* All digital cards and invitiations have moved! Check out the new pingg.com >

Buy vs. DIY: Retro-Inspired Marquee Letters

Vintage metal letters all lit up with shiny round bulbs has become the quintessential, stand-out piece of party decor. Perfect for birthday parties or weddings, these vintage-inspired marquee letters have taken over as the must-have rustic installation. 

As gorgeous and unique as marquee letters are, they can cost a pretty penny to buy, especially if you are ordering a custom design. A quick search on Etsy proves a set of illuminating marquee letters costs hundreds of dollars, and that's not even including shipping.

But making your own is no simple DIY project either. It takes a lot of time, planning and patience — but the result is completely worth it. Just ask graphic designer Katelyn Shibley, who created an impressive DIY marquee letter project with her engineer fiance over on their blog Evan and Katelyn. They created the LOVE letters to display at their upcoming wedding.

"They are something we will have forever that will always remind us of our wedding," she said. "Well not just the wedding; they'll also remind us of our engagement, our first house, our venture into blogging. So many things!"


DIY Marquee Letters: Planning, Prepping & Creating

Evan and Katelyn (and all of their friends) love their letters, but it was no easy feat (they have a lengthy, yet thorough and easy-to-follow tutorial on their blog that you can find here).  They were first inspired by a set of letters they saw at a wedding expo. But knowing how much it would cut into their budget — and the fact that she's a talented graphic designer and he's an engineer — they knew they could make their own. 

Wedding expo letters that inspired Evan and Katelyn

They opted for letters that were about 2-feet tall, and started out by picking a sans-serif font that would be simple to work with. From there, they printed the letters out to scale on Photoshop, and bought their supplies from Home Depot. They picked up birch plywood, a roll of galvanized steel and stain for the wood.

After tracing the letters onto the plywood came cutting them out, staining the wood, attaching the metal and the lights — it's as exhausting as it sounds. 

"We estimate that it probably took between 11 and 12 hours of two people working to complete our 4 letters," Katelyn said. But with their busy schedule, they spanned their project over the course of 6 months. Luckily, they gave themselves some time before their actual wedding. 

"Don't start it a month out from your wedding and expect to finish them and maintain your sanity at the same time," Katelyn joked. The step-by-step featured on their blog is broken down enough so you can plan ahead enough time. 


Bold & Bright Marquee Letters: The Final Finished Project

After the marquee letters were complete, Evan and Katelyn were thrilled with their results — and so were their friends! It sits proudly in their living room credenza, and they plan on using it during their wedding.

"They'll be sitting on a stone wall in the garden of our venue in our cocktail area. After the wedding they'll probably end up on the credenza again, but there are a few other places in the house we might try them out in."

Not only do the letters look stunning in their home, but they were incredibly inexpensive to make. Katelyn broke down the cost of all of the supplies for us:

(2) 2ft x 4ft pieces of pre-sanded plywood – $30
(4) rolls of 6 inch metal (similar to this but longer and therefore pricier) – $24
(1) 8-oz can of Minwax stain in Dark Walnut – $5
(2) packs of clear globe lights from Target – $26
Nails, hammers, clamps, saw, brushes, etc – already owned/needed to have anyway

The total cost of the project was $86! Not bad considering their versatility.


Buy: Creative & Custom Marquee Letters

If making your own DIY marquee letter project just isn't in the cards for you, there are so many gorgeous options to buy on Etsy. Just be mindful that they will cost a few hundred dollars per set. 


Affordable: $100

The most inexpensive set we could find was this set from Wise and True on Etsy for just $100. However, the O is the only letter that lights up like a marquee letter, and the others are just glitter. Plus, they are made from papier mache; not exactly sturdy (but very cute!)


Mid-Range: $425

The middle-of-the-road set are these letters from TLN Functional Art (featured in the main photo). For a set that's 2-feet high, the size of Evan and Katelyn's, they are $425 (before shipping). 


High-End: $2,000

If you're really in a position to splurge, these gorgeous marquee letters from Junkfx are $2,000. The shipping is free, and you'll have them forever, so make sure it's a worthwhile purchase! 


What do you think of this project? Would you buy your own set of marquee letters, or try the DIY project yourself? Let us know, and share the photos with us on Instagram! 

Find more party planning inspirations for Craft

Inspiration to your inbox

Want to receive the latest Celebrations.com ideas?

Get our newsletter »
Meet our Writer
Jennifer Geddes
Celebrations Writer

Jennifer Kelly Geddes has hosted Christmas cookie swaps, New Year's open houses, Thanksgiving for 22, and all manner of dinner parties in her Manhattan and Ghent, NY homes.

Read More »
Exotic Cocktail Recipe Video Link to video gallery. Upgrade your spring sips with this cocktail tutorial. »

Inspirations Delivered to Your Inbox

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter and have party tips and ideas sent straight to your inbox! You'll be the first to know about our best recipes, decoration ideas, invitation inspirations and more.