How to Make a Simple Dome Tool for Light Painting





Introduction: How to Make a Simple Dome Tool for Light Painting

About: I've been very interested in photography, robotics and electronics for over 30 years, and I love sharing my knowledge to help other people.

Domes. They’re beautiful. Would you like to know how they’re made, and how you can make your own easily?

All you need is a simple dome tool. This consists of a circular shape with lights around it, and an axle equal in length to the radius of the circle. That sounded complicated, didn’t it? How’s this: It’s basically a bicycle wheel with lights around it.

It doesn’t have to be a bicycle wheel, but they make the best example. Below, you’ll see two photos (front and side) of a quick little dome tool I made from one of my wife’s cross-stitching loops. I put some battery operated LED Christmas lights around it, added an “axle” that you can see in the side shot, and that’s all it took to make the picture above! It only took me about 15 minutes to assemble.

Step 1: Materials Needed

1. A circular framework. A bicycle tire works, but in this example I used one of my wife's cross-stitching circles.

2. A couple of pieces of wood or metal to make the crossbar and axle.

3. Battery operated LED holiday lights.

4. Some tie-wraps or tape to hold the lights and battery in place.

Step 2: Assembling the Tool

First, cut a piece of wood to fit inside the hoop. This is for strength, as well as giving you a place to mount lights, batteries, and an axle. My hoop was 9 inches in diameter. My support piece ended up being about 8 3/4 inches. I nailed it into place with a finish nail or two on each end. Screws would be fine too. My wood pieces were only 1/4 square, so I pre-drilled the holes for all of the nails to avoid splitting the wood.

Next, cut your axle and mount it to the center of the support you made in step 1. If you want the top of your dome to be perfectly sealed, the axle should be the same length as the radius of your hoop. My hoop diameter was 9 inches, radius is half that, so ideally my axle should have been 4.5 inches. I made mine a bit longer to leave the top of the dome open on purpose. Ideally though, the top of the wheel should be over the pivot point (the end) of the axle.

Third, string your lights around your hoop. If you're using a bicycle rim, you can string them along the sidewall of the tire or rim. In my tool shown here, I had to place the lights on the surface of the hoop, so I chose to put them in some 1/2 inch I.D. plastic tubing that I had laying around in my workshop. This helps diffuse the light a little bit, but also supports the weight of the tool and keeps the weight off the bulbs when I rotate the tool.

Attach the battery or battery holder to the axle near the hoop & support. Make sure the batteries or case won't hit the floor when you rotate this tool around the pivot point of the axle. Again, I used tie-wraps, but electrical or duct tape should work just as well.

Step 3: Taking the Picture

To get your dome created, simply mount your camera on a tripod in a darkened room, or outside at night. Use an exposure time of 15 or 30 seconds to start with…longer if you like.

Once the exposure is started, simply rotate the wheel around the axis of the pivot point (the end of the axle). It will tend to go in a circle, and that’s what makes your dome. Make your circle at least once. You’ll want to experiment with how many times you complete the circle. I usually use 3 or 4 complete revolutions because I like the effect of the denser dome.

I told you it was easy!

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    17 Discussions

    I'm quite fond of light painting, and I really MUST grab some battery powered lights in the post christmas floggoff! (by which I mean MORE lights of course.)

    2 replies

    Stay away from what we call here in the USA "Rice Lights". They are incredibly small LED holiday lights. The problem is, they are so small, and so is their angle of viewing, that they really don't throw enough light to make a proper exposure. If given the choice between really small and just small or medium, go with the bigger one for better/easier results.

    In the UK "rice lights" or "grain of wheat" lights are tiny filament bulbs. often used for modelling but very delicate and largely superseded by LEDs.

    My own, admittedly limited, experience shows that larger lights or clusters of light are more effective.

    sbrookes1.....That looks fantastic! And I can see by the hole on the top that you also played with the radius of the axle to change the top shape of the dome, as thealeks was asking about, below. Great job! And thanks for posting the pics, they look great! This is what I love about Light Painting, you can take a simple little tool and make some really neat designs out of it.

    Dark Light,
    Sorry for the late response but here are some photos of my laser.
    There not that fancy but it could definitely be used in other ways.


    Are you sure you didnt mean the axle was the same length as the diameter of the circle? In your pictures it looks longer than the radius

    2 replies

    No, I meant the axle was the same length as the radius, as I mentioned in Step 2, Assembling the tool. Making the axle equal the radius will result in a dome where the top is closed or sealed. You are correct though, my axle is almost the diameter. Actually, a little longer even. I did this on purpose. If you look at the picture, my dome has an open top, or circle, on top of it. I'll be adding more effects, like a laser shooting out of the dome. Thats why mine is a little longer in the picture. If the dome was closed, as they normally are, it wouldn't look right when I add the laser effect later.

    oh ok thanks. I'd love to see pics with the laser or other effects! Great instructable!

    Dark Light,
    Thanks and it was really easy to make, probably only took about an hour all up.
    Yeah, to change the size of the dome i just adjusted how far the skewer pushed through the wood. For my next one I might use a multicolour LED strip to get some interesting colours and patterns, also, have you tried experimenting with a laser to make some cool patterns?

    1 reply

    I haven't tried an acutal laser yet, as I can't find any in my parts pile. lol. I'm trying some cold cathode and other sources right now. I'm going to try to add a laser effect to my dome, though. I've got some 6 inch blue light bars that give a strange blue color on film. Think miniature light wands. I want to make a dome like yours with an open top, then go from floor to ceiling inside that center spot with the light bar held horizontally. This should make it look like the dome is shooting a laser beam out of the top opening. If you try the laser pics, please post a couple here somewhere. I'd love to see the effect you get with a laser. I just can't try it until my budget improves.

    Thanks, jenmar! I love how easy making these tools are. There's plenty more coming, too.

    When I first saw this, i thought the battery pack was a motor that drove the rim of lights forward. I think that could be an interesting mod....favoriting your project - may remix it.

    1 reply

    That's a good idea. I misread it at first. My son left a few of his RC cars/trucks here when he went overseas. I'll see if I can get some batteries charged and mount this on one of them for some test pictures. If I can, I'll post the pics so you can get some ideas.