I'm using a Cricut brand vinyl cutting machine to make my luminary. You can use any brand of cutter you'd like, and laser cutters will work just as well. The trick is in getting the right materials for optimum diffusion and beauty.
I went to my local craft store and found the poster board section. My Cricut will cut poster board up to 2mm thick, so most of the thin flexible poster board at the craft store will work perfectly for this project.
My luminaries have two layers: a translucent diffusion layer, which is simple and structural, and the fancy outer layer made of pretty sparkly or colorful paper or poster board.
The Michael's craft store by my house sells a clear plastic poster board that is a wonderful diffusion material. It's flexible but fairly stiff and it diffuses light really well. It's also pretty cheap -- I paid two dollars for a huge poster-sized sheet of this stuff, which was enough for all 3 of my luminaries.
For the outside layer, I had the most success with light, sparkly poster board. It's tempting to use the pretty holographic or glittery sticky-back vinyl that's sold in rolls in the vinyl cutter section. However, with these intricate cuts and large surface areas, this stuff turns into nightmare soup when you have to weed and peel and stick it. It looks really nice, but the non-sticky poster board was much easier to work with, and sticks just as well with a little spray glue.
Poster board is also insanely cheap compared to branded rolls of vinyl, which can run between $15-$20 per roll, often with less actual surface area than a $0.99 poster board.
There are lots of ways to design your luminary. The quickest and easiest way is to find a pre-existing design that you like and purchase it, and then customize to your heart's content. Many really high quality designs are available for around a dollar or two. In the Cricut Design Space software, click "Images" from within the workspace and do a search on "luminary" or "lantern" to see all the designs that are available.
It's not hard to customize the designs, and it's often worth a dollar or two to know you've got a tried-and-true design complete with tabs and score lines and everything.
Cricut won't let me publish and share my project, so here's a video of how I customized this design to house the Circuit Playground.
I’m in the Cricut Design space, and I’m going to show you how to customize your design for use with a Circuit Playground Express.
It’s easiest to start with a premade lantern design. You can find lots of designs for just a dollar or two under the Images tab. I did a search on the word “lantern” and found one I liked.
Insert your design into the workspace. You won’t need to pay for it until you’re ready to cut, so don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different base designs.
The first thing we’ll do is ungroup the layers so we can start messing with them.
I want the base of the lantern and the bottom to be cut out of clear poster board. I only need one base so I’m going to delete this other square. The Crickit will cut like colors out of the same material so I’ll make the bottom the same color as the base.
This lantern is just one layer thick and I want two layers for better light diffusion. To make the diffusion layer I’ll copy and paste the walls of the lantern to make a duplicate. Now I’ll erase all the designs to make it plain.
Grab a square from the shapes menu. Click the lock button to unlock the aspect ratio and drag it so it covers all the flower designs. Select both layers — I’m holding down “shift” to select more than one layer — and choose Weld.
Now we have a nice blank but perfectly sized diffusion layer. Let’s make it the same color as the base so all three pieces will be cut from the same material.
Next, I want to add a custom snowflake design instead of the flower design on the sides of the lantern. I’ll use the same trick of welding a box to the shape, only this time I’ll leave the diamonds along the bottom. Now I’ve got a nice blank slate for my design.
I made my snowflake using Paul Kaplan’s fabulous online snowflake generator. Click and drag the circles to create your dream snowflake, and then you can easily import it into the Crickit Design space.
One thing to be careful of: this snowflake generator will allow you to cross the lines and make really intricate snowflakes with negative space. These look fabulous, but will be much harder to work with on the vinyl cutter. Each disconnected piece will need to be handled separately, which will make your life miserable later on. Simple is your friend, at least at first.
Once you’re happy with your snowflake, save it as an .svg so you can import it into the Crickit space.
Upload the file and import it into your workspace. Duplicate it with copy/paste, and use the align and distribute tools to get your snowflakes lined up perfectly. Once you’re happy with alignment, select all your snowflakes, and choose weld. Then select your background and choose slice. Delete the extra layers.
You can add more shapes or decorations right within the design space. Go nuts until your luminary is perfect. I’m going to keep it simple for this video, the tools are pretty self explanatory. Remember also to leave space for your capacitive touch buttons if you’re adding them.
If you want to resize your lantern, be sure to select all the pieces and resize them together at the same time. That way they’ll still fit together at the larger size.
The Crickit arranges the pieces onto your mats by color, so you can cut all the like materials at the same time. I’ve got my diffusion layer and base on one mat, and my pretty design on the other. Set your machine to “poster board” or “poster board plus” and get cutting.