How to Make a Collapsible UV LED Lamp




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This tutorial goes over the making of a collapsible UV light, made from UV LED strips, and a flexible-but-rigid, backer. I made this bendy light to fulfill my need for a UV 'fill light' that I could use for cyanotype printing, but it would be perfect for small UV resin curing, and certainly, a great way to activate black light paint.

Over the last two years, I've started to work more and more with the cyanotype photographic process. This is an analog photographic process that relies on a chemical reaction activated by UV light coming into contact with the photo-sensitive cyanotype medium. You may be familiar with our the earth's main source of UV light - the sun. The sun is a great way to expose cyanotypes, however, pesky clouds and wind can interrupt the exposure of your plate.

I decided to include a video for this Instructable as a resource for future IRL workshops I'll be offering in the Los Angeles area. I'm hoping to offer some more of my more popular Instructables as small workshops :D Bug me if you're in the LA area! If you're in to YouTube, I'd appreciate the subscription because I'm still a newb :P

I have another Instructable in the works that will go over how I make cyanotypes. I'll update here once that is published.

If you want to learn more about photography, be sure and check out my free Photography Class - it's perfect for beginners, but even trained pros may pick up some useful tips and tricks. If you dig through my Instructables profile you're sure to find a couple printmaking i'bles as well. Reproducing images with a creative twist is so much fun!

Ok, I'm done geeking out on printmaking, on to the good stuff...

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Step 1: Tools and Materials

Here is everything I used



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Notes on materials:

A lot of this I had lying around. This may not be the most practical solution, but I made it practical for what I had. If you want to check out why I had so much PVC - check out my free class on PVC construction!

I used the foil insulation as a backer for the LED strips. I know this material could be rigid, but also collapsible. If you can think of another way to back this project with a different material that you have lying around, by all means, use that. I will say, the foil insulation is surprisingly tough, and stands up great to manipulation and rolling!

Step 2: Cutting, Spacing, and Marking the Backer

Given the length of the roll of LEDs, and the width of the roll of insulation, I decided to cut 9x 21" strips of UV LEDs. I did some math and figured out I would want to space them about 2.75" apart - I was concerned if they were any further and it may begin to affect the quality of the light being emitted.

From experience, I know that the LED strips WILL NOT stick well to the mylar sides of the foil insulation, but the adhesive backing on the strip does stick to masking tape.

I measured out the distance I could span with the 9 strips, and made some marks as to where I wanted the tape backer strips to be placed.

I ended up with a pattern for a 21"x21" square of LED strips made.

Step 3: Cutting and Placing the LED Strips

Cutting apart the LEDs is SUPER EASY. The roll has designated spots to cut every 3 LEDs. Where you slice the LEDs also becomes the soldering junction.

Next up was removing the strip for the LEDs adhesive backer and pressing the strips into the lamp's surface.

I really squished the strips down quite a few times to make sure that the tape and the LED strips were completely bonding and I wouldn't have to worry about strips slumping off while I was trying to use the lamp.

Step 4: Adding Wire Leads to the Strips

There was only one wire junction on the LED strip, at the beginning of the strip, and since I cut the LED strip into many segments, I needed to add more wire junctions to run power to the LEDs.

I began by cutting down the length of wires I would need - two lengths per strip, each pair longer than the last to meet at the PCB power junction after these were connected to the strip.

I set my soldering iron just hot enough to melt the solder, but not so hot that it would burn the plastic or mylar foil while I was making the connection. If you're soldering iron doesn't have variable heat, you may want to complete this step before attaching the strips.

Soldering to LED strips can be a fickle thing, so to save time and be able to work more nimbly, I tin the component contact and the wire separately, then make the connection by quickly melting the two together. ( See video for better demonstration)

Step 5: Wire Management


Cable management is key for projects like this where18 long spindly wires are flying around, so I use zip ties to make sure my connections wouldn't be swinging all over the place.

Using trusty masking tape and clear packing tape, I was able to come up with a pretty clever solution. I just folded the wires back over the other side of the insulation, 'pinned' them with masking tape, and then secured them with 2" clear packing tape. It's hard to tell it's there in the photos, but I promise, it is.

Once the wires were more or less secured, I went down each side of the lamp and secured the wires into bundles so I was left with two bundles, one on each side for 12V+ and ground connections.

Lastly, each side needed a haircut before it could get attached to the PCB. The wires were made to be the same length and then prepped to be connected to the PCB.

Step 6: Connecting to PCB

I sliced up some plain PCB, and cut down a short length of 18 AWG speaker wire (in retrospect, I wish it was longer)

Next, I soldered all of the thin wires from the LED strips into a cluster on the circuit board. Then I connected the tinned speaker wire to the cluster.

I did this for each side of the lamp, one PCB was for the 12v positive rail of connections, then the ground rail on the other side of the lamp.

Using shrink-tubing and heat gun, I encapsulated the solder junction where the other end of the speaker wire was soldered to the power connector. If you need tips on the best way to to do this, be sure and check out Randofo's Electronics class!

Step 7: Testing and Sealing the Circuit

After testing, I made sure I hot-glued my connection points, so that I would never risk shorting the circuit.

It's a cheap but effective way to protect a circuit. I know people that have 'waterproofed' things this way.


Step 8: Building a Frame

I constructed a quick PVC frame for the lamp by connecting 8x 2' lengths of 1/2" PVC pipes with 4 3-way elbows. All of the lengths were 2' long. It makes storing and reusing these posts really easy. Here it is with a plant in front of the garage for scale.

After the frame was constructed, I was able to secure the flexible lamp to the frame using A-clamps, and connect the lamp to power.

I moved studios in the middle of this project, so here is a much more pleasant gif of the lamp in action.

The best part of this project is that this lamp just rolls up and stores easily for future use. Perfect for tiny studios like mine.

I’ll be posting some more tutorials using this light soon, but its fun to see what glows under UV.

I'd love to know what you would use a UV light like this for - let me know in the comments!


If you want to see what else I'm up to in my workshop, follow along with me on Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube.

Thanks for taking the time to read about this project, I'll update it again once my cyanotyping instructable is published .



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    17 Discussions


    Reply 5 months ago

    Those are good to know about. It looks like they are a bit more expensive, and my rig works great for the printmaking and small resin projects I need it for. Thanks for the product tip, though


    11 months ago

    hey... Excellent idea & Instructable... thanks...
    Do you happen to know the color temp of these bulbs? The various alt-process techniques have optimum temps & it would be handy to know which ones it will work with...

    Have you done a cyanotype with this yet? I know, so many questions... thanks again!

    3 answers

    Best Answer 11 months ago

    Hey thanks for your appreciation!

    The wavelength of the UV is ~400 nm, based on the Amazon description.

    I have completed some cyanotypes with this, and I'm close to the results I want to make an Instructable from. That's the next project I want to publish :D


    Answer 6 months ago

    Sorry, I didn't see your reply before... Thanks...


    Question 10 months ago

    Hi, very nice project BUT i think UV leds are very dangerous (and most people don't know it). The biggest problem with UV leds is that they emit a lot of energy and that 'a part' of that energy is not visible to a human (so our blink reflex doesn't work!). Of course it all depends what UV leds you use (the wavelength is important here). I think you should add a warning and do some research about the wavelength and power that isn't harmful! There are many articles online who explain the danger of UV leds. A simple UV pen light has not enough energy to harm you, but an UV led strip might be harmfull in some cases. (Sorry for my English)


    11 months ago

    This looks like a good build for certain applications, such as cyanotypes and photography (where you can usually increase the exposure time if needed). But these type strips have limitations not mentioned, and they're likely to disappoint in other uses. At 395-405nm, they are useless for exciting fluorescence glow from blue and purple UV-reactive materials (look at the photos for evidence) but they will be fine for green, yellow, orange, pink and red pigments. If you need full-spectrum or powerful blacklight effects, DO NOT waste money on LEDs of any kind with these wavelengths. Shorter wavelength LEDs exist of course (look for around 365nm), but they cost much more and they're of the high-power emitter variety (not strips). Especially if they need to reach more than a foot or two. Lifetimes of UV LEDs in general are poor in general compared to other LEDs, especially in this small package type. So if you plan to run them many hours day after day expect them to weaken visibly over time.

    There are clues in the listing for these LED strips that bring to mind the old adage: you get what you pay for. Cost works out to about 5 pennies per LED - at retail, that means the chips inside were bulk bargains to the factory, the ones with low-end light output. They'll impress the eyes with their purple glow when you have hundreds of them together like this. But if you're serious about blacklight effects or rapid resin curing, they may not be the best choice for your needs.

    1 reply

    11 months ago

    Thanks for letting me know about UV resins - I'd never heard of them and look forward to trying them. Found a good backgound article at

    I now recall embedding coins in two part resin as a child decades ago. I may adapt the idea into LED lighting for a photographic light box, often used by eBay . They are cubes like yours, with soft fabric sides which minimise glare and reflections.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 months ago

    Huh! That's a cool way to make a product lighting box! Just make sure the lenses of the LEDs have some diffusion so you don't end up with lots of little angular shadows.


    11 months ago

    Replace the masking tape with strips of duct tape. The masking tape will eventually let go.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 months ago

    Hmmm, That makes sense. It's holding pretty strong for now, but if it ever gives out I'll swap it.

    Thanks for taking the time to read my i'ble!


    11 months ago

    thank you for this. my daughter has been needing something like this for her uv resin.

    1 reply

    Reply 11 months ago

    Yeah! I've seen people make buckets where they just stick the whole strip around the inside circumference swirling down, and cure small pieces by inverting the bucket over the cast.