I am in LOVE with lighted signs. Love, love, love! They’re so festive and sparkly. I knew I must have one – especially since we now have a fireplace that is currently naked (minus the requisite family pictures, of course). Add that we’re in the heart of the holidays, and of course my diy lighted sign must sport some holiday cheer. (We’ve also unknowingly come up with a similar holiday theme – check out Jaya’s recent post to see how this theme manifested in Philly!) This craft started out the way almost all of my crafting does: Pinterest searching. I found so many amazing and challenging tutorials for DIY marquee or lighted signs. I admit, I started to get overwhelmed and a little bit discouraged with how complex some of these tutorials were. Then I found this one at A Beautiful Mess. Look how beauteous it is!
Now, I have to be honest. This craft is not for the faint of heart. I worked on it for several days (over the course of a week or so) and ran into a few problems. Had I not been as motivated (read: stubborn) to finish, I probably would’ve quit. Now that I’ve finished, though, I can tell you that it was so totally worth the time and effort. In fact, I am writing this post while I gaze at my lovely lighted sing AND I am actually thinking about what word or phrase to light up next!!
I followed A Beautiful Mess’ tutorial above for the most part but there weren’t enough process pictures for me and I needed a more detailed explanation. (I really need things spelled out for me!) And, since I ran into a few problems along the way, I’m going to offer my experience below in case it helps you make a similar lighted sign – minus the speedbumps. My advice to you is to stick with this – even when you feel like all you want to do is throw the sign against a wall or drill the heck out of anything BUT that stupid sign. As Jaya said to me recently, it [crafts] gets worse before it gets better. And I promise you, this craft will do so much more than ‘get better’ – it will blow your mind at what you can actually make with your two hands. I love, love, love my sign!
Ok, so onto the how-to of all this.
- 3 X 2 wooden board (I recommend measuring the board based on the size of the letters you picked as well as how you envision placing the letters on the board (think about layout, spacing).
- 4 smaller pieces of wood (I don’t remember the exact measurements but you can see what I refer to in the pictures below. These pieces of wood will make a “frame” to hide the ugly light strings and tape you’ll need to use to hold everything in place)
- wood screws – to hold your “frame” together
- wooden letters
- white paint
- spray adhesive
- plastic or paper (to cover your work space)
- E600 glue (or another strong adhesive)
- semi transparent wood stain or another color paint (for your backdrop -this is optional)
- Christmas lights (word to the wise…stick with steady lights. I’ll explain why later on in the post.)
- duct tape (lots of it! :-))
1. Assess your space. This is where you decide where you want your sign to go, how big it should be. Think about what you want the background to look like (white? painted? stained?). I went to Home Depot and picked out some plywood and had them cut it to the measurements I needed.
2. Prepare your letters. Cover your work space with plastic or paper and paint each letter with a base coat of white paint. Spray adhesive on your letters and shake glitter over them. Shake any excess off. Repeat for the rest of your letters. I did a second layer of glitter on each letter because I wanted every single iota of space covered in glitter. I wasn’t sure how spraying adhesive over the first layer of glitter would work, but if you work carefully, it should be fine. My letters turned out great, if I do say so m’self. Note: I found a set of coordinating glitters and used all of them on my letters. The effect is ok but I think that a consistent color might’ve been better and I like the brighter glitters better than the darker, copper ones. I don’t know – I’ll try that out for my next DIY lighted sign and let you know what the verdict is on that.
3. Paint or stain your background. I wanted a pretty, rustic looking background for my sparkly letters so I used a semi-transparent stain for mine. But, you could go bananas and do all sorts of things with the background (though, I would recommend keeping your background simple so the focus stays on the phrase/word). You should also have 4 smaller pieces of wood (for Step 4 below) so make sure you stain the edges that will be seen. I’ve never stained wood so I’m sure it’s not perfect, but you know what? I don’t even care! I *loved* how it turned out 🙂
4. Assemble your background. There are some (sort of) annoying logistics with this craft project. A major one is the issue of hiding the MESS of cords that you’ll have once you string your lights through your letters. One way to hide them is to create an “inside out frame” (my phrase). Take your main background and the smaller wooden pieces and lay them out on a flat surface. I used wood nails to fix the smaller pieces onto the main board (and I just used a manual screwdriver -it wasn’t too hard.) Some of the other tutorials I read in preparation recommend using drills and shop vacs. I saw that and was like, oh goodness. Imma need to find an easier way to do this.
5. Arrange your letters on your board. This is fun! Arrange your letters in whatever way tickles your fancy!! I had trouble deciding how I wanted mine to look so I took pictures of the letters arranged two ways (straight and curved) and asked for our Facebook community for help! (You guys are awesome!!)
6. Glue your letters onto the board. I used E6000 – this stuff is potent! I also stacked books on top of the letters to help speed up the drying process (and really, to make sure the meowmeows don’t interfere with the drying process – it was hard enough to keep them out of the pictures!).
7. Drill, baby, drill! I don’t know the last time I drilled something so I felt pretty bada$$ doing this 🙂 (Don’t judge… ) This part is a little messy, but the finished product will be worth it! I tried using the tip in the Beautiful Mess tutorial about placing nails upside down on your letters to mark your drill holes but I am so clumsy that I kept knocking the nails down. I just ended up eyeballing the drill holes and it worked fine. One tip (if you eyeball it): drill holes on the “ends” of your letter first and work inward from there. It will help you space the holes more evenly.
In terms of determining how many holes to drill, I counted the number of letters I was going to use (12 – including the ampersand) and looked to see how small the light packages came in. I found a set with 60 lights so I bought 2 packages (120 lights), giving me 10 lights per letter. I ended up drilling less than 10 on some letters and more than 10 in others. I was afraid this would make my letters not look evenly lit but again, another unfounded worry. And, it worked out that I ended up drilling less than the 120 holes I was expecting because I needed extra lights to cover the transition between letters. So, here’s another tip: buy extra lights so that you have some wiggle room.
Let’s also talk about the types of lighting you might purchase. I first purchased twinkling lights because I thought that the only thing that could make a diy lighted sign better would be a TWINKLING diy lighted sign. Well, I was wrong. This is what it looked like!!
Horrible. I hated it. I might have even had a small meltdown over it. (Just ask Mike…he’ll tell you.) I saw this and was so disappointed that the twinkle wasn’t a charming, every-light-twinkles-so-softly sort of light, but rather was a jarring, same-light-twitches-in-a-manic-way light. I came this close to giving up. But, I knew I was so close to being done that I couldn’t give up. Just one more day and I would be done. So, I trekked to MULTIPLE stores (again) to find NORMAL lights. Thankfully I found them, although the smallest package was 100 lights so I had to buy 2 packages and had SO much left over, but I figured I’d think of something to do with them. Also, these lights were a bit thinner which so presented another issue during the next step. BUT I found regular, normal, steady lights and dangit, I was going to make it work.
8. Poke your lights through the board. Figure out where you are going to plug your sign in and start threading the lights at the letter that is closest to the plug. I won’t lie to you, this part is messy because of all the cords and lights. It took me a little trial and error also to get the lights threaded in a way that doesn’t waste extra lights. Use duct tape to hold everything together. I wish I had taken a picture of the back of my board, but trust me when I say this – it’s basically totally covered in tape. But, no one’s gonna see it so you know what I say? Who cares! Let it be messy – just as long as no one can see it 🙂
9. Place your sign where you want it to go. I made this to be the feature piece on our holiday mantel. I have mine leaning up against the wall, but you might want to hang it on the wall. Whatever works for you and your space. Whatever you do though, just make sure that it’s got prime real estate – you will want EVERYONE to see it!
10. Light it up! Then, sit back and relax with a BIG glass (read: bottle) of wine and toast to a job well done and to a very merry holiday season.
Thanks for staying with me through this dissertation-slash-blog-post. I hope you will try this out! It’s a bit of a pain, yes, but I promise you will LOVE the final product. If you do try it out, be sure to let me know in the comments below!!
Hope you have a merry and bright holiday!