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Recycled Art: Easy Artist Light Box Design Pattern

August 1, 2011

I found this easy online pattern to make a large light box at home out of recycled materials for a very low cost.  Ever since junior high school, I have taped things to windows to trace them.  This was especially helpful in a pre-digital high school when I needed to make the reverse of a drawing for correct orientation to carve a linoleum block print.  The original Instructables.com article is here.  The author is correct to point out that larger light boxes or light tables purchased from retailers can cost up hundreds of dollars.  Here is the simple breakdown of the pattern idea and my two cents worth of advice to make a cheap, easy lightbox.


  1. Large picture frame and glass; better yet, replace the thin window pane framing glass with thicker Plexiglas.  That will be safer but add to the cost. 
  2. A cardboard box that is larger than the dimensions of the edges of the picture frame.  Fold the box flaps in for added strength. 
  3. An old lamp or lamp fixture kit and a lower watt compact fluorescent light bulb.  [I extremely recommend a CFL bulb: it will not have the heat buildup and risk of fire that incandescent or halogen bulbs will have.]  A very small lamp would be helpful, or take the cord and part the light bulb screws into [the fixture part] and just use that.  Make sure the wiring is insulated well and not frayed.
  4. A box cutter, some duct tape and maybe an extension cord if your lamp has a short cord.  A tape measure or large metal ruler and t-square would help.

The breakdown:

  1. Cut  a hole for the lamp cord. 
  2. Put the lamp in the box and maybe duct tape it down to the bottom of the box if you don’t want it to move or fall around inside.
  3. Cut notches in the box so the frame, with its glass installed, will rest firmly in the box.  All four corners of the box are intact and taller; cut only two of the sides as deep.  {Measure carefully.}  You may want to duct tape the cut edges for strength before placing the picture frame in the slots. You may also consider duct taping the bottom edge of frame the the outer sides of the box for added stability.  {Don’t bother taping the fame into place if you want to be able to pick up the picture frame and move the lamp around in there.}  See the janky illustration I did below.

Make it Better:

  1. You can try to cut the box sides at an angle, equal on both sides, to make the surface of the tracing table tip up like a drawing table.  Get out a protractor and get that angle right.
  2. Use a single sheet of thin rice paper from an art supply store, the size of the glass pane, and tape it on the reverse of the glass pane or Plexiglas to diffuse the light from the lamp and prevent glare.  Or if you have Plexiglas, use an electric hand held palm sander and sand the reverse of the Plexiglas so it is translucent.
  3. Glue the glass or Plexiglas into the frame along the inside of the frame molding lip so you don’t have to rely on the strength of the metal framer’s points to hold it in place.  Also remember, the frame is face down.
  4. Line the bottom of the box and maybe the sides with aluminum foil to prevent scorching and reflect more light.

That is all you need for a fast and easy light box!  Now you can manually trace as much as you want to.

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