How To Make a Paper Bag Lantern

Row of paper bag lamps

Paper lanterns are usually associated with Eastern countries like China and Japan, with the sophisticated designs and red paper that is typical of Chinese lanterns. Paper lanterns look great, as they give a subtle illumination and a certain old, eerie feel to a room. These lanterns are usually used during the Halloween season and St. Patrick’s Day in the US. Aside from these occasions, you can use paper lanterns during romantic dinners at home, or for house parties.

You can create your own lantern by using a paper bag. You need not buy fancy paper for your materials, but instead, recycle your shopping bags. Thick plastic bags that can stand upright can also be used. You can also use printed bags so the light the lantern will cast will be more colorful.

To make a paper bag lantern, you will need these materials: 

  • paper bag
  • scissors or cutter
  • pencil
  • small candles or small light bulbs

Plain paper bags can be customized by coming up with designs that you can draw onto it or by cutting or stamping a certain shape. The nice effect of having cutouts on the paper bag is that the shape shines out of the paper bag, and it casts a nice shadow on walls. If you do not like stenciling or cutting designs, then colored shopping bags can be used, and the colors will fill the room.

When cutting out designs, first, sketch your design on both sides of the paper bag. Then cut out the design. If you are using a cutter, use newspapers under the paper bag to prevent cutting through the table. Make sure that the paper bag can still stand after the design is cut. It is advisable to limit the design to a relatively small size to prevent the paper bag from sagging, as this might cause accidents and the paper bag might burn if it sags and touches the candle or light bulb.

Once the design is cut, you can test your paper bag lantern by lighting a small candle inside. Make sure it does not touch any part of the paper bag, and keep the top portion of the bag open. You can make your lantern more interesting by placing colored plastic over the design, so the lamp casts colored light.

For a simpler way to put designs on the paper bag, you can also do perforation, and use pins or thumbtacks and punch holes through the pattern. The lamp will cast tiny dots of light in the dark.

Fun activities like shadow puppet shows can be more interesting with paper bag lanterns. You can also use paper puppets, since you are already into paper crafts with the lanterns. This is a good family activity. Encourage the kids to sing a song, bring out your music players while playing with the puppets, and keep an eye on the lanterns.


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