Backlight Stained Glass

How To Make An LED Backlight For A Stained Glass Panel

Backlighting is a great way to display your stained glass as it creates an even and controlled environment both day and night. It eliminates the frustrating problems of inadequate natural light and unsightly objects behind.

Backlit stained glass fish

Tim Smith, one of my online students, has very kindly shared photos of his backlighting project. Thanks so much Tim 🙂

How To Backlight Stained Glass

What You Need

  • LED light tape. Preferably dimmable with a remote. 16’ is a good standard length.
  • Extra tape connectors
  • 1/8” white acrylic (#7328) sheet for diffusing. #2447 will work too
  • Appropriate wood for the frame
  • 1″x 3″ pine and 1/4″ plywood for sides and back of the light box
  • Angle brackets, various
  • 2 piano hinges
  • Gorilla Glue – super glue, gel

Frame & Light Box Considerations

This tutorial doesn’t cover frame making per se but has a few main pointers to guide you:

The panel is framed with 1″x3″ oak. It has a 5/16″ channel for the panel frame.

The inner dimension of the light box needs to be the same or slightly larger than the inner dimensions of the panel frame. The photo above shows the outer light box dimensions relative to the panel frame.

The box won’t be seen so don’t worry too much about ‘perfect’ construction. The most important thing is to make sure light doesn’t leak out from the back of the box.

Use a router to cut an 1/8″ channel around each side to accommodate the sheet of white acrylic (see image further down the page). This will act as a diffuser.

The framed stained glass is attached to the light box solely with 2 piano hinges. Any problems with the remote receiver, transformer or the tape, can be accessed by simply opening the frame.

Arranging & Cutting The Tape Lights

Tape light can be cut where desired and connected to other pieces using “connectors.” These also helps the LED tape stay flat. For most projects you will likely need to buy extra connectors.

  1. Plan the cutting of the tape light, arranging it similar to the photo below
  2. Cut the tape light
  3. Use the connectors to enable you to loop back around
  4. Use masking tape to tape them down to check the fit
  5. IMPORTANT: Check the lights before you stick them down with glue. They will appear uneven if you switch the polarity at the connector.
  6. When you’re happy with the fit, glue the tape lights to the 1/4” plywood. Gorilla Glue gel is good for sticking the tape lighting to the back of the frame box. It’s less messy than the liquid but gloves are advised

The transformer can be mounted inside the box as it generates little to no heat and is far neater.

Connecting LED tape with connectors is easy, with one important proviso:
You MUST make sure the polarity of the connector wires and tape light are consistent throughout. This maintains even light coverage.

Remote Controller

To be 100% sure that the remote works, cut 2 small slots in the bottom of the frame so that the remote receiver can sit be outside of the frame box.

This prevents the risk of the remote not receiving a signal.

Don’t worry about visuals; the LED receiver can’t be seen when the panel is hung because the panel frame has larger external dimensions than the light box.

The remote receiver mounted outside the light box

Assembling The Backlit Stained Glass

  • Check the fit of the frame box with 3 sides loosely attached
  • Once the fit is sorted, slide the acrylic diffuser into the 1/8” channel and screw in the bottom side to secure and finish the light box frame
  • Don’t use glue or metal angles for this final piece. This makes changing the diffuser an easy procedure down the line if necessary.
Framed piece on light box WITHOUT white acrylic diffuser fitted
Backlit stained glass fish
The stained glass backlight with the white acrylic diffuser inserted. Nice!

The first photo shows how important having an acrylic diffuser is. Without it the lights are visible and distracting.

A mini-video showing the effects of the dimmer switch. On the video, a discerning eye may notice the led lights through the diffuser. In person one can’t see this effect. The whole panel is stunning, made even more so by the professional backlighting. Thanks again Tim 🙂

Alternative Approach To Backlighting Stained Glass

Online student Mike Disher used a different – but equally effective – method for his stained glass backlight.

He purchased LED strip lights from Amazon.*paid link, thanks. They are dimmable and adhesive.

The LED strips were simply stuck around the inside edge of the routed shape that made up his frame (see photo, below)

There would need to be a small routed channel made for the wire to exit the frame.

Light tape stuck around the edge of the routed out shape

Thanks Mike, this is not only a fabulous piece, it’s a really effective solution.

George Hight uses ‘Wall Hung PhotoGlows’ to backlight his stained glass. They’re LED backlit sheets (for want of a better description). They’re dimmable You can check them out here: https://photoglow.com/product-category/wall-hung/

You can see them in action in George’s commission here. The wiring was done professionally so that they could be controlled with a wall switch with no wires exposed. Posh eh? They look great, thanks George.

The Pros And Cons Of Backlit Stained Glass

Pros

  • Backlighting is a great solution for specific lighting situations, for example wall pieces, night lighting, to add a light source to a room and to obscure ugly objects.
  • With the right kit it allows for customisation options such as colour temperature control and motion detection. Imagine a stained glass panel that comes on automatically when you enter a room 🙂
  • The illumination provided by LED backlit stained glass can be bright and vibrant which can enhance the details of the glass work.

Cons

  • Where it doesn’t work so well is showing off the beautiful variations in both glass and light. These are the elements we love so much as stained glass artists, and backlighting – or more specifically the white acrylic diffuser – can deaden their effect if not used carefully.
    You can try mitigating this by choosing a less dense acrylic if you work with semi-opaque glass. The opacity will do some of the work of diffusing the light source on its own.
  • The cost of creating backlit stained glass is higher than traditional stained glass simply due to the additional materials needed.
  • Installation may be more complicated due to electrical wiring requirements. Although the electronics are a bit bulky, batteries can cause problems with noise and access when you try to replace them.
  • Replacement parts for specialised fixtures may be difficult to find in the future.

7 thoughts on “Backlight Stained Glass”

    • LED? It’s tricky without knowing the set up but you can experiment with various light sources and choose. Be aware that a big bulb type light will cause an unsightly ‘light spot’. Good luck.

      Reply
  1. Milly,
    Great ideas here. We have 3 old church windows 28”square. There are a few bb holes in them and would like to backlight them. Cost to repair was too expensive. Any ideas on how to backlight without having a beacon of light piercing through?

    Reply
    • Tricky without seeing but you could try and cut out a bit of semi-opaque acrylic and attach it to the back of the piece with the hole so that the backlighting doesn’t pierce through so much. It’ll still read as white though. Perhaps a matching coloured acrylic? Just thoughts – you’d have to assess and see if any of these ideas are pracical. Good luck.

      Reply
  2. Thanks for another twist, Milly! Mike’s made-by-router frame is amazing. I would love to see how he got the glass to stay in place. It doesn’t look like there are any clips or braces.

    Reply

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