Introduction: Carve a Pumpkin Using a Projector

I always hated struggling with the setup of printing a pumpkin design and then painstakingly trying to staple or tape a piece of paper to a pumpkin without getting creases or weird bends in the design.Then halfway through poking the paper with a toothpick, whole sections of the paper start to fall apart.

I had a projector sitting around, so I figured it would be a great way to transfer an image seamlessly to a pumpkin. It worked great and I haven't turned back since.

Step 1: Supplies

First off you will need:


I find that the more intricate the design the larger the pumpkin. It makes fine details a little less intricate to hand carve. For this design I chose a medium sized pumpkin.


Most likely your design won't require an high resolution design. I used an old projector I had from various other art projects (wall murals, stencil creation, image presentations). Often times you can check out projectors from your local library, or pico projectors can be found for under $100 at amazon or similar outlets. because pumpkins require a small throw a pico projector should be more than ample.

Carving and Cutting Tools:

A variety of pumpkin knives, pokers, scoops and a sharpie or similar marker make the job much easier, but this is all user preference. You can carve just as good of a pumpkin using a steak knife, a spoon, and a toothpick.

Digital Device:

You will need a computer/phone/tablet or some digital device to hookup to the projector.

Step 2: Gut the Pumpkin

Just like you would do for any pumpkin: cut a hole in the top and remove the seeds.

Step 3: Find or Design a Stencil

You will need to find or make a stencil to project onto your pumpkin. The easiest route is to do a two tone or three tone stencil. For my stencil I went with my Alma Mater's logo, the Oregon State Beavers. Transferring the stencil colors to pumpkin colors is pretty easy.

For the most part the brightest color (white) will be the holes carved all the way to the inner cavity of the pumpkin. Care must be taken to make sure there are no "floating" features. For my design, basically the whole logo would be floating so I added some regions of discontinuity of the through cut into the pumpkin, which can be seen later on. This is similar to how a stencil letter "O" will usually have two vertical supports into the inner section.

The second brightest color will be the section where the skin is removed, revealing the pumpkin flesh. This layer is "carved" in a more traditional sense of carefully removing small swatches of material at a time.

The darkest color is simply the natural pumpkin skin. Its best to find or make a stencil that has a border of sorts where the perimeter of the design is not the darkest color. By doing so it creates a defined boundary for the image.

Step 4: Align the Projected Image to the Pumkin

This part can be a bit tricky. Since the pumpkin is a round 3 dimensional object and the projector is a flat 2d image, it is a bit challenging to find the right distance and angle to project the image without too much distortion.

There's no real "shortcut" to this step. I simply held my projector in the air and positioned it until the image looked good and then found random items in my kitchen to prop up the projector in place.

Step 5: Trace Projected Image to the Pumpkin

Once the image is thrown on the pumpkin, get to work!

Personally, I find it easiest to trace the design on to the pumpkin with a sharpie. The different marker perimeters mark the area to be removed. You can also do it the traditional way of tracing the lines with a poker or toothpick. This can be very time consuming and a little difficult working around the shadow your hand creates in front of the projector. A marker helps to create a little space between the shadow from your hand and the image on the pumpkin. Any way about it though you are going to have to re-position yourself around the pumpkin to get all the angles.

I found it helpful once in awhile to turn the projector off (without moving it!), to sort of visualize the perimeters of the different areas.You are going to make some mistakes so it will likely require a little bit of interpolation to bring the design together.

Step 6: Finishing Touches and Back Carving

To get your pumpkin to really pop, it takes some attention to the small details. For small line cuts that go all the way to the internal cavity holding the candles, you want to taper the cuts. That is, the visual opening is the smallest part of the hole, with the edges tapering back into a sort of cone shape towards the inside. This helps funnel more light to the surface.

For the sections that are the pumpkin flesh with out the skin, you need to back carve them into thin sections. To do this take your scooping tool and evenly remove material from the inside of the pumpkin in all the sections you want to "glow." It's a good precaution to brace your hand on the outside of the pumpkin. Doing this helps prevent any weakened parts from breaking loose. The thinner the section, the brighter the candles will make it glow. You can see in the finished pumpkin where I neglected to carve back the inner section over the bottom left of the "B." Also, keep in mind the thinner you carve the pumpkin, the faster it will deteriorate. I usually carve my pumpkins and then do the
"back carving" the day before halloween. It seems like the thin sections will hold up for about two days before they start to warp.

Hope you guys enjoyed the Instructable!

Step 7: Previous Pumkins

Just to show how effective and consistently this works, here are a couple pumpkins from years past I have carved using this method.

Pumpkin Carving Contest 2016

Participated in the
Pumpkin Carving Contest 2016

Halloween Decor Contest 2016

Participated in the
Halloween Decor Contest 2016