How to Choose the Right Christmas Lights for Decorating Indoors and Out

When you're decking your halls, here's how to pick the best type of Christmas lights for your display—from Mr. Christmas himself, Benjamin Bradley.

choose-christmas-lights: christmas lights in a box
Photo: Getty Images

Unless you're going for a very spare aesthetic, Christmas just isn't Christmas without some twinkling lights interwoven among the ornaments on your tree or Christmas lights for your bushes highlighting your landscaping. But with so many Christmas light bulb sizes, shapes, and colors out there, how do you decide which strings to get?

Interior designer Benjamin Bradley, from the Netflix show, Holiday Home Makeover With Mr. Christmas, gave us some pointers on how to choose the best Christmas lights for your house, your tree, and anywhere else you're decking to help put you in the holiday spirit. Because, honestly, can you really ever have too many Christmas lights?

"When it comes to quantities, my motto is always more is better," Bradley says. "If you feel that 500 lights for your tree will be adequate, buy 900. The holidays are all about abundance, and no one wants their holiday displays to look like Ebenezer Scrooge was in control of the purse strings!"

Christmas Light Bulb Chart
Yeji Kim
01 of 05

The Right Christmas Light Bulb Size Is All About Preference

Any Christmas light bulb size can help you deck your halls—it's all a matter of taste. "It truly just all depends upon your application and desired end result," Bradley says. "Larger bulbs give more light and are oftentimes preferable for exterior installations. But miniature lights, if used in abundance, can be so magical in an exterior situation." He suggests using larger bulbs like C-7s and C-9s to highlight a specific spot, such as your doorway or an exterior tree.

That said, Bradley loves to mix different Christmas light sizes together. "Large bulbs can give you visibility from greater distances," he says. "Up close, the miniature lights fill in the spaces between the larger bulbs, giving a fuller, more abundant display."

He suggests combining miniature lights and either C-7 bulbs or their larger cousin, the C-9, for the best Christmas lights for your home, while mini lights and C-7 bulbs are the best Christmas tree lights. "They add interest, give texture, can bring focus to certain elements of your display and add a general 'magic' that cannot be gotten from a single type of bulb."

02 of 05

White Lights vs. Multicolored Lights

There's no wrong answer here. Most people tend to skew toward either using clear white lights or multicolored lights—and Bradley recommends staying with the same Christmas light color scheme in each room.

Your lighting color scheme should work with the rest of your design elements. "I like to use white or clear lights, both miniature and large, when designing for a classic home, an urban residence, or if I want a more tailored appearance," Bradley says. "If I am going for pure nostalgia, multicolored lights are the way. Nothing says Christmas like a string of multicolored C-7 bulbs!"

03 of 05

Twinkle Lights vs. Blinking Lights

If you're looking to add a little "motion" to your Christmas lights, opt for twinkly bulbs—especially if you use big Christmas lights like C-7s. "These give a bit of movement and sense of Christmas sparkle without being annoying," Bradley says. "Unlike the old-fashioned flashing lights, these gently twinkle like stars."

Pro tip: No matter which type of lights you go with, rather than draping your lights along the surface of your tree, garlands, or bushes, make sure to work them deep into the branches. "Everything shouldn't be hung at the tips of the branches," he says. "Ask the viewer to do a little work. Pushing your light deep into the tree or garland adds depth and richness to the finished product."

04 of 05

When to Consider LED Christmas Lights

Bradley is a fan of the warmer, brighter glow of old-fashioned incandescent bulbs, which are ideal for using indoors. But there are reasons to consider LED Christmas lights that go far beyond their greener, energy-saving style.

"I like the very tiny mini LED lights they've used to light artificial trees in the last two years," he says. "They don't burn out like incandescent lights. No more bulb testing and no more frustration about a strand of light going out once your have your display just perfect!"

05 of 05

Extra Christmas Light Additions That Go a Long Way

If you want to really wow your guests with the best Christmas lights, you'll want to add a few new tools to your repertoire.

Dimmers: Adding tabletop dimmers to your Christmas lights let you set the scene, so you can soften the glow to the perfect brightness. Battery-powered Christmas lights aren't as powerful as their plugged-in counterparts, but are great for lighting up small areas indoors where a plug isn't available.

Spotlights: Spotlights are an underrated addition to your holiday lighting. "Don't forget about the good old spotlight," Bradley says. "They can bring further focus to a front door, yard display, or tree. You get big bang for very little buck when using spots."

Candle Lights: Bradley also recommends Luminara, small candle lights you can add to your tree. "They give the most realistic glow to a tree and will be the closest you will ever come to the candle lit trees from years gone by," he says.

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