Painting a lightbulb allows you to create a wide range of colors and patterns for artwork that's uniquely your own. Painted lightbulbs cast rich colors and change the mood of the room. Paint a lightbulb by hand to create your own masterpiece on the glass or plastic canvas of a lightbulb. Painting lightbulbs is a fun project that's very inexpensive and produces gorgeous results in less than an hour.
Is It Safe to Paint a Lightbulb?
If you decide to paint a lightbulb, observe all applicable safety precautions. If possible, use the paint only on cooler bulbs, such as LED bulbs. For incandescent bulbs, use lower wattage bulbs, such as 60W bulbs or less.
Always check a paint's temperature range against the maximum temperature of the lightbulb before painting it. Do not use the painted lightbulb in areas where fire may be a hazard. If you feel that the use of the painted lightbulb will constitute a hazard, do not use it.
Paint Adhesion and Durability on Lightbulbs
The lightbulb's type and operating temperature are the two main factors to consider when painting a lightbulb.
Many types of incandescent lightbulbs made of glass have been phased out in favor of higher-efficiency lightbulbs. Some incandescent lightbulbs can still be purchased, including three-way bulbs, chandelier bulbs, refrigerator bulbs, plant grow lights, and more.
Incandescent lightbulbs' surface temperature ranges from 150 to 250°F, which can be too hot to paint on. By contrast, an LED lightbulb's surface temperature is at least two-thirds less than the temperature of incandescent bulbs. With temperatures between 50 and 85°F, this leaves LED lightbulbs well within the safe operating temperature ranges for most paints.
Ways to Paint Lightbulbs
Depending on the desired look, you can paint the lightbulb with spray paint, use a brush, or draw on it with a paint pen.
With all methods, protect the screw thread contact and the electrical foot contact (the very end) with painter's tape. Wrap about 4 inches of painter's tape around the thread contact, ending at the foot contact.
If you'd like to paint a lightbulb in one or two colors, stained glass spray paint from a can is your best bet. Coverage will be smoother and more continuous than with a brush.
- Shake the can well. Test-spray the paint on a piece of cardboard first.
- Start spraying from about 24 inches away. Spraying too close will result in drips.
- Keep moving around the bulb for smooth results.
- Let the paint dry for about 24 hours before testing.
When the idea is more to decorate the lightbulb more than to colorize the room, you'll want to use a brush to apply water-based glass paint. You can even combine spray paint with the brush to give your artwork a beautiful color background.
- Clean the bulb with a rag and mineral spirits and let it completely dry.
- If desired, spray a color onto the lightbulb as a field color prior to brushing on other colors. Be sure to let the spray paint dry for several hours.
- Shake or stir the paint.
- Dip the brush lightly in the paint. Apply to the lightbulb.
- For a stained glass effect, create the outline of patterns in black paint, then fill in with colors.
Permanent Marker Pen
A set of indelible color markers gives you a quick, easy, and precise way of creating outlines and filler color on lightbulbs. Unlike paint, if you make a mistake, you can quickly wipe off the marker with a rag and isopropyl alcohol.
As with the brush-on method, you can begin with a spray paint color base. Because LED bulbs produce so much white light, you may want to spray on an initial color coat to tone down the light.
Tips for Painting Lightbulbs
- Always wear safety glasses when painting lightbulbs in the event they shatter.
- Buy several lightbulbs and test your paints on them.
- Before painting, first double-check that the bulb is actually working.
- For a diffused look, scuff the bulb with fine-grit sandpaper before painting it.
- Experiment with combining different methods of painting lightbulbs.