Glow jars make great night lights, party lights, or fairy lights. There are different ways to make them and lots of cool effects you can create. Here is a collection of easy glow jar tutorials for you to try and a look at the pros and cons of each type of lantern.
Glow Stick Lanterns
One of the easiest types of glow jars to make is a glow stick lantern. Basically, this is a clear container with glow stick fluid splattered on the inside.
- Dry, clear containers. They have to be dry because water ruins the reaction that produces the light.
- Glow sticks
- Glitter (optional)
- Disposable gloves (optional, but recommended)
- Activate a glow stick by snapping it. This breaks the glass container inside the stick, allowing the chemiluminescent compounds to mix and emit light.
- Use scissors to snip open the stick. It’s easiest if you snip the middle of the stick rather than an end.
- Put the open end inside the clear container and wave the stick around to splatter the inside with color and light. If you don’t want the glass from the glow stick inside your container, you can capture it by covering the cut end with a bit of screening or shaking the liquid out through a kitchen strainer (which must be washed in soapy water afterward). It’s best to use only one color of glow stick per jar, since some colors don’t mix well. If you like, you can sprinkle some glitter around for extra sparkle.
- You can extend the length of the glow by keeping the lanterns cool. You can increase the brightness by shining a black light (ultraviolet lamp) on the lanterns.
These lanterns look glorious in photographs, but they aren’t as cool in person. When you first cut open the glow stick and expose the chemicals to air, the rate of the chemical reaction increases, so the liquid glows very brightly. Unfortunately, speeding up the reaction also means the glow doesn’t last as long as inside an enclosed stick. Cutting open the stick and waving it around inside the container can be messy and smelly, plus you can basically kiss the container goodbye after the project because the oily liquid is hard to remove. It’s a fun project and worth a try, but probably not your best bet for a cool glow jar.
- Super quick and easy to make.
- Available in a wide range of colors.
- Don’t last very long.
- Only glow brightly under a black light.
- Risk of getting cut by broken glass.
- Smells bad.
Glow Jars Made With Glowing Glue or Paint
If you want to mimic the effect of fireflies or tiny glowing fairies, use glow in the dark glue or paint to make the glow jar.
- Glow in the dark glue or paint
- Clean, dry jar
- Dab little dots of the glue or paint scattered around the inside of the jar. Feel free to use a variety of colors.
- After the glowing dots are dry, you can add glitter, a fairy, a plastic bug, etc.
- The paint or glue may not be waterproof, so close the lid of the jar. It keeps the magic inside.
- Expose the jar to bright light before turning out the lights. The dots will glow brightly at first and will fade over time. How bright they are and how quickly they fade depends largely on the glue or paint.
- Reusable. These glow jars last forever.
- Glow much longer than glow stick lanterns.
- Inexpensive and non-toxic. Safe for children to make and use.
- The glow can be uneven if you try to coat the whole surface. This type of jar looks better as “fairy lights” or “fireflies” dabbed as dots on the inside of the glass surface.
- Must be charged with bright light in order to glow.
Glow Jars Filled With Resin
For a nice permanent glow jar or fairy jar, mix phosphorescent powder with 2-part resin. You can use any resin you like, but be aware they differ in clarity, how thick they are, and how quickly they set. Make sure you use phosphorescent glow powder and not fluorescent glow powder. Phosphorescent materials glow in the dark, while fluorescent materials only glow under black light.
Glow powder comes in different colors and particle sizes. Larger particles glow more brightly, but they are heavier and will sink to the bottom of the container. The brightness and duration of glow depends on the material. Green glows brightest/longest, followed by turquoise, blue, and the other colors. Red and violet are the dimmest and shortest-lived colors. You can embed a fairy or other small object in the resin, but glitter isn’t a great idea because it shows up as dark spots against the glow. This type of jar last forever and makes a nice night light.
- Make certain your jar is completely clean and dry.
- Mix up sufficient resin to fill the jar as full as you would like. You’ll need to read the directions on the resin for the specifics, as this varies.
- Stir in glow powder. The more you add, the better the glow. You may want to let the resin thicken slightly before adding the glow powder so that it won’t sink. However, even if it does sink, it will still illuminate the jar.
Ideally, let the resin set up before sealing the jar and using it. (You don’t actually have to put a lid on the jar, since nothing can spill out.)
- Resin (My personal favorite is Clear Cast because it actually is clear, not yellowish).
- Glow pigment (I use powders from Glow Inc.)
- Permanent. These glow jars last forever.
- Can’t spill (because it’s solid).
- Glow is super-bright, uniform, and lasts all night (depending on color).
- Waterproof. Put a resin glow jar in the bath if you want.
- May be more expensive than the other methods for the materials, although you’ll have enough to make lots of things glow in the dark.
- May take up to 24 hours for the resin to solidify, although the lantern will work as a glow jar immediately.
- Must be charged with bright light in order to glow.
Glow Jar Made With Fluorescent Highlighters
All of the other glow jars on this list are either luminescent or else phosphorescent, so they truly glow in the dark. Fluorescent highlight ink only glows under black light. Also, only some highlighters actually glow, so you need to test them with a black light first. Highlighter ink glows brightly, but it’s not usually translucent. It’s up to you whether that’s a pro or a con.
- Fluorescent highlighter
- Pour water into your jar.
- Cut open a highlighter and use tweezers or pliers to extract the strip of ink. Please be careful! Highlighters are not easy to cut open (at least, not using a steak knife, like I did).
- Soak the ink pad in the water. You can swish it around to speed up the process.
- Remove the ink pad, close the jar, and turn on the black light.
- Very bright, very intense.
- Several color options.
- Easy to use the liquid for other purposes and clean the jar to use again.
- Only works when a black light is on.
- Cutting open a highlighter is a little scary and potentially messy.
Tonic Water Glow Jars
If cutting apart a highlighter sounds like too much work, you could use tonic water instead of highlighter ink. Tonic water contains the fluorescent chemical quinine, which glows blue under ultraviolet light.
- Tonic water (regular or diet)
- Pour the tonic water into the jar.
- Turn on a black light.
- Quick and easy.
- Very bright.
- Only glows under black light.
- Only glows blue.
Glow Jars Filled With Fairy Lights
Chemiluminescence is cool, but if it’s just not bright enough for you, it’s time to use actual lights. Fairy lights are short strings of tiny LED lights powered by a battery. The strings are short enough and tiny enough you just put the whole deal into a jar. Some even twinkle. Some include a remote so you can change the colors any time you want.
- Strand of lights
- Batteries (if not included)
You may have to insert the batteries, but basically all you do is turn them on and go!
- The brightest lights you can get.
- The glow lasts a long time.
- Some twinkle, change colors, and are waterproof.
- Super fast and easy. Just add lights!
- You’ll have to replace the battery eventually.
- These cost more than some of the other options (usually in the $10 to $20 range).
- You may be able to see the connecting wires.