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Lampshade Style Guide - Paper Lampshades

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

While fabric is an excellent covering for making lampshades, the possibilities of using paper are endless, whether you're starting with a blank piece of paper for your creative ideas or using a map or wallpaper to create your own unique shade. In today's post, we explore the long history of paper lampshades and also the traditional, modern and innovative crafts and techniques that contribute to making paper lampshades real things of interior beauty.

Basic history

A staple of Chinese and Japanese culture, paper lanterns were the precursor of the paper lampshade. First recorded in China in the first century AD, paper lanterns were used, on the orders of the Eastern Han Emperor, Mingdi, to worship Buddha in temples. In Japan, the earliest record of paper lanterns is from the 11 century, and in both cultures, these would have been made from paper or silk, with a structure made from bamboo to form their curvaceous frames, which were then painted to depict symbols and illustrations.

Fast forward to more recent times, when paper continued to be used for lampshade making until the Victorian era popularised elegant fabrics for lampshades, yet a renaissance occurred in the 1940s and 1950s when old manuscripts, deeds and parchment were used for decorative lampshade making. Originally, made from goat's skin which was specifically treated for writing on, parchment is now the name given to treated papers. Resin-coated parchment paper was also used in lampshade making in the 1950s as an alternative to the more modern fibreglass.

Style Description

A popular choice for lampshade making due to its translucency, paper diffuses the light to varying degrees depending on the thickness and type of paper used. Measured in GSM (grams per square meter), the lower the GSM number, the lighter the paper will be, therefore the more translucent.

Commonly used for ‘hard lampshades’ such as Drum, Empire and Candle Clip Lampshade Making Kits, paper works for lampshades both big or small, but seem to lend themselves more to table lamps, over pendant lights (although both are possible), giving ample opportunity to admire the designs and textures close up.

Advantages and Creative Uses

Offering a myriad of artistic possibilities, paper is a creative medium for lampshade makers with techniques applied either pre or post-lampshade making. Marbling, block printing, paper cutting, folding, illustration and painting all make exceptionally unique lampshades. The denser pattern coverage, such as marbled papers will result in less translucency whereas paper cutting will allow the light to shine through.

Papers such as wallpaper and maps also work brilliantly with our Lampshade Making Kits, yet they do need to be made and finished using a slightly different method to fabric, so we've added more detail below, on using both types of paper.

Paper Lampshade Techniques

Origami, the art of paper folding is an obvious choice for a paper lampshade, and these have become ubiquitous over recent years. Get started making your own by creating a simple pleated lampshade or by learning more intricate origami techniques in a workshop by Origami Est, who offers both online and face-to-face workshops.

Laminated Parchments

Our own range of laminated parchments can also be used to create a variety of hard shades, in combination with our rigid frames. Laminated with paper, and available in a range of finishes and textures, these are the ideal canvass for drawing, printing and painting on, meaning you can add your own personal twist to each lampshade you make.

Paper Shade Making Tips

If you're unsure where to start using either wallpaper or maps as the covering for our Lampshade Making Kits, then take a look at our step-by-step Kit #hacks below. Simply put both need attention at the start and end of the process; the start to find the correct position for the map or matching two wallpaper lengths together, when using a horizontal pattern and at the end when tucking the paper under the rings. Helpfully, our blog posts below will give you the know-how to master all of these techniques.

An additional detail often used to secure the paper to the ring is bias binding and you can master this skill by following our tutorial, Lampshade Kit Hack #7 – Applying bias tape to a shade. This uses the technique on fabric, but can be also applied to a paper lampshade too.

Paper Shade Showcase

We couldn't finish the post without sharing some of the amazing Paper Lampshades that our talented customers have made. From wallpapers to marbled waves to pretty prints, these clever designs show how you can use paper for lampshades, in a multitude of ways.


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