Introduction: Cardboard Desk Lamp

Picture of Cardboard Desk Lamp
Cardboard might seem like an odd material for a desk lamp, but with a low-heat LED bulb this 15" lamp can shine all night in glorious maker style. It's light, it's sturdy and it's flat-pack. What's not to love?

I originally designed this lamp to go on my own desk in the Instructables Lab, but due to popular demand I've had to make a few more. It's now available on the Instructables Store. I hope you like it!

I designed the lamp using Autodesk 123D and Autodesk 123D Make, then cut the parts using a laser cutter.

Here's how it all fits together:

Read on to find out how I made it...

Step 1: Designing the Lamp Model

Picture of Designing the Lamp Model

I started by designing a 3D model of the lamp using Autodesk 123D, which is freely available online.

To make a cross section of the lampshade, I used the Draw tool and the 3-Point Arc tool. Notice the grooves on the inside of the lamp; they're carefully sized to hold the electrical lamp components in place once the lamp is assembled. Everything else was just roughly estimated and tweaked as needed.

To turn the cross section into a 3D object, I used the Revolve tool. This tool spins a profile around an axis of your choice, producing an object with rotational symmetry.

I made the stand using a combination of hand-drawn splines and hemispheres, adjusting it until it looked sufficiently lampy. At the time of writing, Autodesk has not yet included a tool for accurately measuring the lampiness of a 3D model, so I had to judge that entirely by eye.

I joined the two parts together using the Combine tool (set to Join mode), then exported the object as an STL file. I've included the STL file here, with 1 STL unit equal to 1 human inch.

Step 2: Slicing the Lamp in 123D Make

Picture of Slicing the Lamp in 123D Make

I used a preview build of 123D Make to deconstruct the 3D model into a series of radial slices.

In case you haven't heard me rave about it before, 123D Make is a free app that does one thing and it does it extremely well. It takes any 3D model you give it and quickly lets you convert it into 2D vectors that can be cut from sheet material. At the moment, the publicly available version only allows you to perform simple slicing and to create perpendicular interlocking waffles, but future releases will allow for radial slicing, surface paneling, complex joint-making and a large handful of other cool things. With a bit of luck, these updates will appear online within the next couple of months. Watch this space!

Once I'd adjusted the radial center of my grid to align with the center of the lampshade, I fiddled with the number of slices and the material thickness until I had something that could support its own weight when made from cardboard.

Step 3: Laser Cutting the Parts

Picture of Laser Cutting the Parts

Having exported my 123D Make project as a series of EPS vector files, I paid a visit to my old friend the laser cutter. After a few brief pleasantries from me and an extended grumble from it, the laser cutter presented me with a pile of numbered cardboard pieces.

Step 4: Assembling Around the Bulb Socket

Picture of Assembling Around the Bulb Socket

The trick to assembling any 123D-Made structure is picking the right place to start. It's very tempting to just start slotting everything together willy-nilly, but you'll soon find yourself left with a pile of pieces that you can't join to the rest.

For my lamp, I started in the center of the lampshade and worked my way out, including the lighting fixture from the very beginning. I bought the lighting fixture pre-assembled at a local hardware store, so I didn't need to do any soldering or rewiring to get it to work safely.

Step 5: Adding Structure

Picture of Adding Structure

The shade is made from 24 radial slices, 2 of which also form the spine of the stand. Here you can see the first two slices in place.

Look, it's already starting to resemble a lamp! I love it when you can see where a kit's going half-way through finishing it.

Step 6: Testing With a Bulb

Picture of Testing With a Bulb

I took this opportunity to test out the kit with a lightbulb. Due to the risk of potential fire, it's crucial to use a low-heat bulb for this. Seriously. Fire's great, but not when it's unexpectedly galloping its way across your office. Are we clear on that? Good.

I connected an LED bulb and left it in place for a couple of hours, keeping an eye on it in case of unwanted conflagration (see above). I was pleased to find that the bulb stayed cool enough to handle and the cardboard showed no signs of singeing.

Step 7: Adding Rings to the Shade

Picture of Adding Rings to the Shade

With a few more components added, the lamp looked like something between a desk light and a cardboard ray gun.

Step 8: Completing the Assembly

Picture of Completing the Assembly

Next, it was just a matter of slotting in all of the other pieces. At this stage, it reminded me of an Apollo landing capsule. What can I say? My mind wanders while I'm playing with cardboard.

Step 9: The Finished Lamp

Picture of The Finished Lamp

The assembled lamp has a 10" circular base and stands at 15" in height. So far, I'm very happy with its performance as a lamp: It doesn't fall over, it doesn't catch fire and it lets me see things in an otherwise dark room. As an added bonus, I get to enjoy watching people do double-takes as they walk past my desk.

As mentioned before, you can now buy the lamp from the Instructables Store!


procesosmanufactura.403 (author)2017-03-24

you can give me the working plans of this lamp?

My email:

AndrésL6 (author)2015-08-01

i need the pdf files complete somebody can send me the files? please

oliveira.igorm (author)AndrésL62016-01-26

You can convert the files online.

AndrésL6 (author)2015-08-01

i need the pdf files complete somebody can send me the files? please

Christian Reese (author)2015-04-16

What kind of cardboard did you use? I assume regular cardboard boxes from the local store will not do.

vmuralidharan made it! (author)2015-03-07

looks good !! made with 3 mm MDF board

Nice work!

rafael243 (author)2015-02-17

muy arrecho

turchini (author)2015-01-02

hello I wanted to run your own lamp 3d but unfortunately in the drawings is missing some pieces. Could you send me the complete design thanks

MakeDesignCo (author)2014-12-01

DXF file format please... ?

vschweetz (author)2014-05-05

How thick is the cardboard you used?

AzzysDesignWorks made it! (author)2014-05-04

Did one up the other day. came out looking great. Had to make a few changed during assembly because of the socket my home depot had availible had a different clamping setup and differnt profile.

And I would recommend using a spot LED instead of a stanard edison type bulb, too much light escapes the sides making this lamp hard to look at.

vschweetz (author)2014-05-04

I downloaded your eps files and just wanted to verify one thing. The eps with the single part in it (part 0) is not on top of the "canvas" in the file. I'm assuming that makes no difference when attempting to print?

spiceyweasel (author)2012-01-15

Beautiful, but.....can you say fire hazard? I knew you could!

A fair point. As I mentioned in Step 6, this has only been tested with low-heat LED bulbs. I suspect that using it with a normal bulb would lead to... interesting lighting effects.

Indeed. Needless to point out, but there are a certain number of people who lack the ability to read directions....or warning labels, either, for that matter. I'm just doing my part to keep those folks from burning down their homes.

mbecks (author)spiceyweasel2013-10-03

survival of the fittest?

Apolo8 (author)spiceyweasel2012-10-15

if they lack the ability to read directions...they lack the ability to read your part!!!

elkhalfi (author)2013-08-14

c est magnifique merci

Apeksha (author)2012-07-16

.eps file is not opening,can you plz upload file fresh in pdf or i can cut on laser cutter

thaizyber (author)2012-06-18

Dear friend

Anybody can advise the setting for use laser cut the cardboard?
(I don't want to bern the machine)

Thank in advance
Best regards

tb1970 (author)thaizyber2012-07-11

Depends on the power of the laser. Low power and fast speed should be fine. I use a 100 watt laser so it cuts 4mm MDF with ease on a fairly quick setting 350cm/min on circa 50% power.

tb1970 (author)2012-07-11

Saw this and though, AWESOME! Have acess to a SEI Mercury laser running ICARO software so thought I'd give it a go. The software opened the .eps file no problems. I deleted all the numbers (reckon I can figure the assembly out without them) and made sure all the layers and laser settings were okay. I cut the lot in one go out of 4mm mdf which the laser managed with ease. Not assembled it yet but tried a few pieces and the fit is great with the 4mm. Just need to find the right type of lamp fitting here in the UK now and I'm sorted. Many thanks for the files.
One minor point though, a DXF file would be great as it can be edited and re-nested at the desk as opposed to on the machine. Just a minor point.

ledfactory.china (author)2012-06-14

wow ,really ,good designed ,i admire your intelegent!

cardboardguy (author)2012-05-12

Files seem to open only in newer versions of Illustrator (I am using CS3). Please add alternative, more universal formats. I think this interesting project will benefit from these additions.

bosco (author)2012-02-14

This lamp is great! - I loved it! - I bought it!!

The store doesn't have a place for reviews, so I'll review it here: There were no instructions included: What you see here is what you get. That was enough to 'get er done', but maybe some insider insight would have produced a better build. As it was, the laser burned part numbers/markings were cryptic and a fair number of joints had to be forced. All well and good when I'm making stuff out of old boxes, less cool when I paid for a laser cut kit. Sorry to rant, but not sorry enough to quit... The packing method used (Cling wrap a pile of cardboard pieces to one big pice, throw a heavy lamp unit on top) ensured numerous parts were bent. Lastly, QA was asleep: I received two #7 discs, and no #8 disc.

So maybe a store is not a good idea.

Happy Valentines!!

vcote (author)2012-02-09


I have been trying to get help with 123D-Make. Everytime I try to import a file, the software just crashes. I tried different OBJ files. Have you run into that trouble? Any idea what I am doing wrong?

chernomor (author)2012-02-06

O.О That was just great!

nrune (author)2012-02-05

Sold out! Oh man! Would you make one more for me?? Don't have a laser cutter, great office conversation piece. Let me know.

whitefink (author)2012-02-03

this is a fine project, i've had problems with the .net 4 framework requirement, really slowed down my poor old surplus computer, also autodesk123 left out
some of the best line tools from older autocad.

GainEnergy (author)2012-01-30

Awesome! I am also wondering that would collect so much dust? or NOT? Thanks for sharing!

amjad831001 (author)2012-01-20


old.bodger (author)amjad8310012012-01-24

Yes please I vote for DXF's as well my cutter doesn't understand EPS's .....OR does anyone know of software that can open EPS's and save as DXF's ......I can't find one!

prakash.sonawane1 (author)2012-01-17

Pls hepls include the EPS file with all of the cut-out pieces!

I've just added it to Step 2. I can't wait to see your finished version!

printshop (author)2012-01-15

Super design, please send as EPS!

PenfoldPlant (author)printshop2012-01-18


natantus (author)2012-01-15

Definitely post your design files on so other people can make this same lamp! Sharing is caring.

PenfoldPlant (author)natantus2012-01-18

Sorry about the delay! The EPS files are now up available here in Step 2.

amjad831001 (author)2012-01-18

Would be glad if if could upload the EPS or DXF file...Thanx in Advance

5siniftestlerim (author)2012-01-17

wow grest! very nise desing...

macrumpton (author)2012-01-17

Is there any reason this could not be made out of laser cut plywood by a service like Pokono?

BrianJewett (author)2012-01-15

This would be even cooler in Coroplast! You could even mix different colors.

macrumpton (author)BrianJewett2012-01-17

I thought the same thing, but I have never heard of anyone cutting coroplast with a laser cutter. First of all you would need to use a dark color to allow it to absorb enough heat to burn/melt, and then you have the problem of it just flowing back together after the cutter has moved on.

I think a CNC router or maybe a CNC controlled knife would work better.

Ooh, not bad. There's also a bunch of the stuff around every time there's an election.

bob_da_builder (author)2012-01-15

Is there any way you could email me the demisions? i dont have a laser cutter or that software so i have to cut if by hand

D'oh! I forgot to include the EPS file with all of the cut-out pieces! I'll have these posted within the next couple of hours, so check back soon!

harryjone (author)PenfoldPlant2012-01-17

Hey. I really loved your lamp. I was just wondering if you can put the file for download. Because i would like to give this as a gift to my best friend.
Thanks in advance :)

angelhut (author)2012-01-15

This lamp is very cool, it uses recyclable materials, good looking (in a FEA way), lightweight. Wow, too bad i stay in south east asia, else i would rush down to the store and get one!

You have done a most marvelous job, PenfoldPlant!. In this present world where things are made to throw away, you have shown how to repurpose everyday renewable materials.

I have Solidworks but i dun know how to slice this 3D model into 2D slices. Any Solidworks experts here kindly advise?

About This Instructable




Bio: Artist in Residence at Pier 9, currently exploring a vast array of new tools with which to injure myself.
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