Paper Lanterns for Light and Mood at our Outdoor Tent Wedding Reception

paper lanterns in the outdoor tent

One of the big challenges of an outdoor tent reception is creating just the right ambiance while also ensuring you have enough light. Since our reception was going to feature a 60’x40′ Navitrack Frame Tent, we had a pretty big space to cover. One of the best investments we made for that night was our paper lanterns.

The biggest challenge of a tent wedding for me was the decorations. We were operating on a budget (10K for 100 people) and we didn’t have the money to drape the ceiling in fabric or hang chandeliers or any of the other beautifully creative solutions I’ve seen. That’s why the idea of paper lanterns held a lot of appeal to me. When I stumbled across Paper Lantern Store and saw their prices, I was convinced this was the direction for us. Their prices were top notch and I knew the cost of high test fishing line for hanging the lanterns wouldn’t be very high.

The challenge came in with lighting. Paper lantern LED lights are expensive, some running $3-4 each. In a world where we needed roughly 65 lanterns, $3-4 each was a total deal breaker. I spent some time researching the DIY “throwies” idea, but they seemed like a lot of work and they still worked out to $1.50 or so each. Then one day, I was in Jo-Ann Etc and I spotted a bag of Brightspot Submersible LED lights. There were 12 in a package and the retail price was $16.99. Of course everyone knows how easy it is to find a 40% off coupon for Jo-Ann’s…and even 50% off coupons are not unheard of. With a 50% off coupon, the lights worked out to .70 cents each. Even better, they included a hook and an on/off switch and were rated to run for 72 hours.

Why make throwies when I can have friends help me collect coupons?

It took about six weeks, but between my mom, friends and I, we were able to buy six bags at 50% off. We snagged 30 pound test fishing line at Walmart for about $5 a roll.

Of course we had to recruit help for set-up. One thing working in our favor was our reception site. Since it was in our backyard, we had full access to the reception site night and day. The tent company delivered and set up the tent the Wednesday before the wedding. Since we were having the rehearsal on Friday night, we knew we’d have plenty of help to get the lanterns up that night. Additionally, since the lights were rated for 72 hours, we knew we could set everything up and turn them on Friday night and they’d still be in great shape for Saturday night.

paper lantern setup

So Saturday night saw my dad, Mr W and a few guy friends working their way up twenty foot ladders to hang fishing line and tie lanterns in place. My dad, being the brilliant man that he is decided the best way to get the lanterns to stay in place was to tie strategically placed loops in the fishing line before hanging it. This way, the lanterns AND LED lights could be hooked over the loop. There was no worry about lanterns sliding down the lines toward the center…though we did learn the hard way that a really good wind could blow them off.

No biggie…paper lanterns are surprisingly resilient and we just saved the ones that fell and hung them up the next day before the wedding.

Of course hanging them the night before also gave us great perspective on how much light they would put off.

hanging lanterns

Since we weren’t super confident the lanterns and table votives would provide enough light, we also rented a set of LED uplighting panels from the tent company for about $300. They would run in a range of colors and could be programmed to pulse to the music, dim, fade…basically whatever you wanted. Mr W spent time that night getting those set up as well.

Of course after the wedding we realized they never got turned on…and no one missed them. Lesson learned. We could have easily skipped that investment.

The tent did look really cool with the lanterns and lights running that Friday night though…

lights on the night before

Thanks to a votive at every place setting and some dance floor lighting provided by the DJ, we actually did just fine the day of the wedding. During daylight hours, they provided a nice color coordinating design feature to the inside of the tent.

daytime view of paper lanterns

At night, they cast a beautiful warm glow.

glow from paper lanterns

And they looked pretty cool when combined with the DJ’s lights.

DJ lights and paper lanterns

Overall, it was one of our best purchases in terms of decorations.

Let’s take a look at the cost breakdown…

closeup of paper lanterns

Paper Lantern Cost Breakdown:

  • 6 dozen LED lights = $50.97 ($0.70 each)
  • 16 ct 8″ diameter chocolate paper lanterns = $14.40 ($0.90 each)
  • 30 ct 12″ diameter beige paper lanterns = $36 ($1.20 each)
  • 18 ct 16″ white paper lanterns = $29.34 ($1.63 each)
  • 180 yards of 30lb test fishing line = $5.50 @ Walmart

Grand Total: $136.21

Of course per usual, I was also looking at what I could resell after the event. I knew from perusing the wedding boards that paper lanterns and LED lights got snatched up almost as soon as they get posted. Sure enough, it was one of the first things to sell when I listed my items on Craiglist after the wedding. When I adjust my costs based on what I recouped, the numbers get pretty impressive.

Paper Lantern Post-Wedding Sales:

  • 18 ct 16″ white paper lanterns = $27
  • 30 ct 12″ diameter beige paper lanterns = $30
  • 16 ct 8″ diameter chocolate paper lanterns = $12
  • 5 dozen LED lights = $50 (We lost a dozen through falls, breakage, etc)

Total Sales: $119 (Anyone else notice how well those things retained their value??)

Grand Total Adjusted Cost for Paper Lanterns & LED Lights: $17.21

BOO YA! How much do I rock?

Of course this is also a perfect example of why doing research while wedding planning is so important. There were several things like this that I was able to add to our budget because I knew the chances of being able to resell them. In fact, our original $8K budget expanded to $10K because of resale plans. It’s obviously a bit of a gamble that you can’t always count on, but knowing what colors, items and styles disappear the quickest from wedding boards can go a long way toward helping you know you’ll be able to recoup your costs.



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2 replies
  1. Kristyne
    Kristyne says:

    Such a great post! Thank you – I too am on an insanely low budget and planning an outdoor tented soiree on my grandpas property. After reading your post & sourcing some lanterns (in Canada) I finally let go of the ‘I have to get a tenting company to lite this whole thing or it will be a failure’ mentality. Thank you so much 🙂 🙂

  2. Jennifer
    Jennifer says:


    Glad it helped you out! Paper Lantern Store in California (they sell online) has pretty amazing prices, but if you’ve sourced even cheaper, I say go for it. I think if you pair it with lower level lights like tea lights on the tables, you’ll be amazed at how much light you end up with. We got our little glass tealight holders for about 50 cents each at Michael’s, and of course tealights are pretty cheap at IKEA and other sources.

    Good luck!


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