Black capital letter L with lightbulbs on desk with books

How to make a 3D letter light

I have been fascinated by typography, letters and printing since my childhood and I always like to decorate my studio with such elements, whether it be letter posters that I have designed myself or old wooden printing letters.

Such marquee letters can of course also be bought, but since they often belonged to old advertising lettering, their prices are relatively high.

But you can also make them yourself. It's not as difficult as you think! With your ScanNCut and polystyrene sheets I'll show you how to get the look for a fraction of the cost (and a lot more fun!).

What you’ll need

  • For this project you’ll need your ScanNCut and:
  • A large standard cutting mat (12 x 24 inches)
  • Auto Blade attachment
  • Polystyrene sheets (1mm thick)*
  • Modelling glue – check it’s ok to use on polystyrene
  • Hot glue gun - check it’s ok to use on polystyrene
  • Scalpel (or cutter)
  • Fine sandpaper
  • Dust mask – a paper KN95 or FFP2 is fine. Medical or cotton masks will not provide the protection required.
  • Chain of LED lights on which the bulbs can be unscrewed (the bulbs of my lamps here are about 4-5 cm in diameter)
  • Acrylic paint in the colour you want your letter – you’ll need a darker shade for the edges of the letter, a lighter shade for the main body of the letter and gold/bronze for detailing
  • Paint brushes in various sizes
  • Sponge or small paint roller
  • Screwdriver that fits the plug on your string of lights (if putting a back on your light)

    *If you don't want to use polystyrene, you can certainly use sheet metal or foam boards up to 3mm thick, but I personally think that the 3D letters made of polystyrene look better. Make sure you test that your ScanNCut can cut the material you’re working with before you start your project.

Brother ScanNCut with glue, paint and polystyrene in front

General instructions relating to ScanNCut: 

  1. Always choose the correct mat for your material. The material should stick to your mat securely. Test a small piece on a corner of your mat to make sure you can remove it again without damaging the material. You can find our handy mat and blade guide for ScanNCut DX models here, and the ScanNCut CM models mat and blade guide here.
  2. We recommend that you do a test cut before you cut your design.
  3. Patterns can be transferred to your ScanNCut via USB or WiFi, depending on your model.

How to

I chose ‘L’ for the shape of my light, because it is the first letter of the names of my two children. You can download the cutting files to create an ‘L’ shaped light here.

L shaped grey light with exposed lightbulbs in front of ScanNCut
The cutting files for my ‘L’ lamp measure about 24 x 37 x 10 cm, but feel free to change this to suit. If you do change the files, please remember to scale every part of the pattern – except the circles for the lights. If you change the size of the lamp, you may not be able to fit all the lights I’ve made space for.

Tip: if you want to create a lamp that isn’t ‘L’ shaped, please read the section below.

I decided not to make a back for the back of my lamp. This means I can change bulbs if they burn out. However, it does mean I have to make sure all the wires are tucked in, otherwise they hang out. You also lose a little stability without a back, but as my shape is quite rigid and has a long base, it’s ok for me. You’ll find a cutting pattern for the back of the light included in the download files.
back of L shaped grey light showing wires in light body

After you’ve downloaded the files to your ScanNCut, check that your bulbs correspond to the same sizes as the bulbs I have used. If they don’t, please amend the circles on the front cutting pattern to suit the bulbs you’re using. It might be easier to do this on CanvasWorkspace – you can then transfer the data via Wireless LAN, cable or pen drive.

Before cutting, it’s important that the polystyrene is firmly attached to the cutting mat. I use washi tape for this.

hands washi taping white polystyrene sheet to ScanNCut mat
Test a smallish cut in the corner of your polystyrene sheet. You might need to manually adjust the cutting pressure to be as high as possible, as polystyrene is quite a rigid material to cut. Make sure you test each time you change the pressure.
hand with stylus changing cutting pressure on Brother ScanNCut screen
Now you can start cutting the main pieces. As polystyrene is quite firm, you’ll find the ScanNCut takes relatively long time to cut. You may also notice that the time bar keeps increasing, as it works on the material. This is completely normal.

Tip: at some point the machine might report that the material is too thick to cut, or you notice at the end that not everything has been cut completely. This is not a problem, because even polystyrene that hasn’t been cut all the way through can easily be broken apart. If you don’t feel confident breaking this, use your scalpel to cut through fully.
multiple pieces of cut white flat polystyrene laid out
When gluing I always start with a smaller and a longer side part (in this case parts B and C) and stick them together. Put some modelling glue on one of the edges and hold the other side part at a 90° angle. After a short time, the glue will be dry enough that you can move onto gluing the other parts. Repeat this method for each part you glue.
hand tracing modelling glue along edge of L shaped polystyrene
To create more stability, use the modelling glue or hot glue to glue along all the inside edges of the letter. Leave to dry.
hand tracing glue inside white polystyrene 3D L shape
Note: if you’re using a back, do not put it on now. Leave this unglued and separate until the end.

When everything is completely dry, you should smooth the edges of the letter with very fine sandpaper. Make sure you wear a mask, open a window and clean up the dust when you are finished.
hand sanding edges of white 3D shaped polystyrene letter L
Now it's time to paint. For a weathered, industrial look, all edges should first be painted (but not ‘perfectly’) with the darker colour acrylic paint. Add a little more colour to the corners.
hand painting edges of white 3D shaped polystyrene letter L black
Wait a bit – but not until the paint dries completely! Then the letter can be painted in the lighter colour.

You can use paint brushes on the main body of the letter, however I find using a small paint roller and sponge creates a rougher effect, which is what you want here. Some of the darker colour from the sides and corners will bleed into the lighter colour – don’t worry, that’s the effect we’re going for. Feel free to add more darker paint if you want. Use a paint brush to get into the corners of the letter.
hand painting edges of white 3D shaped polystyrene letter with roller
Finally, once all the paint is dry, dab a bit of gold or bronze with a sponge in some places – especially around the edges and corners.
hand painting edges of white 3D shaped polystyrene letter bronze
Note: if you’re using a back, paint it separately and leave to dry. If the back won’t be seen, you don’t have to paint it.

Now the lights can be installed. The lights I used came in a string of 20 – which was way too many for the size of letter I wanted, or that I could even cut on my ScanNCut! Because I could not use all 20 lights, I took the bulb off every second light – including the base. You’ll be left with a little insert sticking out (see image below). Like this, they take up much less space. I then hid the extra lights that are left over and the wire inside my 3D letter. Please make sure your bulbs are the type to stay cold, so it is safe to do this. LED is the best for this.
string of white bulb lights with one bulb removed
Unscrew the bulbs of the lights you’ll use, put through the holes and then screw the bulbs back in, so they’re affixed into the front of your light.
hand holding black box and screwing bulb light in
If you’re using a back, now is the time to glue it on.

First make sure the lights work, as once the back is placed on you won’t be able to access them without destroying the back. Then take the plug off the string of lights with the screwdriver. Thread the wire of the lights through the small hole in the piece of polystyrene that will make the back of your light.
hand threading wire of string lights through small hole
Then put modelling glue round all the inside edges of the back pieces of your light, and gently press them onto the body of the light. Hold together for a minute until the glue has begun to set, and then leave to dry.
hand putting glue along edge of L shaped white polystyrene shape

Once dry, you might want to lightly sand the edges of the back of the lamp, especially if you’ll be able to see it. Be very careful so as not to damage the bulbs or the front of the lamp. Remember to wear your mask. You may also want to touch up the edges with some paint, if you have painted the back.

Once everything is dry, finished and in place, put the plug back on the string lights. Your lamp is now finished!

Black L shaped 3D lamp with white bulbs and Brother ScanNCut
The 3D marquee letters are not only a nice decoration, but also mine also work as great night lights at the same time - the bulbs I picked are warm white and therefore very pleasant. The lights are LEDs so that they do not consume much electricity.

I hope you enjoyed my project and hope you enjoy cutting! Will you stick to creating one letter? Or make a word? I might make an M, R and an F for my studio in a red colour. Should I?
Blonde short haired woman in craft studio behind two L shaped lights

How to create a lamp that is not ‘L’ shaped

You can, of course, cut and assemble other letters or even shapes like stars. Use the screen of your ScanNCut, or CanvasWorkspace, to choose a simple, block shape that suits your style and the material you’re using.

Tip: Letters with curves, eg. B, S, G etc, can’t be built easily from a rigid material such as polystyrene, so you’ll need to think about which material you’ll make your letter from. As you’re using lights, please use a material that will not react to the small amount of heat they will produce. Always use LED lights. You may need to use a different adhesive/paint if you change your base material.

When deciding how big to cut your letters, make sure you think about how many lights you’ll be using, and how far apart they need to be. Make sure your sizing means that the bulbs aren’t touching.

Now you need to think about how to create the shapes you’ll need to make up the shape you want. Using the ScanNCut’s screen, or CanvasWorkspace, create a cutting pattern for the front of the light. Depending on the size you’ll probably only get one of these to a cutting sheet.

Then you need to add circles for the position of the bulbs (like the front ‘L’ piece I have created for the L light). These need to be smaller than the bulbs, but big enough for the base.

If you do want to make a back, make a repeat shape without the circles for the bulbs. Remember to add a small circle in one of the bottom corners for the wire to exit.

Once you’re happy with the shape of the front (and back if making one), you need to create the sides. For an ‘L’ I just made one more ‘L’ (which I’ll fold to make the corner). I also created a rectangle for the other side, and one for the bottom. When you make the sides, remember that you may have to fold them, or glue together more than one shape.

Tip: I used cheap card to make some test shapes to see how they’d fit together before cutting in polystyrene. This meant I could make sure all the shapes fitted together properly.

Note: You may need to make the sides slightly larger or smaller, so that the sides fit together properly when you glue them. Time to experiment!

Once you have your cutting pattern and have cut out your pieces, follow the instructions as if you’re making the L shaped light.

I can’t wait to see what you make! Remember to tag in Brother on Instagram and Facebook, and myself too!

Three warm white bulbs on a 3D grey rectangle
"Bring the industrial look into your home with this cool letter light."

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