Universal lamp shade polygon building kit

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: item number 42584

Acetal sheet, 0.015" and 0.020":: 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:
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

Picture of 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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Mhscott2 months ago

can you buy the pieces for this project pre cut? If so, where and what are they called?

craftyv4 months ago

I made several of these years ago when I first saw the on this site, in fact as I turn my head to the right I can see two that Ive kept because I love them so much. Iv'e made them from paper, plastic and even place mats. If the main point of your Instructable is to laser cut your pieces I entirely agree unfortunately I have no money or tech skills so it's hand cutting for me.

Leninja made it!5 months ago

So beautiful and decorative... Thank you!

macnbec7 months ago
Could you use milk gallon jugs? Would the plastic be thick enough?
dcs739 months ago
How do you get the lightbulb to stay inside? Can the light stand instead of hang?
roomy11 months ago
i think the file polypiece.dxf is damage, could you up load again? if is possibly dwg
ltruzzi2 years ago
I made a "patchwork" version of it!
Super cute! What material did you use to get the different colored and patterned pieces?
Muito legal. Amei.
Love Love Love this lamp! What do you use to cut it out of plastic? and do you start at the top or the bottom?
adubeau1 year ago
Thank you so much for this. My boys saw some guy selling kits to make these at our fair this year. I thought they could make it themselves so we didn't get it. Now I have a template and instruction so I can make them a kit for Christmas!
My version upon this tutorial made with beer cans, with labels facing inwards. It gives the shade a crisp aluminium look. Cutting the template out from each can was a killer, but the result was worth.
Resize of DSC06021.JPG
How many shapes did it take to make the complete sphere?
30 pieces.
This is SUPER!!
This is cool! You could always pre-punch holes in the metal before assembling if you want light to come thru but I love it as a metal sculpture!
Thank you! And yes, I could do that.
candilee472 years ago
Absolutely AWESOME!!! I'm gonna try it, emphasis on TRY... Stunning work, ALL of you with original versions, well done!!
jtp1392 years ago
oooooh! How do you attach it to the light?
artanis2 years ago

So did this guy steal this from you or what Dan?
dan (author)  artanis2 years ago
what's old is new again! you can't steal a free idea.

i think if you are here at instructables you are more interested in cutting out your own pieces from an interesting material than paying someone else to do it for you.
knutmo7 years ago
can someone please help me out on how to make the HUGE ball with 120 modules? I keep ending up with 30 module ones....
dan (author)  knutmo7 years ago
i've added some more photos in the last step including an 80-piece construction which is built very similar to the 120-piece one
knutmo dan7 years ago
thanks for the extra photos, but I still can't seem to do it. I really fail to see the patterns in your examples and in the few drawings I have found. I'm able to make the 30-piece balls when I follow the steps and the video that's on the IQLight website, but I have nowhere found similar instructions for the bigger ones. If someone has step-by-step instructions I'd be really grateful!!!
First of all, thanks Dan for this great instructable. I've had a lot of fun building this things. As a small contribution, I created a "roadmap" for the 120-piece one. I painted the pieces with two colors, to distinguish between the two faces (some pieces go face-up, and some go face-down). I also added a view of the bottom part to make the beginning a little easier. I built a 14cm diam. version with paper (this is how I understood the structure). As you can see in the pictures, it looks more like a dodecahedron rather than a sphere. .
Hi, thanks so much for this. Have just bought 120 pieces in Thailand. Sorry to be thick but can you tell me - do you make each of the top elements first (as my instruction sheet, then add the long row, then the next long row and then the bottom elements. Hope that makes sense, what I'm asking is what order did you put this together in. thanks
Hi Starcana!

The way you describe it is pretty much correct, except for the fact that it is a lot easier if you take the bottom element as a start. You have to assemble the first five pieces (the white ones in my diagram) forming the pentagonal base, and then you continue growing that bowl-like structure row by row (adding "circles"), until you get to the closing phase, where you'll eventually end up with the last five top pieces, that you'll just have to interlock.

It may look complicated, but you'll se that once you've done the first couple of rows it's pretty straightforward. Just keep an eye of the orientation of each piece.

Happy building!
Thanks for this but I'd given up and have just completed the 60 piece one which is probably a better size for where I want it. Just the flex/bulb to get in now without it collapsing! Thanks again.
i did it! i finally did it! thanks nevermore. i couldn't have done it without your help :) i made mine with HDPE plastic from plastic bottles :)
Hi! I used regular printer paper, it's OK for that size. The pieces I used are 4.5 cm in its long diagonal. They're quite small, so be patient with the scissors.... Using those numbers you'll be able to predict the final size of the ball. Have fun!
amazing! what kind of paper did you use? im afraid normal printer paper will be too flimsy. also, what was the approximate length of pieces that made a 14cm ball? id like to to be able to predict what size it comes out to.
thank you SO VERY VERY VERY MUCH for your excellent roadmap!! This is exactly what I needed to build my 120-piece behemoth lamp! I couldn't have done it without you guys!!! If you're ever in Utrecht, The Netherlands, be sure to look me up and I'll buy you beer.
dan (author)  Nevermore787 years ago
thanks for posting the photos! this is a more attractive shape i think than the 80-piece one, i think i will have to upgrade my 80-piece to a 120.
nickpeer knutmo7 years ago
Dhuynh2 years ago
Quick tip: Click on the image and it will open up larger, but right click on it and select view image which will open it full resolution. Then right click and save as so you always have a copy. I've made the 30 element one yesterday and its awesome. Each of my elements are a full 8.5 x 11 inches big. I was going to attempt the 130 element one but I dont think it will hold its shape very well. Im using 80 lb cardstock. So I scaled it down a bit and am doing it with 7 x 8 in pieces.
Dhuynh2 years ago
For those of you having issues assembling these into other shapes,
These are the diagrams I found on this site. Good luck.
kwoodham2 years ago
Here's mine, I used 65lb/95g paper for it; the template I scaled to fit on A4 paper. it's about 18" in diameter (and much more white than in the photo), and I'm really happy with it! Thanks for the tutorial!
Awesome design! How many pieces did you use for that?
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