Introduction: Make Your Own Illuminated Signs

Picture of Make Your Own Illuminated Signs

Want to express yourself creatively with light?  Make a mood light, perhaps?  Could you use a night light?  Make name signs or multi-word messages?  Using readily available materials, Illuminated signs are easy to make.  Any of these and more uses can be accomplished  with the simple methods in this instructable.

Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools

Picture of Gather Materials and Tools

To make a light, I used common corrugated cardboard, a piece of yellow paper, a small piece of acrylic sheet plastic, tape, glue, etc.  For tools, the usual paper cutting implements, i.e., straight edge, box cutter, scissors and so on.  I use a table saw to cut the acrylic, but it can be cut by scoring lines deeply on your cut line, and then snapping the plastic. Special tools are made for this, but a utility knife will work....USE CAUTION IF SCORING PLASTIC THIS WAY! The light source for these signs are mini christmas lights, available everywhere. They are low amperage, low watt, low heat lights and come in different sized strings, and colors.

Step 2: Decide on What Your Sign Will Say

Picture of Decide on What Your Sign Will Say

The possibilities are endless, of course, but for this instructable I will use CREATE.

Step 3: Cut Out Word

Picture of Cut Out Word

To make the word create, I used the word processor, picked a font, and for the size I wanted I chose 250 points.  This is printed on some card stock I had available.  Then I cut out the word using a box cutter and a scalpel.

Step 4: Paper Is Painted Black

Picture of Paper Is Painted Black

I just spray painted the cardstock black as shown.  Paint dries very rapidly.

Step 5: Glue to Acrylic Sheet and Back With Yellow Paper

Picture of Glue to Acrylic Sheet and Back With Yellow Paper

Here,the word is glued to a piece of clear acrylic I had cut from a larger piece taken from a picture no longer used.  It is light plastic, about 1/8th or so thick, very easy to cut to size on the table saw.  I made this piece 4 x 11 inches. Yellow paper is then glued with the spray adhesive on the back of the cut out word.

Step 6: Make Box to Contain Sign

Picture of Make Box to Contain Sign

I used a piece of corrugated cardboard as shown to make the housing box for the sign itself. Follow pictures to make this box.  The sizes can all be changed to fit the word or message that you are making the sign of.   A depth of 2 and 1/2 inches is a good size for the box as the lights take up quite a bit of space and need  this space as a minimum.

Step 7: Make Lightboard for Lights

Picture of Make Lightboard for Lights

Here, a piece of cardboard is cut to fit inside the sign box.  It is painted white to reflect light, and holes are made to accept each of 20 lamps of the string of christmas lights.  For other signs, strings of lights can be joined for more light, or longer strings are available.  I bought a string of 100 today for $2.00. 

Step 8: Install Lights in Box

Picture of Install Lights in Box

Following the picture, cut a small "trap door" at one end of the box so that the light cord can be routed out the back of the box.

Step 9: Place Front of Sign in Place, and Tape Closed.

Picture of Place Front of Sign in Place, and Tape Closed.

Here is the completed sign. Note how the acrylic plate is enclosed by taping with craft paper glued around the perimeter of the box.  This could actually be duct tape if desired.  Other samples of completed signs are shown.  Each sign is individually constructed so that no two are alike.

Step 10: Plug in and Enjoy...Done!

Picture of Plug in and Enjoy...Done!


JonathanP168 made it! (author)2016-11-21

There's a much easier way to do this without having to carve out any letters. If you are doing a small sign that can be printed on letter or legal size paper, just print it with a black background, double sided. Make sure the 2nd pages image is reversed. If you are doing a larger print, create your design in whatever photo editing app you have, then create a mirror image on a 2nd page. Save it as a pdf and email it to Fedex Office to print. Once you get your images, put them back to back to help make sure the letters on both sides are lined up perfectly. Holding it over the lightboard while it is turned on helps do this. Once you have them lined up, use a glue stick and glue the 2 pages together.

Now you are done creating the sign!

Creativeman (author)JonathanP1682016-11-21

Good work JonathanP168! That would save a lot of time and effort for sure. For your sign, did you use the same lights and process I did?

JonathanP168 (author)Creativeman2016-11-21

Somewhat. I found a box that had the dimensions that I wanted, and took it apart. I didn't use any acrylic. I just cut a hole out of a side of the box and taped the sign around the edges of the square whole, from the inside of the box. I made a uniform lightboard of 200 lights, instead of lights only behind each letter, which will allow me to change out the sign easilly without adjusting the lightboard. I attached the lightboard to the back ob the box with zip ties. Then taped the box back together.

The one thing that I will do differently with my next light box is use LED strips instead of x-mas lights. It took A LOT of time to poke 200 holes in cardboard and push 200 lights through those holes. I have blisters on my thumbs to show for it! I feel like the LED strips would save a lot of time and be brighter. I'll post more pics of the process later.

Creativeman (author)JonathanP1682016-11-21

Thanks for your reply. Yes, there are many different ways to make things, and it's interesting to see alternate techniques. Let me know how the LED's work.

JonathanP168 (author)Creativeman2016-11-21

You deserve the thanks my friend. I got the idea from you. I was originally going to try to make my design with rope lights! That would have come out awful!

ColinK10 (author)2015-10-24

Would it be possible to cut out the letters and use them like a stencil to spray paint the acrylic directly?

Joshua Dean Bathke (author)2015-08-16

Thank you for the inspiration! Made one for my manager.

Kadajo made it! (author)2015-05-30

I made this sign for the principal and the fine ladies that keep everything running smoothly at the school where I teach.

Thank you Creative Man for the fine instructable.

Creativeman (author)Kadajo2015-05-30

Very nice, Kadajo! I bet they were thrilled!

land.of.issy (author)2015-03-14

What glue are you using to glue the paper/card board to the perspex?

illdoyourdrugs (author)2009-11-17

Any alternatives to the acrylic such as something that can be cut by a scissor?

A two liter bottle. Cut the top and bottom off and then cut the cylinder to make a flat sheet. If it wants to roll up on you too much, a couple seconds under a hot iron will fix that.

You can get the acrylic in thin sheets that might be cut by scissors.
OR you can buy "PAGE PROTECTORS" (remember those plastic covers with a Black sheet of paper from school days?)  in up to 8.5" X 11 " in most department stores, (Larger at Office Supply Stores) and they can be cut by scissors easily.
Have fun.

Thanks. Ill check out office depot or a similar place. I also thought to use the clear " projector paper".

Well, not that I can think of.

kmoore34 (author)2013-07-02

If you want to make the inside brighter/more reflective, you can buy pieces of mirrored paper at craft stores - I found some at JoAnns by the doll area, can't remember the exact name. The workers might not know where it is, but if you look long enough, you'll find it! I use them for macro photography reflectors.

oilitright (author)2012-05-14

If you can believe it there is someone selling this technique on Craigslist for $175.00

illdoyourdrugs (author)2011-03-17

Stumbling across your ible i can't believe i forgot to post the pictures of my project inspired by you. I had a few more updated pictures but couldn't find them. I went to Michaels and used this multi colored plastic backing instead. I forget the name. I used black spray paint for the black areas. i hand cut out the font with an x-acto knife. I used a brown paper bag as a border for look and character. This was a huge hit. Thanks again.

Cool....good job!

rlawrence (author)2010-01-01

 hello, how did you make your letters so smooth, i had trouble making them that smooth

corycar (author)2009-12-05

Could you show a picture of your table saw?  Surely not a WOOD saw - it seems that the acrylic would shatter????

Creativeman (author)corycar2009-12-05

Nope, just a standard, not top of the line table saw....I use a regular wood cutting carbide blade and it works very well.  No shattering. Cman

corycar (author)Creativeman2009-12-05

REALLY?  I'm surprised about that... especially with 1/8 inch... but cool.  I don't have a table top - but I do have a rotary saw (rip saw)  What kind of blade do you use - if I may ask?  I'm seriously intrigued by this...

kathyh239 (author)2009-11-09

Hey Creativeman,

You've hit another home run here.  I knew I shouldn't have retracted my previous marriage proposal to you!  

Do you have any suggestions for what I can do with old blueprint paper tubes?   I get them from work - giant paper towel-type tubes 3 inches in diameter and 3-4 feet long.  Any ideas are appreciated. 

Keep up the good work.

Hammerhead46 (author)kathyh2392009-11-27

I could use a couple of them also at a reasonable price as they could be their own shipping tubes if they are thick enough, and they could be sent at parcel post rates.

Hammerhead46 (author)kathyh2392009-11-27

Make Xtal Radios! or or donate them to Boy or Girl Scouts along with plans for Crystal radio sets to start the next generation in electronics or crafts.

Creativeman (author)kathyh2392009-11-09

Thanks kathyh: re the old tubes:  think of round things to make, desk organizers, pencil holders, art supplies, etc.  cut them and let kids decorate them for the projects mentioned.  I did a couple of cans with styrofoam mosaics as shown....good for holding pens, pencils, etc.  Cman

morrisonarts (author)Creativeman2009-11-13

The lIghted boxes are MARVELOUS --  I'm excited to try one.

Now, I'm looking at the pics of what you called " styrofoam mosaics". 
What part is styrofoam?  The tiles?  If so, what did you grout them with.  Looked for a link to another Instructable . . .  Looking for GOOD kid projects and this is a dandy.

Creativeman (author)morrisonarts2009-11-14

Thanks morrisonarts. I decided to go ahead and make an instructable for the styrofoam mosaics... see: "Can Art: A way to Recycle some Tin Cans." Hope this helps. Cman

dkfa (author)2009-11-14

Ah..a Very nice way to save money then using neon lights in a a store. But, will this be more power efficient as a neon store light? Would It be as noticeable? Nice ible. 5*

Hammerhead46 (author)dkfa2009-11-27

Neon Transformer about 120 Watts
Standard Christmas lights about 15 - 25 Watts.
LED Christmas lights about 5 Watts.
You do the math.
Attention grabbing, add a flasher bulb to regular Christmas lights or an electronic on off timer to LED Christmas lights and they will draw attention.
OR better yet add a sound controlled on off  for variable timing to local sound or music.

wenpherd (author)2009-11-16

Very very nice!

Creativeman (author)wenpherd2009-11-16

Thanks, wenpherd. Cman

illdoyourdrugs (author)2009-11-15

DUDE this rocks. Its simple and effective. I love how you went with the Christmas lights as they are cheap and abundant. Nice work man. YOu are creative man. : )

Thank you. Cman

WingDings (author)2009-11-12

This looks like fun! :)

Would it be better to use LED lights rather than incandescent ones, by the way, to stop the heat build-up?

I know you say that they are "low heat lights", but I would have thought these incandescent lights can still give out enough heat to significantly warm a sealed enclosure, causing early failure or damage? Or maybe that can be solved with some ventilation holes?

Creativeman (author)WingDings2009-11-12

It is fun!  You have a point with the leds, seems they are the rage now. However, they are quite a bit more expensive, how much light do they throw? and as for the heat issue;  I have watched them carefully for a few weeks now, and leaving them on for several hours at a time has not caused that "heat buildup."  Warm, but no where near combustible temps....I would caution anyone to NOT plan on leaving them on,unattended, or when you go to sleep!  Cman

WingDings (author)Creativeman2009-11-14

Yes, some of the LED lights are a bit more pricey, but they seem to be coming down in price all of the time. Maybe some day they will be as cheap as the incandescent type. The light they give out may be an issue, as you mention. I'm not sure if they generally give out as much light as standard incandescent bulbs - I suppose that varies with the kind you buy.


Another issue with LEDs is that the plastic packages around the light emitting parts often focus the light into a thinner beam than normal bulbs, which throw out light in all directions (unless they have the "cloudy" type of package). It might be necessary to site them a bit further back from the sign or use a piece of "frosted" plastic sheet or similar to diffuse the light, to avoid bright spots of light from being thrown onto the back of the sign, unless that kind of look is what people are after!


LEDs should have the advantage of being more energy efficient for the same light output, though, assuming the transformer that they're supplied with is an efficient one, of course.

piper1234 (author)2009-11-13

mm so easy n' cheap it gives a "highlight" look to any inner space ; ) 

bwvalentine (author)2009-11-12

I'm going to make one of these for my studio window that I haven't been able to do anything with.  Awesome instructable! :)

Creativeman (author)bwvalentine2009-11-12

Thanks for the comment, bw...may we see a picture when complete? Cman

bwvalentine (author)Creativeman2009-11-12

absolutely :)

Creativeman (author)bwvalentine2009-11-12

Funny you should mention it, i.e., "studio window"..I just completed this new sign yesterday. Cman

bwvalentine (author)Creativeman2009-11-12

oooh!    i love it :)

Kaiven (author)2009-11-09

Another cool project! potential for a lighted globe idea? (poke holes in the globe where there are large cities and put lights inside)

Goodhart (author)Kaiven2009-11-10
Or maybe at the Capital cities ?
Kaiven (author)Goodhart2009-11-10

I was thinking of using needle sized holes for all of the major lighted areas... like if you were looking at a satellite image during the night time.

Goodhart (author)Kaiven2009-11-10

Sure,  and maybe tiny start shapes or diamond shapes ♦ for Capitals, and make it a "teachable moment"  ;-) 

Kaiven (author)Goodhart2009-11-11

Haha, I was just thinking it would be a cool nightlight :)

Goodhart (author)Kaiven2009-11-11
That it would be :-) 

About This Instructable




Bio: Retired, doing art work now. Great. Have the time and the money to spend doing what I want to do.
More by Creativeman:How to Make Fairy Doors/Fairylands and Open Up a Whole New World!SKULL STAND(S) FOR BUDDING ARTISTSThe Art Of Reclaiming Oak Flooring:Upcycling Shop Workstand
Add instructable to: