Introduction: Cheap Light Box UPDATE:

Picture of Cheap Light Box UPDATE:

The goal was to make a light box for my students to use that didn't cost me an arm and a leg. Went to the second-hand store and found a florescent light... ($4.99 with 50% off) then noticed a suitcase/briefcase ($3.99 with 50% off). I got them both and started thinking of ways to put them together.

4/2016: My daughter still uses this. Works great. Someday I will make another one.

Step 1: Painting & Light

Picture of Painting & Light

Paint the inside of the suitcase white. Better to reflect the light out. Make it brighter?
Take apart the florescent light. You only need the power supply, light, light socket part and switch.
Then I positioned the light so it was in the middle of the case; using hot glue and rivets I secured the light in place.

Note: Got new two setting hot glue gun. Two setting: Low = normal glue gun, High = burn yourself, stays runny way longer and oh ya burn yourself.

Step 2: Cord Switch Action...

Picture of Cord Switch Action...

I used a plug (like on a computer power supply) so I could remove the cord when not in use. Cut a square hole (little smaller than the plug socket) and inserted the plug socket/base in the outside of the case. Next I drilled a 3/4" hole in the side and put in the switch that I took from the original light.

The cord for the light was about 12 feet long so I cut it to about a foot. I kept the plug/transformer and hot glued that at the bottom/back of the case. Didn't use the original cord because I wanted it detachable.

Note: Slide on speaker clips, with some pushing will slide right over the prongs for the plug. Why mess with something that works?

Step 3: Cover (Milky Plastic)

Picture of Cover (Milky Plastic)

The next part was simple... the edge of the case is aluminum and has a little radius in each corner. I measured the case and ordered the piece of plastic. I wanted something thicker so the kids wouldn't cut through it of break it easily by pushing; so I used 1/4" thick Acrylite (lets light through). This piece was almost $20. I tried to talk them down, we brainstormed ideas, I negotiated... nothing. I had to spend the $20.

Used a jig saw to cut the radius's for the corners and the notch for the lid support.

Note: make sure you keep the protective covering on. Ask me how I know this.

Step 4: Holes, Screws & Glues

Picture of Holes, Screws & Glues

Drilled some holes in the plastic so it wouldn't move around. and glued the back part with some hot glue.

There were tabs in the case for a little divider so that is what I drilled into to hold down the plastic.

Step 5: Testing

Picture of Testing

Now try everything out and see if it works...

Success. Light putters and then starts up, switch turns stuff on and off, latches still work, cord fits in lid of case when not in use... All in all very nice.

Step 6: Clean Up and Sticky Feet

Picture of Clean Up and Sticky Feet

It's all done... slid around on a table.. so I added some little squishy stick on feet so it won't slide around.

Now I am ready to do some old school animation! I will still use the computer to scan, color and compile... but that will come another time.


pauldaryl (author)2009-05-21

RE: 'Milky Plastic' aka: Acrylic,Plexiglas, or Lucite; Acrylic being the generic term. The translucent white comes in two flavours: 1.) 7328 aka: Sign white; what they use for illuminated sign on store fronts. Lets enough light through to illuminate the surface well,very diffused, also masks the light source well. 2.) 2447 Very Translucent; more akin to rice paper. Light source may be more evident. Both can be found at Home Depot or other Hardware Stores. Avoid the light Lens material; it's styrene, and very flimsy. Yes; keeping the masking on while working Acrylic is a good idea; Its pretty durable, but can scratch easily.

jsgraham (author)pauldaryl2012-07-27

Some of the light tables we have in my graphic design labs at college have clear plexiglass or clear glass. It doesn't matter whether it's clear or translucent as long as light can readily pass through your work, enabling your kids to trace their project. Yes, translucent white seems to work best, but it doesn't really matter much.

I have a LightTracer light box from Artograph I purchased from an art store years ago. Still works very well after 8 years.

To the author, nice Instructable.

Nastan (author)2010-08-25

I still can't believe no one has mentioned that this would work for a pulp fiction briefcase. I am going to try and do this with a cheap RC battery or something.

That would work.... but the cord might be a little inconvenient?

LED's... and a 9 volt battery would do it.

philmckn (author)2011-03-26

Looks like most of the light is concentrated in the upper right quadrant of the box. Has this been a problem when using the box or does the picture exaggerate the effect?

Sorry so late. The entire thing is nice white. It's the camera that found that bright spot.... strange.

unreal_ed (author)2011-11-14

Is there any chance you would consider making one to be sold, and if so, for how much?

Sorry so late.
Sure... but it depends on how cheap I can find the parts.

abstracted (author)2012-03-16

luv the idea can be closed up n put away, way more storable than, say some of the wooden boxes ive made. i have a round florescent bulb n the balast. i got it frm a light up sign, should work awesomely.

rmestler (author)2011-11-10

Genius! I can't believe I didn't think of this idea! My grandmother has tons of these old briefcases. I'm about to walk over there right now and grab one. Thank you for taking the time to share your idea! <3

stncilr (author)2011-02-26

Awesome idea, i already have a suitcase and am starting to plan my new project!

bryandhispup (author)2010-09-29

love! My school has several BROKEN light boxes, and due to budget restrains they are not fixing them yet. This is a GREAT solution to my Light Box Needs!!! Thanks!

Broken? Sounds like you have all the makins for ones that go in cases.

chaseracer17 (author)2010-07-11

This also works for stenciling?

Takelababy (author)2009-05-14

If tracing something we used to just tape it to a sunny window.

Ya I do that as well... it's kinda hard with 30 students.

imagine30 (author)2009-07-28

I really want to make one of these, it seems like it would work well for traditional animation. Just wondering what was the total price for everything you bought?

arsenaltoyz (author)2009-06-03

this was and is a perfect idea for an artist who like traveling u might have a little issue with security if u r riding in a plane but other than that is perfect for the ever traveling artist.

static (author)2009-05-25

Nice project/instructable. A light box is one of those projects that's perpetually in the back of my mind. I had always figured I design it around a stock size of tempered glass. Safe, and some what resistant to scratching from the tools usually used with a light box.

KryptoTSD (author)2009-05-25

Hi! KryptoTSD here... I'm another knows nothing about electronics... I would like some dumbed down instructions about fabricating with LEDs... I like the looks of this project... I bet it would work swell with LEDs, too... KryptoTSD ktsd

mario59 (author)2009-05-21

Oh, I love the way you did it! I love EASY&USEFUL; way to do things! And you did it! CONGRATULATIONS!

lordofthedonuts (author)2009-05-14

I did almost the same thing but used cheap white LEDs from china. it took the whole night soldering every 100 of them on the perfboard but it was worth it. it can run of a battery so you can draw everywhere you go.

Squash (author)lordofthedonuts2009-05-21

I'd be interested in an instructable of for that. I'm trying to find someone to help me with detailed instructions on wiring LEDs for a painting project but so far no one wants to "dumb-down" the instructions for someone who knows nothing about electronics. :-(

That was actually my original plan. I will do that one next. I plan to have the white plex in the front and embed the LED's in clear acrylic.

hodderbk (author)2009-05-21

Do you think this would work for small-scale screen printing? The plastic cover would have to be clear instead of milky. I know this is a rather specialized question, but I'm looking to start screen printing at home, and I don't have room for a giant light table.

jphphotography (author)2009-05-21

This is genious, too bad I found it too late. I built a simple wood box instead but the rest of the principles are the same. I've still got an extra flourescent bulb & fixture and some white lexan left, maybe I'll give my other one away and build rev 2.0 ;) Thanks for sharing this

needexercise3 (author)2009-05-21

Great, simple project! I always make stuff too complicated. Giving in to that urge: ;-) It looks much brighter in the middle. What are some simple ways to make the illumination more even? Angled white cardboard(?) reflectors in the corners, to reflect light up toward the screen. I'd use a low-profile fluorescent, spacers, or a deeper suitcase to increase the distance from bulbs to screen. Try a vertical reflector between the bulbs (straight? 'V'? gull-wing?), so instead of both bulbs lighting up the center, the reflector would send some light off to the sides.

sassycrafter (author)2009-05-21

Love it! This would have been a great project to submit to the ReadyMade MacGyver challenge for old luggage:

Creaturiste (author)2009-05-21

Wonderfully practical, and stylish! Thanks for taking the time to write this!

I like this... it's a way to show the crazy things I design and build. All the positive comments aren't bad ether.

ddsouza (author)2009-05-21

Nice Instructable. I had made a similar unit for my kids using and old Canon scanner that I found at a Thrift store and IKEA LED light strips. The fluorescent however would have a higher output.

Scanner parts... nice idea.

wichypoo (author)2009-05-18

FYI I need one of these, quilters use light boxes to transfer patterns etc. Using a window really tires your arms out. I know. Could you use a heat resistant glass cutting board ? Line the box (suitcase) with heat resistant silver fabric?? just wondering.

you could do the exact same thing... you need to use the florescent light because it doesn't get very hot... actually not hot at all. And this plastic will withstand up to 350 degrees before it thinks about melting. oh, and you can cut on it!

Lance Mt. (author)2009-05-17

Hmmmm you know.. I might just do this

Thirft store baby... thrift store.

willymakesstuff (author)2009-05-14

why would u need a light box just wondering

Also for screen printing... because the sun makes a crappy light source D:

But this is a great project... Faving =3

Animation and for my students... I teach middle school art.

oo for like tracing yeah i forgot bout that

l8nite (author)2009-05-16

I admit, I often use the window or picture frame trick but this is a really cool idea that could find a home in my tiny studio space!

Honus (author)2009-05-15

Simple and elegant- great use of materials. love it!

cguess (author)2009-05-15

This would work great for photographers (who still use film) on the road as well. Keep all the plastic sheets, markers etc in the top and just throw it down in any hotel room.

and hold a shirt.

Shortbrant (author)2009-05-14

"Note: make sure you keep the protective covering on. Ask me how I know this."

How do you know this?

Oh, you funny. Cuz it gets scratched... I scratched the back side before I started cutting.

guitarman63mm (author)2009-05-14

Great idea, and thanks for using the correct term. I've seen all too many soft boxes branded as a 'light box' on here.

diana_11_6 (author)2009-05-14

Who did you purchase the Acrylite from, local or online?

About This Instructable




Bio: I have always like building... now I have the skills and equipment to do some really cool stuff.
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