How to Make DIY Memorial Lanterns: Step-By-Step

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A memorial lantern is a unique way to honor and remember a loved one you’ve lost. And creating your own unique and personalized memorial lantern is even more meaningful. 

A DIY memorial lantern can be a great way to mark a death anniversary, the deceased’s birthday, or even as a way to include departed relatives at a wedding. You can give a DIY memorial lantern as a gift to someone who’s lost a loved one, too. And memorial lanterns are a perfect alternative to sky lanterns, which can be a dangerous fire hazard. 

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If you want to create a memorial lantern in honor of someone you love and miss, you don’t have to be a DIY expert. You just need a few basic supplies, as well as a step-by-step guide to follow, which we’ll provide below. 

Post-loss tip: Creating a unique memorial isn't the only complicated task you—or someone you know—may be facing after losing a loved one. Our post-loss checklist can help sort out what comes next. 

What You’ll Need Before You Start

Whenever you’re starting a DIY project, it’s a good idea to gather up your supplies ahead of time. Get everything you need together in one room, so you don’t have to hunt all over the house throughout the crafting process. 

For a DIY memorial lantern to remember a loved one, you’ll want to find or buy the following supplies and materials: 

  • A lantern. You have multiple options when it comes to the lantern: 
    • A real lantern. You can use any old lantern you have around, as long as it has square or rectangular sides and easy access to the interior.
    • A decorative lantern candle-holder. Alternatively, you can use a decorative lantern like those you’ll find at many craft stores, as well as home goods stores. Again, make sure it has square or rectangular sides. 
    • A photo-frame lantern. You can even find decorative lanterns that are already designed for you to insert photos on each side. 
    • A DIY photo-frame lantern. If you’re feeling extra crafty, you can construct your own “lantern” using four photo frames, attached at the edges to form a cube. You can then add a metal or rope handle to the top to complete the look. 
  • A battery-operated electric candle or string of LED fairy lights. 
  • A ruler or measuring tape. 
  • Photos of your departed loved one. 
  • Tape or adhesive. 

Once you have the essential supplies listed above, consider adding some of the optional supplies and materials below: 

  • Paint that’s suitable for metal, wood, or plastic if you want to paint the lantern a different color. 
  • A printer with inkjet vellum paper to print more translucent photos. 
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9 Steps for Making a Memorial Lantern

Now that you have all the supplies you’ll need, you can get started following the step-by-step guide below. Make sure to read through all of the steps to get an idea of the full process before you begin. 

1. Measure the sides of your lantern 

You might have noticed that one of the required materials listed above was a ruler or measuring tape. 

That’s because you might need to measure the dimensions of your lantern’s sides. This will help you get the size right for your photos.

Measuring isn’t always necessary: some decorative lanterns are specifically designed to hold standard-sized photos. And if you created your own lantern out of photo frames, the same idea applies.

2. Protect your memories: digitize your photos

If you’re using paper photos for your DIY lantern, make sure you’ve digitized those pictures first. Scan them into your computer yourself or engage a professional service (if you have lots of photos that only exist on paper). 

The copy you’ll be using for your memorial lantern could become damaged, so you don’t want it to be the only one you have. Digitizing your photos also means you can easily resize the photos to fit a larger or smaller lantern. 

3. Crop and resize your photos

If you just need to take off a few centimeters to make a photo fit, you can just use good, old-fashioned scissors.

But if you need more extensive or intricate cropping and resizing, digital tools are your best choice. You can use nearly any photo-editing software you’re familiar with, or you can use Adobe’s free online resizing tool.

Below, we’ll go over some of the basics of resizing your photo to fit your memorial lantern; if you need more help cropping and resizing your photo, check out your software’s manual or FAQ section:

Photo sizes for your memorial lantern

The width and height of a photo are measured in pixels rather than centimeters or inches. For a high-quality photo, this is how the number of pixels translates to the most common photo sizes for a memorial lantern: 

  • 5x7 - 1500x1200
  • 6x8 - 1800x2400
  • 8x10 - 2400x3000

Cropping a photo to avoid warping

First, you’ll need to click “crop and straighten” and select the aspect ratio that matches your desired photo measurements. This prevents your photo from warping when you resize it. 

Here are some examples of aspect ratios you can choose for the common DIY lantern photo sizes listed above: 

  • 5x7 - 5:7 (or 7:5 flipped sideways)
  • 6x8 - 3:4 (or 4:3 flipped sideways)
  • 8x10 - 4:5 (or 5:4 flipped sideways)

Within the same crop screen, you can then grab and drag the corner of the crop box to enlarge or shrink it while maintaining the same aspect ratio. 

Properly resizing the photo to fit

Now you can click the “resize” option, and enter the correct number of pixels for your desired width and height. 

If you flipped your picture sideways, make sure you enter the width into the height box and vice-versa. 

4. Print your photos

Once you’re done editing the photos you want to use for the lantern, print some trial copies of those photos on regular printer paper. This will show whether or not your computer and printer are communicating correctly about the size of the photos. 

Next, you can either print the final copies of your photos on photo paper or printer paper, or you can print the final copy on inkjet vellum. Make sure you use printer-compatible vellum since you cannot print on regular vellum!

Using vellum in place of photo paper will let more light shine through the photos. This creates a beautiful, luminous effect, but it can also make small details in the photos less visible. 

5. Create and print written text

On one side of your memorial lantern, you might want to include written text in place of a photograph. The text can be your loved one’s name, birth date, and death date, or a special quote. You can also add clipart and simple symbols, like birds, hearts, or stars, to your text document. 

To create the written part of your memorial lantern, simply use a word processor like Google Docs or MS Word. Choose a font that suits your memorial lantern — likely a handwriting or calligraphy font. Then just type out your text (and spell-check it!) and add any clipart or images you’d like. 

Next, print the text document. On the print screen, select a size that matches the sides of your lantern. You might need to adjust the text and where it sits on the page, depending on the size. 

Printing your text in black on inkjet vellum can create a beautiful, written silhouette. 

6. Repaint or decorate your lantern

Before you attach your photos and written text to the lantern, you should repaint or decorate your lantern however you’d like. You might want to change the color or add details like glitter or silk flowers. 

If you’re helping a child create a memorial lantern, you can help them paint images like hearts, flowers, and butterflies on the lantern using non-toxic paint. 

7. Affix or insert your photos

Now it’s time to place your photos in the lantern. Again, there are several options for this, and the one you choose depends on preference and your lantern: 

  • Photo frames. If you created a lantern out of photo frames, you’ll need to carefully open up the backs of the frames to insert the photos. Alternatively, you can insert your photos before you construct the lantern if you use this method. 
  • Photo lantern. And if your lantern is made to hold photos, of course, you’ll insert your photos quickly and easily. 
  • Clear adhesive dots. If you have a decorative lantern or regular lantern, you can use a clear adhesive or transparent adhesive dots at the corners of your photos. 
  • Decoupage. You can decoupage the photo onto the glass. But keep in mind that decoupage will make your photo more transparent.
  • Photo clips. You can affix small photo clips to the inside of your lantern to hold the photo in place.
  • Adhesive paper. You can buy sheets of translucent adhesive paper, which you can then trim to fit your lantern. You’ll need to make the paper slightly larger than your photo. 

8. Add your lights

Finally, it’s time to put in your electric candle or fairy lights. If you’re using fairy lights, place them so that the battery pack is hidden at the top of the lantern. 

Creating Memorial Lanterns with Loved Ones

Instead of creating sky lanterns, which can easily start structure fires and wildfires, or releasing balloons, which creates litter, you can gather your friends and loved ones to create DIY memorial lanterns. 

Ask everyone to bring a lantern, as well as the photos they want to use. They can bring paper copies of their photos, but it’s easier to ask everyone to bring a thumb-drive containing the photos or upload the photos to a cloud storage drive. You can even invite everyone to upload their photos to the same Dropbox or Google Drive folder. 

Once they arrive at your home, you can print everyone’s photos on vellum paper and provide the additional supplies, like paint and printed quotes. Then, help everyone piece together their DIY lanterns and place electric candles inside. Have everyone turn their candles on and place the lanterns around the room for a heartwarming memorial. 

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