Universal Lamp Shade Polygon Building Kit





Introduction: Universal Lamp Shade Polygon Building Kit

About: Dan Goldwater is a co-founder of Instructables. Currently he operates MonkeyLectric where he develops revolutionary bike lighting products.

One simple cut-out shape lets you build all sorts of different designer-looking lampshades! You can make dozens different geometric forms using various numbers of the cut-out shape made from paper or plastic. All the standard mathematical polyhedrons and such are possible.

The pieces just fold together by hand into rigid forms, and you can take them apart and build into new shapes any time!

this is fun and educational for kids and adults alike, and you get a really nice lampshade when you are done.

As seen in ReadyMade Magazine, Dec. 2007/Jan 2008 issue

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Step 1: What You Need

I saw a lampshade made out of the shape below at a friend's house, so I traced the shape and made my own. the lamp i saw used thin plastic for the pieces. I believe the original design for this lamp was done over 30 years ago by the firm Iqlight, they sell pre-cut parts in case you do not want to make the parts yourself.

Below is the shape as an image, and i've also attached a DXF file.

You will need sheets of paper or plastic that allow light to get through. The stiffness of your material determines how large your pieces can be - stiffer material for larger pieces and larger lamps, thinner material for smaller pieces and smaller lamps. (see next step)

You will need a lamp fixture - just a raw socket on a cord. I found some nice ones at Ikea for $4, and some fluorescent bulbs. Use a compact fluorescent bulb so you can get more light without melting the plastic.

I experimented with a number of different plastics and sizes for the parts, here are my results:

- HDPE: works well, looks good, cheap and easy to get. I used 0.8mm thick stock for 8cm pieces (measured flat-side to flat-side). That's about the smallest you'd want to go with that thickness, you could go up to 12 or 15cm with that thickness. this is the least expensive plastic by far. One of the commenters suggested using plastic milk-bottles, which are made of HDPE, this is a good idea!

- Acetal (delrin): this seems to be the best choice for looks, it has the purest white color and best light dispersion (basically, looks just like acrylic except it doesn't crack as easily). I used 0.35mm stock for 6cm and 8cm pieces, and 0.5mm stock for 8-12cm pieces, and 0.65mm stock for 12-15cm pieces. It still is a little brittle and harder to work with than HDPE, and more expensive. if you cut this with scissors it will be somewhat tricky due to the brittleness, but possible.

- Vinyl: I did not try it, probably want to use thicker pieces since it is not very stiff. but you can use colors!

- Paper: I did not try paper but it should be good for smaller constructions.

- Laminated paper: this is a great idea suggested in the coments section. try laminating color tissue paper, then cut the pieces from that. very unique and colorful!

- Acrylic: too brittle, it will crack when you try to assemble. too bad!

- Nylon: has a yellow-ish look when lit up which makes it undesirable.

- for a large construction use stiffer material for the same size piece. ie, if you are making a lampshade with 12 pieces use thinner material than if you are making a shade with 100 pieces, assuming same size pieces.

Where to get it:

HDPE 1/32" sheet: sheet: http://www.usplastics.com item number 42584

Acetal sheet, 0.015" and 0.020":: http://www.mcmaster.com item number 8738K52 and 8738K53

Step 2: Cut Out Your Pieces

You can cut your pieces in a couple ways:

- trace them out with a marker, then use scissors or a knife. this is slow but can be done easily by anyone.

- make a "cookie cutter" out of sheet metal in the shape of the part. then heat the cutter with a torch and use it to stamp out the parts (only works for plastic)

- use a laser cutter

Step 3: Assemble!

just try fitting the parts together! they go together in many different ways. you can make a variety of corners with 3, 4 or 5 adjoining pieces.

there are several ways to think about and categorize the different types of geometric shapes that can be constructed. below i've shown top and bottom views of every different type of vertex (corner) that can be built. all larger assemblies are made up of a combination of the types of corners shown below, so think of them as your building blocks.

corners can also be 'left handed' and 'right handed' - mirror images of each other.

Step 4: Assemble!

you can make forms with anything from 8 to 100 or more pieces each. the only drawback seems to be that there is no way to make concave corners, only convex corners are possible.

you can see my examples below, and you can see more at this site: http://www.iqlight.com
that site also sells the parts if you don't want to make them yourself (but i think it is pricey).

Step 5: Other Ideas

I think the design i've presented is my favorite because it is reconfigurable into lots of shapes, but i thought i'd put some links to other styles which can also be made from sheets of paper or plastic.

the lampshade shown below i spotted hanging from the eaves of a hotel in china. it is made from i think 6 identical pieces (possibly 7 or 8). each piece is a large diamond shape with slots cut in it to allow sliding the pieces together. it looks like each diamond is slid into itself to form one of the central vertical tubes, its free tips are then slid into the other pieces to hold the whole thing together. (i have not actually made one yet, so please comment if you have).

also see:

you can also usually find one or two polygon-inspired lampshade designs at your local designer lighting store, and at Ikea.

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Lovely version of the copyrighted and protected work by the Danish designer Holger Strøm.

Please don't setup an etsy shop selling these. ;)

If you are not making them for yourself, go here and buy the original: http://www.iqlight.com/shop/

Has anybody tried it with 1/32" birch plywood? I can't seem to find this kind of plastic in Canada and our milk is sold in cartons not jugs... So i am tempted to try it with thin plywood... I am looking to make the 80 piece model... Thanks for your help!

18 replies

I'm in Canada, too.  I made mine using those super-flexible plastic cutting mats sold at the dollar store.  They come in different colours, but I used the clear/white-ish ones.

DIY mod light.jpg


How many piece make the bottom & top? Do you have a photo of the bottom of this lamp? This is the one I want to make, but cannot figure out how many pieces go on the top & bottom.
Thanks for any help!

This is great! So you used the cut out listed at the top of this page? How many pieces is it? Did you just play with it until it became this shape? Thanks.

Yes, I used the template given above. This is the 80 piece variation as seen on the Iqlight site. I used their photo & diagrams to figure out how to assemble the pieces to get this shape.

Thanks for the material suggestion! This is going to be my Christmas present to a few people this year!

Very nice... i like it very much. do you have the pic of the original shape per piece? i would like to try doing it for my new house :-)

beautiful and what a great idea

Plastic cutting mats? The ones that are sold for chopping vegetables on and such?


thats beautiful! how many pieces to make that size?

This one is the 80 piece variation

one more question (blush): what size did you choose?

I just measured them, and each piece is about 5" long and 4 1/4" at its widest point. The finished light is roughly 15" in diameter, 11" high.


Where are you looking for suppliers? Look up industrial supply sources in your area. Worst case you can order over the internet or scavenge other products like kerrym suggests.


I'm in Canada too..I was thinking...would 2 litre pop bottles work?