Party lights help set the mood and transform any event into a lively celebration. With the right lighting, you can create an exciting atmosphere or a romantic ambiance. Party lights come in all shapes, sizes, and colors to accommodate any occasion. From string lights and lanterns to patterned projections and LED uplighting, lighting options are endless.
Party lighting serves both practical and decorative purposes. Bright, vibrant lighting keeps energy and spirits high during dances and activities. Softer, warmer lighting sets a relaxed tone for mingling and dining. Focused lighting illuminates pathways, buffets, stages, and seating areas. Accent lighting spotlights decorations, venues, or special areas. Thematic lighting reinforces the style of your party through color schemes and lighting effects.
This guide covers different types of party lights, lighting ideas for various celebrations, tips on designing an effective lighting setup, and safety recommendations when installing lights. With the right lighting plan, you can create a gorgeous ambiance and memorable experience for any party, wedding, or event.
Types of Party Lights
There are many types of lights to consider using when setting up the lighting for a party or event. Here are some of the most popular options:
String lights, also known as fairy or twinkle lights, are small light bulbs connected by wire. They give off a warm, cozy glow perfect for backyard parties, weddings, and any casual events. String lights can be used to decorate tents, gazebos, trees, railings, and more. Opt for LED string lights which last longer and are more energy efficient.
Flood lights are wide beam lights that produce a bright, broad light coverage. They are great for lighting up large outdoor areas or illuminating venues and stages. Flood lights come in both incandescent and LED varieties. LED flood lights consume less energy and don't get as hot.
Spotlights concentrate light in a narrow, focused beam. They are used to highlight specific objects, areas, or performers on a stage. Spotlights come in PAR, halogen, and LED types. PAR spotlights are ideal for lighting bands, DJs, or stages.
LED lights are energy efficient, long lasting, and available in a wide range of colors and effects. LED string lights, flood lights, spotlights, and par cans are great for parties. Battery powered LED lights can be placed anywhere without wiring.
Laser lights project bright, colored beams that can sweep and scan to create amazing lighting effects. They are perfect for nightclubs and dance parties. A fog machine can enhance laser effects.
A disco ball is a mirrored ball that spins and reflects lights in all directions, creating a fun retro dance club vibe. Position a disco ball over the dance floor and shine lights on it. Add disco ball style effects using a disco ball motor.
Lighting for Specific Events
When planning a party, think about what kind of atmosphere and visual effects would be appropriate for the occasion. The lighting can help reinforce the theme and mood. Here are some lighting ideas for common celebration events:
Birthdays: Use strings of colorful lanterns, balloons with lights inside, disco balls, or uplighting to create a fun, energetic vibe for a birthday party. Make a “Happy Birthday” sign or the person’s age in lights.
Weddings: Romantic lighting like candlelight, string lights, lanterns, and dimmer lighting sets the mood for weddings. Uplighting in the couple's colors helps bring life to the reception hall. Using gobos to create monogram projections is also popular.
Anniversaries: Sparkling string lights and candles make anniversaries warm and romantic. Creating cozy lamp lighting areas encourages guests to sit together and chat. Vintage Edison bulbs can complement anniversary themes.
Graduations: Celebrate graduates with festive, bright lighting. Use their school colors for uplighting or glow sticks. Make a "Congratulations Grad!" sign in lights. Disco balls and blacklights can liven up graduation parties.
Baby Showers: Pastel lighting like pinks, blues, and yellows give baby showers a sweet, playful atmosphere. Use decorative string lights or paper lanterns. Glow sticks in baby bottles offer fun, creative centerpieces.
Lighting for Different Party Areas
When planning the lighting design for your party, you'll want to consider the lighting separately for each main area or zone. Each part of your event space serves a different purpose and requires its own lighting approach.
The dance floor is where most of the action happens, so it should be the brightest and most vibrant area. Use color-changing LED lights, strobe lights, and laser lights to create a club or stage effect over the dance floor. Uplighting around the perimeter helps define the space and add color.
Food and Drink Area
For spaces where guests will be eating, drinking and mingling, go for a more relaxed, warm lighting design. String lights, lanterns and soft white light bulbs create an inviting ambiance. Avoid colored lighting here which can distort how the food looks.
A lounge or seating area is ideal for mood lighting. Use amber light bulbs, candles, small table lamps or wall sconces to make it feel cozy and inviting. This area is perfect for accent lighting like wall washers or well-placed spotlights.
Make sure your photo booth is brightly lit so guests look their best in photos. LED light panels or strips mounted on the ceiling work well. Adjust the color temperature to balance between warm and cool. Add some fun props with fairy lights built in.
Light up your party entrance with strings of Edison bulbs, marquee lights or customizable letter lights. Not only does this highlight where guests should enter, it also creates a warm and welcoming first impression.
Creating a Lighting Design
Careful planning and creative thinking are essential for designing an effective party lighting setup. Consider how you want the lighting to enhance the atmosphere and complement the overall theme or purpose of the event. Here are some tips for developing your lighting design:
Highlight key areas. Use focused lighting to draw attention to important party features or decor like the dance floor, bar/drink stations, food tables, photo booth, or DJ/band stage. Use bright flood lights or spotlights to spotlight these areas.
Set the mood. Use colored lighting, dimmers, and lamp types to create a desired ambiance that matches the party vibe. Warm white or yellow lights can create an intimate mood, while colorful lights bring excitement. Dim lighting sets a laidback tone.
Consider safety. Ensure adequate visibility in walkways, stairs, seating areas, and anywhere else guests will use. Provide sufficient brightness for safe navigation. Similarly, avoid overly dark corners or strong lights shining into guests' eyes.
Think about lighting layers. Use a combination of ambient, accent, and decorative lighting. Ambient lights like flood lights or string lights provide overall illumination. Accent lighting like spotlights highlight key areas. Decorative lighting like lanterns or LED cubes add a festive look.
Plan placement. Determine mounting locations for each light, considering outlet proximity, extension cord lengths if needed, and optimal spotlight angles. Ensure lights spread evenly to avoid overly bright and dark spots.
Be creative. Use unique lighting like glow sticks, lit balloons, paper lanterns, or fiber optics to enhance the decor and wow guests. Think outside the box for a memorable party atmosphere.
Hanging and Positioning Lights
Properly hanging and positioning your party lights is key to creating the look and ambiance you want. There are several methods you can use to hang lights both indoors and outdoors:
For indoor spaces, look for hooks already installed on walls and ceilings that you can hang lights from. Be sure to check the weight capacity of any hooks before hanging lights to ensure they can hold the weight. If there are no existing hooks, consider installing removable adhesive hooks that can securely hold lights but be removed afterwards without damaging walls or ceilings.
Cables offer a versatile way to hang string lights and other decor. look for secure anchor points like beams, hooks, or sturdy furniture to wrap cables around. Make sure cables have enough slack so lights can be positioned as needed but not so much that the cable sags. Use cable clips or ties to attach lights directly to the cable at your desired spacing.
Free standing light stands offer a quick and adjustable way to position party lights. Collapsible stands can be set up and taken down with ease. Place taller stands in the back and shorter ones in front to create depth and layers. Secure cords to prevent tripping hazards. Weighted stands are less likely to tip over if knocked into.
For outdoor parties, rectangular frames or arcs give you a structure to neatly hang string lights or other decor. Stake frames into the ground or weigh them down for stability. Adjust lights along the frame to achieve the look you want.
Poles allow you to hang overhead lights like lanterns. Look for sturdy poles that can be securely placed in the ground or weighted. Adjustable height poles allow you to raise lights up to just the right level.
Regardless of the mounting method, carefully secure lights to prevent any safety hazards. Check that hooks, cables, stands and frames can handle the weight load. Use quality lighting clips, ties, or fasteners to attach lights. Do not overload outlets and use outdoor rated cords outside. Take weather conditions like wind and rain into account when positioning lights.
Powering Your Lights
Lighting up your party takes power. With lots of lights, speakers, and other equipment running, you'll need robust and safe ways to deliver electricity. Here are some tips on powering your party lights:
Extension cords are essential for running power to your lighting setups and equipment. Opt for heavy duty, 12-14 gauge outdoor rated extension cords. Ensure cords are properly rated for their amperage to avoid overheating. Use cords with sufficient length to run along edges and avoid tripping hazards. Don't overload extension cords with too many high-power devices.
Use surge protector power strips to safely power multiple devices from one outlet. Choose surge protectors with adequate joule ratings and number of outlets for your needs. Make sure to only plug in as many items as the surge protector is designed for. Position surge protectors properly to avoid tripping dangers or overheating.
For large outdoor parties, generators can provide the electrical capacity you need. Choose a generator rated for the total wattage of equipment to be powered. Follow the manufacturer's safety guidelines on operation and refueling. Position generators away from party areas due to dangerous exhaust fumes. Turn off before refueling.
Battery powered lights and decorations can provide lighting options without cables. Opt for good quality rechargeable batteries to power LED light strings and decorative lights. Ensure batteries are fully charged before the party. Have spare batteries on hand for swapping when lights start to fade.
Lighting effects can transform the look and feel of your party. With modern lighting technology, you have many options to create an exciting ambience. Here are some popular lighting effects to consider:
Color-changing LED lights allow you to set any color you want. You can manually control the color or set the lights to slowly transition between colors. Place color-changing lights throughout the party or use them to illuminate decorations and accent walls. The ability to match colors to your party's theme is a big plus.
Look for lights with dimming capability. Dimming allows you to set the right ambience for any occasion, whether a relaxed social gathering or energetic dance party. Slowly dim the lights as the evening progresses to set the mood.
Add excitement with flashing lights. Strobe lights and bulbs that flash on and off are fun for energetic parties and dancing. Just take care not to overdo it as flashing lights can cause sensory overload.
Motion Sensor Lights
Motion sensor lights turn on automatically when someone passes by. Place them along pathways and entryways to conveniently light the way without needing switches. This provides safety and flair. Position motion sensor lights pointing upwards in trees and shrubs for a magical effect.
Renting party lights can take your event to the next level without breaking the bank. There are rental companies that specialize in event lighting and provide everything from basic string lights to complex LED displays. Here's what you need to know about lighting rentals:
Search for "party lighting rentals" in your area to find companies that offer lighting for events. Look for companies with a large inventory and good reviews. National chains like Party City offer basic rentals, while independent rental houses may have more unique lighting options.
Types of Rentals
Common party lighting rentals include:
- String lights - hanging Edison bulbs or LEDs
- Uplighting - LED floor lights to illuminate walls
- Gobo lights - templates to project patterns
- Moving heads - rotating, automated lights
- Lasers - lighting effects
- Strobe lights - rhythmic flashing lights
- Blacklights - UV lighting
- Bubble/fog machines - atmospheric effects
Lighting rental pricing depends on the type of lights, duration, and quantity. Simple string lights can be around $10 per strand per day. Uplighting may be $25-100 per fixture for a multi-day rental. Advanced moving heads and lasers range from $100-300 each. The more complex the lighting, the higher the rental cost. Discuss budgets and deals with the rental company to get the best value.
When using party lights, it's important to prioritize safety. Here are some tips to prevent hazards and accidents:
Using Indoor/Outdoor Lights Properly
Check that any outdoor lights you use are rated for outdoor use - indoor-only lights can short circuit or start a fire if exposed to moisture. Outdoor lights should have covers to protect from the elements. Only use indoor lights inside, never outside where they can get wet.
Inspect all lights, wires, connectors, and plugs for damage before using. Discard any with frayed cords, cracked lamp holders, loose connections or broken plugs. Position lights away from flammable materials like curtains. Never leave lights on unattended.
Use caution when running wires and cords. Tape down or cover any wires people may trip over. Don't overload outlets with too many lights. Don't run cords through doorways or under carpets where they can be damaged. Use outdoor extension cords for outdoor lights.
Following basic safety principles will allow you to enjoy your party lighting while preventing accidents. Focus on inspecting equipment, positioning carefully, and monitoring lights to create a safe, illuminated event.