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Ultimate Guide to Holiday Lighting

Updated: Feb 21, 2022

Ultimate Guide to Holiday Lighting

Did you have a favorite decorated holiday house in the neighborhood as a child? One where you'd slow down to take in every twinkling moment of their yard? We're sure you can recall that one special home or beautiful glowing street that filled you with wonder every winter — when time itself seemed to stand still, and you'd be totally immersed in the magical glow of the season.

Bring that wonder to your own home or business with a display that fills your entire community with joy! Discover outdoor Christmas light tips, unique display ideas and more with this ultimate guide to holiday lighting.

10 Types of Christmas Light Decorations

Get inspired with 10 different types of commonly used holiday lighting.

1. Illuminated Bushes

Shrubs are easy to decorate with net lights and make a significant visible impact. All-white lights are always a classic choice! Or alternate bushes in different colors like peppermint red and white, timeless green and red, or cool white and blue.

2. Tree Lighting

Turn your yard into a winter wonderland! Drape a prominent evergreen with large bulb lights and outdoor ornaments to carry the magic of your living room holiday tree outside. Spiral string lights around tree trunks, or use mesh trunk wrap lights for a quick transformation.

3. Roof Lighting

Light up your roofline and highlight your architecture for major holiday curb appeal. String lights with large bulbs are a popular choice for roofs due to their visibility from a distance. Twinkling icicle lights are ideal for peaks, overhangs and roof awnings. If you're a lover of lights in motion, up the wow factor with eye-catching cascade light tubes, falling icicle lights and color-changing LED lights.

4. Pathway Markers

Guide guests to your front entry with a magical walkway. Easy-to-install pathway lights include stakes to secure into the ground, and multiples plug into each other so you can illuminate any trail. Turn your pathway into Candycane Lane with red-and-white candy-shaped pathway lights or charming oversized multicolor Christmas bulbs on stakes.

5. Garland and Wreaths

A path lit with holiday lights outdoors

Grace your entryway with beautiful lighted evergreen swags and ribbon, complete with a matching wreath on the front door. Invest in your outdoor decor collection with reusable artificial lighted greenery that never goes out of style. Greet visitors with a lighted garland-adorned porch straight out of a Charles Dickens novel and bathe your home with the glow of artificial candles nestled in wreaths at every window.

6. Columns and Railings

A beautiful porch takes center stage as the focal point of your home, so it's the perfect spot for holiday decorations! Wrap your columns and railings with ribbon, lighted garland and plastic ornaments. Or turn up the glow by covering them in rope lights.

7. Hanging Decor

Light up your porch and tree branches with glowing spheres, stars and Christmas light balls. Line the front of your home with oversized falling snowflakes suspended from various heights. You can also hang lights in your trees that look like fireworks and shooting stars.

8. Outdoor Yard Decorations

Freestanding outdoor holiday decor comes in all shapes and sizes! Create a beautiful display with lighted grapevine reindeer, inflatable decorations and white trees. Show off your personality and tell a story with outdoor decor — arrange a comical display of elves playing in the yard or celebrate with an elegant LED Nativity scene.

9. Projectors and Spotlights

If you're looking for a timesaving alternative to traditional string and rope lights, put away the ladder and reach for projectors instead. You can install outdoor laser projectors and LED spotlights in seconds, and some versions are solar-powered for a cord-free experience. You can illuminate trees and the outside of your home with projections of falling snow, snowmen and messages like "Season's Greetings" and "Merry Christmas!"

10. Animated and Color-Changing Displays

There's something truly magical about a moving holiday display. Get the whole neighborhood talking with color-changing trees, nodding reindeer and a waving Santa in his sleigh. Simulate the movement of falling snow with chasing-LED snowfall tube lights suspended from the trees. Use a music synchronization kit to transform your yard into a rockin' lighting destination for passersby to watch and listen to with wonder.

Christmas Lights Buying Guide

This guide takes the guesswork out of your holiday light selection. Choose the best lights to bring your creative ideas to life based on lighting type, energy efficiency, display aesthetic, color, bulb size and usage.

LED vs. Incandescent Holiday Lights

As you browse lighting products for your outdoor display, you'll notice two distinct options: LED and incandescent lights. We recommend choosing one type to use throughout your setup, as mixing the two could lead to power consumption issues. Also, working with one style maintains a cohesive look.

The original form of electric lighting, incandescent bulbs have added light to our homes since the 1800s. Incandescent lights are made of a wire filament surrounded by inert gas in a glass bulb. The wire filament is heated to produce an emission of light called "incandescence."

LED stands for light-emitting diode. An LED creates light by passing an electrical current through a semiconducting material — the diode — which then emits light. Developed in 1962 and steadily improved from the '80s until now, today's LEDs produce light up to 90% more efficiently than incandescent bulbs. Unlike incandescent lights, LED bulbs are filament-free and don't get hot.

Lighting in the shape of a frog on a lilly pad eating bugs

Consider the key differences between the two light types:

  1. Efficiency: When it comes to energy consumption, LED technology wins by a landslide, consuming 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs.

  2. Longevity: Incandescent bulbs typically last up to three seasons. LEDs can last 25 times longer than traditional lights. Plus, plastic LED bulbs are sturdier than glass incandescent lights.

  3. Brightness: Incandescent lights are beloved for their warmer glow. Today, thanks to technological advancements, LEDs are brighter and can produce the same warmth in color.

  4. Variety: Incandescent bulbs offer a more limited range of lighting styles and colors. As products improve each year, LEDs make it increasingly easier to create custom displays using new bulb colors, products and light settings.

Choosing the Best Color Lights for Your Display

Whether you prefer a timeless all-white look or a festive multicolor display, these colors are guaranteed to delight:

  • Classic all-white: Understated and elegant, all-white lights work with every yard and architectural style. Not all white lights have the same hue — warm white lights have a golden glow, and cool white lights have a blue undertone. Warm white offers a vintage feel, while cool white looks more modern. It's best to pick one hue, warm or cool, to use throughout the display.

  • Red as a bow: Monochromatic red lights are stunning against a white house. Wrap trees and bushes in a mixture of dark red and bright red bulbs. Embellish with deep red velvet ribbons and bows on flocked-white greenery, columns and railings.

  • Icicle blue: Create a cool-as-a-glacier display by mixing different blue tones and cool white lights. Blue LEDs produce saturated sapphire blues. Incandescents vary from sapphire to green-undertone hues like sky blue and aqua. Add movement with dripping blue icicle lights and projections of snowfall on the house.

  • Mistletoe green: Turn your yard into an enchanted forest with green net lighting on bushes. Wrap branches in green and warm-white mini string lights. Hang oversized green and gold ornaments. Highlight your entry with a giant mistletoe ball, lighted evergreen garlands and gold ribbons.

  • Peppermint swirl: Capture the sweetness of this classic holiday treat by alternating trees in red and white string lights, wrapping white porch columns in red rope lights and lining your walkway with twinkling candy canes.

  • Classic red and green: Bring out the holiday spirit with this dynamic duo of Christmas colors! Evenly distribute the colors to move your eye through the yard, such as wrapping trees in deep red lights, covering bushes in green net lights and illuminating paths with red lights.

  • Multicolored magic: Customize a light show with color-changing LEDs for a vibrant modern look or a colorful retro vibe. Festive multicolor string lights add pops of color. Design your display around a curated color palette — soft pastels, classic primary colors or bright candy-colored options.

Selecting Different Holiday Light Sizes

The majority of holiday lights use C-series bulbs, available in both incandescent and LED formats.

  • C3: You'll find popular C3s on net lighting and most mini string lights. These tiny C-series lights are shaped like small candles with pointed tips. C3 lights are about 1/4 inch in diameter and 5/8 inch tall, perfect for wrapping indoor Christmas trees, outdoor tree trunks, wreaths and more.

  • C5: These C-series bulbs are larger than the mini size and are available in transparent, smooth or faceted finishes. C5 lights are shaped like cones for more visibility.

  • C6 and C7: The strawberry-shaped C6 bulb is the quintessential "retro" Christmas tree light. The C6 is 3/4 inch in diameter and 1-1/8 inches tall. C7 bulbs offer a similar shape at a slightly larger size. C6 and C7 bulbs have E12 Candelabra bases and are commonly used for railings, trees and garlands.

  • C9: C9 options are great for outdoor applications. This large bulb size requires an E17 Intermediate base. Measuring 1-1/4 inches by 2-1/2 inches, these distinct bulb shapes are visible from afar.

These unique light shapes have grown in popularity:

  • Wide-angle LED mini lights: This newer bulb style is only 5mm and has a flat top, making it smaller than traditional mini lights. Yet the unique concave lens provides superior brightness and casts light uniformly in all directions.

  • G-series bulbs: The G in the name of this series of lights stands for "globe," referring to the round bulb shape. The style number indicates its diameter in millimeters. The most common sizes are G30, G40 — about the size of a ping pong ball — and G50.

  • Rope lights: LED or incandescent bulbs inside a flexible clear plastic casing create a continuous line, or "rope," of light. You can match your display's color scheme with full RGB color-capable rope lights.

  • Net lights: Perfect for covering bushes, net lighting is a grid of crisscrossed wires that creates a mesh of uniformly spaced lights, usually C3 bulbs.

How to Do Holiday Lightings

Quality lighting displays take forethought and planning. You can start by examining your house from the other side of the street and taking reference photos. Pay close attention to your landscaping, roof and architectural features. Draw potential lighting ideas on printed photos, and evaluate the end result before you dive into setup.

How to do holiday Lighting

Make a plan and check it twice! Keep these holiday lighting tips in mind as you install your display:

  • Put safety first: Be careful as you pull out heavy tubs of holiday decorations and lights. Always include a safety partner when using a ladder and installing lights in tricky places.

  • Use extension cords appropriately: Only use heavy-duty outdoor extension cords for outside displays. Prevent tripping hazards by hiding cords away from foot traffic, and secure exposed cords with tape.

  • Highlight the roof: Framing the roofline with cascading white icicle lights or playful multicolor string lights is a fail-safe way to draw attention to the architecture of your home.

  • Use a hook: Bend a wire coat hanger into a hook shape and duct tape it to the end of a paint roller extension pole. Voila! Now you can easily place and take down holiday lights in tall outdoor trees.

  • Choose appropriate clips: Select mounting clips based on the bulb size to properly secure your lighting strands.

  • Set it and forget it: Use automatic timers to turn your displays on and off at predetermined times. This must-have lighting accessory ensures lights stay on when you want them to — and it helps you save money!

Benefits of Hiring a Professional to Install Holiday Lights

There are three major benefits of hiring an experienced lighting contractor:

  1. Safety: By hiring a contractor with the proper equipment, training and insurance, you can avoid being one of the 15,000 decorating injuries that occur each year between November and December. Professionals have the know-how to safely install lights along high rooflines, tall trees and other tricky areas.

  2. Time: Let's face it, the holiday season is super busy. Decorating the house, hosting out-of-town guests, traveling and gift purchasing doesn't leave much room in the schedule to hang lights outside. By employing a trained light installer, you can use the time you save to visit loved ones, bake cookies with the kiddos and tackle your holiday to-do list.

  3. Quality: Sometimes the lighting ideas we have don't quite translate when we finish our DIY job. Professional installers know tips and tricks to design a lighting approach that shows off the best parts of your home. Plus, these workers use commercial-grade lights to accomplish top-quality lighting concepts without the risk of blown fuses or bulbs going out.

Man walks through a tunnel with holiday lights

Contact Illuminating Design to Light Up Your Custom Display This Holiday Season

For more than 15 years, our team of lighting specialists at Illuminating Design has partnered with residents, business owners and communities in and around Atlanta, Georgia, to create unforgettable, one-of-a-kind holiday lighting displays. Our clients know they can trust our industry experience, cutting-edge technology and expertise to deliver professional results every time.

We look forward to answering your questions and partnering with you to design and install a custom lighting plan that meets your style and budget. Fill out our contact form or call us at 404-454-8944 to talk to one of our friendly lighting experts today!


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