A mashup of low-fi techniques and digital lighting: how to use NeoPixel LEDs with Fadecandy in an ornamental lantern.

The last few years have seen great contributions to the LED community that make creating one's own controllable lighting effects more accessible. I wanted to experiment with these new tools. In doing so I wanted the lanterns to be cheap and easy to make so that I could focus on the lighting design.

This is not a comprehensive Instructible, it's more of an overview of how to bring fabrication and LEDs together. In particular, I wanted to share some of the thinking behind some decisions that made it easier to make these with the tools at hand.

For this project I used:

  • Cardboard
  • Polystyrene sheet
  • Twist ties
  • Hole punch (1/8th in)
  • Paper fasteners
  • Laser-cutter (optional)
  • Vinyl cutter
  • LEDs
  • Fadecandy
  • Soldering iron & accompanying electronics tools
  • Fusion 360
  • TouchDesigner

This project was designed and fabricated in collaboration with Pier 9 Affiliate Artist Alex Schofield.

Step 1: Design

I started with the idea of making modular, conical lanterns. There are two parts: the frame and the diffusion material. The diffusion material is decorated with vinyl-cut patterns.


Alex and I worked together to design the frame. It's a simple "waffle" design of fins that fit into rings. We used a laser cutter for the cardboard frame, which as the advantage of making nice, regular perforations but it isn't necessary. The design is simple enough that could print it to make a paper pattern.

One consideration for designing the frame was that we wanted to have the parts fit in the laser cutter we were using, which has a 36" x 24" cutting bed. To solve this we chose to take advantage of gravity and have the LED strands and the diffusion material only supported by the frame at the top and to let the LEDs hang on their own lower down and to have the rigidity of the diffusion material keep the shape of the lantern.

We used Fusion 360 to draw the laser cut files for the frame and to lay out the pieces in the 36"x24" sheet.


Polystyrene sheet diffuses the LED light very smoothly and has a milky, matte finish. It holds a fold nicely (though it will split if creased too hard) and can be cut or drawn on. It is not safe to cut on the laser cutter, it should be cut by hand.

The shades for the lamp are four triangular panels that make up the cone. I needed an easy but strong way to attach the diffusion material to the frame. Using paper to prototype, my solution was to fold the edges of the panels and perforate them, then to use paper fasteners to go through the cardboard and the sheet. I like having the seam on the inside: it looks cleaner but takes more wrangling. For this approach, I added an inch to each side of the panel. The final panels are a triangle with a snipped tip. The long sides are 48" long, the base is 11.5" wide, and the tip is 2" wide.


To decorate the shades I made a vector design based on some tests that Alex was doing at the time, a lacy, net pattern. Cut out of white glossy vinyl, the pattern is silhouetted by the interior light. Here's how to make vinyl-cut patterns on the Roland Versacam.


About This Instructable




Bio: Media Artist
More by mfranck:LED Lantern with Vinyl-Cut Pattern Diffuse Objects How to Salt Cure a Powder 3D Print 
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