Introduction: LED Pop-up Holiday Card

This year's (2015) Holiday card features a pop-up design back-lit by a LED and no wires! If you have the time, homemade cards are some of the coolest things to give people. The rise in the popularity of the Silhouette cutting machines has really given this year's card a chance to reach the more "professional" market.

The card is relatively simple to make - I encountered a few bumps along the way, but don't worry, you probably won't make the same mistakes because I'm pointing them out. I produced 15 LED cards and 3 non-LED cards over the course of four days before I had to mail all the cards out. Go through this instructable to learn how to make your LED Pop-up cards in no time!

Step 1: Supplies and Tools

Total cost of per card was around $5.50, before mailing, mostly due to high shipping costs and purchasing everything from within the USA. The same parts, sold overseas with free shipping would have been half the cost, but I would have needed a lead time of a month and a half or so.

Suppliers and Supplies

The manufacturers/distributors along with the materials I purchased from them are as follow:

Other Supplies:

  • Gluesticks
  • Super Glue
  • PVC Cards (Gift-card material)

*If any of the prices seem high, especially after shipping, look for the parts elsewhere either on ebay or from another distributor.



  • Paint.NET (for card designs - Photoshop works too)
    • Relatively easy to use - lots of tutorials online
    • Been using for 6 years
  • Silhouette Studio (for determining cut lies for silhouette machine)
    • Easy to use - lots of tutorials online
    • Learned in a few hours through YouTube
  • Eagle PCB
    • Medium level of use for beginners
    • Learned enough to do this project in a few hours through YouTube

*Potentially you may need to know how to completely uninstall software if it starts showing errors. Silhouette Studio did that twice and I had to completely uninstall it for the error to disappear.

Step 2: Design Part One - Inner Card

Part one of the design focuses on the development of the pop-up part of the card which is layer "inner top and inner bottom."

Overview: This step focuses on the software designing aspects of creating the inner portion of the card, the pop-up segment. It covers setting up Silhouette Studio and Paint.NET, choosing a pop up design, choosing a background, a border, and the two layer greeting message.

I spent a few days researching pop-up cards to find one that was feasible for a first timer like myself. There are some really intricate designs online that are absolutely stunning. These two cards (snowflake) (tree) caught my eye and I decided to create something that looked similar. What is interesting is that the designer of these cards, Joyce Aysta, also designed the Smithsonian Pop-up Cards that I saw this past summer while interning at the Smithsonian Institution.

After deciding that my cards were going to follow that style, I needed to find somewhat similar designs and used Google Images to search for clip art snowflakes and Christmas trees until I found the perfect one. For example, snowflakes couldn't have corners that were too sharp or too many intricate details because it would probably break off during the cutting process. I also decided that the snowflake was going to have two corners grounded instead on one, like what the typical snowflake clip art image looks like.

The process of selecting a good snowflake takes longer than what you would initially think so I've attached some snowflake pictures with explanations on why it is usable or not.

Setting up Paint.NET:

Paint.NET allows the user to set the canvas size in inches or pixels. Set the canvas to be 10"x7" and draw a line through the halfway point. Design the card on Paint.NET using the layers before uploading each individual layer as a .png to Silhouette Studio.

After copying the image from the internet, I used Paint.NET, my photo editing software, to delete the background. Next, I imported the image into Silhouette Studio and outlined the image to be cut. If you only outline the image and cut it out as is, then you wouldn't have a pop up card - only the cut out design.

Setting up Silhouette Studio:

I sent the dimensions for the paper size to 11" x 14" and turned on registration marks. Registration marks are what the silhouette printer uses to determine exactly where to cut the paper if you have any printed designs. For example, if you wanted to cut out car design, first you would upload that image to Silhouette Studio. Then you would select your cut settings to cut the edge around the car design. Next, you would turn on registration marks and print the picture on your printer. There will be "registration marks" on three corners of the page that the silhouette will use to determine the exact location of the paper before cutting. Once it determines the position of the paper, it will make a perfect cut to only cut out the car design without any excess paper.

Some helpful YouTube links to get started:

1. How to Successfully Print & Cut Every Time in Silhouette Studio

2. How to use the Tracing Feature in Silhouette Studio

Once the registriation marks are set, draw a 10”x7” rectangle and then a 5”x7” rectangle inside that one. This will be your card dimensions and will be cut out by the silhouette. Erase the two lines in the center and draw a “no cut” line in its place. Congrats, the base for you card is complete.

Pop-up Design:

In order to create the pop-up, I first determined how wide the the 5mm LED was and how far away from the fold the LED was going to be, which was .4 inches. (Silhouette Studio was in inches - I didn't changed the default setting because I have Paint.NET in inches also). Using this number, I knew that the pop-up design needed to be lowered this amount of distance to allow the pop-up to be offset from the LED. In addition, I knew that at the top of the card (for the tree) or the two sides of the card (for the snowflake) needed support arms that extended that much from the design itself. It might take a bit of editing your design so that the support arms fit unobtrusively.

To prevent the whole pop-up design from being cut out, erase areas of the base where the card should not be cut so that it can be instead folded to create the pop-up effect.

See images for a graphical explanation.

Choosing a background image:

Once you have scaled your pop-up design positioned it and found its dimensions, make sure to scale the image the same size on Paint.NET. The next part is the background photo design - first for the custom cards, I took pictures with the people I was giving the cards to. These photos were positioned in such a way that the snowflake or Christmas tree would be able to fit somewhere without obstructing the people of the image. I opened these photos on Paint.NET and then created a white background of the pop-up design to overlay the existing layer of the background photo. This provided an area for the pop-up design to be cut out without the colors of the background image obstructing the design. I then merged the layers and then opened the new image in Silhouette Studio.

For the other cards, which used a winter landscape, I went through the same process. Make sure you know how far from the edge the pop-up design will be so you can place it in the same position for each of the card designs you have.


To create a border around the image in the center, use an image search for a winter themed border and copy it onto Paint.NET. Then delete the center and save the image as a .png. Next, upload it to Silhouette Studio and fit it around the background image.

Greeting Message:

Once that step is complete, I chose a font from Silhouette Studio to write "Happy Holidays" at the lower right hand corner of each card. I used a patterned fill on the inside of the words and printed the greeting message on another sheet of paper. I then selected "cut edge" which cuts the outline of the words out. The printed "happy holidays" will be glued under the cut out portion of the "happy holidays" message. This will be explained later on in the assembly step.

Step 3: Design Part 2

Design Part 2 focuses on the design of the "outer top and outer bottom" portion of the card.

Overview: This step focuses on designing the “printable” circuit board and the “Joy” front design of the card.

In the previous step, we determined how far the LED was to be offset from the center line. Now for the front portion of the card, make sure you go to the opposite side from the inner portion of your card. If you do not use the opposite side, your LED and pop-up design will be on the wrong side from each other.

First I found a winter themed border and used Paint.NET scale it down to 5”x7” and deleted the non-border part of the image. I then created a new layer and designed the “Joy” in the white area inside the border. I did this by using a font from the available and then drew two rectangles through to get the effect that you see.

Next I uploaded the border layer to Silhouette Studio as a .png and using the 10”x7” cut border (deigned in the previous step), I positioned the border right at the top cut line.

Take the “joy” layer and open a separate Silhouette Studio file and upload the image there. Select the cut image setting and it will cut the joy out. I placed two “joys” on one page to save on paper.

After that, I used Eagle PCB to draw out the schematics of the board and scaled it to fit on Silhouette Studio. Use this series of tutorials to learn how to do that. Make sure you position the LED in the correct place relative to your pop-up design. Using the same amount of offset that you have from the center-line, create a circle (to be cut) above the LED schematic. The LED will poke through this hole.

*For the resistor, I determined at the end that I really didn't need it. I thought it would be a good idea to have it because I was using 2x CR2016 (6v total in series) coin cell batteries and didn't want the LED to burn out...just in case. The LED was less bright as a result and even without it, the LED didn't burn out.

To create a strong backing for the electrical components, I used half of a standard credit card sized PVC card and cut it so that it would provide a solid base for the battery holder, resistor and LED to be mounted on.

Then, I added my own logo and a QR code to my blog and put those in on Silhouette Studio on the bottom portion of the outer piece of the card.

Refer to the images for details.

Step 4: Print and Assembly Part One

To print the pop-up inner layer, reconfirm that the page size is 11”x14” and print the image with the registration marks. The cut lines will not print out.

Next, feed the paper, mounted on the Silhouette cutting mat into the Silhouette cutting machine – the cutting machine will read the registration marks and cut out the design accordingly.

Once it is finished cutting, take the Silhouette spatula and carefully remove all the excess paper. Then, take a razor blade and ruler and lightly score the opposite side of the printed images to allow the pop-up and the center line to fold.

Then, take your greeting message that you printed on a separate sheet of paper and glue it over the cut out portion of the greeting message on the pop-up page.

Now the inner card is complete.

Step 5: Print and Assembly Part 2

Printing out the outer portion of the card is the same as printing the inner portion. However, assembly is different. Refer to the images for details. Two major portions of this step are the Circuit Board and the Card Front Assembly.

Circuit Board

After printing out the outer portion of the card, use the circuit scribe pen to draw in the lines where the circuit needs to go. Then, use superglue to glue the cut out pvc car on the back of the outer card portion and then stick the pin through front the outer side where the holes are supposed to be for the electronic components to be mounted. I did not have any SMD resistors or LEDs for this project which is why I needed to punch the holes. To punch these holes, grasp the pin with your pliers and then light a fire and heat the tip of the pin for a few seconds before carefully sticking it through the paper and pvc card underneath. Once you have punched out all these holes, insert the LED from the backside so that the LED’s cathode and anode stick out from the side where you drew the circuit. Make sure the positive and negative are correct. Then, superglue the LED in place and trim the wires. After that, dab a tad bit of the bare conductive electric ink onto the cathode and anode so that it covers both the circuit scribe drawn area and the LED’s legs. Make sure that the conductive ink does not smear onto other electrical components or you could short-circuit your project.

Insert the resistor through the drawn circuit board side and bend the legs back to that it holds in place. Now take the flux and draw a bit over the resistor to clean it for the solder to stick on. Use the soldering iron and solder the resistor to the circuit scribe infused paper. Once it cools down, add a bit more circuit scribe and check for a complete circuit using a digital multi-meter. If the circuit is good, then superglue the resistor into place, if not, then troubleshoot by adding more solder/more circuit scribe/rechecking all your circuit scribed areas to make sure that there is enough to pass the electrons through. Cut the excess wire off the resistor and place a piece of masking tape over the sharp wires.

Then, cut a piece of copper tape and place it where the coin cell battery’s negative side is to be placed. Use your circuit scribe pen to add some ink onto the copper and then superglue over it to prevent it from smearing. Check with the digital multi-meter for a complete circuit .

Then, to place the battery clip over the circuit, add a drop of superglue to the three of the four tabs (which were cut out using the Silhouette), because they are exposed to the pvc card underneath. The battery tab is secured to the PVC card. Make sure the superglue has dried completely and you can insert the batteries and test the card. I added a bit of bare conductive to the fourth tab to make sure the electricity could flow through.

Insert the batteries, make sure the card works, then remove the batteries and insert your battery tab.

Card Front Assembly

Take the “Joy” design that you cut out using the silhouette previously and use a glue stick to glue it to the front of the card. It is a tedious task to glue each of the individual pieces of the word onto the card so be patient.

Once that is dry, glue on the foam glitter snowflake and then superglue the rhinestones in place. Now you are done with the outer assembly of the card. Almost there!

Step 6: Final Product, Improvements, Lessons Learned

To finish up, glue the front and back pieces together with a glue stick and now it is complete! Make sure to press down all the corners to prevent wrinkles from forming. Recheck the circuit board to make sure it works and then that’s it.

Because the LED stuck out a bit too much, I had to mail the cards as small packages because it could jam up the mail reading machine. This added $2.54 more per card bringing the cost per card, including all my mistakes (mentioned below), to around $7.54. But you certainly don’t have to make those same mistakes and can learn from my list of suggested improvements below.


Use SMD Emitters instead of 5mm LEDs. By using 5mm LEDs, I am increasing the thickness of the card. A SMD could be attached easier and could potentially give me more options.

Create an on-off switch instead of a battery tab – due to time restrictions, I did not create a switch so the receiver had to manually remove the batteries and reinsert the tab each time.

Design a better circuit and use the pen attachment that Silhouette sells to mount the circuit scribe pen.

Lessons Learned:

Do not tape letter sized card stock to legal sized paper and feed it through the printer. I did not start off with 110lb legal sized card stock because I could not find any online. I went in store to Office Max and they did not have any in-stock and it wasn’t an available product online either. One sales associate was kind enough to call it out on the radio, and a more experienced person front the print shop was able to find me some from the print shop supply and sell that to me. The registration marks forced me to use legal sized paper because the 10”x7” card dimensions were too big and would impeded the registration marks from working.

Have an extra blade and cutting mat available – if you do not, then you could cut into the mat after doing 30 of the same cuts in the same exact area. Blades will also run dull from cutting all the intricate details on the card stock.

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