Introduction: Fiber Optic Star Ceiling W/ Indirect Lighting
This is a unique project which I was super excited to do. I am a student in college studying to be an Engineer. I love doing art projects, but I haven't had the opportunity to do to many recently. I was brainstorming artistic projects that also involve some craftsmanship. A fiber optic star ceiling fit this need perfectly. Star ceilings are typically constructed in home theaters or fancy buildings. I am attempting to construct one in my apartment bedroom during college, this is what makes the project more unique and challenging. The final result is a 8' by 8' star ceiling with indirect lighting from above. It is memorizing to look at and catches everybody's eye.
- Fiber Optic Star Ceiling Kit (link)
- This is going to be the star of the show as well as the most expensive part. Like most things there are a lot of options out there. I ordered a kit from Shine off amazon. This kit is more expensive then a lot of other ones but it is missing nothing. This kit has 800 strands in it which is a very generous amount. Most of what I've seen have recommended between 4 and 5 stars per square foot at the most. My total surface area is only 64 sq ft but I planned on adding a dense strip running across the ceiling. Its 32W which is brighter then most kits (many are 10 or 16W). It also has a twinkling effect which is 100% worth it. The slight twinkling adds a lot of life and more realism to the final piece. It also has 3 different sized stars which breaks up the uniformity adding to the realism. This kit also came with there "shooting star" module. This allows you to add strands which will light up in sequence and resemble a shooting star.
- 1" Foam Insulation Board (link)
- After doing some research, these boards seemed like the best bet. It is super light which makes moving the panels around quite easy. I was able to pick up 4x8 sheets at a local Home Depot. They offer 2" and 3" boards as well but 1" was plenty sturdy. The one I went with also had a harder non foam cover on each side which protected the foam from dents and bumps.
- Black Felt
- I thought about just spray painting the boards black but the felt gives a beautiful flat and soft black texture to the boards. It also hides any mistakes or impurities on the boards. I was worried you may see some over the ugly construction blue form the insulation threw the felt but it fully covers everything. I was able to pick up my felt from a hobby lobby.
- Spray Adhesive (link)
- This is how the felt will stay attached to the boards. 3M 78 spray is the most ideal. It doesn't eat away at polystyrene foam and is fairly strong. I used 2 cans ordered off amazon.
- Gorilla super glue and white glue
- The super glue was used to hold the ends of the felt to the back, any adhesive would work. The white glue is used to keep the fiber optic strands in place after they are positioned.
- Screws and washers
- These are what will be used to mount the panels. The washers are so the screws don't rip through the foam board.
- Led Lights strips
- Led Strip. This is a completely option add on to the project. My panels are being mounted offset from the ceiling and are going to block the main light in the center of the room. Often times fiber optic star ceilings are installed as the actual ceiling. This project was done in an apartment so replacing the ceiling wasn't an option. The lights are placed between the panels and the ceiling. This results in indirect lighting coming out from the sides of the boards. I went with 2 strips of 24V CCT lights from SuperlightingLED. These are 144W each. They can change form a super "cold" white to a super "warm" white and all temperatures in between.
- Controllers. In order to control them I needed 2 controllers from LEDENET. These are specifically designed to control the multi-temperature light strips. Unfortunately they can only handle 144W so you need one for each strip.
- Power Supply. To power the strips I used a 360W passive cooled power supply. I could have saved a little money by getting a smaller power supply but I didn't want any risk of it overloading. The passive cooling was also very important. Many power supplies around this wattage have a fan in them which will inevitably make some degree of noise. A passively cooled power supply wont make any annoying fan noise.
- If you don't need this much lighting and just want a bit of accent lighting, it would be much easier to order a cheap light strip off amazon. There are many that are fully assembled and would work great.
- Aluminum Channel System.These keep the led strips neat and cool. The ones i went with are angled so the light is directed where I want. Because the led strips are 144W each, they create a lot of heat. These Aluminum channels help keep the strips cool which will extend there life. The ones I went with are thicker and are built sturdier then most. You can definitely find cheaper version but they will not be as well constructed.
- Tarp: used to protect driveway while spraying boards
- Face Mask, Gloves, Goggles: to protect self while spraying boards
- Tapestry needle: Used to create holes for Fiber Optic strands
- Pliers: pull/push needle through boards
- Brackets: to mount LED light box to wall
- Electric Wire: Connect all LED light strip components together
- Drill: to screw the boards and Aluminum Channels in
- X-Acto knife or box cutter: Make varies cuts throughout project
- Zip ties: used to organize Fiber Strands
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Step 1: Preparing Your Boards
- Cutting to size
- These boards are 4x8 which makes them really hard to work with especially if you're going to be doing a lot of the project by yourself. I cut my 2 panels in half giving me 4x4 boards. If you are able to construct your panels directly where they're being installed, it may look nicer to leave them as full boards. I had to transfer these by car to my apartment and didn't have much space to maneuver the boards once there.
- Preparing for the Spray Adhesive
- I was using washers to help stop the screws from ripping through the foam. I don't want to see the washers so they are going to be placed under the felt. Once the spray adhesive is put on, I will place the washers and then the felt. Its best to measure where your washers need to go and to make marks before the adhesive is put on. I placed a disposable tarp down so any adhesive which misses the panel doesn't get all over the driveway.
- Cut your felt so that you have enough to cover the entire side of the board and to wrap around to the other side. Make sure the felt is easily reachable so that you can quickly grab it once you spray the adhesive.
Step 2: Wrap Panels With Felt
Make sure your boards, felt, and washers are all ready. Once you spray the adhesive you only have minutes before it starts to become stuck. The instructions on the Adhesive was adamant that this stuff was more toxic then your everyday glue. I used googles, gloves, and a face mask as well as doing it outside to ensure absolute safety.
- The adhesive does not spray like a paint can. It comes out in a very unique crisscrossing line motion. Its a little disorienting at first but you quickly gain a hold of it. Be generous when applying. The last thing you want is for your felt drooping down or falling off after you've threaded all the fibers.
- Once the board is fully covered, place your washers onto the marks you made previously.
- Grab your felt and place it as centered and evenly as you can. You can pick it up once placed but its best not to. Once you've placed it, try to get it flat and taut. I started from the center and just used my hand to make sure there where no wrinkles and to ensure it made good contact with the board.
- After each panel was finished, I placed them upside down on a clean flat tarp. I used water bottles to add a little weight to ensure there was good contact between everything while it dried.
- Once dried, cut the corners of the felt so that you can wrap them around the back. If you don't, the felt will overlap and not stick as well. I left about 2" to 3" of overlap on the back. Super glue was good enough to keep the felt from peeling off. It was very difficult to put the fiber optics on the edges were the felt overlapped to the back of the board. Keeping it as short as possible while still keep a snug fit will safe you a lot of pain.
- I didn't want any chance of the felt falling off once I finished the panels. I had read some horror stories of people having this happen. You have to redo all the fiber optics if this happens. To help protect from this I used thin wire. The wire was pushed from the back of the board to the front, and then about 1" over pushed to the back again. The wire was then twisted tight. This is so the wire is supporting the fabric as well. If the adhesive fails over time, the the wire will keep the felt from falling off. I did this about 5 times on each side as well as a dozen or two times across the middle of the board.
Step 3: Make Your Design
I wanted to add some constellations as well as the dense line of stars that the Milky Way makes in the sky. This is kind of hard to explain so its best to look at the photo to understand. I used google sketch up to plan everything out. They have a free web based version which is fairly simple to use. I made a scale model of the boards and divided them into 1 sq ft sections. These sections helped me make sure I was placing everything evenly. I pulled up references of the constellations I wanted and placed them as accurately as possible. I would use my widest diameter strands for these. I then made the dense Milky Way line which I would use my medium diameter strands for. Finally I placed my "filler" stars. These were my small diameter fibers which would fill everything else in following the 5 stars per sq ft ratio.
Step 4: Prepare Fiber Optic Strands
All the Fiber Optic Strands are in a connector at one end. This connector attaches to your LED light box which is how the strands get light. The end needs to be flush. Cutting the strands is pretty easy as long as your knife is hot. I took a box cutter and held it over a stove for a few seconds. Once hot, it just melts through the strands. The blade gets cool real quick so you'll not be able to cut it in one go. It took be about 5-6 times to fully cut the end flat.
I would say the biggest mistake anyone could make is to not organizing their strands. These strands love to get messy and can be difficult to separate if they get entangled. I counted how many strands of each size needed to go to each board. I then made groups for each board. I found the best way to do this was to hang all the fibers down from the ceiling. This allowed for them to all move separately and not to get wrapped around each other. I used zip ties to keep each organized bunch together. I had small groups of about 40-76 strands get entangled later in this project. It took almost 40 minutes to get them untangled. If the same thing happened to all 800 strands, I would have cried. Its very easy to get the strands tangled up and very hard to undo. I can not stress that enough.
Step 5: Install Fiber Optics
This is the part where you need to install all 800 fiber optic strands one by one. You definitely want to put on the TV or music for this. This took me about 8-9 hours per board. Keep in mind I am putting way more stars into each panel then most people would. I'm also placing them in exact locations which took a while. I took the design I made in sketch up and projected it onto one board at a time. I found it easiest to turn the lights down and turn the fiber optics on. This makes it much easier to keep track of all the ends.
When installing, I started at the bottom middle and worked out. This was so I wouldn't need to reach over fibers I already placed. Take a tapestry needle and line it up with the projected star. I used pliers to push it through. Its best to go in from the felt side so the needle is pushing the felt into the board and not trying to rip it off it. Once the needle has made a hole, you should be able to thread a fiber optic strand through no problem. I had some issues when I was using the bigger diameter strands. I was able to just cut the holes a bit bigger with the X-Acto knife and then push the strands through. Once placed, put a generous amount of white glue at the hole. This will keep the strands from pulling out of the boards. Its going to get real messy in the back. No matter how organized you may be, the strands are going to be chaotic. Take your time when moving the panels to avoid the strands getting to crazy.
Step 6: Install Led Strips (Optional)
I took the center light in the room off so I could put the boards up. I used the wires from that light to power the LED strips. The wire was plugged into the power supply. The power supply then gets wired up to both light controllers. All of these things where mounted on the ceiling. The led strips get wired into the light controllers. Its important to read the instructions for the controllers. These controllers are designed to be used for multiple different purposed. If you wire them incorrectly the strip may still turn on but the controller wont be able to communicate with the light properly. I mounted my aluminium channels on the ceiling about an inch offset inward from where the edge of the panels will be. I preferred not being able to see the actual strip when looking up. The Led Strip Lights have adhesive pre-applied so all you need to do is stick them onto the channels. Since I'm still using the wires from the rooms light, you can still use the light switch. When you turn the power on, the controllers automatically turn the light strips on without you having to use the remote. If you want to change the temperature or brightness you can then use the remote.
Step 7: Install Panels
I mounted the light box on the wall. I didn't really have another option. Using an X-Acto knife, cut the felt wherever your washer are. If you don't, the screws may pull and rip the fabric while installing. I used wood blocked with holes cut in them as stand offs. I couldn't mount flush because I had all the fiber optic strands running along the back of the boards. I connected the strands to the light box to keep them out of the way. You need to install which ever panel is furthest from your light box first, then work your ways towards the box.
There are only three panels currently up. The 4th panels still needs to be completed. So far the panels are working exactly as planned. The led light strips light the room up really evenly. Its been about 9 months since I started this project, the boards finally went up only a few days ago. I will update this once the fourth board is installed and the project is fully completed.
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