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Picture of Papercraft LED Lantern
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I read various design blogs on a daily basis, seeking inspiration for my next project.  On one such day, I came upon the work of Yoshinobu Miyamoto, an architect and skilled papercraft artist from Japan.  Please take a moment to check out his fantastic designs.

Many of his papercraft polyhedra are illuminated, as you can see in the flickr set I linked to.  I decided to replicate and illuminate one of his designs, the "Tri-Star Fruit."

My Papercraft Lantern utilizes surface mount LEDs for illumination, and flexible self-adhesive copper foil as conductors.  A single 9V battery provides power, for an estimated run time of about 40 hours.
 
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Step 1: Materials and Tools

Picture of Materials and Tools
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Materials

Three sheets of 8.5 x 11" card stock (Or get fancy with patterned or textured paper)
Glue (glue stick or white glue)
Copper foil tape (used for stained glass)
Some clear tape (packing tape or Scotch tape)
3 LEDs (I used Digikey p/n 475-2542-1-ND)
A 9V battery clip
One 9V battery
 

Tools

Computer (I assume you've got one of those already!)
A printer (laser is preferable)
A soldering iron
A good, sharp knife with fresh blades (X-acto will work fine)
Scissors
Wire stripper and other soldering hand tools

LW_T673_Pb_free.pdf(595x842) 622 KB

Step 2: Print and Cut the Paper

You will need three copies of the pattern for each lantern.  Though you can use any paper, something thicker like card stock will work better because it will withstand being soldered to a bit better.

On a cutting mat, carefully cut along all the lines.  Obviously, it's important to take your time and get it right.  Any blemishes will be very visible, and you want it to look perfect, right?  Right.

I found it was easiest to cut from the center outward, then cut the outline last.  Again, a very sharp knife is key.  If you find it's getting harder to cut a straight line, or the paper edges are starting to fray a bit, it's time to change the blade.  Don't throw out the blade, though - it's probably good for other stuff still, just not precision paper cutting.

Anywhere the paper gets folded can be scored.  You may use a dull knife, like a butter knife, or you can buy a fancy scoring knife.  I use the tip of a pair of scissors.  Either way, score along all the fins and along the center folds.
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Lantern Pattern.ai(612x792) 1 MB

Step 3: Add the Copper Tape

The LEDs are all mounted on the upper-most "fins" of the lantern. So, that is where the traces must lead. Also, it's important to realize that all the traces meet in the same place - this means that with the proper planning, the LEDs can be arranged in a series configuration that uses a minimum of copper (and, ahem, effort).

Each of the three sides of the lantern will have a different pattern of traces. Start with the side that has just two short strips. As you can see in the photo, the strips should be laid parallel to the middle fold, about 2mm apart, and reaching from the tip of the fin to about a centimeter beyond the fold. Flatten the copper using the handle of a pair of scissors, or some other smooth, rounded object.

Now move on to the next side of the lantern. It will have one short strip, like the first side, and one long strip that goes all the way down to the base (where the battery will eventually connect). Place the short strip first, in the same manner as the first side (about 1-1.5mm from the center fold). As you may have guessed, this strip should line up perfectly with one of the strips laid out on the first side.

Now lay out the long piece. It starts out in an identical manner to the long strip, but continues down the edge of the lantern. Where necessary, fold (but don't cut!) the copper foil to make turns as necessary. With 1/4" wide copper foil tape, you could only have to do four folds to reach the bottom of the lantern.

Flatten the copper foil with scissors.

Now, the third side. It is essentially a mirror image of the second side. Lay out the copper foil in a similar manner to the second side, but the long piece of copper should travel down the opposite side of the paper. Flatten with scissors.

Lay out the three sides of the lantern with the points inward. It should be easy to see how this will work: the three LEDs will align for a series circuit at the top of the lantern, and the matching copper foil traces will connect the circuit between the three sides. But wait! The two long traces will short together! Indeed they will - an insulator is needed between these two traces.

Pick one of the sides with a long trace, an grab a roll of tape. It doesn't really matter what kind - packing tape, Scotch tape, masking tape. Just as long as it isn't conductive. It should be a light colour though, to a void the chance of seeing it through the paper. Lay down a layer of tape along the entire length of the long trace, leaving just a small exposed section at the base where the battery wire will be soldered to (that will be insulated later.) Make sure the tape covers to about 2mm beyond the fold at the top fin, so it doesn't short together at the top. If any tape is hanging over the edge of the paper, trim it off with a knife or scissors.

As with the copper foil, flatten the tape with scissors to remove any air bubbles.

Step 4: Gluing

With the traces laid out, the three sides may be glued together.

Using white glue or a glue stick, apply glue to one half of a side without a long trace. Find the mating side, and stick them together. Alignment is critical, so make sure the two pieces are lined up just right. You may find it easier to "flatten" the two pieces while gluing them. Clamp them together with a heavy book for a few minutes, and when dry proceed to glue on the third side. Again, make sure you're only applying glue to the halves without a long trace. It's OK to apply glue to the copper foil, just don't get any on the foil that extends onto the fins (and where the LEDs will eventually be soldered).

Now the battery leads may be soldered on. Decide which trace should be positive, and solder the positive (red) wire of the battery clip onto the very end of the copper foil trace.   Mark in pencil if you wish.  Then, solder the negative (black) wire onto the opposite copper trace. Be sure not to use excessive heat or the paper will burn. And, don't pile on a huge blob of solder either, or it will remain a visible bump when glued together. Apply a layer of insulating tape over one of the soldered joints (likely the side that's already taped.)

Now, you may glue the final two halves together. This will be trickier to clamp, so be creative. Again, it might be helpful to fold the fins "flat."

Step 5: Soldering

Once the glue is dry, the LEDs may be soldered onto the fins. Start by folding all but the top fins inward, to get them out of the way.

Though the copper tape pieces are facing each other and likely making contact, you may want to add a bit of solder between the joints to make sure they're secure. Paint a minimum of solder onto the gap between the two halves of tape. Remember NOT to bridge the gap between the long pieces of copper that lead to the battery!

Next up are the LEDs. They may be placed anywhere along the fin where there is copper to solder to. If you're using wide-angle (120 degree) LEDs like I used, it won't really matter where they go. But if you're using LEDs with a narrower beam angle then you'll want to consider where the best placement will be.

Remember when you picked one of the long traces to be positive? Remember which one it was? Good. If not, measure with a multimeter until you find it. Take an LED, and solder its anode onto the end of that positive trace, and its cathode to the adjacent trace.

Continue in this pattern, soldering cathode to anode to form a series chain of LEDs. The LEDs may not sit flat on the fins due to the bend in the middle. That's OK, as long as the solder joint is good.

If you have a multimeter, take a moment to verify your solder joints, checking for continuity, shorts and opens.Once you're satisfied with your work, plug in the battery! Disconnect immediately if any of the LEDs don't light, and re-check your work.

Step 6: Image Gallery and Possible Mods

It goes without saying that this is certainly not the only design you could use to make a papercraft lantern! Just look at all of the different designs out there! I'd say that most of them could be illuminated using this method, choosing a number of LEDs that suit the design. It could be just one, illuminating a sphere, or multiple LEDs illuminating the tips of multiple extensions.

Try using textured or coloured paper instead of white card stock.

And it's very true that you could choose whatever colour LEDs you want. In this design, you could use a red, green and blue LED for interesting colour mixing effects. Or, use a slow-change RGB LED that automatically fades between colours.

You could even go all-out and add light or sound sensors, to make the lantern reactive to its environment.

As far as power is concerned, the circuit could be modified to run on a higher voltage (say, 12V) by adding a resistor to the series chain. Lower voltage operation (down to 3V) is also possible, but you'll need to figure out how to wire the LEDs in parallel instead of series.  A Joule Thief might be able to run all three LEDs from a single AA battery...

Best of luck, and I look forward to seeing what you all come up with!
pdr19805 months ago
Genial!
malialtin4 years ago
Very nice instructable!!! Very inspiring!!
Hi, bravo! welldone...that's really amazing...thank u
jeff-o (author)  tala9101850104 years ago
Thanks!
mohsen_sam4 years ago
very Beautiful
jeff-o (author)  mohsen_sam4 years ago
Thank you!
RPKH4 years ago
This is a bad design.
The Led must have a resistor in series to limit the current.
jeff-o (author)  RPKH4 years ago
Ordinarily I'd agree with you. But in this case, with the forward voltage of the LEDs equal to the battery, there is no need. Perhaps a few ohms of resistance - but that's taken care of by the resistance of the copper foil, and the internal resistance of the 9V battery.

I left the lantern running for a full day and nothing blew up, so I'd say it's quite safe.

Thanks for calling me on it, though!
RPKH jeff-o4 years ago
The forward voltage of the led is 3 V. If you put 3 led in series it would be more less equal to the battery. Indeed the copper foil and battery have a resistance.
But for other people trying to make this project using other leds with different forward voltages should check how to connect a led properly.
jeff-o (author)  RPKH4 years ago
Definitely. Beginners should check out this excellent online LED calculator. You simply enter your power supply, number of LEDs and LED voltage, and it does the rest - even drawing a neat little diagram!

(The above calculator says I need a 1 ohm resistor)
octochan4 years ago
This totally looks like a ribcage! All it needs is something to suggest a spine, and maybe the collarbones and shoulder blades!
jeff-o (author)  octochan4 years ago
I'm sure I've seen a Halloween decoration made like that before. Can't find anything on Google, though.
gbrad4 years ago
ever thought of spray painting it a metallic color? don't know the electrical implications or hazards involved.... but probably not too hard to work around.
jeff-o (author)  gbrad4 years ago
Well sure, you could spray paint it any colour you like. I doubt that it would make much difference electrically. Of course, you'd want to spary it before laying down the traces.
Crucio4 years ago
I really like it.

Reminds me of Star Trek, somehow ...
jeff-o (author)  Crucio4 years ago
Hey, to me, that's a big compliment! ;)
pda0413764 years ago
You can also do the scoring with the "backside" of the X-acto blade. It works wonders.
mary candy4 years ago
jeff-o (author)  mary candy4 years ago
Wow, very nice! Cheaper, yes - but also not made of brushed laser-cut aluminum. ;)

(As a side note, it should be possible to make that design in the link out of paper...)
Cool ;)
marc_page4 years ago
Wow, this is really amazing !

Did anybody manage to find printable designs for which this method could be adapted ?
jeff-o (author)  marc_page4 years ago
I looked around a bit but found nothing (at least not from the creator of the original design I based my lantern on). I had to design my own pattern.
Zpr884 years ago
thanks for sharing this awesome project...

i planned to buy a lamp shade this month but after going through your instructables i changed my mind. instead, ill be building this project this week end...

are there any other designs available on line?...


thanks! more power!!!
jeff-o (author)  Zpr884 years ago
Sure, give it a try! The paper costs less than a dollar so you've got nothing to lose, even if it doesn't end up working.

I searched a bit for design files and templates, but couldn't find any. So, I made my own. If you visit the links you'll find a Flickr set of all of Miyamoto's creations - perhaps you could figure out how to recreate of of them!
ChrysN4 years ago
It looks gorgeous!
NachoMahma4 years ago
. Wow!
jeff-o (author)  NachoMahma4 years ago
So, are you going to make one, too? ;)
.  Probably not. :(  I have next to no artistic ability.
jeff-o (author)  NachoMahma4 years ago
Hey, that part has been taken care of! If you can handle an X-acto knife and a soldering iron, you can do it. :)
SWV17874 years ago
I really like the "Rib Cage" look of the shade
Szajba4 years ago
simple and beautiful. Congrats
jeff-o (author)  Szajba4 years ago
My top two goals for this creation. ;) Thanks!
capricorn4 years ago
You Sir, be awesome.

Thank you for sharing this :)
jeff-o (author)  capricorn4 years ago
Thanks, and you're welcome!
imrobot4 years ago
creepy cool! the lamp is reminiscent of a rib cage and the shadows look like spider webs. You should enter this into the Halloween contest!
jeff-o (author)  imrobot4 years ago
Hmmm, I'm not sure it would qualify. Perhaps with some modifications it could... I'll think about it!
Ninzerbean4 years ago
Beautiful.