Introduction: Red Plastic Cup Party Light String

Picture of Red Plastic Cup Party Light String

When designing the look of a new weekly night at a Chicago nightclub designed to emulate a house-party vibe, the ubiquitous red plastic party cup became the icon. Many elements were designed as decorations for the night using them, but one in particular was particularly simple and really stood out- plus we hadn't seen it done before. It's so simple and fetching, I hope others will be inspired to make a set of this fun string of lights, great for outdoor spaces! 

Step 1: Collect Your Materials

Picture of Collect Your Materials

In order to make your very own string of party cup lights, you'll need the following:

- A string of C7 size "holiday" lights. This can be any length, or any number of strings you desire. We used clear light bulbs, though you could use colored lightbulbs or a different style plastic cup for a different effect.
- Plastic Cups. As many as you have sockets on the light string. 16 oz is the most common size.
- A drill with a bit larger than the threaded base of of your bulbs. 1/2" for a C7 bulb.

That's it!

You could also add an in-line dimmer to change the look or use twinkle bulbs to create a livelier mood.

Step 2: Prepare the Cups

Picture of Prepare the Cups

Drilling one at a time, or several stacked cups at once, drill a hole through the center of the base of all your plastic cups. You may find that you have flaps of plastic hanging onto the edge of the drilled holes which you can easily remove by hand.

Step 3: Add the Lights

Picture of Add the Lights

Insert each C7 light bulb base through the bottom of the plastic cup, from the inside so that the metal base extends out through the outside. Then screw the bulb into the socket where it will lock the cup into place. C7 light bulbs will not get hot enough to melt the cup, especially when used outdoors. Repeat with all your cups and light bulbs. Hang up your new string of party lights and call over the friends!

It's common to find strings of 25- 100 C7 bulbs, and with different spacing of either 6" or 12" between sockets, commonly. I think the effect looks best with about 12" between each light. You can also make your own string of lights with lamp cord and snap on sockets, or even prewired commercial holiday lighting for larger installations.


online bulk source:

Party City has 16 oz plastic cups in 21 colors.

Step 4: Another Example of This Idea

Picture of Another Example of This Idea

This turned out to be a great idea for decorating this rented park pavilion used for a wedding reception. The park's scenery in Utah was main visual treat, but the pavilion had only bright work lights, which we kept off. These simple string lights were simple to install (and uninstall), and were compact to pack in our luggage (or ship). They created the perfect ambiance through the afternoon and evening. Party City also carries so many cup colors that you can use whatever the occasion calls for, blue and yellow in this case.


GorillazMiko (author)2013-04-16

Loving this design. Thanks for sharing!

davidandora (author)GorillazMiko2013-04-16

You are very welcome! It's such a simple project and they were one of the most talked about elements at the place we used them. I think they are the right amount of "fun" for a gathering on your deck or other outdoor space.

barking_spider made it! (author)2016-01-02

Just got done with the build ($2 for 25 lights at Lowes, woo-hoo!), some comments... I think that a 1/2" step drill is better than your basic twist drill that you show. It produces a very clean hole, and you don't have to worry about the cup twisting in your hands, or the drill catching and accelerating though the cup and your desk/friend/pet! I used these: Also, the collar on the light socket of the bulbs that I used was too tall when trying to thread the bulb on through the cup. Not a big deal, I just used my disc sander and ground about an 1/8" or so off the socket top. If the only tool you have is a drill, I'd suggest buying a sanding disc for it while you're at the hardware store. Enlisting the help of a small-handed friend is key; my big mitts didn't really fit well in the cups.

These will be great for our next paddling/camping trip! Come see them in action on a trip at Thanks for the great Instructable!

Fantastic news with the stepper bit! Because of the problems associated with a drill bit with the thin plastic, we were mulling over a variety of alternate options including hot tools and a stepper bit, but hadn't tried any of them! I'm glad to hear your solution was such a success! Too bad about the extra sanding work you had to put in, but you can't beat 2 bucks! I'm glad you were able to work out a solution. The lights look great and the perfect set of lights for your camping trip- which sounds like my kind of fun. I'm certain you'll get a lot of compliments on your efforts! Thanks for sharing!

NatalieM4 (author)2015-04-21

Think I may copy this great idea to my party website if you don't mind - and yes of course I will link back to your page

davidandora (author)NatalieM42015-12-27

Glad you like it! Thanks for sharing!

nutley (author)2015-12-27

Dress up your alcoholism!

davidandora (author)nutley2015-12-27


rickfmdj (author)2015-12-27

Easy enough... Thanks open.

leon-geyer (author)2015-06-02

Fine, thanks for showing it!

sb9085 (author)2015-04-03

Is it possible to make these type lights with the regular smaller Christmas lights instead of the C7 lights? I know I can order the C7 lights but I wanted to get started on these sooner rather than later and hate waiting on things to be shipped!!

davidandora (author)sb90852015-04-03

Anything is possible! That said, I don't think there is enough light output from mini light to make the cup glow, but you could easily test that out if you have a string of those lights and a cup. You may also have issues keeping the mini light stuck in the cup. My honest suggestion is to be patient and use C7 lights rather than potentially wasting time or materials. Best luck and let us know if you have success with the mini lights!

rrupichkloepfer (author)2014-08-06

What size cups did you use? Were they SOLO cups or just generic? Thanks.

16 oz. cups are what we used for this example and are the most common size. These red cups I think were Target generic. Party City has them in 21 different colors.

jeremy loa (author)2014-08-01

Thanks. This guide was quite useful for me .

In Indonesia it was called as "Lampion"

davidandora (author)jeremy loa2014-08-01

Glad to help!

qwerty9988 (author)2014-07-25

I'm going to make these for my porch. Wondering about the purple ribbon type string of lights .. did you make those? I like those too and searched around to find something similar but haven't found anything.

davidandora (author)qwerty99882014-07-25

Ah, what appears to be purple ribbon lights is actually called belt lighting, wired with four channels to do a chasing effect, and not really intended to be strung. They appear purple only from the ambient lighting. What I would recommend is often referred to as festival lighting or light strings. There are many options currently available for them including LED bulbs that look very similar to the incandescent options. Here's a starting point:

qwerty9988 (author)davidandora2014-07-25

Wow, looks like the 'belt lighting' is a little more than I wanted to spend and a little too complicated.

The Edison strings are nice tho. Thanks for the quick reply !

Tater Zoid (author)2014-07-15

This is a great idea. After events I take my cup home to reuse or recycle, now I have another reason to reuse them. Thanks.

davidandora (author)Tater Zoid2014-07-20

Thanks! These never fail to create an atmosphere for very little effort. You could get a great number of looks with any number of upcycled disposable cups.

16lundgcodm (author)2013-04-18

I hope they play "red solo cup" every day they're up.

lime3D (author)2013-04-17

I love it. It gives just the right look. To keep the cups from cracking or collapsing, you can try melting the holes with a soldering iron, instead of drilling.

davidandora (author)lime3D2013-04-17

That is a great suggestion. It all depends on the type of plastic your cups are made of in our experience. The standard red and blue plastic party cups seemed to take a drill without cracking or splitting. I'd have preferred melting a hole perhaps if I could locate a 1/2" or tapered bit for a soldering iron. Do they make those?

lime3D (author)davidandora2013-04-18

Problem solved:

gb4477 (author)2013-04-16


davidandora (author)gb44772013-04-16


rolltidehank (author)2013-04-16

Fantastic! Too bad I hadn't seen this when I was in undergrad.

davidandora (author)rolltidehank2013-04-16

it's totally a dorm room detail! Thanks!

About This Instructable




Bio: I've been self employed most of my life, with the curse of a seemingly unending stream of ideas. One of my best skills is ... More »
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