How to: Make DIY Marbled Christmas Lights For Under $20

I love the festivity of string lights and paper lanterns for the holidays, and they’re so easy to come by cheaply at the discount store. Except that, well, they look like cheap paper lanterns from the discount store. So, I came up with a way to put an arty spin on this classic – the perfect way to add a touch of modern to your holiday decor. This DIY project combines the best of both worlds: it’s affordable AND handmade. The use of black adds a little moodiness and masculinity to the season, reflecting the natural, outdoor components of the holiday season, rather than the glitter. So, gather your materials and make some with us!

DIY Marbled Christmas Lights 

Marbled Christmas Lights DIY


  • Plain Chinese paper lanterns (you can find them at the dollar store or your city’s Chinatown) – as many as needed to cover all the lights
  • Strand of white Christmas lights
  • Black and white nail polish (you can choose any other colours, just remember to keep it simple)
  • Chopstick or something to swirl paint
  • Bucket deep enough to dip the lanterns
  • Tray with paper towels to dry the lanterns

The lanterns cost around $8 bucks per pack and I already had some christmas lights at home. The nail polish was bought on sale at my local drug store (1.99 each) and you can use an empty container as your bucket (yogurt container?). See? Affordable!

Make it:

Marbled Christmas Lights DIY

1. Prepare materials:  It’s important to have everything ready prior to dipping your lanterns. First, assemble the lanterns (insert the plastic or metal thingy to expand them), get water in the bucket, prepare your drying tray, swirl stick, AND unscrew the nail polish so that is ready to be poured.

2. Get ready to dip: Now that everything’s in place…YOU GOTTA ACT FAST! Start by pouring the white polish, then the black (I find that lighter to darker works best), swirl a bit, and then dip the top part of the lantern FIRST. (nail polish dries super fast and gets crusty)

Now there are two ways to go about this:

  • The marble effect will fade almost at the bottom which can look like an ombre effect, you can leave it like this  – or –
  • You can clean the surface from the first dip using a napkin (drag it along the surface of the water to pick all the crusties), and then do a second dip but now bottom of the lantern FIRST, that way you get an even coating (which is what I did for this project).

TIP: The more you swirl, the thinner the lines will appear in your design. For a chunkier look don’t swirl at all and simply splash the polish in the water.

TIP TIP: use cold water to marble! If you use warm or hot water the polish will dry as soon as it hits it.

TIP TIP TIP: Make sure to do this in a well-ventilated area or you’ll end up losing a few brain cells. 

Marbled Christmas Lights DIY

Marbled Christmas Lights DIY

3. Set to dry and repeat: once you’re happy with the coating, place the freshly marbled lantern on the tray and allow it to dry, while that’s happening, repeat the same process for the rest of the lanterns (as many as you need for the Christmas lights).

Marbled Christmas Lights DIY

4. Assemble: Once all of the lanterns are completely dry, carefully take out the plastic/wire frame and attach it to the Christmas lights. Why are we doing this? It’s just easier! If you try to attach the whole lamp it’ll take forever and you could wreck them. Below you can see how they look prior to adding the lamp:

Marbled Christmas Lights DIY

5. Put a lamp on it: attach the lanterns to the fixed frames and voila! Get your tickets to the light show!

Marbled Christmas Lights DIY

I am actually pleasantly surprised by how these turned out. They kind of look like birch bark with the black and white, but the color combos you can create for this project are endless. If you want to do this project with kids and don’t want to use nail polish, try the marbling effect with acrylic paints or ink.

Have fun!

Project and photos: Gabriel Cabrera