know if it is out of date but when the actual display is very different from the display shown in the tutorial there is no way forward. Waste of time so far!

  2. Crap tutorial. First, this is completely out of date. Second, you have too many missing images. Third, you describe things in text that no image is available for and newbie readers have no f’ing clue how you got to where you did… change project name indeed.

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