For years I've been drawn to stuff that lights up. Maybe it was all the glow-in-the-dark toys they made back in the 80's. Maybe I'm just part moth. Whatever the case, when I started planning for my wedding I knew that I wanted to make something myself that was unique and lit up and looked awesome.
My original idea was to make some kind of LED centerpiece. I was looking online and found that there are already many prefabbed setups to make LED centerpieces, but nothing really gave me the unique twist I was looking for. Finally, I stumbled upon the idea for edge-lit holiday cards at Evilmadscientist.com which linked me to the LED Throwie Instructable, which in turn led me to all the other cool stuff on this site. It was then that my idea for light up table cards was born.
Before delving any deeper, I'd like to give one cautionary note to anyone thinking of making these. Though they are fairly simple to make, (I'm not the handiest or most artistic guy in the world, but I still pulled it off), they are time consuming. You're getting married and there's a ton of other stuff you're worried about. You need to make sure you start the project early and leave only the last steps for right before the wedding so you don't find yourself in a mad dash to finish these the night before your wedding.
In the end, the payoff can be pretty cool though. Unless you're friends with one of the 150 or so people at my wedding, chances are your guests will never have seen anything like it before. It's definitely a nice touch and something that people will even take home with them and still look at until the battery dies out.
Finally, remember this will not be very impressive if you're having a very bright reception. For instance if your reception will be outside during the day, this won't really work. If you get bright enough LEDs though you should be able to see it decently well even in a normally lit room and it will look fantastic in a dimly lit or dark room (like when they dim the lights when everyone's dancing etc.)
OK, now let's cut to the chase...
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Step 1: Materials, Tools, and Cost
Here's a list of what I used for the project. As always, there may be a cheaper or better way to do a few of these things so use your imagination.
Large 2" Binder Clips (Office Depot or any office supply retailer)
1" Poster Strips (Office Depot or any other office supply retailer)
LED lights of your choice (Buy-LEDs-Online.com or multiple other web-based supplier, eBay etc. See next step for LED buying tips)
CR2032 Lithium Batteries (Buy-LEDs-Online.com or multiple other web-based supplier, eBay etc.)
3/8" Polypropylene Rod (US Plastics or other plastics retailers)
1/16" Acrylic sheet, Precut into 3-1/4" x 2" Rectangles (Ridout Plastics or other online plastic retailer/fabricators) Can you cut acrylic yourself? I wouldn't recommend it unless you have done it before. To do it efficiently you'll need special saw blades. To do it the hard way by scoring and breaking it would take forever. Trust me, getting it pre-cut was fairly inexpensive and well worth the time savings and gave me prefect cuts which I could probably not do myself.
A clamp (I used a bar clamp)
A drill (If you don't have one, borrow one)
A Dremel rotary tool if you have one. If you don't then this Dremel Engraver (Online or at your local big-box hardware store) which is pretty inexpensive.
#11 Drill Bit ( 4.8514mm .191") OR a close equivalent. Note: If you cannot get the exact size you may need to ream out the hole a bit if you have a smaller bit, or use crazy glue if you have a larger bit. You can find this size bit online but might have trouble finding it at your local hardware store.
A printer (or access to a printer)
Tubing Cutter or other cutter (Outdoor snips for cutting branches might work. Anything that can give you a fairly clean cut on the polypropylene rod)
Metal Cutting Blade from a Reciprocating Saw There may be other blades that give the same width cut, but this is what I had lying around. I rigged up a little handle for it and used it to make the slots. (I wouldn't recommend actually using a reciprocating saw, just use the blade form one and do it by hand)
I only used Earplugs (the engraver is loud), but if you'd like to be extra careful I believe the manual for the engraver recommends safety glasses and a dust mask whenever using it. I think the dust mask is more for when you are engraving glass or metal, but whether you want to use it or not is up to you.
Earplugs How To Put In EarplugsMost people don't do this the right way
Thin plastic sheet for pull-tabs
Of course everything at your wedding is being done on a budget and one of the main reasons people like to DIY is because it cuts down on the cost of professional services for things like invitations etc. These place cards will probably end up being more expensive than a standard paper card (unless you were planning on something super fancy) but in the grand scheme of things they aren't too bad.
My best estimate on the cost for materials comes out to ~$1.25 per card plus maybe a little bit of shipping depending how much you get online. Keep in mind couples get one card, so for a wedding of ~150 you'll be making maybe ~90 cards. As with any project though: Always order 10% more than you need so you have extras
The Only tools you may have to buy are the Dremel Engraver which is about $20 and maybe the drill bit, saw blade, and tubing cutter which are each a few bucks a pop. Overall you should be able to do a wedding of ~150 people for $150-$200. It's not the cheapest way to make table cards but people will definitely think you spent more than that to make something like this
Step 2: What LEDs Should I Get?
My wedding colors were red and orange so we decided to go with red LEDs. My advice is to basically get the brightest LED you can find that is closest to your color. The brightness of LEDs is measured in millicandela (mcd) however a higher mcd does not necessarily mean a brighter light because it is dependent on the viewing angle which determines how focused the beam of light is. I found a great page that explains all of this and halfway down even has a calculator so you can enter in the mcd and viewing angle of the LEDs you are looking to purchase and get an idea of how bright your LED actually is.
I used red LEDs with a beam angle or 55-65 and an mcd of 1000-2000 and they were very bright. Basically you will want to get the brightest LED you can with a relatively wide angle. A smaller angle means the middle of the card will light up more than the edges while a wider angle disperses the light better. I did find some manufacturers claimed theirs were brighter than they actually were, so you may want to get your LEDs early just to test them out.
Also, and I can't remember where I read this, but I did find a site that basically said red LEDs will burn through the unregulated battery faster whereas other ones will stay brighter longer. I had to install pull tabs to activate the cards soon before the wedding so they'd still be at full brightness by the time of the reception. For some other colors you may be able to activate them the night before and not lose much brightness by the next day. Get your LEDs early and test one overnight to see how well it holds its brightness.
Step 3: Making the Holder
Perhaps the most time-intensive step is making the polypropylene widgets that will hold the card. There may be a better way to make these, or a simpler, more elegant solution, but this is the what I came up with and it did work.
Before you go making all of these at once DO A FEW TO USE AS A TEMPLATE. Once you've made a couple that work the way you want them to, then go ahead and mass produce the rest. In fact I'd recommend making one full functioning finished card before mass producing any items. You don't want to spend your time making all of these only to find out you messed something up.
First, cut the polypropylene rod into pieces ~7/16". The goal is to be able to have your entire LED fit into the widget up to the small collar on the bottom of the LED and also have room to put a slot for your card in.
Once you've cut the pieces to size. Drill a hole in the middle of the plastic bit with your #11 drill bit. If done properly, the LED should fit snugly into this hole. Do not insert the LEDs until after you have sawed the slot. To hold the tube while drilling you can clamp it to something with your bar clamp or put it gently in a vise or workbench. If you're using a vise, be sure you pad it so that it does not dig into the plastic.
Once you have your holes drilled, you will take your saw blade and cut a notch on one end of the tube to about half its depth. This is the slot where the card will fit in. If done properly you should be able to have the card fit snugly and it will be just about touching the top of a snug fitting LED.
After this point, take your file and clean up any loose plastic. It's OK if these don't look perfect, it won't be too noticeable on the finished product.
When inserting the LED you may want to put a dab of crazy glue for stability, especially if your hole isn't an exact size. When inserting the LED make sure the wires are perpendicular to the slot in the top, this will ensure that the card will be parallel to the base. You can also add a dab of glue for the cards themselves, however we still need to engrave these, so just make sure your slots are the right size by testing some out but don't attach the cards yet.
Step 4: Prepare Your Clips
Here's where the poster stickies enter the project. When first making these I found that there needed to be some kind of padding where the binder clips touched the leads from the LED. The issue wasn't just to keep the leads off the metal clip, but the LED will move around in the clip if all the pressure is just on the leads. By adding padding it distributed the force across the top of the battery allowing a firmer grip on the LED.
I cut the rounded ends off the poster tabs, but you really shouldn't see them so it doesn't matter, I just like the symmetry of it. Remove the adhesive backing from one side and then stick one on each side of the clip.
Now black worked for us as a color for the base, but depending on your wedding color, you may want to try spray painting the clips. For instance, if your wedding colors were blue and silver you could get blue LEDs and paint the clips (and the plastic widgets if you wanted to) silver and customize it to your wedding. Just make sure you get a good paint meant for sticking to metal, I believe Krylon makes some excellent choices.
Step 5: Etching the Names
I am not an artistic guy. I was worried that this part would be a disaster but it actually wasn't too bad.
The problem with this step is obviously you can't do it until you know exactly who is coming unless you feel like doing the entire invite list. Once you start getting RSVPs, start cracking on your etching.
To begin, print out the text you want on your cards FLIPPED BACKWARDS. You can use Open Office Draw (which I used) or another Draw program to make a template for each card that is 3 1/4" x 2". From there you enter the text and then use the flip function to make a mirror of the text horizontally. You end up with backwards text that can then be placed under the acrylic. I used the Open Office font "Segoe Script" in a size 22 font. For particularly long names I found it was best to just bump the font size down a bit, anything size18 and above will still be plenty big.
Since you probably won't have your table arrangements done until all the RSVPs come back, just put "Table" at the bottom without a number, the number can be added later.
Take your time and PRACTICE before you start. I'd recommend setting the etcher speed at 3-4 but your own personal preference may vary.
For the table number, just print out one template for each number, (make sure it's flipped) and go back and etch the numbers in once you have all your table arrangements figured out.
(Note: The test one I did in the picture is a bit sloppy because I rushed through it. Without rushing though you can still do a name in just a couple minutes)
Step 6: Assembly
Once everything else is done, the assembly is fairly straightforward...
Insert the LEDs into one end of the plastic holder you made and the card into the other end.
Put the leads from the LED around a battery and slide the battery up so that it is nearly touching the LED itself. I snipped the ends off the leads of my LEDs with scissors to make them a bit shorter because they were a bit long and I didn't want them touching an of the other metal in there.
If you are worried about the life of your LED, make a pull tab to keep the light from turning on until you're ready.
I bought a couple of those old plastic covers you could get for a school report from Office Depot. It's a thin clear plastic and it's nice a smooth so it slides out easily. When you're ready to insert your LED into the clip you simply place this tab between one of the leads and the battery, leaving some of the tab sticking out so that you can pull it out when you want to turn it on. I use a piece of paper in the picture here instead of the plastic, but you get the idea.
When you close the clip it should be right at the top of the battery where it meets the LED. The LED should light up without flickering unless you have a tab in. If you use the tabs make sure you pull a few out after assembly just to make sure you're inserting them properly.
That's all there is to it. Best of luck on your DIY wedding!