Paper luminary lanterns are a cozy, cost-effective way to decorate any space in your home. They can also add a warm glow of elegance to your special event.
Before learning how to make your own luminary paper lanterns, let’s first find out the origins of the paper luminary lantern phenomenon everyone is used to seeing around the holiday season.
Where did they come from? How are they used? And are they still used in the same way today?
Want to get started making lanterns right away?
Skip the history and go right to the Paper Luminary Lanterns project here!
What Are Paper Luminary Lanterns?
Luminaries started out as bonfires on 3-foot-high squares and originated from Spain in the 16th century. Once adopted by American culture, they developed into small paper lanterns, placed on the ground. Luminary means ‘festival of light’ and in Mexico and Spain it is called Farolito or Farolitos meaning ‘little lantern’.
Traditionally these small lanterns were thought to light the way for Mary and Joseph to find their way to Bethlehem, and although their meaning has slightly changed over the years they are still used to guide, celebrate and connect with others.
By the 19th century, Americans had discovered beautiful Chinese lanterns and hung these from their doorways. After deciding these were too expensive, they opted to make small lanterns out of paper sacks to save money. Now small paper luminary lanterns come in all different designs and colors and are used to light many different events and occasions.
What Can Paper Luminary Lanterns Be Used For?
Originally, Roman Catholics believed that luminaries would guide the spirit of Christ into people’s homes.
Nowadays, though, they are thought of as more of a decorative holiday item.
Some areas of America like to decorate their houses with lights more elaborately than others. It is still customary in New Mexico to put up an extraordinary lighting display.
Luminaries have also been used for charity events, like in Utah, more than 300 lights are used to create a path during the annual Walk with Santa event every December. They are also often used during The American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life events.
In recent years, the use of luminaries has become more popular and they are regularly used throughout the year at parties, weddings, religious ceremonies, and charitable events. They are a great resource to use both indoors and outdoors and can add finishing touches to your decorations for any occasion.
Whatever you decide to use your paper luminary lanterns for, they are guaranteed to add to the ambiance of your home or add that extra sparkle to your party or celebration.
What’s Included in The Download Files?
Each of the free paper lantern files includes 4 finished heights to fit different votive candles.
Default sizes are approximate:
- 3″ diameter x 4″ high (no base)
- 3″ diameter x 6″ high (1 inch base)
- 3″ diameter x 7″ high (2 inch base)
- 3″ diameter x 8″ high (3 inch base)
If you want to make bigger or smaller paper luminary lanterns this is also possible. You can use your cutting machine software or computer to resize the files to fit any sized candle. The only limit is the maximum size your machine can cut.
How to Make Your Paper Luminary Lanterns
Learn how to make your very own decorative paper luminary lanterns in our easy-to-follow guide below.
Download the Free Paper Luminary Lantern Files Here!
Before you do anything else, you need to download the free template files for this project.
Machine cutting SVG and hand cutting files are included in the download.
Tools & Materials Needed
The first thing you need to grab is the template files for this paper luminary lantern project. You can download them for free right here.
Next, you’ll have to decide whether you’ll be machine cutting the files, or cutting them by hand. Machine cutting is definitely quicker and easier than cutting by hand.
If you don’t have a cutting machine, though, don’t worry. You can still cut the lanterns by hand using the hand-cutting files included in the download.
- For machine cutting, you will need a Silhouette Cameo or Cricut and a machine cutting mats
- If cutting by hand you will need a sharp precision craft knife and a self-healing cutting mat
- Lantern cut files, downloaded free here
- Card stock in your preferred color. I used 110lb but other weights will work as well.
- Translucent paper (like vellum) in your preferred color.
- Clear glue
- A pencil
- Something to hold your lantern while it dries such as craft clips, paper clips, or clothes pegs
- A paper trimmer or scissors
Video Tutorial for Making These Paper Luminary Lanterns
The video below will walk you through making these lanterns step-by-step. If you don’t want to watch the video, you can skip down to the Step-by-Step Instructions below.
Step by Step Instructions
Start by gathering the supplies you’ll need, as listed in the “Tools & Materials Needed” section above the video. You can download the free lantern files here.
Cutting Your Paper Luminary Lanterns by Machine
Machine cutting this project is definitely the easiest option. The paper luminary template is fairly complex, but I had no trouble cutting it several times on my Silhouette Cameo machine.
Set Up Your Lantern Files Using Silhouette Studio
If you have a Silhouette brand machine as I do, you should have the Silhouette Studio software it comes with installed on your computer. Here are the steps to take to set up the lantern template files in Silhouette Studio.
- Open the free lantern file in Silhouette Studio.
- Resize the template by clicking on the image and then selecting the resize button in the toolbar. Make sure the Aspect Ration lock is on.
- Chose your desired width. My large paper luminary lanterns are 10 inches wide (perfect for pillar candles). The smaller paper luminary lanterns are 7 inches wide (perfect for tea lights).
- Check that everything is positioned correctly on your paper view. You may need to check the ‘page set up’ to adjust orientation and paper size.
- Click send, you will now see a preview of which lines the silhouette will cut.
- Double-check you have the right cutting material selected and turn on the line segment if using a thicker card.
- Before hitting send to cut, check out how to properly load your machine below.
Set Up Your Lantern Files Using Cricut Design Space
If you have a Cricut machine, you’ll need to set it up much the same way we did above. The difference is you’ll use Cricut Design Space to layout and size your files.
- Once in Design Space click ‘new project’.
- Click the upload button and then ‘upload image’.
- Find the correct lantern file you want to use, make sure it is either the solid SVG or PNG file.
- Then select ‘Moderately Complex’ and click continue.
- You don’t need to do anything on the Select & Erase screen, so click continue.
- Select cut image and then press upload.
- Now it should appear in your uploaded images, click on it and press the ‘insert image’ button.
- Resize it by clicking on the image and then selecting the size options on the toolbar. Make sure the Aspect Ration lock is on.
- Chose your desired width, my large lanterns are 10 inches wide (perfect for pillar candles) and the smaller lanterns are 7 inches wide (perfect for tea lights).
- Type in your chosen width and hit enter.
- Now you are ready to send it to the cutting machine, click the ‘make it’ button.
- Make sure to drag the image into the correct position according to where your card is on your cutting mat.
- Double-check you have the right cutting material selected on your machine. This may depend on the thickness of your card.
Let You Machine Do It’s Cutting Magic
With everything set up in your software, it’s time to let your cutting machine do the hard work. Be sure you’ve loaded a sharp paper cutting blade and some cardstock to cut the lantern from.
- Place your card onto your machine’s cutting mat. Make sure to press down so it doesn’t lift up while the machine is cutting.
- Load the cutting mat into the machine.
- Double-check all your settings are correct.
- Press to start cutting! Mine took about 30 minutes to cut, so it’s a good excuse to go relax with your favorite hot drink.
- Once it’s finished cutting, unload the mat from the machine and carefully peel your lantern off the cutting mat. I find turning it upside down, so the card is against a table, and peeling the mat up and away from the card helps keep the card flat and uncreased.
- Weed out the small pieces of card from the cut holes. If you don’t have a weeding tool you can use anything from a knitting needle to a small screwdriver.
Cutting Your Paper Luminary Lanterns by Hand
If you don’t have a cutting machine, don’t worry. You can definitely cut the paper luminary lantern template by hand. All you need is a sharp knife and a cutting mat.
It will definitely take longer than the machine, but paper cutting is pretty relaxing once you get into the groove of it!
- Find the lantern PNG file that is displayed as an outline and not a solid shape.
- Load your printer so your card stock will print on the wrong side.
- Play around with your printer settings to resize your lantern template to your desired width, my large lanterns are 10 inches wide (perfect for pillar candles) and the smaller paper luminary lanterns are 7 inches wide (perfect for tea lights).
- Print out the lantern outline.
- Place your card on your cutting mat and use your precision craft knife to cut along all the grey template lines.
- Take care to cut into each corner to give you a nice, crisp finish.
- Read on to find out how to finish off your lantern.
Create the Translucent Lining
In this step, we’ll make the translucent lining for the lantern. I used cotton drafting vellum, but you can use any translucent paper.
While the lining is not absolutely necessary, it does soften the glow of the candle and make the finished lanterns look more polished.
- Lay your translucent paper over your lantern design.
- Line up the straight edge of your translucent paper with the bottom edge of the scallops along the top of the lantern design. Make sure to get the paper absolutely straight, you don’t want any lining paper peeking over the top of your finished lantern.
- You want to leave about 1 inch down the left-hand side with no translucent paper covering it, this should be where the first scallop pattern ends.
- Mark out where to cut on the other 3 sides and cut out. Make sure it fits exactly for a perfect finish.
Assembling Your Paper Luminary Lanterns
- Now apply a thin layer of glue to the first scallop to the left of your lantern design. Make sure every part of the scallop has glue on it, even the small details, and all the way to the edge.
- Gently roll the lantern into a cylinder, and attach the first, glued scallop to the last scallop on the other side of your design. Be careful not to crease your card.
- Pinch together and ensure the patterns completely match.
- Clip together, the top and bottom until the glue dries, then remove.
- To add the lining, roll it up and insert it into the lantern.
- Make sure to line up the edges of the lining paper with the seam of the lantern, this will be the back of your lantern.
- Add a small amount of glue around the top inside edge of the lantern paper.
Adding the Translucent Lining
- Carefully slide the lining paper up to the top edge of the lantern paper, and press it into the glue, making sure the top and bottom edges are aligned.
- Now add a small amount of glue around the bottom edge of the lantern and stick the lining paper to the lantern.
- Add clips to the top and bottom to hold everything in place until the glue dries, then remove.
Finishing Your Paper Luminary Lantern
Now you’re ready to add your candles.
It’s recommended to use flameless candles with your lantern for safety. Paper is flammable so if you chose to use a real candle, please be careful and do not leave it unattended!
Some Final Thoughts
Whether you make 1 lantern or 10, I know you’ll love making these visually pleasing paper luminary lanterns. Experiment with different colors to see what works best for your event or you could match the color to your room’s décor.
If you are making your lantern by hand, we hope you find a love for intricate papercraft, get cutting more paper luminary lanterns or search the web for more amazing paper crafts to make.
Sources for How to Make Paper Luminary Lanterns in 4 Sizes
How to Make Luminarias, Almanac.com, October 25, 2019
Authored By: Catherine Boeckmann
Cited Date: October 15, 2021
The Origination of the Luminary, Luminaria…, FlicLuminaries.com
Authored By: Flic Luminaries
Cited Date: October 15, 2021