Neighbor-friendly Patio Light

Introduction: Neighbor-friendly Patio Light

I was motivated to make this lampshade due to the popularity of clear-glass fixtures & clear LED lightbulbs which are harsh to look at. Looking at neighboring patio lights caused me to think about what my ideal light would look like. Essentially: I wanted opal glass (not clear); most of the light directed rearwards (backlit, reflecting off the house wall), down (to reflect up off the ground) and up (to reflect off the patio ceiling or eave). I want the effect of a lot of light, but not the sensation of looking directly into that small source of light. (More diffuse & reflected than direct light.).

I also wanted a very warm light which would be friendly to sleep (circadian) rhythms, the Dark Sky initiative, and attract less bugs.

I also wanted motion sensing and/or "dusk to dawn." These features are considered "security" and found increasingly in fixtures with integrated LEDs which don't let you adjust the color temperature of the light. (See the last step to learn how I eventually got all these features with this fixture, and can be done with any fixture.).

The fixture I used (HZ-5610, photo 1) seemed like the best balance: motion sensing -- but not dusk-to-dawn illumination. (I ended up getting both dusk-to-dawn & motion sensing light. See last step.). Building upon this fixture, I fitted a paper shade around the milkglass globe, with most of the light shining through the rear, bottom & top (rim) of the globe. The sides are increasingly dimmed (feathered), causing most light to shine sideways and off the house wall (photos 2-4).

Note: The camera lacks dynamic-range to show both the dimness (detail) of the shaded fixture and the overall illumination of the patio (photo 5). In person, you would perceive both the amount of light shown in the overall patio photo, and the softness and detail of the fixture closeups. It's actually a surprising amount of light for a 3.3 watt bulb, and gentle to look at directly (because most of the light exits the bottom, rear & top-rim of the globe).

[Update: I now use six sheets of paper with no feathered steps on the sides (a more "full cutoff hood" effect). See the last step which shows that. This is simpler to make. Remember: The globe easily rotates. Whenever I need more light, I can quickly put the unshaded side where I want it.]



Fixture: I used a Heath-Zenith HZ-5610-BZ which is motion-sensing and accepts ordinary lightbulbs (giving you choice of color temperature). You could adapt this paper-shade idea to any fixture. (If you use a clear-glass fixture, consider using Rustoleum "Frosted Glass" spray paint to make the paper less visible. It also reduces glare.).

Lightbulb: I chose a Philips "Amber light" (2000k) "vintage" (25w-equivalent, 3.3w actual, 200 lumen; Part: 3.3A15/VIN/820/E26/CL/GL/DIM; UPC: 0 46677 55655 6). This is a clear-glass bulb. I sprayed it with 2-3 coats of Rustoleum "Frosted Glass" to reduce glare. (Even though the fixture is milkglass, I felt that the frosted bulb reduced glare even more.).

For my backyard (28' deep, 60' wide), two fixtures with these bulbs is sufficient light (along with some solar-powered jar lights hanging around the perimeter). For a larger backyard, perhaps the 40w- or 60w-equiv bulb (400 or 600 lumen) would be better.

Shade: Ordinary printer paper (20lb, 92 brightness). Using paper as a shade would be a concern with an incandescent bulb due to the heat and potential for fire. But, with a low-watt LED bulb there is no problem.

Step 1: Mark & Draw

[Update: I ended up using six layers of paper, all the same length (no feathered "steps" on the sides). This creates a more "full-cutoff hood" which I like better. It's easier to look at (and when I want more light, I can easily rotate the globe to let more light out.). See the last step for photos.]

Using four sheets of ordinary printer paper (20lb, 92 brightness):

  1. Cut the sheets 10" x 5-1/4"
  2. Mark the following increments (for 1" layered steps) on all four sheets:

    1. Along the top edge: 0", 1", 2" & 3"
    2. Along the bottom edge: 1-1/4", 2-1/4", 3-1/4" & 4-1/4"

  3. Use a ruler to connect the top & bottom marks (on each page. Photo 1)
Hint: If you would like the shade to pass more light, you can make it 5" to 5-1/8" tall (which will let more light out the top and bottom). You can also cut the top layer to be half height (which would allow more light to pass out the bottom half of the front). Or, replace the top layer with tissue paper (for less opacity). Or, eliminate the layer entirely. Perhaps increase the 1" graduated steps to 1-1/4"). Paper's cheap. You can experiment to find the right amount of light for the bulb used.

ALTERNATE: Print the shade on one sheet of paper (laminate in plastic for longer life)

The following is an advanced topic. You can proceed to the next step, and return to this topic after creating a shade you like with layered paper. That's the easy way.

@JohnW51 commented on this instructable, mentioning how paper will deteriorate over time (outside; exposed to intense light). Laminating the shade in plastic would preserve the paper. But, layers of paper may not curl well when laminated flat. This led to the idea of printing the shade on one sheet of paper.

I created this instructable's shade using LibreOffice Draw, and attached it as a .gz compressed zip file. The dimensions are accurate to this instructable's shade. But, I haven't tried using this myself. The levels of gray (the transparency level of the trapezoid objects) are just a starting point. You may want it to be darker or lighter. I would aim for it to allow as much light through as that number of pieces of paper stacked together. But, you might want it to be darker or lighter.

Again, to my mind, the benefit of creating the shade this way is that it can be laminated for longer life (in a way layers of paper probably can't). It may be easier to cut new layers of paper every few years, whenever the shade deteriorates. I just provide this as a starting point if anyone wants to do it.

Customizing the printed shade

1. Layers of increasing opacity: I think the best way to set the layered shading is: 1) set all trapezoids to black by right-clicking on each, choose Area, and set the Area tab's Color to black. Then, 2) use the Transparency tab:

  1. The bottom trapezoid should have 100% transparency. That one represents the paper which will have it's own opacity. (But, you could add to the paper's opacity, making the transparency something less than 100%.).
  2. The next three trapezoids should have the same transparency. They will aggregate (like layers of paper would). I set them to 90%, but haven't printed one yet. You'll need to print a few to figure out what percentage transparency looks right. IMO, you want this to allow the same amount of light as that many layers of paper. But, there's no reason you can't make them lighter/darker than that. (Since I haven't printed one, I can't say how close it is at 90%.).

2. Adjusting the trapezoid sizes: As mentioned using individual sheets of paper, you might want to let more light out the sides by making the "steps" wider. Or, you might want the top layer to extend only halfway down (to let more light forward). To adjust a trapezoid's size: right-click on it, choose Position & Size (uncheck the Protect fields box! -- I protected them so you can't accidentally drag or resize something.). Then adjust the following fields:

  • The height field is simple: it controls the trapezoid's height.
  • The trapezoid's top width is controlled by the width field.
  • The the trapezoid's bottom width is controlled by the Slant & Corner Radius tab (the X field of the Control Point 1column).
  • If you change any sizes, you may need to re-center the object. That's controlled using the Position X & PositionY fields. This is pretty easy to figure out because they start at 0 (top-left). You can see how I positioned each trapezoid, and try those X & Y values to see how it moves. In some cases it's good to think of an object in terms of half its width (or height) -- that's center. Or, how far to offset from the underlying object's Position X & Y values.

A trapezoid's border (color and width) can be changed (or eliminated) by right-clicking on a trapezoid, and chose Line.

Finally, I would orient the printed side of the paper facing outwards against the glass. (I.e., the white side facing inward will reflect more light out the back of the fixture, where you want it to go.).

[Update: As already mentioned, I ended up using six layers of paper without any feathering (steps on the sides). If I were to print that, I would delete all but the bottom (widest) trapezoid object; set that object's Area "fill color" to black; and set the Transparency tab to something like 15%. (It would take some experimentation to find the right amount of printed gray to get similar opacity as 6 layers of paper.).]

Print it; cut out the 10" x 5-1/4" rectangle (should be outlined); then draw the radius in the next step. (I know how to create that radius in Draw. But, I think it may be too complicated. Manually drawing an arc (next step) isn't hard.

Step 2: Draw Radius

On just one sheet of paper (not all four):

  1. Draw a 19" radius which touches the top edge of the paper. This radius should exit the sides of the 10"-wide paper about 11/16" below the top edge.
  2. Mark 1/2" above the bottom edge (in the center of the paper), and draw a 14" radius which touches that mark. This radius should exit the bottom edge of the paper at the furthest line (which will be the bottom corner of the widest layer).
Hint: To draw a radius, tie a loop in the end of string. Put the pencil tip inside that loop. Hold the string down with your thumb 19" (or 14") back from the pencil tip, and draw an arc.

Step 3: Clamp & Cut Radius

  1. Clamp all four sheets together (I used Acco paper/binder clips).
  2. Cut each radius with scissors (move the clamps as necessary).

Step 4: Cut the Taper Lines

Cut the taper lines of each sheet, creating increasingly narrower sheets. (The lines remaining on the wider sheets will be used to align the narrower sheets when you stack them.).

Step 5: Cut Fringe Along Top & Bottom Edges

The Heath-Zenith HZ-5610 fixture has come with two slightly different globes (photo 1). One (which I believe was in use many years ago, but still shown on the product literature/packaging) has sharper corners around the top & bottom. If you have this globe, you don't need to do this step. The shade will fit nicely within that globe.

If you have the globe with the more-rounded top and bottom (I believe comes with new fixtures today), you need to create "fringe" along the top & bottom edges which will better conform to that curved surface.

  1. On all four sheets: make a few marks along the bottom & top radiused edges, about 3/8" from the edge of the paper. These marks will serve as a visual guide for how deep to cut (how long the fringe should be).
  2. Make 3/8" deep cuts 1/8" to 3/8" apart.
    • The depth of the cut isn't very important. Try to make it 3/8" deep. But, a little shorter or longer won't hurt, especially if it varies from one cut to the other (one layer to the other). It shouldn't be any shorter than 1/4", nor longer than 1/2". (I aimed for 3/8" to 1/2".).
    • The width of the fringe isn't very important either. It's better to have randomness so the fringe from each layer overlaps. Aim for 1/4" wide, but make some narrower, some wider. I wouldn't go any narrower than 1/8", nor wider than 3/8".
Note: You can cut the fringe with the Acco clips holding the sheets together. But, you need to cut each sheet separately for randomness/overlap of the fringe.

Step 6: Stack & Tape

1. Stack the sheets. The wider sheets will have drawn lines for centering the narrower sheets. Affix a small (1") piece of scotch tape on each side of a sheet to hold it to the sheet beneath. Do this near the middle. (It's important not to tape the entire length from top to bottom. The sheets need to "give" a little as they're rolled into the globe.).

2. If you cut fringe in the previous step (because you have the more rounded globe), you should gently roll/bend the fringe to help it conform to the curve inside the globe.

3. Roll this into a 2" tube (with the smaller sheets facing inward) and insert into the globe. You may have to get your fingers in there and help press the fringe into place.

Having the smaller (stacked) sheets face inward will reduce the sharpness of those layers' edges (as seen from outside, through the globe).

Step 7: More Ideas...

"Dual-Brightness" (ambient and security light)

When I created this instructable, I described my ideal fixture: both motion-sensed full brightness and dusk-to-dawn ambient light. Such fixtures exist, but offer fewer choices (especially with my other requirements, like using ordinary screw-in lightbulbs -- not integrated LEDs, which are typically cooler white, and not friendly to sleep rhythms.).

I figured out how to do that (with this or any fixture! Photo 1). See my instructable: dual-brightness, motion sensing patio light.

The shade & bulb I'm using now

I now use six sheets of paper, without graduated side "steps" (photos 2-4. It's just six of the widest layers. I don't cut any to be narrower.). This creates a more complete blackout, like a "full cutoff hood," with more of the light coming out the bottom and back (reflected off the house wall). It illuminates the backyard very well (photo 5). But, isn't bright to look at. Just a slight glow. (If I need more light, I can rotate the globe so the unshaded part faces wherever I want the light.).

Note: The camera lacks the range to show both the backyard's illumination and the shade's muted appearance. If you saw it in person, the fixture would look dim like the close-up photos. The backyard would look as illuminated as that one photo. (I.e., the fixtures aren't glaring as that patio photo suggests.)

Hint: It's very hard to stack & square 6 layers of fringed paper when they're the same size (the fringe snags). It's easier to stack the layers before cutting the fringe; put a 1" piece of tape around both edges (near the middle of the edge) to prevent the sheets from sliding sideways. Then cut each layer's top/bottom fringe. (I.e., fit the scissors between layers, and cut one layer's fringe at a time so the cuts of each sheet are random, overlap, etc.).


As a result of that heavier shade, I increased the brightness of the bulb from 200 to 350 lumen. Basically I'm making more llight come out the back (and reflected off the wall), more diffuse. I'm using:

Philips 40w-equiv (5w actual), 350 lumen, Vintage "amber light" (2000k), dimmable. Order code from the box: 5ST19/VIN/820/E26/CL/GL/DIM; order code from Philips spec sheet: #556803; UPC on box: 0 46677 55680 8; (Home Depot SKU: #1004856101)

It's a longer ST19 "straight tube" shape which is proportional to the fixture's globe (photo 7), producing light more lengthwise compared to the traditional "A" shape bulb I was using. (The 19 refers to the diameter in units of 1/8". I.e., it's 2-3/8".). I gave that bulb 3 coats of Rustoleum "Frosted Glass" to make it softer.

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    1 year ago on Step 7

    Nice project, but I have concerns about paper in an outdoor application. Maybe it's not a big deal since you can easily replace the paper, but paper will deteriorate pretty rapidly in outdoor conditions, even if it is inside a fixture. The extremes of high and low temperature combined with moisture will gradually cause the paper to yellow and become fragile. I'd estimate the life of the paper would be maybe 3 years at most. But maybe that's about how often you'd be replacing the bulb anyway. Don't buy the claims about LEDs lasting 10-15 years. The LEDs themselves might last that long, but the power supply (AC to DC conversion and step down) certainly will not, especially in an outdoor application. I have been tracking the life of LED bulbs in my home since I began installing them about 4 years ago. The average life to date is about 39 months. About the same as the CFLs, which were claimed to last 7 years. BTW, the average life and a regular incandescent bulb in normal household use is... you guessed it, about 39 months.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks! Maybe lamination would be the solution? I do agree paper will decompose over time. I've seen a 20-year-old edition of this fixture (with the older globe). Inside the globe, underneath the top, it had a sticker with all the lawyer-speak warnings. Today it's just a powdery residue attached to the adhesive. (New fixtures sold today have that lawyer-speak molded into the plastic surface.).

    Lamination would require the entire circumference be sealed (a 1/8 to 3/16" edge all the way around.). That would interfere with how the paper "rolls" and conforms to the interior of the globe. I think each layer would have to be laminated individually. The fringe cuts would then have to be deeper (to accommodate for the laminated edge adding to the height).

    That's probably how I'd approach laminating. Plus, all those layers of lamination would dim the light a little further. (I'd aim for slightly too bright while prototyping the paper.). I'm going to live with the paper and see how it looks after a few years. (I'll update the instructable when I know more.).


    Reply 1 year ago

    Looks like the Word document isn't working. Here's a jpg of the page.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks for the inspiration (create the shade using an "office" tool. Much simpler than my javascript thoughts.). I drew the shade's exact dimensions using LibreOffice Draw (see attached image). It still needs the two radius drawn (couldn't figure out how to do that in Draw, yet).

    It's just four trapazoid objects stacked on each other. The gray levels were set with right-click->Area. It may be better to set them all to black, then use the Area->Transparency tab to adjust each relative to each other. (I.e., set the widest trapezoid to 100% transparency; the next one to 80%, the next 60%, etc. It would take some experimentation to figure out how much would equate to layers of paper. But, doing it this way, each (smaller) trapezoid would inherit the underlying trapezoids' shade. They would accumulate like stacked layers of paper. That might be easier to work with.).

    I have a lux meter. I should be able to measure how much two layers of paper reduce the light compared to one, and get the transparency percentage fairly accurate.

    I wanted to add the actual .odg Draw file to my instructable so people could adjust it to their needs. But, the site doesn't allow that filetype. However, it appears LibreOffice Draw will open a PDF and all the objects/properties are present just like if it opened a .odg file. (I can add a PDF to the instructable, so that should be useful like the original .odg file.).


    Reply 1 year ago

    Cool! Glad you figured it out. Now, if you use this method, you will get to see how well laminated paper holds up to extremes of temperature and humidity. :-) I think it will out last plain paper by quite a bit, but that's just a guess. Probably depends on the type of laminate material used and the characteristics of the adhesive on the laminate. Oh, that brings up another possibility: You may be able to print directly on a piece of thin frosted plastic. Hmm.

    Bonne chance! (No, I'm not French, I just like the sound of that phrase.)


    Reply 1 year ago

    Here's a shaded shape I created with Word. It's not exactly what you want, but gives you and idea of what is possible.


    Reply 1 year ago

    You might consider a thin translucent plastic material instead of paper. I don't know of anything right off hand other than maybe plastic shower curtain, but that wouldn't be stiff enough. Maybe check online or at a craft store to see what kind of translucent plastic you can find. Of course the plastic will also deteriorate, but if the glove blocks all or most of the UV from sunlight, it should outlast paper by a considerable amount.


    Reply 1 year ago

    Thanks. Photography supply houses sell "gels" used for more control over lighting. It's possible to get them in different neutral-gray densities. That would work (but might be expensive compared to just making a new paper shade every few years.).

    Last night, I was thinking that a computer program (javascript in a browser?) could create this shade on just one sheet of paper -- which would make lamination more viable. The program could draw/fill the tapered/graduated shade darker (from light gray to dark gray). It could be more elaborate, allowing the user to specify the globe's dimensions & thickness, figuring out the shape of the shade to fit inside it. It could let the user vary the width of the steps, and even create bottom (and/or top) steps which would allow more customizing of how much light comes out, from where. But, to me, the strong point of "printing" the shade (with more ink in the center) would be that one sheet of paper could be laminated for longer life.


    Reply 1 year ago

    I think you could even do that with a Word document. Create the shape and then use the graduated fill tool. It would take some experimenting, but I'm betting you could make it happen. If you have any kind of "drafting" program (I have Visio for example) I'm pretty sure that would work also. But I have much more experience with Word. It can be a bit tricky, but I have created quite a few shaded shapes over the years, some for my job and some for my bicycle club newsletter.