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DIY Carnival Marquee Letters

This project made by Karen, the bride from this gorgeous wedding, has to be one of my favorite DIY projects for any wedding. I had this tutorial bookmarked from Design Sponge, but I love how Karen put her twist on it inspired by these marquee letters sold at Urban. Love the vintage carnival feel to her final project! She used foam board (similarly to this DIY hand-lettered chalk sign), so it’s buttery to cut. The red background, large round bulbs and serif font choice really makes the carnival style come to life.

DIY vintage Carnival marquee letters wedding initials
What you’ll need:

- foam board and poster board, 2 sheets of each
- spray paint (metallic silver and red)
- G50 light bulbs (bought here, but also found in stores like here) *the bulbs pictured below were not the actual bulbs used in the final product – they are plastic ones found here
- hot glue
- C9 stringers (like these)
- printed letters (use serif font of your choice to achieve the same look) to desired size (just remember they need to fit your foam board!)
- cutting mat and x-acto knife

Karen first made a mockup with the wrappers and one with trial string lights:
DIY vintage Carnival marquee letters wedding initials
DIY vintage Carnival marquee letters wedding initials

Instructions:

Trace the printed letters onto the foam board to cut your letter shapes. With a pencil, mark the center of your letters for where the bulbs will go. The spacing of the bulbs will vary depending on how large your letters will be, so play around before cutting to determine what looks best. Make small holes on the center of each letter large enough to fit the outer rim of bulb sockets (to replicate these these vintage 20th century carnival signs) Here‘s a great tip on how to cut the circles on foam board. Spray paint your letters in rusty-red. Cut 4-5 inch wide strips of poster board and spray paint both sides in metallic silver. Glue the edges of you letters with your “metal” strips. Place the bulbs from the back and you’re done.

diy marquee vintage letter
For a more industrial look, you can patina the background of the letters with different layers and finishes of silver and white paint with a brush!

Top photo by Paul Von Rieter

32 Comments on DIY Carnival Marquee Letters

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  • 1

    love these! wish I had seen this sooner for my son’s vintage circus 1st birthday this weekend.

    Reply
  • 2

    Not sure where I’m going to put them, but I’m going to make these for my house! Love them SO much!

    Reply
  • 4

    I was recently just thinking how to make this after browsing the christmas lights at Target! Now I can just follow directions! I love the look of these.

    Reply
  • 5

    Oh my goodness, this is just lovely and fun! Thank you for sharing… bookmarking this for future reference! C:

    Reply
  • 6
    Katherine Janeway on November 9, 2011 at 2:47 am

    I’ll definitely try this out ! Thanks for this.

    Reply
  • 7
    Katherine Lane on November 9, 2011 at 3:00 am

    This is so Cool ! I’ll definitely make something like this during my wedding day. Thanks !

    Reply
  • 8

    these look amazing! now I need an excuse to make them…

    Reply
  • 9

    Wow, I love these. So great looking- very fun!

    Reply
  • 10

    Oh this is just brilliant! Thanks so much for the tutorial.

    Reply
  • 11

    Wow, I love these!
    What a wonderful idea!
    Thank you for sharing!
    Leticia

    Reply
  • 12

    So cool ! I really want to do it ! What font did you use, it is very perfect for this DIY ? Thanks

    Reply
  • 13

    This is such an inventive (and cheap) way to make marquee letters! I love the look of them! I do have one question/concern: how well does the paper handle the heat from the bulbs? Is there any danger of flammability with the spray painted paper and is there a time limit to how long you would suggest leaving them lit?

    Thank you!

    Reply
  • 14

    omgoodness, i am in love with this! i will SO be making some of these! (then using them in our home!)

    Reply
  • 15

    Do you think there’s a way to not use metal , but something durable so we could use/keep it outdoors?

    Reply
  • 16

    This would be super cute with Christmas lights! & EZ!

    Reply
  • 17

    @ Erin – did you ever get any response re: flammability?
    These bulbs are HOT!! I made one letter to test, but I’m a little scared….

    Reply
  • 18

    I love these! I wish I had time to get that done before my daughter’s wedding, but too much on my plate right now.

    Reply
  • 19

    Why not use wooden letters with Christmas lights?

    Reply
  • 20

    Just wondering what the font is that you used, it’s really nice

    Reply
  • 21

    Great idea! Did you attach wires to the back of the foam board? Would also like to know which font you used. Thanks.

    Reply
  • 22

    Hello! I’m Karen, the creator of these EK letters.

    @Khi – Great idea. But I guess there is limited choices for premade wooden letters you can buy. If you can cut your own, then I envy you! Those would certainly outlast my foamboard ones.

    @Lisa – The bulbs do get warm, but the only time we kept ours on for an extended period was during the reception. But it never got hot enough to be an issue. However, if you do need yours to be more durable, you can easily substitute for LED globe string lights! Those stay absolutely cool to the touch.

    @Matt, @Mike – Regarding the font, I don’t think I used a specific font, but rather took examples from similar-looking fonts and then traced my own in Illustrator. But any bold, stencil-type font should do well for a project like this. You can always adjust the letters manually in Illustrator, or print it out large and then trace over it by hand, to put your own style into it.

    If you’d like to see more of our wedding DIY projects, we have them posted on our site (link on my name). Thanks everyone for all the wonderful comments!

    Reply
  • 23

    Hey, so, if i use the other led lights it wont get hot? im looking to make something like this for a tour backdrop. but need them huge and have no skills with a chainsaw. that would actually be very scary….

    anywho, im definitely going to try this! thanks SO MUCH!

    Reply
  • 24

    I love how people always do ‘E’ Marquee letters. :) Here’s my DIY I used some of your help. http://www.creative-e.ca/2012/12/show-tell-a-vintage-marquee-letter-diy/

    Reply
  • 25

    It is always a good feeling to be inspired especially by DIY makers who keep on discovering simple yet elegant stuffs. My friend’s going to be tied soon and I will surely let her check this post for inspiration. I so love the color combination and the lamination. Thanks for this post!

    Reply
  • 26

    that’s a awesome idea! really cool!
    I linked to your tutorial on my blog – thanks for sharing!

    doro K.

    Reply
  • 27

    These are really fun to make, here’s a few tips I figured out along the way. Cut the strips of poster board about 1/2 inch wider and put a lip on the back of the letters so you can’t see the wires on the back from the side. I used some small led battery powered string lights because they produce less heat then the C9 lights and all the wires are neatly hidden behind the letters. I also used small clear ornaments in place of the plastic globes to give it more of a light bulb look. Nice project, thanks for posting.

    Reply
  • 28

    Hey Karen (Or whom ever that can help),

    Do you suggest I use G50 light bulbs rather than G30? My letters aren’t so big.

    In the process of creating my own marquee letters.

    Please help.

    Reply
  • 29
    Michelle De Noewer on July 25, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    These are amazing!! Thank you so much for the tip!! I can not wait to try this for the Carnival themed wedding I am doing right now.

    Reply
  • 30

    What is this font, I can’t find it anywhere :)

    Reply
  • 31

    This is great! What typeface did you use?

    Reply
  • 32

    I love these letters! What do you do with the remaining lights that do not fit in the letter? I have not seen strings of 8-10 lights. Thanks

    Reply

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