Friday, August 5, 2011

LED Lighting Tutorial for Glitter Houses

I've had several requests for directions on lighting up the glitter house kits with LED lights. Hopefully, this tutorial will answer those questions as well as provide some general tips about working with LEDs.

Complete LED lighting set.
You will need:
First, a basic introduction to LED lights (the tutorial follows):

Why LEDs?
LED lights are much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.
  • They don't get hot (perfect for glitter houses, Christmas trees, and places where the lights will be dangerously close to flammable items).
  • They last a LONG time - 10 years/10,000 hours. It's very unlikely that you will have to tear apart your project to replace an LED light.
  • They give off a lot of light. In fact, sometimes they give off more light than is needed for our miniature projects. Thankfully there are ways to cut down the amount of light (discussed below).
  • They are tougher to break than an incandescent light because there isn't a filament.
What kind of power source do I need for LED lights?
LEDs for miniaturists are typically available in 3V, 9V and 12V. Depending upon the type of LED, you may use a:
  • 3V coin cell battery
  • 9V battery 
  • 9V regulated power adapter (it's important to check that the adapter is regulated; most are not)
  • 12V dollhouse power supply 
IMPORTANT: Make sure that the LED that you purchase is compatible with the power source that you intend to use it with.

A blue LED lends an eery look
to the Halloween Glitter House.
All of the LED lights purchased from True2Scale should be used with a 3V coin cell battery CR2032, NOT a dollhouse power supply or a 9V battery. The 3V battery is preferred for the glitter houses because it is small and allows for the freedom to move the display around without having to worry about hooking it up to a stationary power supply (for example: an outlet in your dollhouse). Also, the battery allows up to 10 lights to run for about 12 hours. 3 lights will run on a single battery for about 40 hours. The battery can then be changed.

This hutch, decorated by After Dark Miniatures, contains 8 glitter houses
with LED lighting. Battery and switch are located on the back of the hutch.

How to Add an LED Light to Your Glitter House Kit 

Conducting a Trial Test
Before the house is glued to the base, but after the roof piece(s) have been attached, you may wish to check the light. It is a good idea to see how the position of the LED in the house affects the way the light shines through the windows and door.
  1. Slip the battery into the battery holder (A), making sure that the plus (+) side of the battery is on the same side as the plus (+) sign on the battery holder. 
  2. Twist the LEDs red wire to the red wire on the switch (B). Then, twist the other wire to the black wire on the switch. 
  3. Turn on the switch. If it doesn't light up, take it to a dark room (this is a very small light after all) and try again. 
  4. When it is lit, slip it inside of the glitter house before the base has been glued to the house. Move the LED around to see how the light shines through the windows and door. Make a mark inside of the house showing the desired position of the LED. 
  5. Untwist the wires.
    Battery and battery holder (A), Switch (B), Shrink-tube (C), LED light (D)

    Changing the Brightness of the LED
    In my opinion, the LEDs are a bit too bright for the tiny glitter houses. To dim the light, I paint over the bulb with a white or cream color paint. Acrylic or enamel work just fine. If you feel that you want to dim the lights even more, you may wish to use 1/4 watt resistors. These come in a package of varying tolerances. You'll want to try different color resistors out to see which tolerance you prefer. You will need 2 resistors. 1) Slide the shrink tube over the wires. 2) Twist the red wire of the LED to the first resistor; twist the red wire of the switch to the resistor. 3) twist the green wire of the LED to the second resistor; twist the black wire of the switch to the other end of the second resistor. 4) Slide the shrink tubes over the connections and heat with a hair dryer until they have shrunk tightly around the connections.

    Making the LED Wires Shorter
    Straighten the wire of the LED. Figure out the length you want the bulb's wires to be. If you need to shorten the wires, you can re-expose the ends by gently sanding with a piece of fine sandpaper.

    Attaching the Light to the Glitter House
    Put a small amount of super glue on the inside of the house where you marked the position of the LED. Attach the LED to the house with the yellow side facing out (a green arrow is printed on the back side of the LED). Clamp the LED to the house with a tweezers or transparent tape and allow to dry thoroughly. Bend the wires to exit the back of the house. Don't worry about hiding the wires; they are so fine that they will not cause gaps, and may be covered with white paint, glue and glitter to blend into the snow. Glue the base to the house and decorate the house according to the directions supplied with the glitter house kit.

    Connecting the LED to the Switch
    Slip the black shrink-tubes (C) over the ends of the wire on the switch (B). Push them toward the switch. As before, you will twist the red wires together; and twist the black wire and the remaining wire together. Pull the black tubes down to cover the connections. Heat with a hair dryer until the black tubes shrink down to fit tightly around the wires. Enjoy your beautifully lit glitter house!

    Adding Additional LEDs to One Battery

    This is the method that I teach in workshops:
    1. Remove the colored varnish (red and green) from the ends of all the wires. You'll want approx. 1-1/2" of VERY SHINY copper showing. The easiest way is to burn it off with a lighter. Then use fine sandpaper to remove the charring. Again, the wires should be shiny copper when you are finished. The key to a good connection is removing the varnish completely.
    2. Hold all of the red wires PARALLEL. Twist the wires together VERY tightly. Do the same with                                                         the green wires. 
    3. Strip about 1" of the insulation from the wires on the switch unit. Put shrink tubes over the wires. Hold the red wire on the switch unit PARALLEL to the red wires of the LEDs. Twist together very tightly. Do the same with the black wire/green wires. 
    4. Fold the twisted portion of the wires down and pull the shrink tube over top of the bundle of wires. Test your connection. If it works without flickering, you're ready to heat the shrink tube with a hairdryer.
    5. Heat the shrink tubes with a hair dryer until the tubes have shrunk completely around the connections. 
    I recommend using no more than 10 LEDs per battery. The more LEDs used, the sooner the battery will need to be changed.


    1. I've been using these 3V LED's since I discovered them last December and I love them! I made a small hutch similar to the one shown for a Christmas swap in my mini club and was so pleased with the way it turned out I used them in a 1/2 scale project for general illumination (used the 3V with battery pack). For my part, I am going to be using them alot more! I am happy to find a battery operated light source that really works, for a change.

      Thanks for putting together this great tutorial.

    2. A very helpful posting if you want that extra spark! Well explained and so easy to follow, thanks for sharing.

    3. Gracias por explicarlo tan bien. No sabía cómo usarlos pero ahora lo intentaré.
      Un beso.

    4. Great tutorial! I love these little lights. :D

    5. Vielen Dank für die ausführliche Beschreibung. Das werde ich mal probieren.

      Und.... Ihre Weihnachtshäuser sind fantastisch.

      Liebe Grüße

      PuNo / Monika

    6. Very cute they are I like the miniature looks good when they use a LED light it give more light than before. And how to create a simple circuit by LED the energy efficient.