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Lighting

We had an evening reception in a venue with no windows, so we worked on all sorts of nice DIY lighting effects.   These included 127 paper lanterns, pink uplighting on the walls, candle centerpieces, and backlit menus and signs.  The centerpieces are described on this page, but the remaining lighting effects are described below.

Paper Lanterns

Paper lanterns can be purchased fairly inexpensively.  However, if you hire a professional to light them, the cost may be several thousand dollars. Even if you light them yourself,  you can easily find that the cost of the lighting far exceeds the cost of the lanterns themselves.  This article discusses some DIY ways of lighting paper lanterns, and how they compare in terms of advantages, disadvantages, and costs.

The first three ways of lighting paper lanterns (paper lantern cord kits, Christmas lights, and spotlights) are ones we did not use, but they are included in the interest of completeness.  The photos with them are therefore stock photos or photos from other weddings.  The last three methods are ones that we used at our reception.  They are accompanied by actual photos from our reception.

Important:  Venues may have restrictions on the lighting that can be used, and may not allow lighting to be brought in except by a professional.  In some states, all paper lanterns hung from ceilings or walls must be flame retardant.  Consult with your venue before purchasing any lighting supplies.

Paper Lantern Cord Kits

Advantages

  • These probably produce the brightest light.  If you are relying on the paper lanterns for lighting, this may be the only feasible alternative.
  • Because these plug in, you don't need to worry about batteries wearing out in the middle of your event.

Disadvantages

  • These require an ability to plug in the cord kits.  This may be wholly impractical if, for example, you are having a tent wedding.  Even when electrical outlets are available, you might not be able to plug in enough for all of your lanterns.

Cost

These figures do not include the cost of the lanterns themselves.

Christmas Lights

Advantages

  • Because these plug in, you don't need to worry about batteries wearing out in the middle of your event.
  • You can typically plug in several sets end to end, which means that you can cover a larger space than if each one had to be plugged into an outlet.
  • If you celebrate Christmas, you may already have appropriate lights around the house.

Disadvantages

  • These will not work for a location without electrical outlets.  Although there are battery-operated Christmas lights, they tend to produce a very dim light.
  • The spacing on the lights may not be what you need.  For example, some Christmas light strings have 12 inch spacing.  If you are using lanterns with more than a 10 inch diameter, or if you want more spacing between lanterns, you are not going to be able to fit a lantern onto each light.  You would have to find a set of lights with more spacing between lights, or else leave bulbs out of some of the sockets.
  • If you want to have lanterns at different heights, you will have to find a way to secure the cord so that it goes down and then up.  And again, you may end up having to remove some of the bulbs to make the spacing work.
  • If you have Christmas lights that are not LED lights, you will need to be careful to keep the lights from touching the paper of the lanterns, to avoid a fire hazard.  LED Christmas lights tend to be much more expensive than non-LED ones.
  • If you are using a long spool of lights, you will have to cut it up if you want, for example, to have several strings of lanterns across your venue.  To do so, you'll need to have sockets to attach to each string.  If they do not come with the light string you buy, you'll need to factor in the extra cost.

Cost

  • The cost per lantern can be relatively low.  You can get a 1,000' C7 light spool with 1,000 sockets for $275.00, or even less if you check on eBay.  You can get 1,000 bulbs for $195.60, and as little as 10 cents each on eBay.  Thus, the total cost of lighting 1,000 lanterns would be $470.60, or 47 cents per lantern, or less.  And of course, you don't need to buy batteries for them.  These figures do not include the cost of the lanterns themselves.
  • If you need to remove some of the bulbs to deal with spacing issues or because you want the lanterns at different heights, this will increase the cost per lantern.

Spotlights

One possibility to consider is not lighting the lanterns themselves, but highlighting them by shining spotlights on them, as shown in the above illustration.

Advantages

  • These are very simple to set up.  Plug in the spotlight, aim it at the lantern, and you are done.
  • Because you don't have to worry about getting a light inside the lantern itself, you can use much larger and brighter lights.
  • Unlike most of the other options, which just give the lanterns a glow, the spotlights can produce ambient light for an outdoor or dimly lit venue.
  • You can easily set the lanterns up at different heights and have flexibility with spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.
  • No batteries are required, and you do not need to worry about batteries running out.
  • If a bulb burns out, it can be replaced much more easily if it is in a spotlight on the ground than if someone has to climb up to the ceiling to replace one inside a lantern.

Disadvantages

  • Unless you use LED spotlights (which tend to be quite expensive), spotlights tend to get quite hot.  Thus, you need to think about how to place them so that guests do not get hurt by running into them.
  • This approach will not work without enough electrical outlets for all of the spotlights.
  • You will need to do some experimentation on how many lanterns you can light with a single spotlight, which will depend on how wide-angle the spotlight is and the placement of the lanterns.

Cost

Battery Operated Lanterns



9" x 8" white battery-operated paper lanterns at our reception

Advantages:

  • These were the simplest of the lighting to set up.  All we needed to do was to add two AAA batteries to each one.  Because they have on-off switches, we could have them all set up in advance, and just turn them on when we were ready to use them.
  • You can easily set them up at different heights and have flexibility with spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.

Disadvantages:

  • The light did not last long--the batteries ran out after about two to three hours.
  • These lanterns tend to be quite small (9"), as the bulbs used are not enough to light up a larger lantern.

Cost

The cost for 50 battery-operated lanterns was $75, calculated as follows:

  • Fifty battery-operated lanterns, $50
  • One hundred AAA batteries, $25

This meant that the cost per lantern was $1.50. And of course, this included the lanterns as well as the lighting for them.

Lanterns with LED Lights


10" round white paper lanterns lit by red and white (left) or amber (right) LEDs at our reception

Advantages:

  • The batteries will last several days, so you can light them the morning of the wedding or even the preceding day.
  • You can easily set the lanterns up at different heights, and you have flexibility on spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.

Disadvantages:

  • These are more work than the other options.
  • If you want white lighting, you may find that the LEDs look more blue than you want.
  • If you are using larger lanterns (more than about 10"), you may find it impossible to get as bright a glow as you want with LEDs.

Materials:

  • Paper lanterns.  We used fifty 10" diameter regular ribbing white paper lanterns, from the Paper Lantern Store.
  • Superbright diffuse 10 mm LEDs.  We got the diffused 10mm LEDs in amber, white, and red from buy-leds-online.com, which now appears to have become HB Electronic Components.  (See pictures, above.)  It is important to use the diffused ones, as the others will give a sort of polka dotted effect.  It is also important to use the superbright ones, because the regular ones tend to produce a sort of bluish light. From reviews I have seen elsewhere, it appears that the white superbright ones from buy-leds-online.com are brighter and less blue than other white LEDs available online, even ones described as "superbright."  You want the 10 mm ones, as smaller ones are not big enough to be seen.  We put six LED lights in each of the 10" lanterns.  Other sources have suggested that three to four LEDs are enough for a 14" lantern.  However, the ceilings in our venue are quite high, and we wanted to make sure the glow of the lanterns would still be visible.
  • CR-2032 lithium coin-sized batteries, one for each LED light.  We got the batteries from CheapBatteries.com.  On the second order of batteries, I figured out that we could bring CheapBatteries.com's price down by getting it to price match an international eBay seller.
  • Strapping tape.
  • Monofilament line.  We ordered 1,000 yards of 20-lb. test monofilament from Cabellas.

Half of the white lanterns had three red LEDs and three white LEDs, which produced a pink color (as shown in the picture on the left).  The other half had six amber LEDs (as shown in the picture on the right).

Instructions

  1. The batteries come in a sleeve, as shown above.  Remove the first battery from the sleeve, tearing the cardboard as little as you can in the process.  Do not throw away the sleeve if you want to use the battery more than once, as you will need to put the batteries back in the sleeve after each use.
  2. Remove an LED from the bag it comes in.  Save the bag to put the LEDs back into after use.
  3. Each LED (shown above) is just a little light with two wires leading out of it.
  4. The basic concept is that if you put a battery between the two wires of the LED, and touch the longer wire to the positive side of the battery and the shorter wire to the negative, the LED will light up.
  5. Obviously, you're not going to stand there and hold the battery in place the whole time.  You therefore need to cut off a piece of strapping tape, as shown above.  The length of the tape will depend on how many lights you are going to use, so you'll need to experiment a bit.
  6. Wrap one end of the strapping tape around the wires and battery, as tightly as you can, to hold the battery in place.  Make sure that the battery is completely covered by the tape, as having the batteries touch each other will shorten their lives.
  7. To make the lantern bright enough, you typically use several LEDs.  (See discussion of appropriate numbers, above.)  Take the second battery and light, and put them on top of the first one, then wrap the tape around them.
  8. Repeat the previous step as many times as is necessary for the number of lights you intend to use, leaving some tape at the end.
  9. Take a roll of monofilament line like that shown above, and cut off a piece that is approximately three-quarters of the diameter of the paper lantern.
  10. Tie the ends of the piece of monofilament so that it makes a circle.
  11. Thread the circle of monofilament between the LED lights, as shown above.
  12. Move the knot in the monofilament so that it is between the LED lights, and then secure the monofilament in place with tape.  You will notice that the lights are pointing away from the circle of monofilament.  With the knot on the end with the lights, you have extra protection in case the knot comes apart or the tape is too loose, as either the tape or the knot alone would be enough to hold the lights.
  13. On the top wire of the lantern, you will find a piece of wire in the shape of a C.  Loop the monofilament over the C, so it hangs down.  The lights will then be pointing downward, and will be about two-thirds of the way up the lantern.  (Because the lights point downward, having them toward the top of the lantern gives the most even light.)

Because the battery would last for weeks, even if the light were left on, we were able to make these several hours before the wedding.

Disassembling the LEDs

The easiest way to turn the lights off immediately after the wedding is simply to grasp each LED by the wires, as shown above.  Holding the taped bundle of batteries in your other hand,  pull the LED straight out of the bundle of lights, being careful not to twist it as you do, and put it back into its bag.  (The bag is antistatic, and preserves the LEDs.)  For longer-term storage or mailing, the batteries should then be removed from the tape and put back into the sleeves from which they were originally removed.

Cost

The total for the fifty white 10" lanterns plus the LED lights and batteries to go in them was $256.79. This broke down as follows:

  • Fifty 10" paper lanterns $68.93
  • 300 G.I. CR-2032 Lithium coin-sized batteries $82.42
  • 300 superbright 10 mm diffused LED lights $80.50
  • 1000 yards monofilament line $24.94

This did not include the strapping tape, but that is very cheap, and you only need a small amount for each one, so it would not have added much to the cost.  For comparison purposes, this meant that the cost of lighting each lantern, not counting the cost of the lanterns themselves, was $3.26.

The cost could, of course, have been reduced significantly if we had used fewer LEDs in each lantern. Most people seem to use three per lantern, which would have cut the cost of the lighting part in half.  This is really a matter of personal taste, and how bright you want the lanterns to be.

Lanterns with Instabulbs


18" natural irregular ribbed paper lanterns lit by Instabulbs at our reception

Advantages

  • The Instabulbs produce a much brighter light than LEDs.
  • You do not need to plug them in, so the lanterns can be used where there is no electricity, or in areas that are far from an electrical outlet.
  • You can do much of the work (putting in the batteries, attaching the lights to the lanterns) ahead of time, and then just need to pull the cords on the lights to turn them on when you are ready to light them.
  • You can easily set them up at different heights and have flexibility with spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.

Disadvantages

  • The batteries last for only about five hours, which may be an issue if the reception is long.
  • The Instabulbs are too big to go into lanterns below about 16" in diameter.

Materials:

  • Twenty-seven eighteen inch natural dragon cloud irregular ribbing lanterns, from AsianIdeas.com
  • Twenty-seven Instabulbs from Amazon seller A Hidden Deal.  The "bulb" is actually plastic, and is a krypton bulb, so it remains cool to the touch, but doesn't have the blue tinge of LED lights.  The down side is that it tends to last for only about five hours before the battery needs to be changed, rather than the 100 hours or so that an LED light will last.
  • 100 AA batteries from eBay seller The JR Savings Shop. (Each light bulb required four AA batteries, but we already had a bunch of rechargeable AA batteries at home we were able to use for the remaining large lanterns.)
  • Monofilament line.  We ordered 1,000 yards of 20-lb. test monofilament from Cabellas, which we used for both the 10" and 18" lanterns.

Instructions

As shown above, the Instabulb comes with a base that is intended to be stuck to the wall, plus the light fixture itself.  The base has two slots intended to secure the light from screws in the wall.  These slots are in a U-shaped piece of plastic, which has a tab on the bottom.  I put monofilament around the tab at the end of the U-shaped piece, and more monofilament through the two slots.  I then tied it in such a way as to cause the base to be as level as possible, and put it over the bottom of the C ring on the wire of the paper lantern.  I then slipped the bulb into the base.  This could be done way ahead of time, as the bulb has a pull cord that turns it off and on.

Cost

The cost for twenty-seven 18" lanterns lit with Instabulbs was $210.33, calculated as follows:

  • Twenty-seven 18" lanterns $102.60
  • Twenty-seven Instabulbs, $80.73
  • One hundred eight AA batteries, $27

For comparison purposes, this meant that the cost of lighting 27 lanterns was $107.73, or $3.99 per lantern.


Backlit Menus and Signs


We used several backlit menus (one for bar drinks, one for the layers of the cake, and one for the food).  We also used the exact same instructions to make the "reserved" signs for the head table.

Materials

  • 4 pieces 8½" x 11" cardstock
  • 2 pieces 8½" x 11" parchment paper
  • Double-sided tape or glue
  • Instabulb

Equipment

  • Exacto knife
  • Bone folder
  • Microsoft Word or other program of your choice to create the menus for each side

Instructions

Sides

  1. Right click on the template image below and choose "Save image as" to save it to your hard drive.  (For anyone who is curious, all of the templates were originally created as tables in Microsoft Word, then converted to JPEG files.)
  2. Print two copies of the template onto two pieces of cardstock, selecting 8.5" x 11" as the size, and 0" for all the margins.
  3. Take each piece of printed cardstock.  Place a ruler (on the opposite side of the line from the area to be cut out, so that if your hand slips, it will not cut into the portion of the lantern that will remain) along the edge of each piece to be cut out, as shown by the black areas, below, and use the Exacto knife to cut along the lines:
  4. Take the ruler, and lay it along each of the fold lines shown as dotted lines below.  Run the sharp end of the bone folder along the ruler, to create a score for the fold, then fold along the scored line.
  5. Take the two pieces of cardstock, and use double-sided tape or glue to attach them as shown below, with the printing on the inside.  The holes you have just cut out are not shown on the picture below.

Bottom

  1. Right click on the template image below and choose "Save image as" to save it to your hard drive.
  2. Print a copy of the template onto a piece of cardstock.
  3. Take the piece of printed cardstock.  Place a ruler (on the opposite side of the line from the area to be cut out, so that if your hand slips, it will not cut into the portion of the lantern that will remain) along the edge of each piece to be cut out, as shown by the black areas, below, and use the Exacto knife to cut along the lines:
  4. Take the piece of cardstock you just cut out.  Place a ruler along the edge of each piece to be cut, as shown by the black lines, below, and use the Exacto knife to cut along the lines.  Place a ruler along the edge of each fold line, as shown by the dotted lines, below, and use the bone folder to score it for folding.
  5. Once you have folded it as indicated, you will have a tab sticking out at each corner.  Using double-sided tape or glue, attach that tab to the inside of the next side, forming a small, shallow box.
  6. Run a line of glue or double-sided tape around the outside of the little box.  Then fit the box into the bottom of the lantern.

Menus

  1. Open up a new document in Microsoft Word.  Click on File, then Page Setup.  Choose the following margins:  Top 1", Bottom 2.5", left 1.5", right 2.5", gutter 0".  Change Orientation to "Landscape."
  2. Click on Layout, and change the Header and Footer to 0".  Click on OK.
  3. Click on Format, then Columns.  Choose 2 columns.  Uncheck the box for "Equal width."  Then choose 2" for Column 1 width, 3" for column 1 spacing, and 2" for Column 2 width. Select the box for "Line between."  Click on OK.
  4. Create whatever text or design you want for two of the menu panes in the two columns, and print on a sheet of parchment paper.  You should now have a document that looks like this:

  5. Put a ruler on the line between the two columns, and cut along it using the Exacto knife.  This will create the menus for two of the four sides of the lantern.
  6. Use either the same menus or different ones for the other two sides, following the same format as you used for the first two.
  7. Check to make sure that each menu will fit behind the open space for it in the menu, and can be centered.  If not, trim as necessary using the Exacto knife.
  8. Glue each menu inside one of the openings in the lantern.  The bottom of the menu will be folded, and then glued to the bottom of the lantern.
  9. Take an Instabulbs.  Put batteries into it.  Pull the string to turn on the bulb. Set the bulb with the base down on the bottom of the lantern

Top

  1. Right click on the template image below and choose "Save image as" to save it to your hard drive.  (This is identical to the template used for the bottom, except that the center square is slightly larger, so that it will fit around the top instead of inside it.)
  2. Print a copy of the template onto a piece of cardstock.
  3. Cut and fold the cardstock, and tape the corners, exactly the same way as you did for the bottom.  However, the top will not be taped to the lantern, but simply placed on top, so you will still be able to remove it and get to the bulb inside.

Here is the lantern before the light is added:

And here it is lit up:

Backlit Food Signs

In most cases, guests were able to see what a food item at our reception was.  However, given that we had two different dips and two types of meatballs, I thought it would be helpful to label those items so people could tell which was which.  These were lit from within, to make them easier to read in subdued lighting.

Materials

  • 8½" x 11" cardstock
  • Parchment paper
  • Double-sided tape or glue
  • Battery-operated tea light

Equipment

  • Ruler
  • Exacto knife
  • Bone folder
  • Microsoft Word or other program of your choice to create the labels for each side

Instructions

  1. Right click on the image below, choose, "Save As," and save it to your computer.
  2. Print the image on a piece of 8½" x 11" cardstock.
  3. Cut where shown by the dark lines.  This will produce frames for two food signs, each with a hole for the sign itself.
  4. Fold each frame where shown by the dotted line.  It should be folded so that the printed part is inside.
  5. In Word, click on Tools, envelopes and mailings, labels, options.  Create a new label with height 3.5", width 5", paper size letter landscape.  Then click on "New Document" to make a page with four labels of that size.
  6. Click on Table, then table properties, then Borders and Shading.  Click on "All" on the left, then select the thin line (width 1/2 point).  This will cause lines to be drawn around where each of the labels will go.  Type in the name of one food in each of the boxes.  This should give you a page that looks like the one below.  Print out that page on parchment paper, and then cut the four labels apart.
  7. Apply double-sided tape to the inside of the frame, along the edges of the hole.  Then stick the parchment to the inside of the frame, so that the lettering shows through the frame.
  8. Set the folded label on the table, and put a lit battery-operated tea light under it.

Uplighting


The walls of our reception venue were black, which is not exactly the most appropriate wedding color.  We therefore softened them with pink uplighting, like that shown in this picture.

Spotlights

PAR 56 Cans and Pink Gels

For the uplighting, we got four PAR 56 cans and four bright pink gels from Bulbamerica.

We got two 500-watt wide floodlights for them from eBay seller multicom336, and two more from Bulbamerica.  With these, we were able to get a wide wash of pink onto the wall, without having the light be overwhelming.

PAR 36 Pin Spots and Pink Gels

We got four smaller spotlights--PAR36 PIN SPOT with PLATINUM 4515 Spotlamps from Bulbamerica--which we originally intended to use for accent lighting on the cake, the buffet area, the chocolate fountain, and the ketubah. We also got four sets of gels in a total of seven different colors (red, green, yellow, blue, pink, purple, and amber) from Bulbamerica and Musician's Friend to go with each of them.  However, it turned out that they were not really needed for accent lighting, so we ended up interspersing them with the larger spotlights for uplighting.

Spotlight Stands

The only problem with the lamps we used for uplighting was that although they swiveled on their handles, there was no way to set them on the ground and have them point the right direction.  If you try to stand them on the handle, they topple over.  And since PAR lights can get quite hot, this could have been a fire hazard.

We therefore made a stand for each light, based on the suggestions originally found on this site.  (The site has since deleted the instructions, and replaced them with a link back to our site.)  We got a 2' x 2' sheet of ½-inch plywood from Home Depot, and cut it into four quarters, each 1' x 1'.  We then drilled a hole, using a ¼-inch drill bit, in the center of each of the four squares of plywood.  We used flat black enamel spray paint to paint each of the pieces of plywood.  (The paint is not necessary for functioning, but makes the plywood less conspicuous in use.)

We then took a ¼-inch bolt, a corresponding nut, and two large washers with ¼ holes in the center.  We threaded the bolt through the first washer, then through the plywood, then through the hole in the lamp handle, then through the second washer, and finally into the bolt.  We then turned the whole thing so that the plywood was on the floor, and the lamp was attached upside down to the plywood.  This provided a stable base for the light, and also kept it a few inches off the ground so that its heat would not create a fire hazard.  The washers provide extra stability, and ensure that even under pressure, the nut will not slip through either the plywood or the lamp handle.

The first picture above shows the detail of the attachment of the spotlight to the stand.  The bottom black layer is the plywood.  The next layer is the handle to the spotlight.  Above that is the washer, and then the nut, screwed onto the bolt that goes through the plywood.  The other two pictures show a) the stand in use, but with the light turned off, and b) the stand in use with a light turned on.

We also got an extension cord for each of the lights.  It is important to make sure that the lights plugged into the extension cord do not exceed the maximum wattage shown for the extension cord.  This is particularly important if you are plugging several lights into one extension cord, or hooking multiple extension cords together.

The final requirement was gaffer tape.  This is special tape that you can use to stick the cord down to carpeting, that can be pulled up without leaving a mark on the carpeting.  This was used to secure the cord to the floor and prevent people tripping over the cords.