The 10 Best String Lights
This wiki has been updated 19 times since it was first published in March of 2016. You don't have to wait until the holidays to enjoy twinkling string lights in your home. Though they do look awesome on a tree, they're also perfect for adding a decorative touch to your patio, deck, kitchen, or dining room. With a wide variety of colors, shapes, and lighting modes available, they'll complement virtually any design scheme. When users buy our independently chosen editorial choices, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki. Skip to the best string light on Amazon.
Differences In String Lights
For both types, you’ll find models that offer programmable, blinking bulbs that let you customize the lighting experience.
In most cases, it’s better to have too much length than too little, so you might opt for lights that are a bit longer than your needs.
String lights have come a long way from those green strands of colored lights many people put on their Christmas trees. Now available in a dazzling variety, they’ll add to any holiday glitz, from New Year’s to Halloween, as well as to the décor in your home, all the year round. But to get the most from these versatile decorating tools, you’ll need to consider what kind you need, since string lights now come in a range of options.
First, string lights are available in many lengths, starting at just a few feet long and ranging up to 50 feet and beyond. In most cases, it’s better to have too much length than too little, so you might opt for lights that are a bit longer than your needs. And while you’re thinking about the length, consider whether you want the lights close together or spaced widely apart, which helps make a difference in how bright the strand will be. Most manufacturers list the measurement between bulbs on the package or product page.
Second, you’ll need to think about whether you’d like incandescent or LED bulbs. The former are what we usually think of as typical (or perhaps nowadays, old-fashioned) light bulbs; they tend to be cheaper but burn out faster than LEDs. Generally, incandescent string lights also take more energy to power. LED lights, then, will cost you more initially but save you money in the long run. They’ll also give you a brighter range of colors.
Next, consider whether you want string lights or rope lights. With string lights, the bulbs will be exposed, while with rope-style models, the lights will be enclosed, usually in some type of durable and flexible plastic. The latter are often weatherproof, making them excellent for outdoor applications. They don’t, however, give you the option of fancy and unique shades or covers for each bulb.
Finally, there is the important matter of power source. Some string lights, especially the shorter strands, are battery or solar powered. If you’re having a party and need to quickly toss up some decorations, then these might work perfectly. If, on the other hand, you’re creating a permanent display, you’ll probably want a plug-in strand for the sake of efficiency and long-term convenience. For both types, you’ll find models that offer programmable, blinking bulbs that let you customize the lighting experience.
String lights are sometimes called fairy lights, which comes from “fairy lamps,” the term for small, candle-based lamps popular in the 1800s. Nevertheless, it’s easy to imagine that string lights resemble fairies dancing with their whimsical, twinkling glow. You can use this charm to your advantage by integrating string lights into decorating projects, both in the home and outdoors. You’ll not only get visually pleasing pieces, you’ll also avoid having to resort to harsh overhead lights. The following ideas should get you started.
String lights are sometimes called fairy lights, which comes from “fairy lamps,” the term for small, candle-based lamps popular in the 1800s.
Consider integrating string lights into pieces that match the décor of your home. For example, if you have a rustic living room, then use branches or twigs with string lights. You might create a chandelier from branches or use the twigs to help create a light-up tree pattern on the wall. Or, if you have a nautical scheme, then use chunky rope with the lights to make a sailboat wall pattern. The key is to integrate the lights with a material that adds to the overall theme.
If you don’t necessarily have a theme and just want soft, pretty lighting options, try putting the lights into jars, vases, wine bottles, or any other attractive glass vessel. To light up a larger area, drape your lights over a bookshelf or arrange them above your bed as a canopy. Outdoors, try placing rope lights along garden paths and walkways. You can use landscape staples to keep them in place.
String lights with exposed bulbs make great blank canvases. There are any number of ways to jazz these up by adding some type of shade; try doilies, cupcake wrappers, origami boxes, construction paper, or papier-mâché. To make a statement with rope lights, pin them to the wall in the shape of a word, perhaps “love” or “joy.”
A Very Brief History Of The String Light
Although string lights today have many applications that aren’t all related to holidays, the history of the string light does indeed start with Christmas. Before the late 1800s, and the invention of the lightbulb, Christmas trees were decorated with candles, which, while pretty, weren’t exactly what you’d call safe. Then, in 1882, one of Thomas Edison’s close associates, Edward H. Johnson, had the idea to replace the candles on his tree with a string of lights, which he hand-wired with red, white, and blue bulbs.
Wildly successful, the company was the leading seller of Christmas lights until the 1960s, when it was dethroned by competition from cheaper imports.
Of course, most homes were not yet wired for electricity, so electric tree lights didn't flourish immediately. It wasn’t until 1894, when President Grover Cleveland had the White House tree covered in string lights, that they began to catch on. Wealthy families first took up this decorating practice, as these string lights had to be hand-wired, which was expensive and required the services of an expert. General Electric made available the first pre-wired set of Christmas lights in 1903, although these too were a bit pricey.
The ubiquity of string lights was finally cemented in the years leading up to 1920, when Albert Sadacca convinced his parents, who owned a novelty business, to begin selling electric Christmas tree lights. The successful sales of this product allowed Sadacca and his brothers to create the National Outfit Manufacturers Association, which eventually became the NOMA Electric Company. Wildly successful, the company was the leading seller of Christmas lights until the 1960s, when it was dethroned by competition from cheaper imports.
Today, new and interesting developments in string lights have become more and more common, thanks to improved technologies and materials, including LEDs and flexible plastics. Perhaps best of all, today’s lights are no longer wired in series, which means that only one bulb stops working at a time — instead of a whole string of them, as in yesteryear.
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