Introduction: DIY Tracing Light Box for Under $20.

Picture of DIY Tracing Light Box for Under $20.

Let's face it, store-bought light boxes are expensive. And other DIY light boxes usually require cutting, soldering or some other form of work. This DIY light box requires almost no work at all and costs next to nothing. Intrigued? Here's what you'll need..

-1 clear plastic box/bin: approximately $5-$12 (I used an extra scrapbooking storage container that I had purchased from either Michael's or Jo-Ann's. It's nice because it's flat, thin and relatively large as it's made to hold 12x12 scrapbooking papers. These run about $8-$12 but are often on sale and both stores always have coupons.)

-4 touch lights: ~$4 (I bought 2 for $1 each from the dollar store which did not include batteries and one 2-pack from Walmart for $3.96 which included 8 batteries. Turns out they were the exact same product, so I paid a dollar more for the Walmart one taking into account the battery cost.)

-4 AA batteries for each light = 16 batteries total: $2+ (you can also buy these at the dollar store. I bought an 8-pack of low-drain batteries for $1. It's not like you're powering a car here..)

Step 1: Add the Juice

Picture of Add the Juice

Open the battery compartments and place 4 AA batteries into each light. Follow the pictures inside the compartment if you need assistance with this step.. Replace the covers when done.

Step 2: Place the Lights Into the Box

Picture of Place the Lights Into the Box

Open the clear plastic box and place all 4 lights into the box. Touch each light to turn on.

(Note: on my box there is a small divot in the top of the box that one would have to avoid while tracing. However, the bottom of the box is nice and smooth, so simply flipping the box over before putting in the lights would remedy this situation. If you would like a more permanent light box, small squares of adhesive velcro could be placed on each light and in the bottom of the box. I probably won't be using this very often, so I wanted to be able to take the lights out and use them elsewhere if necessary.)

Step 3: Close the Lid

Picture of Close the Lid

Close the lid to the box and voila! Your very own cheap, DIY light box. Now you can trace to your heart's content... but don't forget to turn the lights out when you're done.


kathynv (author)2012-11-18

Wonderful! Now I can make a lightbox as a gift for my sister, who always wants to borrow my expensive lightbox. She'll have what she needs and not need to wreck my expensive tool. Thank you so much! These are inexpensive enough to give to the kids, too! Whee!

amisiak (author)kathynv2012-11-28

Haha, you're very welcome.

offtherails2010 (author)2012-11-15

Absolute Genius !
Just what ive been looking for, an inexpensive way to have a lightbox !!! Voted for you - good luck !!!

Once again - Genius !!!!!!!!!!

amisiak (author)offtherails20102012-11-16

Thanks so much! I was surprised at how little it cost and how simple it was as well. If only I had stumbled upon it during my undergrad art years..

ChrisW431 (author)2018-01-04

my next project...thanks for the great idea!

LeslieGeee (author)2016-08-09

Great idea. Your box lid looks to have an indentation which would accommodate a piece of glass cut to size. You can add velcro strips to the glass corners and to the cover so that it wont fall out or off. Glass is inexpensive enough to get a sturdy thickness :)

cube-convict (author)LeslieGeee2017-11-10

White acrylic is relatively inexpensive for this purpose as well, but that starts taking the project away from the true simplicity that makes the current approach awesome.

ErikaS64 (author)2017-04-13

Add aluminum foil inside for extra brightness?

amisiak (author)ErikaS642017-04-30

Hmm.. might work or you could just buy stronger batteries/lights? Give it a try!

Catherine Todd (author)2017-01-14

I will do this with a glass cutting board (as suggested) and put a long, thin battery operated LED light we already have into the plastic box. No wiring needed. What a great idea... I can't thank you enough. Wish I had this years ago as an artist when I had no money and finally saved up and bought an expensive light table with a plexiglass top and the first day someone came by and scratched it so badly it was unusable. Never did save up the money to replace the top. Now, years later, I will have a very nice, light and portable light table once again. The circle will be complete!

amisiak (author)Catherine Todd2017-04-30

Haha, perfect!

Lonepine99 (author)2017-02-10

Thank you SO much for this great idea! I am a new artist and can't afford the cost of a light box and was so frustrated. Thanks to you I can now get busy on my painting! Brilliant idea!!!!

amisiak (author)Lonepine992017-04-30

You're very welcome!

ooohlaa (author)2016-08-10

llove to use with plastic clear mat u can buy them at Dollar Tree for one dollar for 2!

ooohlaa (author)2016-08-10

wonderful, clever, resourceful! thanx

LadyBaltimore (author)2016-06-11

Brilliant idea! Thanks so much for sharing. :-)

mmaurer (author)2015-08-16

looking to do something like this but I need a top made of glass so I can do etching or cutting with my xacto knife.

MsMissy31 (author)mmaurer2016-03-06

This is what you need.

amisiak (author)mmaurer2015-08-16

I have also seen really thin, plastic semi-transparent cutting mats for super cheap. I think they're supposed to be used for cutting food, but I would assume they would work for cutting and would allow the light to shine through..

RoxannH (author)mmaurer2015-08-16

I bought a glass cutting board with pebbled bottom to set on top of box - About $6. at WalMart. Illuminated enough to copy a calendar page on cheap drawing paper. The drawing paper was from the Dollar Store.

pattip1964 (author)2015-12-16

OMG! lol i just spent an hour looking at expensive store bought ones and i told myself no way Thank you so much! an easy and inexpensive way to have a lightbox!

MagicallyMia (author)2015-11-02

Great idea! Light boxes are expensive, and this is a good idea for young artists. Well done!

amisiak (author)MagicallyMia2015-11-04


derco (author)2015-10-20

Thanks so much for this information. It will really save me some money.

jeanniel1 (author)2015-08-21

Oh man! I wish I came up with this - I had all the stuff already! Still was using sunlight through a window to look through papers... duh! Thanks for putting this 'ible!

amisiak (author)jeanniel12015-08-23

Welcome! Enjoy!

RoxannH (author)2015-08-16

I made this project and am totally thrilled with it! My 12 year old grand daughter does perfect line work with it! I'm an old manual drafter (cartographer) from the mid 1970's when there were no computers to use for anything. My lighted drafting table was 46" x 40".

I love the light weight and portability of this project. Just perfect!

I did make some changes to the OP's idea.

I use a 16 ' white LED rope light coiled in the box. I plug it into a power strip so I can turn it off with ease.

I use a clear glass cutting board with a pebbled bottom on top of the box when I need to cut with a blade.

I LOVE this thing! The person who posted the original idea is totally brilliant!

amisiak (author)RoxannH2015-08-16

Nice! Glad you liked it, and good ideas!

MaureenH (author)2014-08-13

Could the heat from the lights ever melt the plastic?

RoxannH (author)MaureenH2015-08-16

I bought a 16' white LED Rope Light and coiled it in the bottom of the box for consistent illumination. They don't get hot. Also, I plug into a power strip with on and off button, so I can turn them on and off very easily.

amisiak (author)MaureenH2014-08-15

Hmm.. Good question. I don't think mine would because I got cheap dollar store lights/batteries and they don't put out a ton of light let alone heat. I suppose it's possible if you are using it for a prolonged period, but the lights should really only be on when in use.

darklotus (author)2015-08-16

Clever and simple, effective and cheap - four of my favourite things!

casselstine (author)2015-06-14

Wow, is right! I plan on making one of these today.

amisiak (author)casselstine2015-06-15

Great, enjoy!

justine.y.hwang (author)2015-04-29

MaddieD1 (author)2015-04-17

Thank you so very much for this! I'm an artist who loves using copic marker, pen, and colored pencil and really needed a light box because, since those materials cannot be erased after you make a mistake, I would need to trace over my work so I can start again. I don't have the money to throw down $50 for a light box, but I ran to a local Walmart, purchased these things, and I'm here now to inform you that this works wonderfully.

amisiak (author)MaddieD12015-04-17

You're very welcome!

ChareneL (author)2014-09-15

Unbelievable! Why didn't I think of that. I'm going to purchase said items today and get started on my embossing project without the hassle of getting wood, plastic, wiring, etc. Yayyyyyyyy!

floriv1 (author)2013-05-27

Thank you! Best idea yet! I think I can do this. :-)

TT2 (author)2012-11-16

Very nice.
Though you could replace the " cakelights" with an ordinary surgemaster with an flat lamp on top, like:

So only a clear box, surgemaster, fitting/lamp

amisiak (author)TT22012-11-16

Very true.

I just didn't want to have to cut a hole in the plastic bin, and I don't think it would close properly over a cord without doing that. Did I mention I can be pretty lazy? I also think that route would have increased the cost and I wanted to make it as cheap as possible since I'm not a professional artist and won't be using it daily.

amisiak (author)2012-11-16

Thanks everyone :)

jessyratfink (author)2012-11-13

Why did I not think of this? You're a genius.

amisiak (author)jessyratfink2012-11-16

Haha thanks.

shazni (author)2012-11-14

This is just what i do! i generally keep a torch under a transparent box and do my drawing...the torch i have is a rechargeable emergency light which is kind of it's great!

amisiak (author)shazni2012-11-16

Nice! Like minds..

Treasure Tabby (author)2012-11-15

Oo interesting.
Thanks for sharing. :)

Conas (author)2012-11-15

wow, so simple. I can't believe I didn't think of this. Thanks!

amisiak (author)2012-11-12

Thank you!

Pixie Puddle (author)2012-11-11

fantastic and soo simple. :)

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