This past weekend I had a circus/carnival themed party at my house. When I first started planning the party, I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of money to spend on decor, but I needed to have some big spectacular pieces if I wanted my house to look anything like a circus.
Luckily, a trip to the dollar store for some plastic tablecloths fixed my circus tent situation, but what is a circus without its sign?!
Marquee letters and signs can range anywhere from $30-$40 per letter and into the hundreds for whole signs! I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t going to spend that much on a decor item for some silly party I’m having for friends. It’s just not going to happen.
As I do with many things I can’t afford, I make them. While oftentimes making an item can end up costing more than the store bought item, in this case, it’s just the opposite!
Most of the items for this project can be found around the house or easily bought for little money.
- Poster board
- Letter stencils
- Foam core board
- A string of LED lights (length depends on how many letters you make)
- Ping pong balls
- A drill with a bit
- A box cutter/ X-acto knife
- Glossy spray paint
- Hot glue gun/ hot glue sticks
- Masking tape
First you want to make the letter stencils. Find the right font for your sign and print the letters out at the correct size for tracing onto the foam core board. I used Freak Show font because it had fat wide letters that would be easy to fit the ping pong balls into and it looked like a circus font. Just remember, if you use a fancier font like I did, this project will take longer to edge with the poster board.
If you want your letters to be bigger than a sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ paper you can use blockposters.com to break your letter image onto other sheets of paper and then cut and tape them together.
Once you have your letter stencils cut out, trace them onto the foam core. Since my sign was relatively small, I only needed one sheet of foam core. Cut out the letters with a sharp X-Acto knife. A sharp craft knife is important because you won’t have to push down as hard and the edges will be smoother. Also make sure to put something under the foam core such as a self healing cutting mat or a piece of cardboard, so you don’t cut into something you care about.
At this time, use your drill to make 1/4″ holes in the foam core where you want the lights to push through. If you need larger holes, you can use a larger bit or stretch the holes by pushing a thick pen or marker through the hole. I had to use the pen trick, because I didn’t have any larger drill bits!
Next, cut 3″ strips of poster board. I just cut one long strip and then cut it down as I figured out the lengths I needed. I also drew myself a guide line about 1″ in on one side so that I knew where to glue the strip to the edge of the foam core.
To measure the lengths of poster board, take a piece of string and run it along one continuous side. Cut the string to the correct length and then measure the string for the length to cut the poster board to.
Hot glue the strips of poster board to the edge of the foam core along your guide line. Make sure to put the shorter width of poster board to the back, so that that there is a larger lip around the letter in the front. You don’t want the ping pong ball lights to stick out farther than your edging. Where the strips meet, to create a smooth edge, place a piece of masking tape across it to seal the edges together. This will make the poster board look seamless once painted.
Next, spray paint your letters on all visible sides. I used a nice deep glossy red paint. Glossy paint looks best because it gives it a nice finish that looks more like real metal marquee signs.
In between coats of paint (you’ll want to do several light coats until it’s fully covered) prep your ping pong balls. I used this bulk order of Ping pong balls from Amazon. They are not really made for playing the game because they are made from thin cheap plastic, but they are perfect for our uses. I sliced an “X” onto the back of each ball and set them to the side.
Once the letters are painted and dried, decide how you’re going to string your lights through the holes. Do you want it to plug into the wall from the left or the right? Will each light fit into the next hole, or will you have to skip one to make it work? I ended up getting a 100 ct. light string and only needed about 50 lights. Since I had extra lights, I had a lot of room to make it work. As you place a light through the foam core to the front, pop a ball onto the light through the “X”. Sometimes to string to the next letter, I had to skip over some lights. I ended up with about 40 lights too many, so I shoved them behind the letters on my mantel to create a glow behind the letters. Do what works best for you.
In the end, the marquee lights looked great in my living room circus tent! I also strung a second string of ping pong ball lights along the ceiling for added lighting decor.
If you want to spend a little more money you could get the nice 25 ct. glass globe light strings they sell as places like Target, but your marquee would probably be heavier and more delicate.
I made my sign for about $26 total! Of course the total for your sign will vary depending on how big your sign is, how many letters it has, and what materials you already have around your house. But I think it’s safe to say, that your sign will come in way, way under the price of a regular marquee sign. Good luck with your project, and leave questions in the comment section below if you are unsure of something or need help.
For more about my circus party, and the tasty desserts I made for it, stay tuned this week!
Here’s an easy image to pin on Pinterest!