DIY marquee lights

Grant is now officially a high schooler. OMG, I can’t believe I have two high schoolers! The promotion ceremony was just a few days ago and the rest of this week has just been all fun for him at school just hanging out with his friends. I was asked to help with some of the decorating for the promotion dance and I was happy to help.

The dance coordinator wanted to create a couple photo booth areas and wanted to know if I could make two lighted marquee signs. First thing I did was look up the cost to just buy the letters pre-done so I didn’t have to mess with it. For the size I needed, the individual letters ended up being about $50 a letter.

Ummm, it’s a one day event.

At a public school.

I couldn’t spend that much, plus they wanted two of these signs!

DIY lighted marquee sign to the rescue. I had to figure out the best way to create something that was inexpensive, easy, and was able to mount on the top of a vintage VW bus. Once I found these letters and they were the perfect size, I knew that this was a possible project. They are 16″ high and once I spelled out “PHOTOS”  the final width was 60″ wide.


When I bought them, they were 50% off which meant they were only $5 a letter. If you need more than a couple letters and you have some time on your side, I would strongly suggest that you wait for a sale, it is so worth it.

To get the vintage marquee look normally you would use globe lights. That would have actually have been the easier route since you can take the bulb cover off, screw the back through and put the cap on. But they were expensive for so many letters so I started to think of some other options. I finally found these lights which were smaller than I had initially wanted, but the amount of lights on the string and the cost was perfect.

Supplies Needed for DIY Lighted Marquee Sign:

chipboard letters
small globe lights
glue gun
razor blades
spray paint

DIY inexpensive cheap marquee lights

Step 1

First thing I did was cut the top layer of the chipboard off. There was a cardboard spine inside that helped keep the shape so in some areas it was harder to cut then others, but it still wasn’t that difficult with a sharp knife. After all the cardboard tops were cut off I took a sanding block and cleaned up some of the edges. Once the sign was painted and lighted the rough edges gave it a rustic look, so I was fine with some imperfections.

DIY marquee lights DIY marquee lights

Step 2

I then used a Metallic spray paint that had a rough metal finish. This one happened to be Rust-oleum Antique Nickel, but you could paint it in any color you wanted. Painting all the letters took about 2 coats. With this step as well, having some of the chipboard show through a tiny bit was ok since it gave it a more weather look.

DIY marquee lights DIY marquee lights

Step 3

It got a little tricky once I started adding the lights. I had to lay the letters upside down and backwards so you could see how to string the lights fluidly. By laying the string out on the back of the letters before you do anything else, you can see how you want your pattern to be and make the transitions from letter to letter as smooth as possible. Once you have your lights placed, you can make your marks. First, I marked where I wanted the lights to go with a sharpie. Then I went back and cut a small X with a razor blade. Once that was done, I made the X just slightly smaller than the head of the bulb.

DIY marquee lights

Step 4

The next step is probably the most difficult to understand so hopefully I can explain it well. Once you have your marks cut out, start inserting the bulbs. All the edges of your cut X will be pushed through to the front of the letter (which is currently facing down). After you have pushed the the light through from the back, turn the letter over and push the front of that cut edge back so it is either flat behind the lightbulb or it is coming back through the back.

DIY marquee lights

Step 5

Once your lights are through the entire letter (I only do one letter at a time), take your glue gun and glue your lights in place from the back. Also, you might have extra lights that didn’t work with the transitions that you can glue onto the back (take a look at the H below).

DIY marquee lights

Step 6

After all the lights were strung, I glued the letters together with my glue gun. Because I had a long word, I used A LOT of glue. Now, just decide how you want to display it! For one installation on the van I glued the letters to a board and we mounted it on the front surf racks on the van. On the other installation (not pictured), I just used heavy duty Velcro to hang it on the wall.

DIY marquee lights

I love that this sign is so substantial without the substantial price! This would be a great project for a birthday party, wedding, shower or just to highlight an area in your home.

DIY marquee lights

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