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How Kaleidoscopes Work

Types of Kaleidoscope Construction

Today, Dr. Brewster's invention is available in a wide range of prices -- from a dollar or so for cheap party favors to tens of thousands of dollars for hand-crafted collectibles. The materials used to make the bodies vary widely accordingly. Some common materials used include cardboard, wood, metals (brass is common), glass (clear glass, stained glass and more) and plastic.

You're probably most familiar with the tube-shaped kaleidoscope, which resembles a spyglass or telescope. However, barrel shapes are common as well. In addition, some are conical, and other free-form designs defy description. Some are fitted with stands and others are hand-held. You could buy a miniature kaleidoscope made into a necklace or a two-sided kaleidoscope that allows you and a friend to view the same design from opposite sides.

When you look into a kaleidoscope, there's no telling what objects could be making the striking pattern you see. Even boring, everyday items can become exciting art when introduced to a kaleidoscope. Typical objects might include colored glass pieces, beads,buttons, ribbon pieces, ampoules (as described previously), confetti, glitter, "found" items and natural items (like feathers or flowers).

Some special kaleidoscopes, called teleidoscopes, don't include objects at all. You look through clear glass at the end of the tube and see a design created by reflections of your own surroundings.

Object holders can be several different designs. Most common are cells -- thin, round boxes or chambers that have enough room for the items to move. Sometimes the objects are suspended in a liquid, but cells are also frequently dry. Object holders even may be tube-shaped. Some cells are built into the kaleidoscope body; others are attached to the outside or slipped through the side. Some are even interchangeable, or they open, allowing the user to add different objects. All of these must be made of a transparent material, like glass or plastic, so that users can view the items inside. There must be some source of light to illuminate the objects; often sunlight or lamplight behind the object holder is enough, but sometimes a light is built into the device.

To add yet more variety, kaleidoscope artisans may introduce different-colored backgrounds. These might be interchangeable glass or plastic disks.

Mirror configurations within the kaleidoscope will help determine what pattern you see when you look through the eye-hole. Two- and three-mirror constructions (making the vee or triangle described previously) are most common. However, kaleidoscope innovators may use tapered mirrors instead of rectangular ones, or a greater number of mirrors aligned in untraditional ways, in pursuit of even more intricate designs. For example, they may be 3-D or umbrella-shaped.

Really, the people who create kaleidoscopes are only limited by their imaginations. There are as many possible kaleidoscope constructions as there are patterns created by the kaleidoscopes themselves! You, too, can join this creative world of kaleidoscope design. Read on to learn how to make your own.