Party lighting is often overlooked as a powerful decorating option with the ability to create dramatic visual displays, as well as affect the mood of your guests. Take a little extra time to plan lighting for your party with a variety of types, methods, and options to add interest, effects and ambiance for little extra cost.

Party Lighting Purposes

The right lighting will achieve practical and aesthetic effects that add another dimension to your event.  Make your lighting serve both practical and aesthetic purposes for the greatest impact.

Practical

From a practical standpoint, lighting offers illumination, safety and heat.  It is important to have enough light to see facial expressions, movements and contrasting colors, as well as to see faces across the room.

Conversely, light that is too white or bright is unflattering to the human eye.  Balance soft warm light to illuminate the room that will make your guests visible, but not their blemishes.

For safety, light walkways and areas of movement so your guests can see without tripping.  You may use brighter lights at ankle level instead of lighting the entire stairway or outdoor path.  Or for temporary safety lighting, use white glow sticks, rope or mini-lights on steps and around dangerous areas.

The type of lights you choose can also provide a source of heat. Incandescent lights and candles can generate quite a bit of additional warmth, therefore plan lighting and air circulation accordingly.

Aesthetic

Aesthetically speaking, your party lights and placement can set the mood, highlight features, and introduce unique elements. Here are some ideas for setting specific moods:

Elegant - Romantic 

Use candlelight as your primary source with votive, taper, pillar, and floating candles to create an elegant, but comfortable atmosphere. Augment, if needed, with indirect incandescent lights. Light a fire in the fireplace or place candles, if it is too warm for a fire.

Magical - Mystical

Use lanterns, string lights, fairy lights, fairy berries, orbs, mini/twinkle lights to create a magical or mystical setting. Use votive or tealight holders with stars and/or moons.  Use votive holders of blue, purple, teal, and amber.

Modern - Energetic 

Use spot lights, disco lights, moving or spinning lights and/or a mirrored ball, LED lights, uplights, colored lights and lasers. In addition, decorate with reflective surfaces such as, metal, crystal, and mirror reflection. Also, use votive holders lined with metallic paint or colored black and frosted white glass.

Happy - Festive 

Use many light sources throughout the party area with uplights and warm lights focused on specific areas. Add fun fixtures such as paper lanterns, string lights & LED lights. Also, use warm votive holders of orange, yellow, pink, and amber.

Artsy - Trendy 

In addition to indirect & candlelight, add direct or hard light to spotlight art or interesting features. Use uplights, backlighting, colored bulbs, and novelty lights. Use votive holders of pink, purple, amber, and teal.

In addition, use lighting to add interest by incorporating fun and thought-provoking lighting elements relevant to your theme and colors, such as, string lights, LED ice cubes, colored submersible floralytes, lamps, and theme-related votive holders.

Party Lighting Types and Methods

Mix lighting types and methods to create contrasting textures and visual interest. Choose from a variety of lighting types depending upon your method of use and purpose.  The most common lighting sources are:
  • Incandescent
  • LED
  • Candlelight
  • Natural
  • Fluorescent
  • Laser
  • Glow
  • Halogen
  • Neon
The type of lighting used is largely determined by the method or fixture.
  • Indirect and diffused light is ideal for creating a warm ambiance using incandescent, LED or candlelight.
  • Spot or Track allows you to highlight features, decorations, or key areas, such as the bar, art or decorations, using halogen or incandescent bulbs.
  • Downlighting or overhead lights are the most common way to light a large area.  Overhead lights should only be used with a dimmer (rheostat) switch on a low setting. Fluorescent lights create cold and unflattering light and should not be used expect in creating special effect; never use fluorescent downlighting for a party.
  • Uplighting creates a more dramatic effect and is often used to light corners and architectural features.
  • Backlighting also creates a dramatic effect by highlighting the silhouette of an object while forming a rim or halo effect.
  • Novelty lighting is an excellent way to add specific elements of interest related to your theme or colors. LED, glow and string lights are common novelty products and include submersible floral lights, glow necklaces, and lava lamps.
  • Special effect lighting add a unique and fun quality to any party and include LED, laser, glow, neon, and special applications of incandescent light.
 Party Lighting Options

There are numerous lighting options to create different moods and effects to fit the needs of your party. Here are some lighting choices to consider:

Electric

Electric lighting is typically readily available; but try to make these common options unique for your event.
  • Overhead lights are obviously the most common and should be used sparingly, if at all, and only on a dimmer switch.
  • Table lamps are an easy way to add indirect lighting to an area, but make it relevant by adding a theme appropriate shade, such as a leopard skin print for a retro party.
  • Floor lamps can also be adapted to your theme or add lighting effects such as spot and uplighting.
  • Sconces should also be used on a low setting and offer a better alternative to overhead lighting.
Candles

Candles come in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and effects and offer light that is warm and flattering, while introducing movement to the party area.
  • Candle Types
    • Votive candles are about 2 high by 1-1/2 wide that melt into a liquid and burn for 10 to 15 hours.  They must be used in a votive candle holder that is only slightly larger than the candle itself
    • Tealight candles are encased in a metal or plastic holder and also melt into a liquid.  Because of their small size their burn life is much shorter.  Tealights are commonly used in decorative holders, which are not suitable to hold the melted wax.
    • Taper candles, also called stick candles, are tall thin candles that are often used in an elegant or dinner setting. Tapers are typically available from 6 to 16 tall and  to 7/8 wide and are used in candle stick holders and candelabras.
    • Pillar candles are self-standing candles that come in a variety of heights and widths with one or more wicks. They are typically round, but may also be square, hexagonal or other shapes.  Pillar candles are burned on a heat-resistant base plate, mirror, or pedestal.
    • Floating candles are typically shaped candles that float on water. Use floating candles to create unique displays and centerpieces.
    • LED tealights are now used to simulate the flickering effect and warm light of candles without the safety hazard. Although they are a little more expensive, the battery life is typically 60 hours and can be replaced.
  • Candle Holders let you create unique lighting touches for your party. While tealight, LED, and votive candles are used with decorative holders, you may also use poured wax, tapers, and pillars in decorative displays.  Here are a few ideas for inspiration:
    • Natural Holders
      • Bamboo
      • Shells
      • Coconuts
      • Egg shells
      • Hollowed fruit
      • Pumpkin with drilled holes
    • Luminaries
    • Glass Holders
      • Transparent
        • Mason jars
        • Holders within vases, filled with water or sand
      • Colored
      • Painted
      • Wrapped in paper or fabric
String Lights

String lights are typically 10 to 100 electric lights connected on a single wire circuit. They are available in a variety colors and styles with incandescent or LED bulbs powered via solar, 12 V, or standard AC power.  String lights are a resourceful way to illuminate and designate party areas outdoors, but are also an entertaining party decoration for indoors, as well. Here are some of your options:
  • Rope lights are a strand of bulbs encased in a plastic sheath. You can position these lights as if it were a piece of rope under cabinets, around doorways, etc.
  • Wire lights are a strand of bulbs attached to bendable wire, which you is useful when positioning lights in floral displays and centerpieces.
  • Net lights are bulbs fitted along stretchable netting and are useful when covering a hedge or bushes.
  • Umbrella lights are designed to run under the ribs of a large patio umbrella.
  • Novelty lights include theme-related lights or covers for each bulb and come in every size shape and color including: beach balls, pink flamingos, palm trees, chefs hats, beer mugs, margarita glasses, chili peppers, flowers, shells, and many more.
  • Mini lights are small tapered colored or clear bulbs on longer strands green or white wire and are often called Christmas lights.
  • Globe lights are much like mini-lights with a small round colored or clear bulb.
  • C7 and C9 bulb string lights use the largest size bulbs in string lights and are useful for illuminating large areas such as an outdoor deck or party area.
Novelty Lights

Novelty lights include fun and unique applications of light in products and decorations.
  • Submersible LED Floral lights
  • LED Ice Cubes
  • Glow products
  • Necklaces
  • Swizzle sticks
  • Glow Sticks
  • Lava lamps
  • Plasma balls
  • Glow in the dark items
  • Fairy berries
Decorative Lighting
  • Paper Lanterns come in many shapes, colors, and sizes and add a festive element to a designated area. Available with bulbs for lighting or without for decoration, they come in every shape including round, oval, square, beehive, cocoon, pagoda, urn and more.
  • Orbs are glowing light spheres that add a unique lighting effect when used in a dark area.  They are typically battery powered in many different colors.
  • Icicle lights are available in the traditional style of a string light set with icicles of varying lengths; and are now available as a moving LED light that simulates water droplets dripping down an icicle.
  • Spot and track lighting is an effective use of hard lighting to draw attention to key areas, decorations, and architectural features.
  • Base lighting refers to uplighting from the base of an object and can be accomplished with a flat base fixture with lights built-in. Base-lighting creates a dramatic effect with glass vases and spheres.
Flame Lighting

A fireplace or outdoor firepit is a natural source of light for your party. When the weather is warm, use candles in your fireplace to add light without the heat of a fire.

Oil and kerosene flames are an economical and impressive way to light outdoor areas and walkways.  The most common methods are tiki torches and hurricane lanterns.

Lighting Effects

For amazing lighting effects that are original and unique, investigate these ideas:
  • Spinning lights or globes with colored filters are inexpensive and easy to find.
  • Laser light projectors create a sound-activated light show on the ceiling and offer a unique lighting element for a relatively low cost.
  • Strobe lights are a unique addition for a Hollywood party to simulate photographers or a Halloween event as lightning.
  • A mirror ball spinning over a dance floor or even the swimming pool adds a magical quality to any party.
  • GoBos are the projection of a specific image on a wall, floor or ceiling.  GoBos can be made in any shape, words, or logo you can create. 
To achieve quintessential party status, plan every aspect of your event to appeal to all of the senses. Apply unique party lighting types and options to take your party to the next level and create a memorable event.