DIY Light-Up Café Sign

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Hi, guys! Mandi here. Ranking among my favorite decor trends this year is definitely the light-up kitchen sign. I adore the neon lights and vintage beer clocks, but something that most of us can afford and appreciate is a light-up café sign. And who knew? They're pretty easy to make too!

My inspiration for this project came from this light-up frame found on Handmade Charlotte, and after searching the Internet to see if anyone else had made something similar, I found this great project from Vintage Revivals. I wanted to make something much smaller, though, and also wanted to use as many pre-assembled and inexpensive supplies as possible. So check it out, kids! Here's my small shadow box café sign project that's really easy to make in a single afternoon!

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Supplies:
-small but deep shadow box (I bought mine in the wood crafts department at a local craft store and had hanging hardware attached): $6
-wood stain (I used leftover from many previous projects)
-2 pieces of 1/4x1x24 basswood: $4.50
-stencil plastic: $1
-contact paper (I used leftover pieces from previous projects)
-spray paint: $4
-small LED string lights (I ended up using these tiny lights, not the ones shown above:) $6.25
-printed clip art template available here

Total cost of supplies: $21.75

Tools:
-paint brush or rag for applying stain

-miter box saw (like this inexpensive one), or electric miter chop saw, or a small craft saw as shown (I bought a small craft saw for $3, but it was difficult to get accurate cuts. I suggest as least getting the miter box saw for this project.)
-craft blade
-hot glue gun

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Step One: Cover the rough side of your stencil plastic with contact paper. Trace around the shadow box onto the contact paper to create the parameters of your coffee cup icon.

Step Two: Lay the stencil plastic over the top of the coffee cup icon (printable from here) and trace the image, making sure it's centered inside the border you drew in step one. Be sure to draw on the contact paper, not the stencil plastic.

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Step Three: Cut out four frame pieces using a miter box saw or carefully using a handsaw. Your goal is to cut out four pieces the exact same size with the same 45-degree angle ends. Lay the pieces over the top of the shadow box to make sure they make a square. Trim angles as needed if they don't meet up tightly at the corners.

Step Four: After you know your frame pieces are cut accurately, you can stain them along with the shadow box. You may choose to sand them down after staining with some steel wool for a nice, silky finish.

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Step Five: As your stain is drying, trim the stencil plastic a bit smaller than the size of the border you drew in step one. Cut out the shape of the clip art from the contact paper, being careful to press very, very lightly with the craft blade, or you will accidentally cut out the plastic stencil as well. The goal is just to cut the contact paper, but not the stencil material behind it. After you cut around the edges of the clip art shape, peel away the background of the image, leaving contact paper only where the steam lines, cup, and saucer are. 

Step Six: Spray a few light and even layers of spray paint over the masked image and onto the rough side of the stencil.

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Step Seven: After the paint has dried, very gently peel away the contact paper from the stencil plastic, revealing the shape of steam, cup, and saucer. Protect the painted surface of the stencil with a fresh layer of clear contact paper.

Step Eight: Use a hot glue gun to attach the stencil to the front of the shadow box. Then use glue to attach the frame to the front of the stencil.

IMG_8705Step Nine: Using hot glue or adhesive-backed cup hooks (as I did), place your string lights* into the back of the box, trying to arrange the grouping of lights as evenly as possible. I ended up putting a cup hook on the middle of each wall of the shadow box and stringing the lights every which way around them. The lights I bought are strung along wire, so they bend nicely and stay in place really well!

*For safety reasons, make sure the lights you put inside the box do not put out any heat. LED lights are the best option for this project. Also, never leave lights turned on when leaving your house or going to bed at night.

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!To display the light, you can use the pre-attached hanging hardware on the shadow box or use wall-mounting adhesive, as I ended up doing on my brick wall. I'm glad I bought a set of tiny string lights for a nice, even glow inside the box, and the battery-powered function hides any ugly wires. I don't have to use this light near an outlet! Victory!

Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Make this fun light-up café sign for less than $25!Turn on the light for a cozy glow in the kitchen, and make a pot of coffee to enhance the atmosphere! Not a fan of coffee? You could browse the Internet for other free clip art shapes, like martini glasses, wine glasses, or even fruit or animal shapes! –Mandi

Credits // Author and Photography: Mandi Johnson. Photos edited with Spring and Valentine of the Signature Collection.

  • Brilliant!!!!! I LOVE coffee and I LOVE this!!!! 😀

  • Before reading your instructions, I actually thought that the front piece was on hinges, opening up kind of like a medicine cabinet for easy access to turn on the lights. Could be easier than taking it off the wall! 🙂

  • Yeah, you’ll have to take it off the wall if you’re using battery powered lights. You can string the lights tightly around some adhesive cup hooks to keep them from moving as you do so. You’ll probably also want to secure the battery pack with some double-sided foam tape to keep that secure too. I attached my box to the wall using those 3M velcro hooks so it’s super easy to just tilt it up and reach in to turn on the switch. 🙂

    -Mandi

  • Yes, you’ll have to take it down to turn it on and off, unless you use string lights that have a switch or plug into the wall. I liked the more even glow that the tiny lights gave inside the box, though, so I opted not to use the plug-in style. Also, I attached mine to the wall with those 3M plastic velcro strips, so it’s super easy to pull on and off the wall really quickly. To keep the switch box from falling out every time, just use some double-sided foam tape to keep it in place. I thought about showing how to hardwire a light box, but it would’ve been much larger and much more difficult of a project, so I thought we’d all appreciate something really simple and sweet. 🙂

    -Mandi

  • If you wanted the switch to be on the outside of the box, you would have to use a light that has a switch or a plug attached and just plug/unplug it from the wall like standard lights. I liked the more even glow that the tiny lights gave inside the box, though, so I opted not to use the plug-in style. Also, I attached mine to the wall with those 3M plastic velcro strips, so it’s super easy to pull on and off the wall really quickly. To keep the switch box from falling out every time, just use some double-sided foam tape to keep it in place. I thought about showing how to hardwire a light box, but it would’ve been much larger and much more difficult of a project, so I thought we’d all appreciate something really simple and sweet. 🙂

    -Mandi

  • Oooh, that was confusing! Thanks for asking! I corrected the directions to be more clear. You definitely want to trace only on the contact paper, so you can peel it away. You should probably just begin by covering the rough side of the stencil plastic with the contact paper.

    -Mandi

  • Wonderful idea! Just one thing, in steps one and two do you trace the box and picture onto the stencil plastic or contact paper? You mention that it should be the contact paper in step five, but the stencil plastic in steps one and two so just wanted to double check before I try it!

  • The most complicated things are the simplest. Thank you for such a good idea!

  • such a genius idea! and you can do so much to it to make it your own. thanks for sharing!

    love, arielle
    a simple elegance

  • I love this idea, but is there a trick to simplifying turning it on and off? I have a string of those LED battery powered fairy lights, but I can’t imagine it would be that convenient to have to take the box down, fumble around for the switch, and then do so again to turn it off? Is that how you’re doing it?

  • How cute is this?! I’m decorating my kids room in a retro circus theme and these would be adorable as a set of 3 with animals or stars on them. Thanks for sharing!b

  • Mandi, can I live in your brain for just one day and soak up some of your creativity?!

  • okay this is just so cool. Mandi you’re the best, I love all of your DIYs, they are always useful, always so well done and on top of that you explain it so well.
    Thank you 🙂

    The Appleberry

  • What an awesome idea! Love it!

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  • Cute project! You could do so many different things with this idea. Very creative.

  • I appreciate that you broke down the cost – and that yellow + white mug is too cute!

  • Do you have to take it off the wall to turn the lights on and off?

  • This is an awesome idea. You’ve made it look so easy that I just have to give this a try. Off to source out the supplies needed. Thanks for sharing.

  • This is so cool! I saw something like it in someone’s kitchen once and now I can make my own :).

  • If it is battery powered, how do you turn it on and off? Do you have to take it down to do so?

    Consider me inspired! 🙂

  • This is one of the cutest ideas I’ve ever seen! I would love to do something like this is my room too!

  • This is the cutest idea. It’d be awesome to adapt the concept to make a cute type sign. Something short like, “Breakfast Time” or “Yum yum!” or something along those lines… xD Good idea!
    Deanna | http://iamcurlytop.blogspot.com

  • such an amazing idea! I will try one with a different thing 🙂 maybe my blog logo in my bedroom

    I would love it!

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