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DIY Wedding Challenge 2010: Lighting Paper Lanterns



  1. Introduction

  2. Paper Lantern Cord Kits

  3. Christmas Lights

  4. Spotlights

  5. Battery Operated Lanterns

  6. Lanterns with LED Lights

  7. Lanterns with Stick-Up Bulbs


Paper lanterns can be purchased fairly inexpensively.  However, if you hire a professional to light them, the cost may be several thousand dollars. Even if you light them yourself,  you can easily find that the cost of the lighting far exceeds the cost of the lanterns themselves.  This article discusses some DIY ways of lighting paper lanterns, and how they compare in terms of advantages, disadvantages, and costs.

The first three ways of lighting paper lanterns (paper lantern cord kits, Christmas lights, and spotlights) are ones we did not use, but they are included in the interest of completeness.  The photos with them are therefore stock photos or photos from other weddings.  The last three methods are ones that we used at our reception.  They are accompanied by actual photos from our reception.

Important:  Venues may have restrictions on the lighting that can be used, and may not allow lighting to be brought in except by a professional.  In some states, all paper lanterns hung from ceilings or walls must be flame retardant.  Consult with your venue before purchasing any lighting supplies.



Paper Lantern Cord Kits


  • These probably produce the brightest light.  If you are relying on the paper lanterns for lighting, this may be the only feasible alternative.

  • Because these plug in, you don't need to worry about batteries wearing out in the middle of your event.


  • These require an ability to plug in the cord kits.  This may be wholly impractical if, for example, you are having a tent wedding.  Even when electrical outlets are available, you might not be able to plug in enough for all of your lanterns.


These figures do not include the cost of the lanterns themselves.

Christmas Lights


  • Because these plug in, you don't need to worry about batteries wearing out in the middle of your event.

  • You can typically plug in several sets end to end, which means that you can cover a larger space than if each one had to be plugged into an outlet.

  • If you celebrate Christmas, you may already have appropriate lights around the house.


  • These will not work for a location without electrical outlets.  Although there are battery-operated Christmas lights, they tend to produce a very dim light.

  • The spacing on the lights may not be what you need.  For example, some Christmas light strings have 12 inch spacing.  If you are using lanterns with more than a 10 inch diameter, or if you want more spacing between lanterns, you are not going to be able to fit a lantern onto each light.  You would have to find a set of lights with more spacing between lights, or else leave bulbs out of some of the sockets.

  • If you want to have lanterns at different heights, you will have to find a way to secure the cord so that it goes down and then up.  And again, you may end up having to remove some of the bulbs to make the spacing work.

  • If you have Christmas lights that are not LED lights, you will need to be careful to keep the lights from touching the paper of the lanterns, to avoid a fire hazard.  LED Christmas lights tend to be much more expensive than non-LED ones.

  • If you are using a long spool of lights, you will have to cut it up if you want, for example, to have several strings of lanterns across your venue.  To do so, you'll need to have sockets to attach to each string.  If they do not come with the light string you buy, you'll need to factor in the extra cost.


  • The cost per lantern can be relatively low.  You can get a 1,000' C7 light spool with 1,000 sockets for $275.00, or even less if you check on eBay.  You can get 1,000 bulbs for $195.60, and as little as 10 cents each on eBay.  Thus, the total cost of lighting 1,000 lanterns would be $470.60, or 47 cents per lantern, or less.  And of course, you don't need to buy batteries for them.  These figures do not include the cost of the lanterns themselves.

  • If you need to remove some of the bulbs to deal with spacing issues or because you want the lanterns at different heights, this will increase the cost per lantern.


One possibility to consider is not lighting the lanterns themselves, but highlighting them by shining spotlights on them, as shown in the above illustration.


  • These are very simple to set up.  Plug in the spotlight, aim it at the lantern, and you are done.

  • Because you don't have to worry about getting a light inside the lantern itself, you can use much larger and brighter lights.

  • Unlike most of the other options, which just give the lanterns a glow, the spotlights can produce ambient light for an outdoor or dimly lit venue.

  • You can easily set the lanterns up at different heights and have flexibility with spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.

  • No batteries are required, and you do not need to worry about batteries running out.

  • If a bulb burns out, it can be replaced much more easily if it is in a spotlight on the ground than if someone has to climb up to the ceiling to replace one inside a lantern.


  • Unless you use LED spotlights (which tend to be quite expensive), spotlights tend to get quite hot.  Thus, you need to think about how to place them so that guests do not get hurt by running into them.

  • This approach will not work without enough electrical outlets for all of the spotlights.

  • You will need to do some experimentation on how many lanterns you can light with a single spotlight, which will depend on how wide-angle the spotlight is and the placement of the lanterns.


Battery Operated Lanterns

9" x 8" white battery-operated paper lanterns at our reception


  • These were the simplest of the lighting to set up.  All we needed to do was to add two AAA batteries to each one.  Because they have on-off switches, we could have them all set up in advance, and just turn them on when we were ready to use them.

  • You can easily set them up at different heights and have flexibility with spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.


  • The light did not last long--the batteries ran out after about two to three hours.

  • These lanterns tend to be quite small (9"), as the bulbs used are not enough to light up a larger lantern.


The cost for 50 battery-operated lanterns was $75, calculated as follows:

  • Fifty battery-operated lanterns, $50

  • One hundred AAA batteries, $25

This meant that the cost per lantern was $1.50. And of course, this included the lanterns as well as the lighting for them.

Lanterns with LED Lights

10" round white paper lanterns lit by red and white (left) or amber (right) LEDs at our reception


  • The batteries will last several days, so you can light them the morning of the wedding or even the preceding day.

  • You can easily set the lanterns up at different heights, and you have flexibility on spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.


  • These are more work than the other options.

  • If you want white lighting, you may find that the LEDs look more blue than you want.

  • If you are using larger lanterns (more than about 10"), you may find it impossible to get as bright a glow as you want with LEDs.


    • Paper lanterns.  We used fifty 10" diameter regular ribbing white paper lanterns, from the Paper Lantern Store.

    • Superbright diffuse 10 mm LEDs.  We got the diffused 10mm LEDs in amber, white, and red from (See pictures, above.)  It is important to use the diffused ones, as the others will give a sort of polka dotted effect.  It is also important to use the superbright ones, because the regular ones tend to produce a sort of bluish light. From reviews I have seen elsewhere, it appears that the white superbright ones from are brighter and less blue than other white LEDs available online, even ones described as "superbright."  You want the 10 mm ones, as smaller ones are not big enough to be seen.  We put six LED lights in each of the 10" lanterns.  Other sources have suggested that three to four LEDs are enough for a 14" lantern.  However, the ceilings in our venue are quite high, and we wanted to make sure the glow of the lanterns would still be visible.

Half of the white lanterns had three red LEDs and three white LEDs, which produced a pink color (as shown in the picture on the left).  The other half had six amber LEDs (as shown in the picture on the right).


    1. The batteries come in a sleeve, as shown above.  Remove the first battery from the sleeve, tearing the cardboard as little as you can in the process.  Do not throw away the sleeve if you want to use the battery more than once, as you will need to put the batteries back in the sleeve after each use.

    1. Remove an LED from the bag it comes in.  Save the bag to put the LEDs back into after use.

    1. Each LED (shown above) is just a little light with two wires leading out of it.

    1. The basic concept is that if you put a battery between the two wires of the LED, and touch the longer wire to the positive side of the battery and the shorter wire to the negative, the LED will light up.

    1. Obviously, you're not going to stand there and hold the battery in place the whole time.  You therefore need to cut off a piece of strapping tape, as shown above.  The length of the tape will depend on how many lights you are going to use, so you'll need to experiment a bit.

    1. Wrap one end of the strapping tape around the wires and battery, as tightly as you can, to hold the battery in place.  Make sure that the battery is completely covered by the tape, as having the batteries touch each other will shorten their lives.

    1. To make the lantern bright enough, you typically use several LEDs.  (See discussion of appropriate numbers, above.)  Take the second battery and light, and put them on top of the first one, then wrap the tape around them.

    1. Repeat the previous step as many times as is necessary for the number of lights you intend to use, leaving some tape at the end.

    1. Take a roll of monofilament line like that shown above, and cut off a piece that is approximately three-quarters of the diameter of the paper lantern.

    1. Tie the ends of the piece of monofilament so that it makes a circle.

    1. Thread the circle of monofilament between the LED lights, as shown above.

  1. Move the knot in the monofilament so that it is between the LED lights, and then secure the monofilament in place with tape.  You will notice that the lights are pointing away from the circle of monofilament.  With the knot on the end with the lights, you have extra protection in case the knot comes apart or the tape is too loose, as either the tape or the knot alone would be enough to hold the lights.

  2. On the top wire of the lantern, you will find a piece of wire in the shape of a C.  Loop the monofilament over the C, so it hangs down.  The lights will then be pointing downward, and will be about two-thirds of the way up the lantern.  (Because the lights point downward, having them toward the top of the lantern gives the most even light.)

Because the battery would last for weeks, even if the light were left on, we were able to make these several hours before the wedding.

Disassembling the LEDs

The easiest way to turn the lights off immediately after the wedding is simply to grasp each LED by the wires, as shown above.  Holding the taped bundle of batteries in your other hand,  pull the LED straight out of the bundle of lights, being careful not to twist it as you do, and put it back into its bag.  (The bag is antistatic, and preserves the LEDs.)  For longer-term storage or mailing, the batteries should then be removed from the tape and put back into the sleeves from which they were originally removed.


The total for the fifty white 10" lanterns plus the LED lights and batteries to go in them was $256.79. This broke down as follows:

  • Fifty 10" paper lanterns $68.93

  • 300 G.I. CR-2032 Lithium coin-sized batteries $82.42

  • 300 superbright 10 mm diffused LED lights $80.50

  • 1000 yards monofilament line $24.94

This did not include the strapping tape, but that is very cheap, and you only need a small amount for each one, so it would not have added much to the cost.  For comparison purposes, this meant that the cost of lighting each lantern, not counting the cost of the lanterns themselves, was $3.26.

The cost could, of course, have been reduced significantly if we had used fewer LEDs in each lantern. Most people seem to use three per lantern, which would have cut the cost of the lighting part in half.  This is really a matter of personal taste, and how bright you want the lanterns to be.

Lanterns with Stick-Up Bulbs

18" natural irregular ribbed paper lanterns lit by Westinghouse Stick-Up bulbs at our reception


  • The stick-up bulbs produce a much brighter light than LEDs.

  • You do not need to plug them in, so the lanterns can be used where there is no electricity, or in areas that are far from an electrical outlet.

  • You can do much of the work (putting in the batteries, attaching the lights to the lanterns) ahead of time, and then just need to pull the cords on the lights to turn them on when you are ready to light them.

  • You can easily set them up at different heights and have flexibility with spacing, since there is no cord to limit where you can put them.


  • The batteries last for only about five hours, which may be an issue if the reception is long.

  • The stick-up bulbs are too big to go into lanterns below about 16" in diameter.


    • Twenty-seven eighteen inch natural dragon cloud irregular ribbing lanterns, from

  • Twenty-seven Westinghouse stick up light bulbs from Amazon seller A Hidden Deal.  The "bulb" is actually plastic, and is a krypton bulb, so it remains cool to the touch, but doesn't have the blue tinge of LED lights.  The down side is that it tends to last for only about five hours before the battery needs to be changed, rather than the 100 hours or so that an LED light will last.

  • 100 AA batteries from eBay seller The JR Savings Shop. (Each light bulb required four AA batteries, but we already had a bunch of rechargeable AA batteries at home we were able to use for the remaining large lanterns.)

  • Monofilament line.  We ordered 1,000 yards of 20-lb. test monofilament from Cabellas, which we used for both the 10" and 18" lanterns.


As shown above, the stick-up bulb comes with a base that is intended to be stuck to the wall, plus the light fixture itself.  The base has two slots intended to secure the light from screws in the wall.  These slots are in a U-shaped piece of plastic, which has a tab on the bottom.  I put monofilament around the tab at the end of the U-shaped piece, and more monofilament through the two slots.  I then tied it in such a way as to cause the base to be as level as possible, and put it over the bottom of the C ring on the wire of the paper lantern.  I then slipped the bulb into the base.  This could be done way ahead of time, as the bulb has a pull cord that turns it off and on.


The cost for twenty-seven 18" lanterns lit with Westinghouse Stick-Up Bulbs was $210.33, calculated as follows:

  • Twenty-seven 18" lanterns $102.60

  • Twenty-seven Westinghouse stick-up bulbs, $80.73

  • One hundred eight AA batteries, $27

For comparison purposes, this meant that the cost of lighting 27 lanterns was $107.73, or $3.99 per lantern.

Last Updated: August 3, 2013 at 10:40 pm
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