Pumpkin carving ideas – 9 looks, from simple to spooktacular

These fun and easy pumpkin carving ideas will turn your squash into a luminary, a work of art, or a good old-fashioned Jack-o-lantern

Three pumpkin carving ideas
(Image credit: The Wonder Forest / Alamy)

When you think of pumpkin carving ideas, Jack-o-lanterns are probably the first thing that comes to mind. While welcome, if you want to switch it up this year, you'll be happy to know that there's more than one way to slice a squash.

In fact, deciding on your pumpkin carving ideas comes down to creative expression, because the options are almost endless. Are you looking to create ambience in your home with Halloween decorating ideas during a party? Want to welcome tiny trick-or-treaters in a way that's festive but not frightening? Looking to flex your artistic talent and create something three-dimensional? 

To help you choose your direction, we've rounded up our favorite pumpkin carving ideas for Halloween and beyond, whether you've been growing pumpkins yourself or have store-bought ones. 

Pumpkin carving ideas

The first step in carving a pumpkin is choosing the right subject. 'Small pumpkins are harder to carve for two reasons,' says pumpkin artist Jamie Jones, 'The design needs to be much smaller so it's much more fiddly to do, and they tend to be much firmer.'

Choose a large pumpkin with a firm stem (a soft one can signal a fungal infection), and a sharp set of tools, and you're ready to get carving. 

1. Create a pumpkin luminary

pumpkins with hole cut outs

(Image credit: Balsam Hill)

'If you want to try something different to Jack-o-lanterns this year, I love turning a pumpkin into a luminary by repeating a small-scale pattern all over it,' says Pippa Blenkinsop, stylist at Homes & Gardens. 'Then you just add a small light, and you're done.'

To simplify this look, clean out your pumpkin, then grab a power drill with large size bit, and drill holes in your preferred pattern. 

2. Use a pumpkin stencil

spider web pumpkin

(Image credit: Alamy)

Wow passersby with your outdoor Halloween decor by using a stencil to carve your pumpkin this year. Simply adhere the stencil to the top of your pumpkin, then use a marker or pen to trace the design onto your pumpkin, and carefully carve it out. 

If you're using a paper stencil, use a carving tool or sturdy metal skewer to poke holes along the stencil lines, which will outline the design on your pumpkin. You can buy Pumpkin Carving Stencils on Amazon.

3. Or, make your own stencil

pumpkin carved with house

(Image credit: Alamy)

Learning how to make a stencil for your pumpkin will open up your creative freedom, because you'll be able to turn almost any design into a pumpkin carving.

'Regardless of whether you're using a picture you've found or drawing it yourself, I always make a stencil, obviously depending on the complexity of the design, drawing directly on a pumpkin can be difficult,' says Jones, who details the process of making a pumpkin stencil on her YouTube channel. 

4. Monogram it

monogrammed pumpkin

(Image credit: The Wonder Forest)

Elevate your Halloween front porch decor by etching your family's monogram into your pumpkin.

Dana Fox, a craft blogger and shop owner, created this elegant pumpkin design using everyday household items. She did the ombre effect at the bottom with nail polish, and then carved a monogram into the pumpkin, but stopped short of going all the way through the flesh for a shaded look. 

5. Try a 'shaded' pumpkin

hogwarts pumpkin

(Image credit: Pumpkin Freak)

Shading a pumpkin is similar to carving, but you don't carve all the way through the pumpkin's flesh. 'It involved shaving the pumpkin to different depths, allowing varying amounts of light to past through creating a range of values and shades to make the design,' says Jones, who uses wood carving chisels and lino cutters to create her designs, like the Hogwarts-inspired pumpkin above. 

6. Create a geometric pattern

pumpkin luminary

(Image credit: The Wonder Forest)

Fox used drill bits in three different sizes to create the snowflake-inspired patterned pumpkin above. Go for a similar look, or try a zig-zag herringbone pattern, or a striped design with alternating drill bit sizes.

A pumpkin with a timeless design pattern is a fun way to create festive Halloween table decor that still feels chic, especially if you add a light inside for ambience.

7. Try a sculped pumpkin

sculpted jack o lantern

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Fancy yourself an expert pumpkin carver? For those ready to try a more advanced technique, sculpting a pumpkin requires a bit more effort, but the 3-D effect is worth it. 

'Pumpkin sculpting is where you carve the pumpkin the same way you would clay or wood to make a 3D sculpture,' explains Jones. 'Clay loops cutting ribbons are best for this method.'

8. Let your pumpkins age 

pumpkins on a fence

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Once carved, pumpkins quickly start to rot. But, if you factor that into your pumpkin carving ideas, a little wilting can be a good thing. The pumpkins above are a few days old, and the sagging skin enhances the overall effect. 

9. Swap candles for LEDs

light up jack o lantern with LED light

(Image credit: Pottery Barn)

'I like to use weatherproof LED lights inside my pumpkins,' says Jones, who varies the color and size of the light depending on the look she's going for. 

Small LED lights are not only safer than candles, you don't have to worry about them burning out. Choose a waterproof version and you can leave it out in the rain, adding spook factor to your Halloween door decor whatever the weather.

What is the best thing to use to carve a pumpkin? 

'Don't use the supermarket tools, they are blunt and flimsy – when they're blunt, you need to apply more pressure, which increases the risk of an accident,' says Jones.

For making basic cuts, like when carving a Jack-o-lantern or tracing a larger stencil, Jones recommends a small hack saw blade or thin serrated knife.

Should you carve a pumpkin from the top or the bottom?

While most people carve a pumpkin by taking the top off and scooping out the insides, Jones says this is all wrong. Instead, cut out the bottom or back of the pumpkin to clean it out. 

'The stem still contains some nutrients, cutting off the top will make the pumpkin rot faster,' she says. That said you can find out how vinegar prevents pumpkins from rotting with our dedicated guide.

Can you carve a faux pumpkin?

If you want your carved pumpkins to last more than a few nights, you can carve a faux pumpkin instead. As long as the pumpkin is hollow in the inside, it's a candidate for carving.  Just make sure you sturdy tools that are extra sharp, or use specialty tools like Greatever's Halloween Pumpkin Carving Kit and Pumpkin Punchers, both available on Amazon. This Pumpkin Carving Kit for Kids is a safer option forlittle ones.

Or, for a no-carve pumpkin idea that'll last for years, simply paint a faux pumpkin instead.

Kaitlin Madden
Executive Editor, Homes & Gardens

Kaitlin Madden Armon is a writer and editor covering all things home. Her work has appeared in Real Homes, Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Refinery29, Modern Luxury Interiors, Wayfair, The Design Network, and lots more. She graduated from Northeastern University with a degree in journalism and currently lives in Connecticut with her husband, three kids, and black lab.