Introduction: A $20/20min Commercial Quality Folding Light Box / Light Tent

If you have been looking for a DIY light box for product or close up photographs you already know you have a multitude of choices. From cardboard boxes to laundry hampers you might be thinking the project has been done to death. But Wait! For $20 and 20 minutes you can build a light box that is easy to use, easy to store, and looks as good as or better than the commercial products. Let's get started!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You need:

2 Expandable Window Screen units (4 Screens)
Industrial Strength Adhesive Velcro
Roll of Velcro One-Wrap (Not shown - Must stick tightly to the Velcro above)
Diffuser fabric - I used 200 thread count twin bed sheet
Spline roller tool
A pair of scissors

Note: The velcro I ended up using isn't pictured. I bought white industrial adhesive with four large pieces per package (two mating pairs).

Note: Make sure the one-wrap grips the industrial adhesive Velcro well. I found some that doesn't.

Step 2: Disassemble the Sliding Screens

Pull the screens apart to their maximum expansion. Remove the white clips.

Pick a corner and gently push the screen out until you can get a grip on the rubber spline. Pull it out of the track. Remove the screen.

Step 3: Install the Velcro

Take the fuzzy side of the Velcro and cut the width down to the size of the frame and 1.5 inches long. Clean the frame with rubbing alcohol to assure a good bond. Place the Velcro tabs in the locations shown in the pictures. Be sure to place them on the side without a spline groove. Notice the sides use two pieces on the top edge.

Note: I forgot to get these pictures before the diffuser was installed. Don't get confused, you do that in the next step.

Cut six pieces of One-Wrap 4 inches long and two 3 inches long. (Not Shown)

Step 4: Install the Diffuser

Clean the frames thoroughly to prevent any dirt from getting on the fabric. Cut the fabric about 6 inches larger all the way around and iron it to remove wrinkles. Lay the fabric on the frame and roll spline into the groove on one end.

Stretch the other sides by hand and roll in the spline. If you press your fingers on each side of the frame as you roll the spline in you will create a little slack. If the fabric it too tight the frames will warp upward causing the frame not to lie flat. You want the fabric smooth but not tight enough to warp the frame. It might take a couple of tries, but keep at it. When you are done your fabric should be pretty wrinkle free. You can always touch it up with an iron.

Now you are ready to trim the excess fabric. Take your time and be careful not to cut the spline. I pulled the fabric taught and worked down the seam with an Exacto knife. Trim hanging threads with a pair of scissors.

Step 5: Assembly

Use the Velcro straps to attach the sides and back. The straps will be tighter if you put them on with the sides at less than 45 degrees and then pull the sides in to place. Pulling them to a 45 degree angle tightens the strap. Place the top on, using the long straps on the front and the short ones on the back. Use binder clips to hold your poster board backdrop. Notice the frame is sturdy enough to hold a brass desk lamp!

Step 6: Use It!

The light box is ready for use. Place it on a surface, add your background with some binder clips, turn on your lights and take your shots. When you are done, remove the top and fold it up.

The picture below was taken after a 5 minute setup which included borrowing the model car. The lights are desk lamps with 100 watt reveal color corrected bulbs.

Now I am no photographer but I thought it looked pretty good!

Step 7: Enhancements!

The current design can be built with common tools and I think that makes it a more appealing project. I may eventually replace the Velcro that attaches the back and sides with a pop-riveted piece of nylon strap for added durability. It seems to work fine as it is. When the Velcro is tightened the light box is very rigid.

I will probably experiment with the diffuser fabric. The twin bed sheet was used to lower cost. I found a thin silk-like fabric for $9 a yard but the frames are just large enough to require two yards of fabric. Smaller frames could be done with one yard, and you could use a cheaper fabric on the back frame. It is hidden by the backdrop in the pictures.

You can scale it up or down as needed. I found two sizes of expandable screen frames but for a little more money you can make a light box of any size. Most home improvement stores sell all of the parts to make these frames up to 6 foot by 6 foot. For a really large frame you could use full sized window screens or even screen doors.

If you make enhancements or larger light boxes using this design let me know! I will link them here for others to learn from. Happy shooting!

Comments

author
JenaboH made it! (author)2016-08-17

thanks for the idea. I used the build your own screen size, @24in. per side. I bought sheer fabric and some $5 shadeless lamps. Worked great!!!

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JenaboH made it! (author)2016-08-17

This is exactly what I've been searching for! I've taken stock of what I have on hand, and am heading to Lowe's today to acquire the rest. Thanks so much for your instructable.

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NeilP9 made it! (author)2016-06-18

I appreciate your design, much better than those cardboard boxes with the sides cut out, they don't impress a client!
I just discovered something in the town where I live which is in Thailand that I was wishing existed but decided did not exist, so I went out and bought some cloths and skinny plastic sticks to make a light box. I've dumped that stuff now.
What does actually exist is translucent corrugated plastic card, sometimes called artboard I think. About the thickness of cardboard but translucent, and rigid enough to hold the shape of a box. Just buy 5 pieces, cut them as you wish equal sizes to make a cube or different sizes to make a box of different sided dimensions).

You can stick the box together with scotch tape or cloth tape.
One sheet where I live cost me a dollar equivalent.

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ShannonA18 made it! (author)2016-03-12

Did it on a much bigger scale....

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drgnflyz made it! (author)2013-09-18

I am going to make a version of these for field photography. Just wondering if you did try any different fabrics or make any other improvements in the time since you posted your original 'able? Any comments on what you have learned since using your invention would be greatly appreciated!

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2ManyProjects made it! (author)2ManyProjects2013-09-18

I haven't experimented with different fabrics or done another. Frankly it has held up so well I haven't had a reason. I gave some thought to using nylon webbing instead of Velcro and attaching it using pop rivets (that process is a little tricky). The only other thing would be some type of case to carry it in, since the fabric can get dusty when you use it often.

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drgnflyz made it! (author)drgnflyz2013-09-18

Thanks so much. Going to be using your instructable this weekend. Very excited to try this out in the field for the meetyourneighbours.net project. We will be photographing plants, insects, amphibians, live shells, small sea life, etc. Thank you for a well done 'able!

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taria made it! (author)2012-07-10

Perfect, just what I was looking for.

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zcephas made it! (author)2011-11-20

REALLY NICE! I feel like a idiot for not thinking about this myself. Looks very professional! The cardboard ones give effective results, but try setting one up at a customers establishment and not looking like an idiot! haha! Thank-you for this! I'll post my light box when I make it!

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2ManyProjects made it! (author)2ManyProjects2011-11-21

Sweet, glad you like it. :)

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ibod made it! (author)2011-04-30


I just stumbled upon Instructibles today whilst looking for an inexpensive option for photographing ceramic products. And I must say... THANK YOU! This is *exactly* what I was looking for and will save me a substantial chunk of $. Heading out in a little bit to pick up the parts and get cracking.

Should I find any easy to implement modifications I'll be sure to share them.

Cheers!

author
2ManyProjects made it! (author)2ManyProjects2011-05-02

Glad you liked it!

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2ManyProjects made it! (author)2009-05-14

Be gentle, it's my first instructable...:)

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cooldudeintown made it! (author)cooldudeintown2010-12-27

Nice ... Im going to get the supply's now . Thanks 10/10

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tigerstickfigure made it! (author)tigerstickfigure2010-11-06

A fantastic beginning!!

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crowsfolly made it! (author)2010-10-02

Heading to Lowes right now! I was about to make a temp, one-use cardboard one, but this reusable and collapsible version rocks! Excellent 'able!

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2ManyProjects made it! (author)2ManyProjects2010-10-02

Thanks!

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jhines0042 made it! (author)2010-08-03

Started building mine tonight. I couldn't find the exact frames you used so I got 48" square build your own screen kits and cut them in half (measure because they are actually 47" so half is _not_ 24", its 23.5") so that I could make four 24" square panels. When I am done I can send pics if you like. Great i'ble!

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2ManyProjects made it! (author)2ManyProjects2010-08-05

I would certainly like to see a pic, and thanks for the complement!

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jhines0042 made it! (author)jhines00422010-08-08

Finished it tonight and took some pictures. When I download them I'll send some to you.

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jhines0042 made it! (author)jhines00422010-08-09

Here is the picture of my light box as promised and here is also a picture of what I started photographing. This light box works fantastically. One final note, I had some left over white cotton fabric from a sewing project that I used as my diffusing fabric. I also left the back panel uncovered. Because all four of my panels are the same size I don't use binder clips to hold the backdrop up, rather I use more velcro and just attach it through the open back panel to the back of the back panel frame.

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dowarnette made it! (author)2010-04-25

what size screen did you use?

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dowarnette made it! (author)dowarnette2010-05-04

Thanks so much, i plan on trying to make one.

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summation made it! (author)2010-04-08

A friend and I just whipped up one yesterday.  We used make-your-own screen kits because we could only find the janky wooden adjustable ones.  We also hung a backdrop of fabric instead of the posterboard using binder clips along the top of the back panel. It turned out great!
Thanks for a great i'ble!

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xjbx made it! (author)2010-03-28

 make sure your screens are the same width and height
otherwise this won't work. 

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Spypro made it! (author)2010-03-04

Only to use a little darker background and flor so it gives a better contrast and the box is one of the greatest :)

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laylia11 made it! (author)2009-09-26

Whipped this up today, and it is gorgeous! Great low-cost alternative to those high priced light tents, and more sturdy (and portable!) than the cardboard box variety. We used fused plastic straps and snaps to connect the frames. Thank you for this awesome instructable!

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2ManyProjects made it! (author)2ManyProjects2009-09-28

Outstanding! Glad you like it.

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DerekMellott made it! (author)2009-09-12

Will build this today, thanks for sharing your idea!

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Tommyhzy made it! (author)2009-05-14

Wow, very nice and thought out for a first Instructable! Anyways, I think this is a good idea, although I don't need a light box at the moment... :]

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2ManyProjects made it! (author)2ManyProjects2009-05-15

Now I don't either! lol. I have a list of Instructables I want to do and I needed some way to take a passable photo. Thanks for the complements!

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geekazoid made it! (author)2009-05-14

lol i will looks cool. great 'structable

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Bio: Professional prototyper, avid tinkerer, engineer by nature. I specialize in product improvement and refinement, so I will try to help with a suggestion on instructables ... More »
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