DIY Lighted Marquee Sign

This year I’m part of Elmer’s Craft-It Crew, which means Elmer’s sends me awesome stuff and I get to play with it! This month they sent me this cool purple foam core board, and I knew exactly what to do with it: make my own DIY lighted marquee sign!

Make your own lighted marquee sign with this step by step tutorial! You can make  an arrow, letters, an ampersand, or any other shape you want!

A DIY project that involves lighting might seem a little complicated, but it’s actually simpler than it looks. I have detailed step by step instructions below with pictures for every step, so don’t worry; you can do it! And the coolest thing is, you can make your marquee sign in any shape you want – an arrow, an ampersand, letters, or anything else you can think of! The Elmer’s foam core board comes in a bunch of fun colors (though I think purple is the best!), so you can make your marquee sign in any color you want!

DIY Lighted Marquee Sign

Here’s what you need:

Note: I used these light bulbs because I like the way the filament looks, but they are not LEDs so they get warm if you leave them on too long! If you plan to leave your marquee plugged in for a long period of time, consider getting LEDs so the bulbs don’t get too hot!

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Turn your foam core board over so the back side (usually white) is face up. Draw out your shape with a pencil, or, if you’re making letters, print out the shape or letters and trace them onto the back of the foam core board. Don’t worry if you’re drawing by hand and making a few mistakes; the back side of the finished marquee won’t show at all! Remember that you’re drawing on the back side of the board, so if you’re making letters, be sure to mirror them so that they come out facing the right way!

Once you have the outline of your shape, it’s time to decide where the lights will go. I used rolls of washi tape as stand ins for the lights, so I could approximate what it might look like later. But you can use poker chips, bottle caps, or even just pencil marks to help you visualize your layout.

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Once you have a good idea of how you want to lay out your lights, mark where the lights should go with your pencil. Remember, if you’re using globe lights, they are usually a little more than an inch wide at the widest part, so be sure to leave at least two inches between your dots so the lights don’t hit each other!

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Using your box cutter, carefully score the outer edges of your shape. Then cut a second time, this time going all the way through the foam core. (Be sure to put a cutting mat or thick cardboard underneath so you don’t cut into your workbench or table!)

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Next, from the back side of the foam core shape, cut holes around the pencil marks for each light using your X-acto knife. If your lights came in a cardboard separator like the one shown below, you can use the cardboard to help you measure the right sized hole. Just unscrew a bulb from its socket, remove it from the cardboard, and use the hole in the cardboard to gauge the size of the hole you need in your foam core board.

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If your lights didn’t come with a separator, don’t worry! Unscrew one of the bulbs from the socket, and use the base of the bulb to gauge how big the hole should be. Once you get one hole done, test it out by putting the lightbulb in through the front of the hole and screwing it into the socket on the back. If the bulb screws all the way into the socket, you’re good to go! If it’s a little tight, just cut away a little more of the foam core board and try again.

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Cut out all of the holes you marked on the back of your shape. Don’t worry if the edges are a little rough looking; they will be totally hidden by the bulbs later!

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Cut your poster board into strips about 5″ wide using your box cutter. (Hint: if you make your strips 5-1/2″ wide and make your cuts parallel to the long edge of the poster board, you can get exactly four strips out of one standard sized piece of poster board.)

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Start wrapping the strips of poster board around the edges of the foam core board. I drew a line down the center of my strips of poster board and used that to help line up the foam core board as I went. It doesn’t matter if the foam core board is centered exactly on the poster board strips or if it’s a little to the front or the back; just make sure there’s enough room at the front for the lightbulbs to stick out of the foam core board, and enough room at the back to hide the sockets and wiring.

If you have sharp edges in your shape, it really helps to score the poster board with your X-acto knife and then fold it; it keeps the crease nice and sharp!

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Wrap the poster board strips around the foam core, creasing the poster board and attaching it to the foam core board with tape as you go.

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Once the entire shape is wrapped in poster board, go back over it with packing tape and really stick the poster board and foam core board together so there aren’t any gaps where they meet.

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The last step is to add the lights! Starting at one end of your shape, take the first light in the string, unscrew the bulb from the socket, thread the bulb through the front of the foam core board, and screw it back into the socket at the back of the board. Then take the next light in the string and repeat the process! Continue until all of the bulbs have been placed. Don’t worry if the back is a little messy looking; all of those wires will be hidden! If you have extra lights in your string, remove the bulbs and put them somewhere safe, and then tuck the end of the wire into the back of your marquee sign.

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And you’re done!

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Plug it in somewhere and enjoy! It looks great on a mantel or on top of a bookshelf.

Make your own lighted marquee sign with this step by step tutorial! You can make  an arrow, letters, an ampersand, or any other shape you want!

Or set it up outdoors somewhere; it would work great in the backyard for an outdoor movie or a garden party decoration. In your front yard it’s a fun way to welcome guests to your home for a birthday party or other event!

Make your own lighted marquee sign with this step by step tutorial! You can make  an arrow, letters, an ampersand, or any other shape you want!

Make your own lighted marquee sign with this step by step tutorial! You can make  an arrow, letters, an ampersand, or any other shape you want!

Make your own lighted marquee sign with this step by step tutorial! You can make  an arrow, letters, an ampersand, or any other shape you want!

Make your own lighted marquee sign with this step by step tutorial! You can make  an arrow, letters, an ampersand, or any other shape you want!

Want to share this tutorial with your friends? Just click any of the share buttons on the left to share with Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, etc.!

If you liked this project, check out these other simple crafts!

Disclosure: I received compensation from Elmer’s in exchange for my participation in their Craft-It crew this year and my honest discussion of their products. But Elmer’s makes great products and I’m happy to use them in my crafts! All opinions in this post are 100% my own. I would never write a post about something I didn’t think was useful or interesting for you guys, and Practically Functional will only publish sponsored posts for companies or products I love and believe in! 🙂

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Jessi Wohlwend

I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. I love sharing simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, and other tips and tricks all with one goal in mind: giving you the tools you need to “do it yourself”, complete fun projects, and make awesome things!

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Reader Interactions

  1. Stephanie Smith says

    6 years ago

    This is a cute idea! My sister is going to have a bachelorette party and this would be perfect to dress up the lighting but keep a good budget. I know I’ll be heading to the craft store this weekend 🙂 Thanks so much!

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