How to Light Paper Lanterns


This is a followup to my last post, where I showed you how you can make DIY Paper Lanterns with your cutting machine. What I didn’t show you, and what I received a lot of questions about, was how I lit them. Today, I’m going to answer that question.

Lighting Paper Lanterns


First of all, you should understand that this method is a little crude, as I mentioned in my answers to some of you already. It’s not pretty nor elegant, but it is slick, if I do say so myself. This kind of thing gets my inner geek excited. 😉 How fun to have a bunch of lanterns all lit up when there’s no electrical cords in sight, right?

Paper Lanterns at night

Secondly, this isn’t something you would use if you were wanting to say, light the paper lantern hanging in your bedroom every night. This is something better suited for special occasions. One time deals. Think dinner parties, wedding receptions, birthday parties, photo sessions, etc. Get the point?

Paper Lanterns photo session

What I used is called an LED throwie. Basically, it’s composed of three parts: an LED bulb, a battery, and a magnet. Because LED bulbs produce no heat, there’s no chance of the lanterns catching fire, which makes them perfect for this application.

LED throwie

Throwies have been around a few years. Traditionally, they were assembled with tape, bundled together, and then thrown (thus the name) at a metal object, usually a building, where they would stick and remain lit until either the bulbs or batteries went out. You can Google it to find out more if you want.


While I didn’t come up with the basic throwie design, I did modify it so that I could turn it on when I wanted, and also so it would hang inside the lantern. Here’s how.

What you’ll need:

  • neodymium magnets – I used 3/8″ x 1/16″
  • LED Bulbs – I used 10mm warm white diffused purchased from this eBay seller
  • CR2032 batteries
  • tape – preferably 3/4″ wide and 1/2″ wide
  • double-sided tape
  • card stock or other heavy paper – I used the same watercolor paper that I use for everything
  • hole reinforcers (optional)
  • hole punch
  • scissors (oops, not in the picture)

Tools for project

If you only need a handful of throwies, your best option is to buy a kit that comes with all the components. If you need more than that, you’ll save money buying the components in bulk. You can make 100 throwies for about $1 a piece that way, plus the cost of the other supplies.

I started by cutting two pieces of card stock, one about 1 3/4″ long, and the other 3/4″ long. They should both be about as wide as one of the batteries.

cutting two pieces of card stock

I used a hole reinforcer at the top of the longer piece of cardstock to make it a little more durable. If you’re only going to use it once, there’s probably not much point.

a hole reinforcer

Using my hole punch, I punched out the middle of the hole, and then used my scissors to trim around it like so. Leaving it square at the top makes it more difficult to tuck down inside the lantern. You could probably skip this step too if you’re using it in any other type of lantern.

hole punch

Then I put a piece of double-sided tape near the bottom of the longer piece.

double-sided tape

Next, I shortened the wires of the LED bulb by about 1/4″ so the throwie wouldn’t be quite so long, and would hang more in the center of my (9″) paper stars. You don’t have to do this if you’re hanging it in a larger star or something taller. If you do cut them, cut them at the same angle as they were to begin with, so you’ll still have a longer and a shorter probe. This is important for later.

shortened the wires of the LED

Place a long piece of the regular tape (3/4″ wide) over most of the positive side of the battery (it’ll be marked by a “+”), but leave some uncovered at the top. Don’t worry that there’s some hanging over the bottom.

Place a long piece of the regular tape

Now slide the probes of your LED bulb over the battery and the tape. The longer probe should be on the top (the positive side), and the shorter underneath. If you’re not sure which probe goes where, try sliding the bulb over the uncovered portion of the battery first. If it’s facing the right way, it will light up. If not, it won’t.

Place the bulb and battery

Place the bulb and battery over the piece of double-sided tape you put down earlier on the longer piece of cardstock, and wrap it around securely, pinching the extra tape together at the bottom. Make sure the probe on top doesn’t touch the battery. The bulb should not be lit at this point.

Place the bulb and battery over the tape

Put another piece of tape (1/2″ wide) over the probe to hold it in place, but don’t cover the tip. There should be a small portion of the probe exposed.

Put another piece of tape

Lastly, attach the magnet to the other piece of card stock with some double-sided tape. Don’t cover the magnet with tape, or it won’t work.

attach the magnet

And here’s how it works. When you want your bulb on, just place the magnet over the tip of the probe on top.

here is how it works

The magnet will be touching both the probe and the top of the battery, completing the circuit so that the bulb lights up.

LED lights up

To turn it off, just flip the magnet over so that it’s not touching the battery or the probe.

Flip magnet to turn it off

To use it in your paper lantern, just hang it from the string that you used to tie the lantern shut. You’ll need to be sure the string is threaded through the inside of the lantern so the throwie won’t stick out and prevent the star from closing. See my previous post for an illustration.

hang it from string

Once you cinch the string up, the lantern will close with the throwie inside.

cinch the string up

While I only used a single throwie in each of my paper lanterns, you can always stick two or more of them together for a brighter light. The magnets keep them from coming apart so they’ll look like a single light.

I haven’t tested this myself, but from what I understand, throwies will stay lit for well over 24 hours. If you have a special event, just put the throwies together ahead of time, and then earlier on the day of the event, you can put them in your lanterns and light them up.

single throwie in paper lantern

I know it seems like there are a lot of steps, but once you’ve made a few, you’ll quickly get the hang of it. I can make one in just over 2 minutes. Or get a group together to make some assembly line style, and you’ll have enough to light up the sky in no time.

assembly line style

So there you have it. Now you can not only make your own paper lanterns, but you can light them up to!

I’m sorry I’ve been MIA this week around blog land. I’ve been working on opening up a new Etsy shop so I can start paying for this little hobby of mine. I’ll bet you’ll never guess what I’ll be selling. 😉

Hope you’re having a great weekend. As always, I do appreciate you stopping by. I really do!


How To Light Paper Lanterns

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