There are so many ways to DIY a marquee sign right now. These projects can range from intense and long-term (think solid wood letters and nailed aluminum flashing for permanent marquee signage) to a sort of temporary “faux” marquee sign, with ornaments that look like lights but that don’t actually light up. This DIY Marquee Sign tutorial is kind of in the middle – it does light up, but it can be created without any power tools. Interested? Let’s get to it.
DIY Level: Beginner to Intermediate
- String of LED globe lights
- Foam core board (large enough to fit your marquee sign in one piece)
- Poster board
- Metal ruler
- Razor blade, box cutter, x-acto knife – whatever you call it
- Pencil, scissors, and a large piece of scrap butcher paper (big enough to fit your marquee sign)
- Hot glue gun & glue (not shown)
- Spray paint (not shown)
Begin by making a sketch of what you want your marquee sign to look like. This could be a word, a letter, a symbol, an animal…anything, really. This tutorial shows a chunky arrow; adjust directions accordingly to fit your sign content.
Determine the outside dimensions of your marquee sign, and cut a piece of butcher paper to those dimensions. For the arrow, fold the longest sides of your butcher paper into thirds.
Unfold one of the thirds and make a sharp crease on the other thirds-line so that it will be visible when you unfold the butcher paper.
Unfold the butcher paper, then fold the two shortest sides in half. The creased 1/3 line should be visible.
Line up your metal ruler with the folded corner closest to the 1/3 line, and angle the ruler down to where the 1/3 line meets the unfolded edge. Draw a line. This will be the point of your arrow.
Keeping your paper folded in half, roughly divide the 1/3 line into thirds again; mark these.
Place one edge of your ruler on the new 1/3 mark (on the 1/3 line) closest to the unfolded edge of your paper; run the ruler down to the bottom unfolded corner of your paper. Draw a line.
Keeping your paper folded, cut along these lines.
Open up your butcher paper; you should have a great, proportionate arrow. Of course, you can change the 1/3 measurements anywhere along the way; this is just an easy way to keep your arrow in a visual balance at any size.
Re-fold your arrow in half. Measure the length of one of the 1/3 marks (that you made on your 1/3 line; that length for this example was about 2-1/2”). Measure this distance from the bottom of the folded edge up the folded edge, and make a mark. Draw a line from this mark to the bottom unfolded corner, and cut.
This creates an interesting arrow’s end, although if you prefer the arrow straight, don’t worry about the last step.
Roll a couple of pieces of tape, sticky side out, and attach your butcher paper pattern to the foam core board.
Using your metal ruler, draw (or go straight to cutting with your razor blade) around the arrow’s perimeter.
Before you cut, make sure to have a piece of thick cardboard underneath your foam core board to protect the work surface. Also, make sure your razor blade is sharp (recommended new) for the cleanest cuts.
Carefully make sure corners are completely and cleanly cut before removing the foam core board from your arrow’s edges.
When your arrow is cut out, remove the butcher paper pattern.
Use your razor blade to clean up the edges of your arrow, if needed.
Set your arrow aside for a minute, and grab your poster board. Measure one of your globe bulbs from base to top (mine measured a little over 3”). This means, for this marquee sign, I want 2” of poster board flange on either side of the foam core board. Measure and mark 4” strips on your poster board.
Cut out the 4” strips. I recommend using your razor blade for this step as well to get a straight, crisp line. At least one of these strips’ edges will be visible when your sign is displayed, so keep it perfect.
Set your 4” poster board strips in a pile.
Measure one edge of your arrow (recommend starting with the longest).
Use this measurement to measure and cut a length of 4” poster board. For example, the long side of this arrow was 17-5/8” from corner to corner, so I cut a 17-5/8” length of poster board.
Continue working around your arrow, measuring each side to get a perfect length measurement. (They likely are identical, but just in case they’re off 1/8” or 1/16”, you can adjust accordingly.) Keep track of which poster board strip goes to which arrow side.
Make a halfway mark (2”) along each poster board strip. This line will be important for attaching the strips to the arrow.
Determine how many bulbs are on your LED globe light strand (this tutorial has 20). Then measure (or eyeball) positions for that number, or fewer, bulbs. As you position your markings, maintain enough space for the full diameter of the glass bulb. Also, do the corners first and work backward from there to evenly space the globe lights along the arrow sides between corners.
After you’ve marked your light positions, cut out a circle poster board circle guide by tracing the base of the light bulb (the top of the base, that’s closest to the glass part). Then punch a hole in the center of your circle guide. Trace the circle around each of your placement markings.
Your arrow should look something like this when you’re done.
Using your razor blade, cut out the circles.
Tip: Use your razor blade in an up-and-down way from the front, then turn the foam core board over and cut the circle out from the back. This was the cleanest and most efficient method I found for cutting these circles out.
When you’re done cutting the circles, your marquee sign will look something like this. You could now spray paint the foam board arrow and the cut poster board edge strips if you wanted. I chose to assemble the arrow first so that any glue would be painted (and, consequently, disguised) as well.
With your hot glue gun, work quickly and carefully to attach the marquee sign sides. Run a line of glue on one side of your line; this will allow you to be able to see the exact line as you place the sides on the arrow and result in perfect, parallel sides.
Working from the inner corner (where applicable) out, position your poster board strip onto the edge of your foam core board. You’ll want to work quickly, but you’ll also need to get it positioned correctly on the first try.
Be sure to keep each pencil line visible on the same side/front of your foam board, or the heights of your sides will vary.
Gently run your finger on the poster board strip where you’ve glued to secure the bond. Attach all poster board sides in this way.
To secure the corners, run a small line of hot glue on the inside of each corner and hold the joined strips in place while the hot glue dries. Do this to the front and back of each corner.
It looks good! You’re done with the hard parts. Now it’s onto the fun stuff – painting and attaching the globe lights.
Grab a can of spray paint in the color of your choice.
Work in light strokes to spray paint the inside and outside of each side piece, as well as the flat foam core board of your marquee sign. Do multiple coats until the spray paint coverage is the way you want it. Let dry thoroughly.
Determine where in your house your marquee sign will go, and the direction it will point. Then figure out where the nearest electrical outlet is. The circle cutout that’s closest to the outlet is where you should start placing your globe lights.
Unscrew the glass top off the first (closest to the plug) globe light.
Push the light base just into the determined circle cutout from the back of your marquee sign. The fit should be snug.
Screw on the glass top. Move onto the next light and next cutout. If you happen to have more bulbs than you have cutouts, skip a light every so often as you go so you don’t end up with a long strand of “empty” bulbs all at the end.
Working systematically around the perimeter of your sign, fill all cutouts with lights.
Carefully flip your marquee sign over. Loosely loop neighboring wires together to keep them from peeking out from behind your sign when it’s displayed.
Position then plug in your new marquee sign.
Congratulations! It looks great!
One benefit of light-up marquee signs is that they look good whether they’re turned on or not.
Marquee signs look great as an unexpected accessory, like in front of your fireplace.
It just has a cool, retro, “I’m-somewhere-cool-without-leaving-my-house” vibe, don’t you think?
Wherever you choose to display your new DIY marquee sign, we certainly hope you enjoy it! You’ve done a great job.