Balloon HQ 
The Guide | Photos | Videos | Columns | Calendar
Artist Directory Classified Ads | Who's Who
Entertainer Forum | Decorator Forum | Recipes

Large Balloon Sculptures

There is always a need for fresh decor ideas in this industry.
- unknown
Some of the following comments include amounts of money in the imaginary unit called "C-shells." These units are used to avoid any hint of illegal price fixing in the balloon industry.


Try going to the children's section at your library, I use these books quite often to help put my brain in gear when designing ideas for theme parties.

There is always a need for fresh decor ideas in this industry. It is very important to research themes for your events and that usually is the key that helps bring the event over the line and in many cases, helps to sell the job. There are many sources that we need to go out the door, into our car and out unto the highways to find but, with little effort and the help of a search engine we have an incredible resource at our finger tips ...THE WEB! Every event we run into road blocks on, we punch in a keyword or two and bingo... we have clubs, photos, stories ... you name it. Once we have the information at hand we brainstorm in an effort to create a twist unique to us.


It's my experience that there are hundreds of do' & don'ts about ballooning that change depending on where you are (sea level) tempature, brand of balloon, inflating method, final use of the balloon and the quality of the actual batch of balloons.

Most of us had to learn the good old fashioned way by experience and I know I've done plenty of the don'ts when I should've been doing the dos. Even after 9 conventions, numerous education days, workshops, classes and luckily a few very interesting jobs I still find myself testing the stress and strain I'll be putting on a balloon for my next creation. Try to stick with one brand for a while so you become familiar with its quirks and perks. Start with the QBN tapes - they are full of good sense advice. I suggest that you don't leave it there, you should beg, borrow or buy all other forms of information regarding the use of balloons. Books, tapes even CDs are available, and they all have sound pieces of advice - but not necessarily the right advice to suit everyone's situation in their environment. Try to weigh up why one decorator says YES when the other says No. It's not easy but with a vast variety of knowledge you'll eventually start to form your own style and most of all opinion.

I personally would never inflate SOME balloons to their 'noted' size because I find them too difficult to work with. I could never advise someone not to put balloons outside because of oxidizing for I like the effect. Do you use paper clips? I don't. What's the best way to size width or length? I could go on for hours or megabytes at least. Trial and Error are two good words to learn and practice. Experiment is another. I know you're looking for advice and guidance but learning balloons is a little like raising children - you have to be gentle with them, try not to make too many mistakes, learn as much as you can from other people's advice, allow them to find their own limitations and always be willing to change your mind at the last minute. I don't believe ballooning is a true science but I respect it as a true art medium and like all forms of art it's all in the eye of the beholder.

Be brave, take a chance, invent.
Be studious, listen, invent.
Be cautious, don't take to many risks, bend the rules if you have to break them.
Be always willing to try to re-invent, test the limits.

If you want a blue print for every thing you build then buy yourself some Leggo

I honestly feel that the only real differance between successful balloon artist and a beginner is experience. If you can't get experience quick enough on the job then get it in your workshop. That's where I learnt most of my hands on skills.


The first step is to draw a sketch of the animal you want to create. Then expand the sketch to three dimensions. Once you have a 3-D picture, take different color pencil and create a skeleton inside the drawing. Once you have your picture and skeleton, then take 1/2" emt and actually duplicate the outline of your skeleton. Then fill it in with something smaller like 1/4' steel rod or 1/4" to 5/16" or 3/8" aluminum rod. Attach it all together with duct tape, weld, tie with string or wire.

Next cover the frame with.... bird netting, agricultural netting, packaging netting, chicken wire, 2 x 4 fencing material or anything else your imagination can dream up.

Next attach balloons by tieing, or paper clipping or using quickie clips.

The suggestions for (1) sketch, (2) frame and ( 3) balloon skin are good. For the balloon skin, however, I believe you will find it faster and easier, and it require fewer balloons and less framing if you use Rouse Matrix Systems Banners or Builders. This way you should do less framing in, netting and tying on balloons. The skin is likely to come out neater as well. (A) You can just build the frame and lay sheets of balloon filled Matrix on it. In this approach you would "sew" the balloon/Matrix sheets to the frame and to each other with cable ties as you go. You could use scissors to cut out for tucks and pleats as you go, and fill in any irregular spots with smaller balloons. (B) My preference, however, is to build a paper model first. Most anything you can build out of sheets of paper you can also build out of sheets of balloons in the Matrix on a larger scale. I suggest 1" = 1' for a project like yours. Make your model frame out of drinking straws, balloon straws, clothesline wire from the hardware store, or maybe even heavy gauge floral wire. Just try to match scale in your framing as well. Cover it with honeycomb graph paper skin. You will likely come up with lots of great ideas. You will be able to see just how things will go together and where your problems are likely to be. With attention to some simple principles of structural design you can minimize the necessity for lots of heavy hardware as well. Just as with paper structures, sheets of RMS balloons are stronger

  1. when the sheets are curved rather than flat,
  2. when there are folds or creases in the sheets, and
  3. when reinforcing creases or structure are triangulated.

If you can create a natural, realistic form out of sheets of honeycomb graph paper, then chances are you can create a natural, realistic form on a larger scale out of sheets of Rouse Matrix and balloons. Contact Graham Rouse at if you would like some honeycomb graph paper or more detailed suggestions on these approaches.

When we create our sculptures it is most important that "what we create looks like what we intended to create". In order to control the outcome of the sculpture we use the techniques described, starting with a drawing in a side view, a front view and if necessary a top and bottom view. When looking at it, remember to back out for the height, not width, of the balloons when you create the frame. Doing this will keep the detail you are trying to create on the outside surface of the sculpture.

While you can create sculptures with Flex-Frame SDS, SDS is a different kind of design tool and could be difficult to understand during construction. It is very specific as to where the balloons should be placed and how the framework can be covered. This would also be true with the other version of the SDS concept offered earlier to you.

If you are trying to create a natural, realistic form I would only recommend the SDS concept to embellish your sculpture but not to actually create your sculpture. If you are looking more towards a very graphic design oriented piece, then SDS would work well.

Every product or technique has its virtues, its limitations and its "gray" areas where a decision has to be made regarding if it is worth the effort to pursue the challenge.

This decision is usually based on experience, what there is to be gained, and the actual element as a design. These are realities of design and structure. It is important that no stone is unturned when you are educating yourself in any art form. If you are adamant about your education you will always find a stone to turn.

If you have the time I would highly recommend you make that paper model suggested, for the experience. As a matter of fact ... also make one using wire as your scaled frame.


We just did an event with a music theme and our artist made a 7' electric guitar out of foamcore. She used an overhead projector to enlarge the picture she had of the guitar and this gave her the design she needed.

Fantasy Flowers


For a couple of years now, I have been making topiary (balls) a different way than the traditional duplets twisted together, then another duplet added etc. I found that the more duplets you added.... the greater number of waste balloons suffered from popping or stress tears causing pin hole leaks. When one balloon deflates, you need to repair the duplet.

Try this..... Take a cable tie and cut a sharp point at the tail end with your scissors. Inflate 12 or more balloons and knot them AS SINGLE BALLOONS. Now, thread each balloon (individually) onto the cable tie by piercing the balloon just below the roll on the neck. What you have now is a string of balloons threaded along a single cable tie. Color sequence is not necessary. Now.... make your loop with the cable tie and begin to zip it up. Insert your topiary stem BEFORE you zip it up tight. Zip it up tight on the stem, and rearrange the balloons into the colour combination / pattern you desire. You get a perfect round ball every time - automatically!


  1. The latex balloon has majority of the stress from the roll to the knot. Thus, leaking balloons are rare.
  2. If a balloon has to be replaced..... you simply tie a ribbon on the replacement balloon, insert into position, and wind the ribbon continuously to lock it in. One balloon ONLY, and no additional stress applied as no duplet to be twisted in.
  3. Zipping a cable tie onto the stem means your topiary balls can not fall or be blown off in strong wind, when transporting them from the shop to the van, and van to the venue.
  4. A new market is created?? The girls at local high schools come in and buy the "balloon balls on a stick" in their high school / team colours and use them as shakers at swim and athletic meets. They also take 'em to pro basketball games. Because of the cable tie, they can shake 'em as hard as they like.... and the balloons won't come off.


  1. The additional cost of a single cable tie.
  2. It does take a little longer to make. Maybe 2 minutes per topiary when you get into a rhythm.

I have shown this to visiting international CBAs, and they LOVE IT! I teach this method in my classes, and the students are all amazed at the results. Try it. I promise you will suffer fewer pin hole leaks (so less maintenance) which cancels out the disadvantages in my opinion.

One of the things we do with our wasted curling ribbon spools...... When making a floor model (size) topiary that will have a plastic flower pot base...... use your hot glue to fix a ribbon spool to the base inside the pot. The stem of the topiary must then be the same diameter as the hole in the middle of your ribbon spool. (ours are 5/8") Hide the whole thing with shred or other inexpensive pot filler.

Advantages; No need to mix plaster, cement, or use sand- if decor is indoors. Recycles ribbon spools. NO COST. Holds topiary stem snug and vertical.

Disadvantages; Not suitable for outdoor decor unless you use cement, sand or plaster as well.


There are quite a variety of ways to make letters and and even greater range of fonts and sizes.

Making Murals

Packed Garland

Murals are often made by placing columns of balloons alongside each other. Bruce Walden has provided graph paper that is useful for designing these kinds of murals.

SDS - Skistimas Design System

SDS pricing

I have been able to sell SDS walls for over $1000. You MUST claculate a percentage for your SDS panels. (Mine cost me $1500; however, I have used them several times, and they have paid for themselves). My local distributer hires them out to decorators that don't want to invest in their own sets. So when I do my pricing I calculate the hire of my SDS at the same rate they do, even though I own mine. Don't forget to charge for every day they are in use! As for charging more for a logo, well, did it take you a long time to design, and was it time consuming to make? If so, you have to charge for that. Oh, don't forget it takes time to dismantle the SDS. You could charge for that too.

SDS co-op

Maybe you should think about what we have done here in Southern California with SDS Panels. One of our local distributors created a "Co-op" for SDS panels. 20 people paid in a certain amount of money (approx. $200.00) and we bought as many panels as we could..... He then stored them for us and we have a sign up sheet to check out the panels (we can check out any amount of panels that we need for a particular job, not just what we paid for). That way everyone has panels for big jobs without the expense of investing in that many panels. I own 20 panels to keep in my garage for smaller jobs, but for the big stuff, that co-op comes in handy!

SDS Quick-frame

The quick-frame provides you with the stability and precision of an architectural structure to display the emblems. The crisp, disciplined look in the design of the balloon lines would also complement the formal event. (One of the concepts behind SDS is to have an opportunity to break away from balloons looking too traditional for a decor design.) Using the foam version of SDS called "Flex-frame" could also work in this case because it was also designed to provide a degree of structural stability but the look is a bit different. While it provides many additional opportunities to pack a variety of designs, I feel it is more feminine and elegant in the overall look.


Simply place the neck of the foil between the grid before you pack it or, if the tail is hanging out after you have already packed it, just tuck it in between balloons and grid. When you are packing the balloon in the grid remember to:

  1. Place the neck in first
  2. Set the Bottom of the foil in place
  3. Press the top outside corners of the balloon into the balloon itself for clearance ( this helps eliminate balloon failure)
  4. In a rolling motion push the top of the balloon in place, using the bottom of the balloon that is already resting on the frame as your pivot point.

To help save the balloon for another job when you are taking it out, do step 3 first then roll it out.

Regarding placing foils into SDS. Push them in from the corners, not the top or bottom or sides. This helps keep holes to a minimum.

We pack the heck out of our foils several times before they have to be discarded and this is the way we do it.

  1. Place the neck of the balloon down, between the rails. This positions the bottom edge of the balloon into the frame and will help hide the tail.
  2. Depress the top left and right corners toward the center of the balloon enough so your fingers will clear the grid when you ...
  3. ... push down against the balloon then ROLL the balloon into the grid (using the bottom part of the balloon, that you installed in step one, as your pivot point).
Reverse the steps for removal and you can save the balloon to use another day. I can do this with one hand but most of out crew uses two. The whole concept of rolling the balloon into place works well with latex also. This technique will keep your corners on the foils from dragging across the frame when installing, which is where you get the holes.

SDS layout program

I just found a web site that has a "Light Brite"-like board that allows you to do exactly what you would need for laying out SDS stuff. It's at:

It has its limitations. If you use it in the form it exists in, you won't be able to use the whole line of colors you're used to. But then, this is only going to be useful as a prototyping tool anyway. You can't arrange an arbitrary number of panels as it has a fixed size. It's rectangular, so new SDS panels and non-rigid systems can't be imitated with this. It ain't bad though. If you've got a java-capable browser, give it a shot. You can run it right inside your browser.

A suggestion to all when doing a large wall of any kind: before you assemble, think about the grid as if you were laying out bricks, staggering the design. By doing this you will strengthen your overall structure considerably.

Tradeshow decor with SDS

Here are some tips on some tradeshow decor with SDS(TM). Obviously the space saving qualities help maximize use in tradeshow booths and in entrances. With as beautiful as the balloon graphics may be in the grid, the clients also appreciate the functionality of the steel. We have detailed the panels by building off of the rigid structure and adding signs and logos that dimensionally extend past the plane of the balloon surfaces. We have custom made shelf units also that have extended out far enough and were strong enough to hold a T.V.! We have clamped lighting to the grid and have left areas out to recess TV's or create pockets for windows. One of the most exciting looks was created by cutting a few pieces to create a pyramid over a booth.

By placing panels at a 45 degree angles we also created an exciting over head design that dazzled when we added lights between the Square micro foils and pearl latex. As a bonus the lights were held in only by the balloon pressure (which created a clean strike).

By spanning areas overhead we have also created intimate entrances. Spanning is done by connecting sections end to end and reinforcing the top edge with conduit along the length. This "Bridge" was then connected to SDS(TM) 2 ft. by 8 ft. upright columns. With the addition of the new steel radius, the entrances have now become incredibly elegant.


Whether they are SDS or air filled columns hooked together to make a wall, you do not want your large walls to fall over! Make sure everything is stable. There are several ways to stabilize the wall and here are SOME:

  1. Don't EVER use PVC, use EMT conduit
  2. Vertically you need to run conduit up the grid so it at least runs two feet past the joint that is created when you butt pieces end to end. This is normally the same pole(s) you put into your base plate.
  3. Stagger your pattern when you assemble your grid. Build it like you were using bricks.
  4. You can also cable tie conduit horizontally in the structure from the back side after the frame is packed.
  5. When you plan the wall you can design areas to bend, dogleg or zigzag. This creates a wider base for the wall, thus more stability.
  6. If the wall is tall, you can design windows into it. Leaving out a panel or two should not hurt anything providing you have conduit running up on either side of the windows. When you create "bridges" , or panels that run a distance horizontally, it is best to add conduit lenghts on the top, or in the middle horizontally.
  7. Two key things to do when you assemble the grid with cable ties or tape
    1. ONLY JOIN TOGETHER WIRES THAT TOUCH. i.e. when two pieces are butted together and lined up you have a top layer of SDS and you have the bottom layer, which is on the floor. Just join the bars that are touching and running parallel to each other on top and then do the same with the bottom.
    2. The other thing is to make sure all conduit being used in a base gets secured at one foot intervals from the floor up. This will maximize its rigidness in the wall, which is great for tall walls.
  8. Build heavy on the bottom and light on top!

There are many designs that can be decorative and structurally sound. It just takes some time to sit down and work out. Use some grid paper and play with it. Cutting areas out, folding, coloring, building out from the wall, it goes on and on!


From the start, SDS was designed by professionals to be used as a tool by the professional. It is an array of predetermined "compartments" that are designed to hold and control a display of balloons in place with their own pneumatic pressure.

It has turned out to be an investment in growth and profit opening up new markets for decor. It has an easy learning curve so decorators and their employees can attain professional looking results with little experience time and time again.

In classes I attended on RMS products given by its designer, the creations seemed very dependent upon the support of the balloons that are installed in it to maintain its shape and structure. The actual format itself is a dye-cut coreplast that needs to be expanded and held open so the compartments can accept balloons squeezed and tied in duplets. Equalizing the pressure of the balloon on each side of the structure was critical to maintain a flat surface. Spray glue was suggested in some instances to help hold balloons in place. The look is more traditional, quite similar to a square packed garland wall. When the classes were finished the walls were displayed curved in order to be freestanding with a pole at one end. Floor support is needed for both SDS and RMS. To conceal it in straight freestanding walls of RMS, supports would have to be run off a base plate diagonally due to the offset pattern of the balloons probably zigzagged up. This would be necessary in double sided display walls. In SDS the supports run perpendicular to the balloons and floor.

RMS - Rouse Matrix System

You can learn more at:

There is overlap between how RMS products are often used and the way some other balloon display systems are used. "The RMS Concept" is, however, quite distinctive.

The RMS Concept uses overlapping cuts in sheets of material to create exceptionally compact, light weight, expandable, reusable, flexible, versatile, and economical balloon display systems. This is unique.

RMS Products include some configurations which expand into special shapes when loaded with balloons. These include flat shapes such as a five pointed star, a six pointed star, and two sizes of hearts. They also include configurations which expand into three dimensional forms such as the Queen's Arch, an Umbrella, and a 4' Puffed Heart.

RMS Products include three configurations which expand into modular units. One of these modular units, called an RMS Banner, expands to about 3' by 6' and is designed to hold underinflated 5" latex balloons. A second, called an RMS Builder, expands to about 3' by 12' and is designed to hold underinflated 11" latex balloons. The third, called an RMS Super Builder, expands to about 5' by 10' and is designed to hold either underinflated 16" latex balloons or fully inflated 18" foil balloons. This is also unique.

The six sided hexagon of RMS is a lot closer to round than the four sided square of SDS. SDS recommends inflating balloons 7.5" and squeezing them into a 6" square space. That is 1.5" of distortion or 20% of the starting 7.5" diameter. RMS recommends inflating balloons 8" and squeezing them into a 7" hexagon. That is 1 " of distortion or just 12.5% of the starting 8" diameter.

Some of these products normally depend on pneumatic pressure to hold the balloons in place. Just squeeze a properly sized balloon into an opening. In those cases the products fall under the umbrella of what I call "Squeeze Play" or "Balloon Squeeze Technology". Such squeezing of balloons into arrays of openings to hold the balloons for display has been around since at least 1983. That is when E.K. Fernandez Show, Inc., in Hawaii, started using a wooden grid with balloons squeezed into it to display balloons at fairs and carnivals for their dart game. They continue this practice today.

Since 1983, and before the introduction of either SDS or RMS to the marketplace, many people contributed publicly to the advancement of Balloon Squeeze Technology. The list of people includes, but should not be limited to:

Philip Cedillos, Tim Dilsaver, David Gulley, Carolyn Hadin, Marvin Hardy, Ui Kahananui, Rob Knapp, Kevin LaCount, Jerry Levine, Robert Naughton, George Quintero, Jim Reese, Nancy Reese, Graham Rouse, Neil Schwartz, Rick Sicolo, Royal Sorell, Amy Stewart, Bruce Walden, Gary Wells.

I am thankful to them and to Jim Skistimas and Christian Hoebner for their later contributions to Balloon Squeeze Technology as well.

Some of the RMS products such as the Super Builder, Queen's Arch and the Puffed Heart use spray adhesive as a major component to hold balloons in the openings. This is unique among aperture frameworks and facilitates three dimensional balloon forms and the use of foil balloons. These are second generation RMS products which are only now being introduced into the market place.

We have a third generation of RMS Products coming. This third generation uses a different combination of technologies to hold balloons in the apertures of Rouse Matrix Systems and to connect one unit to the next. You are going to like the way they make decorating even easier.

In yet another move to make your life as a decorator a little easier, more versatile and more profitable, I have agreed on a license for Pioneer Balloon Company to introduce a limited series of RMS Concept products which I have specifically designed to integrate "seamlessly" with the SDS QuickFrame (tm). While the RMS Banner and the RMS Builder already connect nicely to the QuickFrame(tm) for flexible walls, arches, tunnels and canopies, the new RMS configurations will be barely distinguishable to the untrained eye from QuickFrame(tm) when viewed as finished displays.

The RMS is very lightweight, extremely portable, easy to store before and after utilization, and, what I like the best about the RMS is that the "framework" is MUCH less visible.

Standing across a large room, it is very difficult to see any of the framework in an RMS system. ALL SDS designs that I have seen, both in person as well as in the Images magazine, the "framework" is extremely visible. Isn't one of the tenets of balloon designers that you should do what you can to "hide the works" ?

The RMS vs SDS debate

Both are great systems and, depending on the job criteria, serve equally well. We use both systems because each client's need is different... SDS and RMS serve similar functions but have distinct characteristics that may make one better for one job and the other better for another job. I encourage decorators to learn about the characteristics of both systems so they can compare them to each other and to the many other alternatives for doing great decorating as well.

It is true that the RMS is a flexible system, so it can have a problem in a free standing situation, but any designer can get around these problems. Surely, there is room in this industry for BOTH systems, depending on the design need for the project at hand.

I think back to just 5 years ago when I did not have the option to purchase these systems and thank progress and innovation ( as well as Graham and Jim ) for the advances we have made : ) Balloon Art today is so much easier and uniform thanks to these guys !!!

I feel any professional decorators should own both systems because they serve different purposes. Decorators should have both products in stock in order to better satisfy the needs of your customers. NOT having these products in stock can cost you jobs. I personally have been hired to do jobs out of town because no one locally owned the products that they were looking for.

you need to spray the ROUSE MATRIX SYSTEM matrix with a LIGHT coating of spray adhesive before you strech it out and add the balloons. This gives the balloons the extra bit of grip they need to stay where you want them, but also keeps them from being permanantly stuck in case you have to replace a balloon. It works great, but be sure to cover your workspace so you don't end up with a sticky floor...


My preference is to build a paper model first. Most anything you can build out of sheets of Honeycomb graph paper, you can also build out of sheets of balloons in the Matrix on a larger scale. You can download RMS Honeycomb graph paper to work with. You will likely come up with lots of great ideas. Just blow it up at the local photocopy center to match the scale at which you want to build your model. I suggest 1" = 1' for most projects. You will be able to see just how things will go together and where your problems are likely to be.

Working with Frames



We have had a tremendous amount of success in building/bending our own frames. With a few basic instructions, we found that we were not only able to reproduce shapes, but generate original ones as well. In addition, the times that we have had mistakes, the investment was minimal.

We did purchase a walk-through frame from a balloon frame company at one point in time, but quickly realized that with a bit of initiative, creativity and budgetary limitations, we could do just as well as the frame company.

Bending your own heart frames is really a relatively simple matter. All one needs is a pipe bender (approximately $20), 2 pieces of 3/4 inch x 10 foot conduit and 1 piece of 1/2 inch x 10 foot conduit cut into two 5-foot pieces. On your driveway, in your garage, or some other area, lay down masking tape in the shape you want your heart and, using your foot and/or the pipe bender (and if absolutely necessary, the services of the nearest macho male...i.e., brother, neighbor, husband, etc.) to bend the pieces in the shape you've created. A good tip here is to be careful in bending the conduit. It is fairly easy to put a tight "crimp" in the conduit that is impossible to get out, and you'll need to start over, but with conduit at only about $2.50 per piece, you'll get the hang of the bending pretty quickly. It is a good idea to bend only half your heart first and then lay the second piece over it to match it as closely as possible. Using this method of creating the 2 sides of the heart helps insure it will stand straight. If it still doesn't stand on it's own or stand straight, a bit of adjustment may be necessary. However, once again, use a conduit bender and be careful not to put any "kinks" in the conduit.

Our heart frames are two identical sides which overlap a bit in the middle. We put a "V" at the bottom of the hump on both sides and then it is a very simple matter to duct tape them together at the last minute. In this way you can also transport the heart with balloons on all of the frame except the "V".

Almost any base will work (we've used everything from SDS plates to homemade pressboard plates) as long as the conduit fits over your fitting snugly. We bring out pipe up from the base about 12-18 inches for more support. The key word here is "snugly".

Small frames can be made with 1/4" aluminum rod. On larger structures, larger rod may be needed. On things that need to be really sturdy I use 1/2" coundit. It is much more difficult to work with and many times requires heat to bent into the shapes you want. If you do not have the tools or shop, then a metalworker may be needed, but that gets expensive.

Conduit for frames compression couplings for heart frames. You can get a three-way light connection (compression coupling) for the angle out. It has one opening straight up and two at an angle. They are easily attached to any base just as single compression couplings. They are really neat for multiple designs if you want one conduit straight up and one or two at angles. They are PERFECT for the heart frame. Two bases and two couplings at angles, bend your conduit and ta-da you have a great frame. Only costs between $20-$30 depending on what you already have on hand. The triple couplings cost $3.97 + tax at Home Depot where I live. Well worth their money, used as a single, double or triple and, of course, re-usable for anything. You can insert a four foot or six foot (or any length you want, depending on the size of heart you want) length of conduit in the coupling on the angle. Then add aluminum rod in each piece of conduit and bend into the 'V' of the heart. Then simply tape. Much easier than using all conduit and completely recyclable. Much easier to attach your balloon clusters to also and much easier to conceal the rod.


1/4-inch aluminum rod is bent into whatever shape you wish (a heart, numbers or Stars of David). For the heart or star, I complete the two ends by conecting them together with plastic tubing or duct tape. Wrap the balloons around the frame the same way you wrap around a monofilament (fishing) line. For most shapes, I start at the top and wrap going down one side clockwise and the other side counter-clockwise. That way the shape looks equally balanced from both sides. For most shapes, I hang the balloon wrapped frame from the ceiling. If you need it free-standing, you need to bend your rod so that the bottom of your design has both ends bent at a 90 degree angle. These ends of rod can then be put into a piece of pipe or conduit that you have screwed into a base.

For sculptures like big numbers where you don't want the supports to show use 1/4" or 3/8" aluminum rod. I wrap my clusters directly onto this rod, as I think it gives a cleaner look.

in case anyone else out there is spending too much money on aluminum rods for frames, the fence dept of home depot has galvanized wire in a roll (175 feet) for $8.75. It's a 9 gauge wire and worked well for making heart frames.

Aluminum rod costs about 10 cents a foot.

Where/what kind of rods/support posts do you use for (AIR-filled) arches?

We use 3/16" or 1/4" rolled aluminum, all 10' lengths and cut to suit.

Where do you get it?

We have a welder in our town that orders it for us at wholesale cost! He also makes all of our base plates, etc. He LOVES to be associated with us, and we mention his name any time we can.

How much does it cost?

We pay around $0.65/linear foot.

What are the minimum quantities?

We order in multiples of 12 for him.

Q) Can anyone out there tell me where we can obtain tempered aluminum rod in 20 foot lengths?

Call any metal distributor. Look in the yellow pages under Steel Distributors and Warehouses. Wrought metals like this are used by a wide variety of industries.

The only problem is that "tempered aluminum rod" won't mean a whole lot to them (or actually, to anybody... all aluminum rods sold in the US come with a temper designation). When ordering, you really need to specify the exact alloy designation and the temper designation that you want. (In case you are not in the US, please understand that there is no internationally agreed upon temper designation system for aluminum, so take the following as reference only).

If all you are doing is making temporary balloon frameworks (and _not_ welding them together), most any alloy will work. You probably can select an alloy based solely on what's cheapest and in stock. The basic alloy designations are given by numbers. Examples of alloy designations are 1100, 2024, 6061, etc.

Within an alloy system, the mechanical properties like strength and ductility will vary a great deal depending on the "temper designation." The basic temper designations are given by letters:

 O  annealed
 F  as fabricated
 H  strain hardened only
 T  solution heat treated

Numbers following these letters provide additional details about the specific processing history for that alloy (for example, T6, T351, etc). Typically, only a few tempers will be available for each alloy.

All I will say here is that for a particular alloy, "O" tempers will have low strength and be very ductile (ie, easily bent), while all others will be stronger and less ductile, in varying degrees. You'll have to determine which temper works best for your application.

Hopefully the salesman at the metal distributor can help you further.


The best tubing to use for splicing aluminum rod is brake line which you can purchase from an auto parts store. It comes in various lengths from about 12 to about 60 inches. It is steel tubing but is easy to bend and cut with a hack saw. The 1/4 inch brake line fits the 3/16 inch aluminum rod. The 5/16 inch brake line fits the 1/4 inch aluminum rod and the 1/4 inch brake line. The 3/8 inch brake line fits the 5/16 aluminum rod and the 5/16 inch brake line. In each case it is a snug fit. The brake line is quite thin so it is easy to cover and it can also be welded to make custom splices for letters, anchors, and a variety of other sculptures.


Q) Is there a tool that makes bendinging 1/4" aluminum pipe easier? Bruce Walden makes it look so easy in his video, but I found it kind of hard.

You can buy a variety of different tubing benders at any plumbing supply house. Auto supply stores will also carry them for bending brake and fuel line. Get the kind that works like a plier. Some plier-style benders are designed to fit one size of tubing only, while some are designed to bend multiple tubing sizes. It will be obvious from the die on the bender. Choose whichever type best suits your needs. The longer the handles, the less hand strength it will require. Just don't get the inexpensive "coiled spring" style.

Bending 1/4" rod, we use a 6" long pipe nipple (1/2" inside diameter) which can be found in the plumbing department. Slide the pipe over the rod to the point where you want the bend, and push. It really saves on your hands.


I need to bend some frames out of 1/2" emt conduit. I have the right size conduit bender but am not quite sure where to make the bends to accomplish this. If there is some type of formula for this I would appreciate someone sharing it with me. Thanks in advance.

In the world of conduit bending, one usually deals with dimensions to the CENTERLINE of the conduit. Use this to your advantage by doing your frame designs based on distances and angles measured between center lines. Rather than draw pairs of parallel lines for tubing in your balloon frame layouts, draw "stick figure" centerline balloon frame layouts. Just think of the stick figure people that kids draw. Draw straight lines meeting other straight lines at angles until you have the frame you want. If you don't have drafting tools or CAD software, drawing it on graph paper can help.

Now, the typical conduit bender is designed to bend conduit to whatever angle you desire. It does so by bending the centerline of the tubing into an arc of constant radius (ie, part of a circle).

There is a different bender for each size of conduit. Each of these benders is designed with a built-in, non-adjustable bend radius. The bend radius increases with increasing conduit size. How do you find out what the bend radius is? Just look at your tool. The bend radius of your conduit bender is stamped into the bender itself. Note that this radius is also measured to the CENTERLINE of the conduit.

Now, let's say your centerline layout calls for a piece of conduit bent as follows: a 2' straight section, a 45 degree bend, a 4' straight section, a 60 degree bend and a 3' straight section.

If you remember your high school geometry you can now find all the dimensions you need with some simple trigonometry. If you have drafting tools or CAD software you can now find all the dimensions you need by drawing and measuring. If neither of these apply, stay on the line and an operator will assist... uh, I mean, keep reading.

OK, get your piece of conduit and put it in front of you. Measure 2' from the left end and mark it with your Sharpie. Now we need to correct for the bend radius. Why? Because bending the tubing into an arc is like cutting a corner... it's shorter than going to the corner, making an abrupt turn, and then continuing in the new direction.

Read the bend radius on your bender. Let's say it is 6". Now get your calculator.

Take half of the first angle. What is it? Right... 22.5 degrees.

Take the tangent of this angle.

Multiply by the bend radius... 6"

The answer should be 2.485" Call it 2.5" and make a mark 2.5" to the left of your first mark. Yes, that's right, back up 2.5". That is where the bender must start bending its arc.

OK, how long is the arc you will bend with the bender? Easy.

              (bend radius) x (bend angle) x 3.14
Arc length = -------------------------------------

Here we get 6" x 45 x 3.14 / 180 = 4.71" Call it 4 and 11/16" and starting at your second mark measure to the right 4 and 11/16" and make a third mark. This represents the end of the bend and the start of the next straight section.

According to your stick figure layout, the next straight section was supposed to be 4' long from end to end. But in reality it has two curved ends so we need to make a correction for each end, in the same way that we just made the correction at the end of the 2' section.

Take half of the first angle. What is it? Right... 22.5 degrees.

Take the tangent of this angle.

Multiply by the bender radius... 6"

The answer should be 2.485" Call it 2.5" and make a fourth mark 2.5" to the left of your third mark. Yes, that's right, back up 2.5" That is "effectively" where the next straight section starts.

Make a fifth mark 4' to the right of mark four. Now correct for the bend radius.

Take half of the second angle. What is it? Right... 30 degrees.

Take the tangent of this angle.

Multiply by the bender radius... 6"

The answer should be 3.464" Call it 3 and 15/32" and make a sixth mark 3 and 15/32" to the left of your fifth mark. Yes, that's right, back up 3 and 15/32". That is where the bender must start bending its arc.

OK, how long is the arc you will bend with the bender? Easy.

              (bend radius) x (bend angle) x 3.14
Arc length = -------------------------------------

Here we get 6" x 60 x 3.14 / 180 = 6.28" Call it 6 and 1/4" and starting at your sixth mark measure to the right 6 and 1/4" and make a seventh mark. This represents the end of the bend and the start of the last straight section.

According to your stick figure layout, he next straight section was supposed to be 3' long from end to end. But in reality it starts with a curved end so we need to make a correction for that end, in the same way that we just made the correction at the end of the 4' section.

Take half of the second angle. What is it? Right... 30 degrees.

Take the tangent of this angle.

Multiply by the bender radius... 6"

The answer should be 3.464" Call it 3 and 15/32" and make an eighth mark 3 and 15/32" to the left of your seventh mark. Yes, that's right, back up 3 and 15/32". That is "effectively" where the next straight section starts.

Make a ninth mark 3' to the right of mark eight.

Note that this has all been marked out on a straight piece of conduit.

Now we cut and bend.

Cut the conduit off at mark nine.

Bend the conduit 45 degrees starting at mark two.

Bend the conduit 60 degrees starting at mark six (taking pains to either keep the second bend in the same plane as the first, or alternatively in a different plane, depending on the frame desired).

Smile at your perfect frame.

I hope this helps. You can even use this method with 1/4" aluminum rod. Just insert the appropriate numbers.


How many 4" round foil balloons would it take to cover a sphere? One 6 ft. and the other 8ft.

The short answer: It depends.

The long answer:

Let's borrow the methods and nomenclature of "crystallography" - the branch of science concerned with how Mother Nature packs atoms together.

Imagine the 4" round foil balloons are circles. There are two ways to pack equal size circles together:

1.) "Close Packing"

row 1: (  )(  )(  )   A
row 2: (  )(  )(  )   A
row 3: (  )(  )(  )   A
row 4: (  )(  )(  )   A

where the circles in each row are directly above the circles in the row below it; The circles in row 3 sit directly above the circles in row 4. The circles in row 2 sit directly above the circles in row 3. The circles in row 1 sit directly above the circles in row 2.

Each circle has 4 neighbors touching it. This looks OK.

2.) "Face Centered Packing"

row 1: (  )(  )(  )   A
row 2:  )(  )(  )(    B
row 3: (  )(  )(  )   A
row 4:  )(  )(  )(    B

where the circles in every other row are shifted half a circle diameter to the left or right, when compared to the circles in the row below it: The circles in row 3 sit in the "valleys" formed by row 4. The circles in row 2 sit in the "valleys" formed by row 3. The circles in row 1 sit in the "valleys" formed by row 2.

Each circle has 6 neighbors touching it. This looks better.

(get a bunch of pennies or washers and try it)

Now we calculate the "Packing Factor" for each case.

Call the circle diameter "d" and we will always measure "d" in inches.

In case 1, when you connect the centers of four circles you get a square with sides as long as the circle is wide.

row 1: (  )(  )
row 2: (  )(  )

The area of the square is d times d or d*d , using "*" as the times sign. Within that square are 4 quarter circles. 4 quarters makes a whole, and the area of a whole circle is 0.785*d*d

The Packing Factor is how much of the square is covered by the circles. Here the Packing Factor is:

 area of circles     0.785*d*d
----------------- = ----------- = 0.785
 area of square        1*d*d

If you like to think in terms of percents, this decimal fraction, when multiplied by 100%, gives us 78.5% coverage of the square.

In case 2, when you connect the centers of four outside circles you get a rectangle with a width of d and a height of 1.73*d

row 1: (  )(  )
row 2:  )(  )(
row 3: (  )(  )

The area of the square is 1.73*d*d. Within that square are 1 whole circle and 4 quarter circles. 1 whole plus 4 quarters makes 2, and the area of 2 whole circles 1.57*d*d

The Packing Factor is how much of the square is covered by the circles. Here the Packing Factor is:

 area of circles     1.57*d*d
----------------- = ---------- = 0.91
 area of square      1.73*d*d

If you like to think in terms of percents, this decimal fraction, when multiplied by 100%, gives us 91% coverage of the square.

If you were covering a flat area with these circles, then use this formula to figure out how many circles you'd need:

144 * (Area of flat surface in sq.ft.) * (Packing Factor for case chosen)

But, your original question was: "How many 4" round foil balloons would it take to cover a sphere?"

^^^^^^ Call the sphere diameter "D" and we will always measure "D" in feet.

The area of a sphere is just 3.14*D*D sq.ft.

This is a problem, because a sphere is not flat, and neither are the 4" round foil balloons.

So, let's say the foil balloons are "t" inches thick. We can go back to treating them like circles if we account for their thickness by adjusting the sphere diameter to be (D + t/12). Let's do that.

The area of our "effective" sphere is then 3.14*(D + t/12)*(D + t/12)

Well, you have another problem. Geometrically, you can't use either of these types of packing across the entire surface of a sphere, though it'll be a good enough approximation for balloons. You'll have to fudge the stacking a little bit)

Anyway, let's say we choose case 2.) "Face Centered Packing" on the sphere because this type of packing looks the best.

So here it is for the 6' dia balloon:

D = 6'
d = 4"
t = 2" (a guess)

The area of our "effective" sphere is 3.14*(6 + 2/12)*(6 + 2/12) = 119.4

                                           144 * (119.4) * (0.91)
The number of 4" balloons you'd need is = ------------------------- = 1245

And here it is for the 8' dia balloon:

D = 6'
d = 4"
t = 2" (a guess)

The area of our "effective" sphere is 3.14*(8 + 2/12)*(8 + 2/12) = 209.4

                                           144 * (209.4) * (0.91)
The number of 4" balloons you'd need is = ------------------------- = 2184

These are maximum numbers. The more you fudge the stacking and approach a looser Close Packing, the fewer balloons you will use. If you crunch the numbers for Face Centered Packing, they're 14% lower (1074 and 1884 respectively). You'll definitely be somewhere in between those upper and lower limits.

MB 12/13/95
MB 12/22/95
SKB 01/13/97
SKB 12/23/97
MB 7/20/99
LM 6/20/2000
LM 6/21/2000

Balloon HQ home

Contact Us | Member Services | BHQ History
Advertisers/Sponsors | Editors | Contributors
Privacy | Content Copyright