Introduction: Cheap Light Box for Drawing or Inking Or...

Picture of Cheap Light Box for Drawing or Inking Or...

A light box is a box with a light in it. Pretty simple stuff. I just can't bring myself to pay $50 (on the low end) for one. This one was put together in about 15 minutes and cost less than $15. Lights of America makes a 13" florescent lamp that I bought at Wal*mart for about $8. The box is a Sterilite storage box with a frosted bottom and cost about $4. I like making stuff, but I like drawing more so this is as simple as it gets.

Step 1: Position Florescent Lamp

Picture of Position Florescent Lamp

Up to 8 of the under-cabinet florescent lamps can be daisy-chained together with a pass through cable that comes included. To keep it cheap, I opted to use a single lamp. Position the unit in the center of the underside of the lid. I super-glued the light fixture to the lid, but you could use tape. Make sure you cut a small notch in the lid to allow the power cord to pass through without interfering with the lid closing.

Step 2: Final Assembly

Picture of Final Assembly

Power the lamp on and fasten the box to the lid. I keep the lamp turned on so I don't have to keep opening the box, I just unplug it when I'm done. Thats it.

A few samples of drawings inked using this light box.


artzgrrl (author)2017-10-15

For my elementary school art classes, this beats taping things up to the window and reaching over the shelves to trace!!! I'm going to try to purchase battery operated lights. I know that they make a ring of lights for outdoor umbrellas and I think I'll try that inside.


mrrice0 (author)2015-02-04

One of the most simplest best ideals I've seen that's thinking outside the box.

tentwined (author)2014-08-27

Just what I need C:

boyshanks (author)2013-05-27

Great idea!! I just looked online to buy one and thought -- Are they out of their minds?? I really liked your comment that the main focus for you is your comic tracing pursuits which really puts it in perspective for the perfectionist like me. I'm going to use this idea as is because my kids don't care and I use a light box once a decade so it doesn't warrant any additional thought or upgrades on my part. Thanks again!

gmclyde (author)2013-02-01

This should be #1 on the ideas. I used a light with a 18w bulb as I needed it to be plenty bright, placed the bulb on a Cornware casserole turned upside down (raising the light closer to the drawing table). There was no need to drill a hole or use a screw. There was no need to glue the light to the lid; the cord was not in the way. Superb and I am so proud of myself.

beastenick (author)2011-07-08

its ridiculous how expensive light boxes are, considering the cost of their components...i built my own 18x24 out of wood and glass, but it took time, patience, and tools...yours is by far the most simple and elegant solution to the diy lightbox problem ive seen. great job, thanks for sharing

AngelBunny (author)2010-06-27

Thank you for this instructable! I just finished assembling mine, it took just 10 minutes!! My step-daughter and I have wanted one for home for ages, this is just awesome and perfect!

kellimaier (author)2010-06-20

My daughter has been asking for a light box...thank you so much!

kristenpowersink (author)2010-03-17

wow awesome...haha I know you posted this like two years ago but it's still GREAT today! I have a broken light box so I am just gonna take out the guts and put in one of these florescent's genius!

see-saw (author)2009-10-27

Thanks for posting this - brilliantly simple and just what I need.

Up until now I've been using my monitor as a substitute which has worked pretty well.

kc1313 (author)2009-08-14

oh thank the lord!!!! i, too, just can't bring myself to pay that much for a light box and i thought i was clever but hot dang my problems are solved!!!! thanks so much! as an aspiring tattoo artist, my job is tracing!

mismonster (author)2009-07-13

OK I am so doing this like...tomorrow (plexi store is closed already). Thanks!!

jekief01 (author)2009-05-31

How about lining the Sterilite storage box with aluminum foil to keep that light focused up towards the top (area you want lighted)? I'm curious if that would help so that you wouldn't need another light.

UID (author)jekief012009-06-01

I considered that along the way. The next one I make may have some kind of reflector in it. I'd like to use high power led's. Reflectors would make a big difference.

chelle1958 (author)2009-05-25

Fantastic! I have been the crafts supply store several times debating whether to put out the $50 bucks for their lightbox and online even higher. I'm a DIY and it just seemed like it could be made. are proof of it's existence. This is cool stuff. I am a cake decorator and I work with rice paper and needed a simpler way to transfer designs. Thanks for sharing the knowledge. If you ever need a cake, look me up!

UID (author)chelle19582009-05-26

Cool. I'm glad you found it useful!

PonchoLibre (author)2009-05-01

I love this idea it is awsome and I will make one! I just have one question does the heat from the light warp the plastic container at all or does it get really really hot after using it? so hot that it may be a fire hazard?

UID (author)PonchoLibre2009-05-26

No. The lamps get warm, but are too cool to effect the plastic container.

Twilley (author)2009-03-11

Did you have any issues with the plastic container warping or bending at all? Not necessarily from heat, but from the pressure of working on top of it? Also, is the fluorescent light powerful enough to work through Bristol board?

UID (author)Twilley2009-05-26

Sorry for the delayed reply. The box is rigid enough to keep its form. There might be some bending of the surface, but nothing that interrupted my work. I use it to ink comic pages usually done on 1 or 2 ply bristol. Anything heavier than that would make transferring/inking more difficult.

lostdixie (author)2008-10-28

I think this was a very creative idea! If I decide I need something larger than what i purchased, I will definitely go this route! Ummm, I found a "spiderman" children's craft lightbox, LOL, for about $13, with shipping, around $18. Heck, I don't care if it's for a kid, if it works, it works!!! It's large enough to accomodate a standard size of paper. Cheap and no labor, hehe, works for me too.

joeysdreamgarden (author)2008-09-05

thank you again, I made a lunchbox lightbox! For £3.75 which was just for the lamp (which could be brighter but was fine for what I wanted - tracing through paper and calico, painting on the calico - very good results!). The lunchbox had a bit of raised text which I smoothed out with the back of a spoon heated over a gas ring on the cooker, which worked fine. For people in the UK, I have seen very useful plastic boxes, available in a range of sizes, completely smooth on both sides and neatly slide together. They are sold at Hobbycraft stores. You can likely get these in the US, a lot of stuff at Hobbycraft is imported from the US.

joeysdreamgarden (author)2008-07-27

Fantastic! I did wonder about using a string of cheap LED fairy lights, for their low power consumption and little heat generated but after seeing your idea, this may be the way to go... though I could experiment with LEDs first. I had been looking at lightboxes, and they're so expensive! So this is a fab idea & instructable. :D

shooby (author)2008-06-28

The material that these plastic containers are made out of tends not to let enough light through, and is also pretty flexible and soft. I'd recommend buying a pre-cut piece of plexi glass, and use that for the drawing surface, after cutting a section out of the top of the box. The underside of the plexi can be sanded until it's frosted, too get equal light distribution. Yeah, this doubles the cost of the project, but it'd still only be about $20 ($10 for the plexi).

UID (author)shooby2008-06-30

Thanks for the comment. The bottoms of these containers are definitely not ideal. The most frustrating thing about the one I chose, is that the bottom is not completely flat. There is a rectangular indentation that's large enough to accommodate most sheets I draw on, but 10"x17" bristol won't fit flush against the surface. This causes the light to be further diminished. Your idea of replacing the bottom with plexi is a good one. I'd like to use that on the next box I make.

shooby (author)UID2008-07-01

If you were to do so, I'd recommend building a box from scratch using acrylic entirely. Assuming you can get it cut (art stores are best, they use plexi for framing images), you can join it really easily using acrylic solvent, which is either di or bi methyl acrylate. Fun to work with, and easy to get nice looking results.

Mr. Rig It (author)2008-05-23

This is a really good example of ingenuity at work.

LaceyD (author)2008-05-22

Thank you! Wow, simplest really is best. I can buy that light and have a light box today!

UID (author)LaceyD2008-05-22

Well, thanks but I wouldn't say this is the best solution. I'm just stingy with cash and time. I'd like the next one I make to be brighter and have a larger usable surface.

casey321b (author)2008-05-20

Ive been wanting to make one but use the money for other projects. Now I see that I can make this cheap bad boy. +1

UID (author)casey321b2008-05-20

The only modification I'd make is to add another lamp. A single lamp isn't quite bright enough when inking thicker bristol like comic pages.

casey321b (author)UID2008-05-22

thanks I'll use 2 lamps

dchall8 (author)2008-05-20

Thank you for a practical solution that seems to elude people. I use a Sterilite box to diffuse the light when I take pictures of necklaces or any other small objects.

UID (author)dchall82008-05-20

These things have many uses. Always good to have around :-)

truovrld (author)2008-05-14

This is great... I've looked at light boxes, but never thought of making one. I may even have the materials laying around! Thanks!

UID (author)truovrld2008-05-20

Thanks for the feedback. Cheap is better. Save $$ for art supplies!

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