In the last two years I have learned that I absolutely love doing set designs and creating awesome kid’s ministry environments. There are several different types of set designs you might do in your ministry. There are more permanent “base” set designs, the semi-permanent (a few months up to a year) “themed” designs, and my personal favorite, the monthly sets. Some of you may have environments that are shared spaces so you may not be able to do as much as you want with your, so I would encourage you to find ways to make portable set pieces/props so you can still change up your area and make it more kid-friendly. I have been blessed with my own dedicated space that is not shared so I am able to do pretty much whatever I want for set designs. We use 252 Basics curriculum and I love being able to change our environment every month to fit the curriculum theme. In addition, we do set changes for Theme Days and other special events. For this post, I wanted to tell you my top 10 must-have items for set designs, where to buy them, and how I use them in my set designs.
How do I use it? We use tape a lot in our set designs, especially in our less permanent sets. There have been lots of trial and error to find out which type of tape works best for what application (ie which tape doesn’t take the paint off the walls, how much tape to use, etc.).
- Gorilla tape is my favorite tape for attaching any props or decorations to trussing, stage pieces, curtains, tables, tvs, etc. You can use this tape on pretty much anything besides a painted wall. Use a lot, and it may even seem permanent.
- Gaff tape is great for putting on the floor and not worrying about leaving a residue, and is safe for use on painted walls. You can also use it on cords and wires.
- Double-sided duct tape is a new favorite I have discovered recently. You can use this to stick things to the ground where you don’t want the tape visible. In my experience, it doesn’t seem to leave a residue after a month of being on the floor, but it might if you left it there longer. It is also approved for using on walls for hanging props/decorations.
- Assorted Duct Tape is great for covering items to make them a different color or patterned. I have used it to change the color of buckets, hula hoops, and many other items for sets.
Where do I buy it? Gorilla tape can be purchased at any Walmart, Home Depot, or Lowe’s. I believe it is cheapest to purchase it at Walmart. Always buy the big roll. You’ll need it. Gaff tape is a more specialized tape that cannot be purchased at Walmart. It comes in lots of colors, but I usually just purchase the 2-inch roll of black gaff tape from Amazon. Double-sided duct tape can be hard to find. Sometimes, I have been able to find it at Walmart (cheapest here), but it’s hit or miss. You can get it on Amazon if all else fails. Assorted duct tape can be found at Walmart, and pretty much anywhere else. It just depends on what color or pattern you’re looking for.
How do I use it? Fishing line may seem like an odd item to be on this list, but if you haven’t used fishing line before, you are going to love it. It is super cheap to buy, and you get a roll so big that it will last you at least a year. I use it for hanging decorations from the ceiling or trussing and since fishing line is clear, it makes your decorations look like they are almost floating in mid-air. You can also use it to attach heavier props/decorations to banners, stage pieces, and trussing without it being visible from a distance. My favorite use of fishing line is to make custom DIY garland. You can find an image that fits your theme online, print it out on card stock, cut it out, punch holes in the sides, and string the fishing line through the holes.
Where do I buy it? You should be able to find a roll of fishing line in the sporting goods area of your local Walmart, or at any sporting goods store.
How do I use it? X-acto knives are great for cutting just about anything. You don’t have to plug them in, they just require some elbow grease. They are particularly great for cutting through cardboard, but you can also use them for cutting through thin foam board (not the thick insulation foam). I have a lot more luck with getting the precision I want when using an x-acto knife on cardboard. I will usually trace or draw my shape(s) in pencil, then cut the cardboard with the x-acto knife. You can make just about any large cardboard prop you can imagine.
Where do i buy it? Some of my favorite x-acto knives were actually purchased in 3-packs at Dollar Tree. I thought they would be terrible, but they held up surprisingly well. I also have a Scotch brand x-acto knife that I bought at Walmart that gets the job done nicely.
How do I use it? I use both of these for making large signs/decorations to either hang from the ceiling or attach to the stage or trussing. You can make a hanging foam board decoration double-sided by gluing colored poster board to the back side of it and cutting out the same shape. You can also use poster board sheets to decorate large cardboard stand-up decorations.
Where do I buy it? I always check my local Dollar Store before I purchase either of these items at Walmart. Often times, I can find white and black foam board for $1 at Dollar Tree and colored poster board is usually two for $1. If Dollar Tree doesn’t have it, there’s Walmart.
How do I use it? I have a new-found love of large sheets of cardboard. That may sound ridiculous, but when I look at a fresh, blank sheet of cardboard, the options are endless. I can make any shape, decoration, cut-out, or prop out. Just cut it up with an x-acto knife, slap on some paint, poster board, or glitter, and you are good to go. Cardboard boxes can be used for props by painting them or covering them in kraft paper. I made some awesome skyscraper buildings for a super hero set design I did not long ago using only cardboard boxes and kraft paper.
Where do I buy it? You really shouldn’t have to buy either of these items if you are resourceful and/or willing to make some calls. I get all of my cardboard sheets free from my local Sam’s Club. (If you’re in the McKinney area, steer clear of the one on 380!) I can go up and down the food aisles and pick them up myself, or sometimes they will already have a stack of them in the back that I can just take. Boxes can be acquired free from most stores if you just ask, or call ahead to make sure they haven’t already thrown them away. If you don’t want to go to all that trouble you can buy different sizes of boxes at Home Depot or Lowe’s.
How do I use it? You can use either of these items to make that DIY garland I was talking about earlier. If all you need is a colored shape, you can go for craft foam. If you need a printed image, use card stock. If you buy the big 12×18 sheets of craft foam you can make bigger decorations that feel more 3D as opposed to paper or cardstock creations. I made red strips and landmarks using craft foam to make our kid’s environment and stage look like a giant map in this month’s set design.
Where can I buy it? We usually have a lot of white cardstock on hand, but if I want a different color of cardstock I will usually purchase it from Amazon. You can also get colored card stock from any office supply store. Craft foam sheets can be found at Dollar Tree, Walmart, or craft stores. I usually buy my 12×18 sheets in a pack from Amazon.
How do I use it? I don’t know about you, but I can be a bit impatient when I am putting together sets, especially when I’m under a time crunch. That’s why hot glue is my favorite type of glue for just about anything. Hot glue does require you to be careful (I burn myself almost every time), but it dries so fast that it’s worth the pain. I use hot glue to glue together large cardboard props and signs.
Where can I buy it? I bought my hot glue gun from Walmart and it has held up wonderfully. In my experience, the high temperature guns work best. You can also buy packs of 100 hot glue sticks at Walmart. Make sure you get either the “multi-temp” or “high temp” glue sticks. You can also buy them at craft stores, but they will be more expensive.
How do I use it? It’s pretty obvious that I use paint to paint things (amazing, right?) Spray paint is great for getting a nice base color on large cardboard props. You can also use painter’s tape and stencils to tape off different parts of the cardboard to make shapes and designs out of the unpainted sections. I use small bottles of acrylic craft paint for painting more detailed designs (smaller areas) or words on props.
Where can I buy it? As with most of the other items on the list, you can easily find a large selection of both types of paint at Walmart. You can also pick up spray paint at a home improvement store and acrylic paints at craft stores.
9. Kraft Paper Rolls
How do I use it? I am talking about the huge rolls of kraft paper that you can buy, not those tiny, expensive rolls of bulletin board paper they sell at teacher’s stores. I have four different colors of kraft paper at this point on hand from various projects and the options are seemingly endless. I have used kraft paper for blacking out windows for a blacklight set, covering tables, walls, boxes, the entire stage, making fake vines and treasure maps. I have yet to use up a whole roll.
Where can I buy it? You are going to want to think ahead and buy this online on Amazon. It will save you quite a bit of money. You can buy the rolls of thinner kraft paper or this thicker kraft paper for projects that require more durability like covering your stage.
How do I use it? While I do come up with some great ideas without Pinterest, I can say that I have gotten a lot of amazing ideas from searching on Pinterest. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. I always check on Pinterest to see if anyone has already done something and written a tutorial before I just try to make it up the hard way myself. I like to create unique boards for each of my set designs so I can easily go and look at the pins I pinned for that particular set.
Where can I buy it? It’s free! Hopefully that doesn’t ever change. How did kid’s pastors do it before they had Pinterest?
This is by no means a comprehensive list of items I use in my set designs, but it is definitely a great place to begin if you are just getting started in set design. These are all items I keep on hand at all times, and you can bet that I use at least half of these items in every set design I do.
What are your “can’t live without” set design essentials?