Hanging Paper Lamp




About: Designer. Thinker. Doer. Hiker. Lover.

I love the quality of light as it works with different materials.

This experiment with bristol vellum paper led to a few key characteristics:
- The paper takes on a purpleish light when viewed from underneath
- At 120lbs, the vellum can be easily warped and will remain in that shape and rigid after
- This material is both lightweight and strong

To make your own, you will need:

- 120lb bristol vellum
- Elmers glue
- Water
- A low wattage lightbulb (experiment with different bulbs for warm or cool light)
- A light socket with a cord
- Fishing wire

The total cost should be about $20.

Have a look at the experiments that resulted in this hanging paper lamp.

Step 1: Light Experiments With Your Paper of Choice

I used this bristol vellum because of its strength and interesting color when lit. It's 120lb paper so it can support a structure on its own and just need to be connected.

Using a variety of light sources, I tested different papers to see the qualities I could expect. Since this lamp exists in three dimensions, it's not just the light shining through the paper but all around the edges as well.

Step 2: Experiment, Experiment, Experiment

I cut out many circles of paper by hand and experimented to see what I could make them do. The larger paper had a floppy quality and I found that by mixing a bit of elmers glue with water, I could make the paper temporarily flimsy, influence the shape, and let it dry to form a rippled texture. Due to the weight of the paper, the dried vellum had flowing, smooth curves instead of lighter weight paper that will just wrinkle.

For the water/glue mix, try your own ratios. I found mostly water and a bit of glue mixed together to a milky solution was perfect (probably a 6 or 8:1 ratio water:glue) and then I just reached my hand in and spread it over the paper, gently coating the surface in a thin layer of liquid.

As I was experimenting, I ran out of room on my desk and started stacking up the small circles of paper and realized I really liked the stack. This became the main concept for the lamp.

While learning the characteristics of this paper, I started warping the larger circles of paper by pushing my fingers towards each other from the top and bottom sides of the paper as though I was going to nest them. Just by nature of the fact that my fingers aren't evenly spaced around a circle (thank you, thumbs!) this created a more organic curve to the dried paper.

I let these circles all dry naturally. Then, I composed the circles in a stack to best accentuate the flow of the paper and the light and shadows I wanted to create.

Step 3: Cut Your Circles

I did these by hand using a compass and a lot of patience, but you can use a laser cutter to speed the process up a bit if you have access to one. Again, I can't stress enough how much you learn about a material by handling it so it's nice to slow down and work with the paper but I realize that's not in the cards for everyone.

Step 4: Assemble Your Paper Layers

Stack all of the paper layers. There are a few ways to go about connecting them and I encourage you to tell me if you come up with a better method here!

First, you can gently glue the paper on point where it will touch the layer above it. The paper is strong but light, so a little dab'll do ya ;-)

Alternatively, if you connect a few pieces of fishing line to the bottom layer near the center hole, you can connect up through the middle and let them just sit on top of one another.

I wanted to keep the lose, translucent laying of the paper as part of the finishing element for the center. For this part, I took a rectangle of paper, rolled it, and allowed it to expand to fit the center hole.

The lightbulb socket then sits in the center of your composition. You can use fishing wire or string to tie to the cord above the lightbult and connect it to the structure of the paper lamp. The paper tube should also cover this from being visible.

Make the lamp as long or as short as you'd like. How might it be different if part of all of the lightbulb was exposed?

Step 5: Enjoy Your Paper Lamp!

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    32 Discussions


    2 years ago

    actually she is lovely


    3 years ago

    Certainly will do! Thanks for sharing

    I think this is a delicious looking lamp. It immediately reminded me of Lasagna and Ratatouille. A long shot perhaps. Maybe I am really hungry as well. But just like those dishes, this looks like a nice, home-made, warm light :). Never heard of Vellum before so that's another thing I've learnt besides your technique. Thanks for sharing.

    2 replies

    Reply 4 years ago on Introduction

    Hah, I think you might just be hungry, hardlydavidson, but I like the thought! Wouldn't it be awesome to have something like this presented to you at a restaurant?


    Reply 3 years ago

    Or a juicy portion of lasagna hanging from your living room's ceiling ... :-D


    5 years ago on Step 5

    I like the form, but what about the heat from the lamp, with the paper being so close?

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I use a smaller bulb and lower wattage. I haven't had any issues with the paper. It's also a heavier stock than standard paper, but do be careful to see how this lamp does with your own bulb after it's been on a while.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Hi qifar313, I've only used this paper for the actual lamp, but I selected it because of the hues it creates in the light. The photos above are all with white bulbs. This is certainly something you could try with various other papers, though I expect the curves will be different with various different paper fibers.

    Please post back with photos if you try your own!


    5 years ago on Introduction

    this is a beautiful project. I was wondering though...when you put the glue mixture on the paper, are you using a brush to apply it or just your hand..and approx how much glue/water mixture are you placing ON the paper?

    1 reply

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    I used my hands to spread the liquid mixture over as a thin layer and drip off any excess. I tried making a tray and dunking the paper in. My favorite was just glazing my hands over the whole ring and then bending but you could use a paint brush or foam brush if you'd rather. The goal here is just to soak the fibers in water and add the glue for stiffness in the new position.

    Does that help answer your question?