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38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Star Ceiling – Fiber optics vs Painted

A star ceiling is a definite plus for any home theater or bedroom... but what is the best way to go? Should you install Fiber Optics or have the ceiling painted (either by yourself or by a professional)? Well, that depends...

(Mural by Night Sky Murals. Black lights help this painted mural shine brighter when there is light in the room)
Cal theater with logo by Jeff, on Flickr

(This home theater is in California and was really fun to paint. The owner built the soffit on an angle so the black lights would hit the entire ceiling. That way the stars would show up (fluoresce) throughout the movie. I have a special mixture of paint that I use in home theaters for those who want to have bright stars during the movie. Otherwise, with the lights off... the theater looks like the ceiling has been removed and the stars are more subtle.)

(A Fiber Optic Ceiling (not sure who did this one) with black lights around the edge for looks only)
Fiber optic star ceiling by Jeff, on Flickr

Of course my view is going to be a little biased... but I will try to be fair to all three options.

First, lets go over Fiber optics.

They are great to view in almost any light. This is a big “pro” when compared to a painted ceiling. A painted mural acts just like a real night sky and disappears in the light. Fiber optics can still be visible in the light.

When the lights are off in the room... the fiber optics are visible and beautiful. When the lights are on... they are still visible and beautiful. And, you can even make them twinkle.

But, there are some downsides to fiber optics too... The "Cons"

* They are pricey

* They require a lot of extra work to have them installed.

* Holes need to be drilled.

* Wires need to be run.

* If there is no crawl space above the ceiling... then panels need to be prepared, covered, wired and

* If you don't want to do all of the work yourself.. then you would need to hire someone to do it for
you and they may not have much of a clue what to do.

* You usually get only about 1/10th of the number of stars that a painted mural gives you.

* The holes drilled for the fibers are visible.

* Three, maybe four, different sizes of stars.

* Scheduling a few days, to a week, for it to be installed. Weeks as a DIY project.

But, they ARE nice and the big advantage is that you can see the stars at any time you want basically.

Now... what about the painted night sky murals... DIY and professionally installed?

This is where I can speak with more authority.

Let's start with the DIY option. This option can be both good and bad. Bad if you have no talent as an artist and you just throw up some paint with a paint brush. (I have seen, and painted over, many ceilings where the owner, or their friend, tried to paint the night sky with glow-in-the-dark paint. My first star ceilings were horrible 25 years ago too, when I first started painting them) It looks really easy, but there are definitely some techniques that need to be learned first.

But, if you or a friend are an artist and you want to freehand it... then go for it. And remember... you can always add more stars later if needed. Don't try to go too crazy at first. Paint, step back and look... and then paint some more.

There are also stencil kits that you can purchase on the Internet. Out of the 4 or 5 different stencils that I have tried out... there are two that are much better than the rest. One the less-expensive end is the Night Sky kit by Ursa Major (https://www.ursamajorstencils.com/products/night-sky) and on the high end is a DIY kit by Night Sky Murals (www.NightSkyStencils.com). So, do your due diligence or email me and I will steer you in the right direction for what works best in your situation. If you have more than one or two rooms to paint... you will be sore after painting with the stencil. A good supply of Ibuprofen might be a good thing. Just sayin. :)

"Pros" for the DIY option:

* Cheapest method to get a star mural on your ceiling.

* Usually slightly nicer than the plastic stars.

* You can paint over it if it looks ugly and then try again or call a professional.

* You can claim credit for having painted it.

* If you have to tear out part of your ceiling to fix something up in there... then you can repaint that
area yourself.

* By using a DIY Kit to help guide you... you can have aa very nice star-ceiling and save a lot of money (Two good kits were mentioned above).

The "Cons" to the DIY option:

* Sore neck and back

* It's very easy to create a very ugly mural if you aren't careful.

* It isn't usually as nice as one done by a professional (at least the better ones)

* More unnecessary work to perform where you aren't already proficient.

* There's a good chance that it'll only be slightly nicer than the plastic stars.

* It's frustrating.

* You'll probably glow in the dark for a few days from the paint that gets on you.

Now.. ”The Professional Option”. Are they really that expensive? Here's the quick and easy answer... Some are. Some aren't. And, by the way, I am. (But, I am a lot less than having fiber optics installed)

A quick word about “Professionals” here. There are many people/companies that will teach others how to paint a star mural. One problem is that most of those who are teaching others to paint have never even painted one themselves, or if they have, it was only a handful of ceilings. Usually they are either companies who want to sell their glow paint (so they teach you a method which creates a need for their paint, and they usually are terrible techniques)... or they are just lazy people who see a good idea and try to capitalize on someone elses success by marketing a “Star-Painting Business Kit” themselves. And, as a result, the people they “train” have learned really bad techniques from these non-skilled, snake oil salesmen. So you want to be careful who you hire.

Here are two examples.

This first picture is of a mural that was done by one of the popular companies painting and teaching others to paint these murals. Please don't ask who did this because I won't name them. I show it only to make the point that you need to check around. This picture was taken with a black light on because they probably didn't have a camera with a long shutter exposure. Thus, the background color. BTW... the picture at the beginning of this thread is of one of my murals with black lights on too.

(Another unknown "Professional's" mural)
Bad star mural 2 by ? by Jeff, on Flickr

This next picture is of a mural that I painted on a really nice ceiling with big beams in it.*

(Mural by Night Sky Murals)
IMG_6410 by Jeff, on Flickr

Having said that... I have seen some work done by other artists that really surprised me because the murals they painted were actually really nice. They were much better than I had expected, after hearing who they'd learned from. But, these murals were painted by people who were already muralists before they decided to add star mural ceilings to their portfolio.

So please be careful when hiring an artist and try to see their work first... or at least have them drop by with, or send you a sample of their work that you can look at. I mean... do you really want to spend all that time decorating your theater room... only to have an amateur come in and destroy your ceiling? There are good artists out there... but you need to search to find them.

As for the cost... You can find people who will throw some paint up on your ceiling for anywhere from $1 to $4 per square foot. My prices start at $11 per sq. ft... and can go as high as $16 per sq. ft. depending on the detail and preparation before I can paint. I'm more expensive than most, but I am fair and the value that you get, I believe, comes out to be a better deal.

OK... here are the “Pros” to having a professional paint the mural:

* The look is Incredible! (When done right, by a true professional)

* Painted night sky murals blow fiber optics away in the dark. (Fiber optics excel in lighted areas) But for
realism... there is no comparison to a painted mural.

* You can have a realistic looking Milky Way in your mural, that has a cloudy look to it and has thousands
and thousands of tiny little stars.

* You can have other deep space objects and the moon added in. (I suggest only having a crescent moon
painted in... because I try to make the mural look like a night sky that you would see from a remote
location on earth. Galaxies and Nebula aren't really visible with the naked eye from earth) But, it is
possible to have all those things with a painted mural.

* You can create the illusion of mountains surrounding the room when the mural is brought down the

* Ceiling fans and heat registers can be painted too... so they don't become black holes when the
room is dark.

* If you feed some professional painters some BBQ (ahem!) they might even throw in a
shooting star or two.

* Virtually invisible in the light.

* Thousands of stars in the mural... compared to hundreds with fiber optics and DIY options.

* 15 to 25 different sized stars in the murals. This is what creates an incredible 3D look.

* Paint can glow for up to 12 hours, in perfect conditions (the smaller stars will *
fade in about 2 to 4... and the larger stars will glow longer).

* The paint can be made to fluoresce under a black light for viewing during a movie. Not as bright as
fiber optics, but still visible.

* The mural actually changes the longer the lights are off. The mural will look one way when the lights
are first turned out... and totally different 3 hours later.

* The stars seem to twinkle... naturally. Something about the paint and the rods and cones in your eyes
will have you swearing that the stars are really twinkling.

* No smell.

* Can be painted on most finishes

* Usually painted in only a day.

* No need for a crawl space in your ceiling for the mural to be painted. Nor is there the need to add a
false ceiling. Your regular ceiling is just fine.

* Invisible in the light... just like the real night sky. Your room looks like it always has in the light (For darker colored ceilings... some stars will be visible in the light).

The ”Cons” to having a painted mural:

* The cost can get up there, but usually less than fiber optics.

* You need to throw some ribeyes or ribs on the BBQ for some artists. :)

* You need a fairly dark room for the mural to be seen as intended.

* You need a good fluorescent light source to charge the paint for 10 minutes (Still, plugging in a
black light or two is easier than wiring for fiber optics. Or, if a soffit has power, black lights can be put in there which makes things much easier).

* You could get a bad professional (Do your due-diligence)

* Invisible in the light. This is a “Con” only if you want them to be visible in the light.

Here is what the painted murals look like in the light and in the dark. Again, we do have a special paint (and others might have something as well) that will allow the stars to fluoresce under a black light in a semi-lit room.

Split Room- NSM by Jeff, on Flickr

OK, I tried to give a fair overview of some different options for a star ceiling. But, whatever option you choose... get a star ceiling. They are so incredibly relaxing and romantic. You've designed everything for the light... do this one thing for the dark. You will be glad you did.

If you have a day-sky (blue sky and clouds) painted on the ceiling... then get a night sky painted on top of that. When the lights are on, the day-sky will be visible. When the lights go out... the night sky will appear. It's very cool!

I've gotten many questions about the murals from people who are building home theaters... and home theaters are probably my number one area to paint in. Bedrooms shouldn't be overlooked. How cool would it be to drift off to sleep every night? Trust me... it's way cool. :)

Please ask any questions that you have and I will try to answer them for you.

If you are in the building stages.. and can still add some wiring for lights... I can tell you where you should have them placed. If you can still add a soffit around your room... I can give you good ideas about how to build that too.

So, if you are considering stars in your ceiling.. ask away and I will try to help you out.

38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #6 ·
I thought that I'd post a few pictures that I recently painted for customers. Hopefully it will motivate some of you to paint your own Freehand murals(take it slow... these aren't as easy to paint as you might think), get a DIY stencil kit or have a professional paint one for you. They are such a nice addition to a home theater... especially if you prepare for it.

A couple things to do to prepare would be to have a light texture put on the ceiling before you paint it. Even a light knockdown texture will work nicely to hide some of the little bumps. If you have to go with a very dark ceiling color (I've painted many theater room ceilings that had light colored paint and there was very little reflection) on the ceiling, and you want to go with a Flat Black (or other dark color)... then may I suggest a flat paint with enamel in it? It will be easy to clean and won't mark up if you barely touch it. I've started to see a lot more of this paint being used and the upkeep is so much easier and better.

OK, so here are some pictures.

This is actually in a bedroom, but since many theater ceilings are also Tray ceilings... this would look great in a theater.

Here's a sideview of a theater ceiling. The Milky Way is very visible because of the Long Exposure picture. It is usually visible, and one of the most requested additions to the murals, and most talked about. I've rarely painted a ceiling without a MW and when people get my kits, I have some instructions that I can send. I've sent more and more... so they are pretty popular with the DIY'ers too.

This theater ceiling was really fun to paint. The beams that you see in the picture are actually a couple feet down from the ceiling... so when you're looking at the ceiling, and walking around, the ceiling and beams move at different rates and it's very 3D and awesome!

This ceiling was in a game room/theater room. It may not look like it, but this ceiling is huge... and about 25' up (to the top part). This was probably the scariest ceiling that I've ever painted (out of the thousands I've painted). I remember hugging the lower beams while standing on top of a 16' tall ladder.

This ceiling picture is a composite that a Home Theater magazine used to show the theater and ceiling at the same time. Usually the ceiling and theater aren't visible at the same time (the room needs to be super dark to see the murals).

Here's a Texas mural that it seems the camera caught a split second of the black lights (as they were going out) and that is why you see a lot more blue). I love the look of beams with a mural, but all ceilings are really nice.

On lighter colored ceilings... the murals are virtually invisible in the light. They glow beautifully in the dark.

This last picture is one that a customer painted himself with one of our Full-Ceiling stencils.

Hopefully this will give some of you the night sky bug... and you'll consider painting one yourself, or having one painted for you. Either way... there's not much that's more relaxing.

I have some videos posted that will give you some tips if you want to paint one yourself, and others that talk about lighting and other things. They are at www.YouTube.com/NightSkyMurals

38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Hi Dean...

Thank you!! I really appreciate that. But, as I mentioned in the post... both types of star mural has benefits that the other doesn't. And, if you will have a room that get's very dark, then there is nothing better than a painted mural.

Thanks again!


I believe the paint job looks amazing than fiber.

38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
So you just paid a lot of money to have a star ceiling painted, or you spent a lot of time painting it yourself... and now it's time to charge that mural up and enjoy it. You look at the price of regular tube black lights, or the UV blacklight LED strips... and have some sticker shock. But then you find some blacklight rope lights that say that they are UV also... at a fraction of the cost of the other lights. So, you are about to pull the trigger and pay the $15 for enough lights to string around your room 3 or 4 times... when you see this video. Does this video validate your purchase, or discourage it?


38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #15 ·
If you are planning to paint a star ceiling and you are going to put in a soffit for the charging lights... then here's a little diagram of a suggestion that I've given people over the years.

Besides coming down as far from the ceiling as possible (so the lights will hit the paint all the way out in the center of the room)... I always suggest a couple of circuits up there (one for the Charging lights and one for other rope lights for mood lighting). Sure, the blacklights are nice to look at, but sometimes you want a different color coming out of the soffit... thus the two circuits.

Also, if you have a fairly large ceiling, then I usually suggest an outlet (for the charging lights) to go in one corner, and then another to go in an opposite corner. The reason is that LED lights that are closest to the tube blacklights and give off the least amount of visible lights come in 12v... and can only run for 16.4' before needing more power. So, with two outlets, in opposite corners, you can usually cover most ceilings. Just plug in two 16' strips of lights into one outlet and then run the lights in opposite directions down the walls inside the soffit. Then, from the outlet that is in the opposite corner, run two more strips in opposite directions down the walls. By doing it that way, you can run 64' of lights without any extension cords. If your ceiling is bigger than 64', then you can add more outlets in different places.

The other circuit can then be used to power RGB rope lights, or whatever lights you'd like in there for mood lighting... and then run them independent of each other.

So, here is a graphic that I made for a customer to help explain things. Hope this helps someone.


38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #17 ·
For those wanting to paint a night sky in your theater rooms... let me give you an idea of something that a customer and I just worked on. The customer painted the mountains around his room and then used some blue paint that I gave him to create moonlight on the tops of the mountains. Then I painted the ceiling and came down to the mountains.

If you want to do this yourself... he cut some long sheets of paper to create the outline of the mountains, with the mountains on the bottom of the paper. His walls were already dark blue. He then took black paint and painted from his stencil down to the floor. Then he took some silver paint and went along the mountain tops so that it would show up in the light, and also under blacklight. When I showed up I showed him some blue paint that I had, but rarely use... and I gave it to him to go over the silver paint, with my blue glow paint. Since my blue glow paint also has the fluorescing additive in it... that's what you are seeing under the black lights, and the blue glow with no blacklights on.

This turned out sooooo amazing (in person) and I tried to capture the look and feel of this room in long-exposure pictures, but you still don't get the full effect of the realism in pictures. I liked this look so much that I will be creating an add-on to my DIY Kits that will have generic mountain ranges and a few popular mountain peaks. Hopefully, I'll get around to finishing these. :)

Anyway, I was hoping that this might give some of you an idea of what you can do if this is the kind of thing that you like. You're always welcome to email me with questions or ask them here.


38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #18 ·
OK, so here's a test run of a stencil to paint mountains on the wall, around a room, as seen in the pictures above (of a theater room that I painted a few weeks ago. This would be easy for anyone to do on your own, or you can wait until I get around to finalizing these.

On the practice sheet... I think it turned out fairly nice, though I rushed through the moon glow on the mountain tops. But, that wasn't the main test. The mountains were, with the colors. Anyway, hopefully this will give you some ideas of something different. I also had someone ask about the size of these stencils because he wanted to add the mountains to his soffit. I hadn't thought about that... so now I am. I told him that a soffit would probably need to be around 18" on the inside for mountains to work well. Anyway... here are some pictures of the steps.

The stencil:

The background painted (I only painted down as far as I thought I'd need to for the mountains to cover the bare areas).

The stencil covering the dark blue background/sky and the bottom painted black.

Sky and mountains:

Hanging it on an old wall to continue the experimenting:

The tops are painted. It's supposed to be more of a moon-glow look. If I get serious about this then I'll have a real artist do the training.

The same picture with a black light on:

At this point, the test was finished and I was about to take the paper down, but my kids wanted me to put some stars in the sky. So... I did:

Then, the same picture in the dark

I would love some feedback!!! But, first, realize that I'm not an artist, so if you have feedback on how badly I painted... that'll be a given. I'll still listen to it, however. But, I'd love feedback on things that pop into your mind of maybe other ideas (Cityscape, mountain tops with trees, etc.), paint colors, or whatever. There has been nothing officially designed yet and sent to the Laser-Cutter-Guy, so all ideas are welcome.

Oh, and I just free-handed a mountainscape on 36" wide kraft paper that I got at Lowe's.


38 Posts
Discussion Starter · #20 ·

With a little time before my next painting trip, I’d like to record some more video answers to questions that people have about the star murals, whether I am going to paint it for them, or for those wanting to paint their own ceiling.

I’d love to get any questions that you might have, if you are planning on having one painted, or you are wanting to paint one yourself. I’d love to try and answer them for you.

Even if you’ve had a star mural painted already, or you painted it yourself… what questions do you wish you would have gotten answered before you had it painted, or before you painted it?

I’ve recently posted some of the more recent answers on my website and on my YouTube channel, but I’d like to cover as many questions as possible. My problem is that I’ve done this for so long that I tend to forget simple questions that people might have. I’d like to address as many as possible.

Thanks to those of you who have, and are, willing to help!
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