What follows is a list of commonly used terms and their definitions. These are obviously open for interpretation, but what’s listed should give everyone a good, working definition.

Art Director: An art director is someone who takes a design (sometimes their own design – as most art directors also fancy themselves as designers) and creates the ‘look’ or theme. (e.g. Copperfield’s Elevator versus Doug Henning’s Elevator – same illusion, very different art direction.)

Builder: The actual technical design of the illusion – that is, the dimensions, the mechanical workings, etc. are done by the builder. In this, builders are often designers, but the magic industry doesn’t call them that! The builder (obviously) builds the illusion, but is also often responsible for designing much of the physical and technical side of it, although often not credited as a designer. This means that some illusions can be the same illusion but possess a very different design if purchased from a different builder. (e.g. A Steinmeyer Elevator from Craig Dickens would be very different to a Steinmeyer Elevator from Tim Clothier, William Kennedy, etc. Technically they are each based on Steinmeyer’s design, but they will be very different.)

Consultant: The consultant is similar to a designer. He takes a client’s idea (often the famous napkin sketch) and works with them to develop it into something workable. The consultant will also work with the builder to ensure everything goes as planned. Most designers are also consultants.

Designer: The designer comes up with illusion concept, plot, and physical look of the prop. Sometimes the designer is responsible for some basic dimensions and methods. Each of these elements has a bearing on the other. If you change the method, then the physics of the prop will change, etc. Sometimes the designer will suggest some of the mechanical solutions to a prop.


What follows are the differences among Protected Illusions, Licensed Illusions, and Public Domain (PD) Illusions. While exceptions may apply, these are the general guidelines as used by the Illusion Repository.

Protected Illusion: An illusion that has been patented or an illusion which the designer reserves performance/building rights. While it is not necessarily illegal to build a “protected illusion” that has not been patented, the community has conclusively determined it is morally/ethically wrong to do so. Because the patent process is extremely expensive and certainly not a “perfect fit” for an illusion (because often the method must be revealed), the magic community is often left to “strongly encourage” illusionists to purchase illusions from the authorized designers/builders instead of stealing intellectual property. There are myriad discussions on the internet regarding these laws and discrepancies, and it is not currently the focus of this site to delve into these laws or arguments. However, we would like to strongly encourage all magicians to have respect for the art and support the original creators of magic effects. With this understanding, “Protected Illusions” are protected both in the legal sense in the case of a patent and in the moral/ethical sense in the cases without patents.

  • Protected illusions often require specific/preferred builders.
  • Protected illusions usually have performance rights associated with them. They are considered the intellectual property of their creator and are not available for “general” use without purchasing the performance rights.
  • Protected illusions can also be patented, though this is not typically the case. While many protected illusions may not have a patent, they are still considered protected and should not be performed without purchasing the rights.

Licensed Illusion: An illusion that is not fully-protected and yet not fully-public domain. Licensed illusions may vary widely in their licensing requirements, so members should check the specific listings to determine the licensing requirements. Typically, licensed illusions are illusions that have been published in books. In these cases, the designer often wishes to maintain “manufacturing” rights, but gives permission for anyone to build the illusion for themselves and their own show. However, if you want to build 10 copies of the illusion and then resell them, you will likely need to contact the designer for permission. In general, if you own the book, you will have full permission to buy, build, or perform the illusion.

Public Domain (PD) Illusion: An illusion that may be bought, sold, traded, or built by anyone without restrictions. “Public Domain” also indicates illusions that do not require any specific builder. While an illusions status as “PD” may not require an experienced builder, it is always best to use a knowledgeable illusion builder. The props are typically safer, more deceptive, better quality, better mechanics, and nicer look and finish. There is not much worse than getting on stage with a poorly constructed and obvious prop and basically revealing the method to the audience before even performing the effect.

It is possible for an illusion to be public domain without meeting the following guidelines, but any illusion that does meet all of the following guidelines should be considered public domain. The Illusion Repository is not, at this time however, making a determining recommendation on illusions that do not meet all these requirements.

1) The creator has passed away
2) The creator didn’t indicate who should maintain the rights after his passing
3) Over 40 years have passed since the illusion was first introduced or patented

If each of these requirements are met, the illusion will be considered public domain.