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

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Picture of A $20/20min Commercial Quality Folding Light Box / Light Tent
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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!
 
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Step 1: Gather Your Materials

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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!

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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!
drgnflyz1 year ago
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!
2ManyProjects (author)  drgnflyz1 year ago
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.
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!
taria3 years ago
Perfect, just what I was looking for.
zcephas3 years ago
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!
2ManyProjects (author)  zcephas3 years ago
Sweet, glad you like it. :)
ibod4 years ago

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!
2ManyProjects (author)  ibod4 years ago
Glad you liked it!
2ManyProjects (author) 6 years ago
Be gentle, it's my first instructable...:)
Nice ... Im going to get the supply's now . Thanks 10/10
A fantastic beginning!!
crowsfolly4 years ago
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!
2ManyProjects (author)  crowsfolly4 years ago
Thanks!
jhines00425 years ago
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!
2ManyProjects (author)  jhines00425 years ago
I would certainly like to see a pic, and thanks for the complement!
Finished it tonight and took some pictures. When I download them I'll send some to you.
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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dowarnette5 years ago
what size screen did you use?
2ManyProjects (author)  dowarnette5 years ago
Thanks so much, i plan on trying to make one.
summation5 years ago
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!
xjbx5 years ago
 make sure your screens are the same width and height
otherwise this won't work. 
Spypro5 years ago
Only to use a little darker background and flor so it gives a better contrast and the box is one of the greatest :)
laylia115 years ago
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!
2ManyProjects (author)  laylia115 years ago
Outstanding! Glad you like it.
Will build this today, thanks for sharing your idea!
Tommyhzy6 years ago
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... :]
2ManyProjects (author)  Tommyhzy6 years ago
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!
geekazoid6 years ago
lol i will looks cool. great 'structable