Inexpensive DIY LED Lightbox for Tracing

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Introduction: Inexpensive DIY LED Lightbox for Tracing

As an Industrial design student, I often trace my rough sketches refine them into nice looking presentation drawings. I've been wanting to get a light box for a while now, but the ones commercially available are either bulky (with florescent tubes) or expensive (with LEDs).

On a recent trip to IKEA, I saw the "Dioder" LED set for about $25 and I got inspired to make my own LED light box at TechShop. All together, I saved over $100 by making my own and I had a lot of fun making it!

This is a great project for artists, designers, and photographers! It only took a few hours and it's something I will use a lot.

I made this at TechShop!
http://techshop.ws/ts_sanjose.html

Step 1: Materials/Tools/Equipment

Here are the materials, tools and equipment I used to make this project, there are plenty of other ways to do it so I'll try to suggest some alternatives along the way.

Materials:
- "Dioder" LED set from Ikea.
- 24" x 24" Sheet metal (Steel)
- 1/4" translucent acrylic sheet
- Something to make electrical connections (solder, electrical tape, solderless connectors, etc.)
- Powder coat or paint

Equipment:
- FlowJet waterjet cutter (You could also use the various shears in the metal shop at TechShop)
- Sheet metal bending brake
- Spot Welder (or something else for joining sheet metal)
- Laser Cutter (or table saw for cutting acrylic)
- Powder coat gun and oven

Tools:
- AutoDesk Inventor 2012
- PC
- Soldering Iron


Step 2: Design the Box

I started off by designing the box using the Sheet Metal tools in AutoDesk Inventor 2012.
When I was satisfied with the design, I exported the flat pattern as a DXF, which I used to run the FlowJet.
(This photo shows an early version of the DXF opened in Corel Draw.)

Step 3: Cut the Sheet Metal

I cut the flat pattern for the box on the FlowJet at TechShop San Jose. It took just over two minutes to cut this out and it is way more precise than I could do by hand. Once the piece was cut out, I rinsed it off and deburred the edges.

No FlowJet? You could also print your drawing full size and cut the profile out using the shears, punches, and corner notcher, etc. in the Metal Shop, but FlowJet is so much faster.

Step 4: Bend

Using a sheet metal finger brake, I formed the box. It's important to make the bends in the right order, otherwise you end up in a situation where you can't make the final bends. If you're not sure, try bending the shape in paper first.

Step 5: Spot Weld Corners

I joined the corners using a spot welder, but you could also use hardware such as sheet metal screws or machine screws. Spot welding is so quick and easy though.

Step 6: Paint!

I chose to powder coat the metal box with in mirror white, to maximize the light reflection on the inside. You could use spray paint or even do multiple colors.

Notice that I also drilled a hole for the wire to pass through. I could have included it in the cut file, but I forgot.

Step 7: Install LEDs

The Dioder kit comes with really short connectors and really long wires. I chose to shorten the wires by cutting and soldering them. You could also use solderless connectors or just leave them full length.

Step 8: Cut Acrylic and Slide It Into Place.

I cut the acrylic sheet with a laser cutter, because it gives a nice, clean edge. A table saw or router would work well too. I used 1/4" thick acrylic so it would be steady while tracing. Notice that it's translucent white, which helps to diffuse the light.

Slide the acrylic into place. No hardware is needed here, it fits tightly between the edges of the metal box.

Step 9: Plug It in and Enjoy

Stand back and admire your handiwork.

Optional: Run around and tell everyone "Hey, look what I just made."

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39 Comments

Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful lightbox and you did a
great job. But for the rest of us, we need something that utilizes something I
call “Funk Technology” a lightbox that can be build from items available at a
local hardware store for under $100.

You can also just turn off your desk light, take your computer, search up white (or use this link : http://www.whitetablegallery.org/src/share/default.jpg ) and put it on fullscreen and full brightness and VOILA

How do you access all those tools without about $200000? I'd love a water jet cutter. However not only am I currently unemployed, but when I was employed I would never be able to make that much.

This is a great idea! However, LED lights may be harmful to your eyes.

http://www.livescience.com/31949-led-lights-eye-damage.html

1 reply

The portion of UV light found in LEDs that can potentially damage vision is also found in sunlight. If the level of light intensity is not excessive it poses little danger to eyesight.

Thanx for this instructable, you've got me already thinking of a cool workaround. I'm impressed with the sheer scope of your project! ...But for those of us w/out metal fabrication skills, I can think of a cool solution. Being a Graphic designer and photographer myself, having a compact lightbox like this would be ideal. So, I'm suggesting the use of an acrylic frame which can be bought @art supply stores or even a thriftstore or yardsale. It's essentially an acrylic box with a cardboard backing. Paint the inside of the frame white, tape in your LEDs and Voila! A nice home~made lightbox. : )

3 replies

Thanks for the workaround. I thought I would have to search for a metal fabricator and pay him/her which sort of defeats the purpose

Yeah, I'm sure there are tons of ready made boxes and frames that could be hacked for this project.

I'm going to make one. I'll create an instructable. and I want to do it as cheaply as possible without compromising too much durability.

.. it's like we all have access to Ten's of Thousands of dollars of equipment ..

1 reply

yeah good point, why are we all expected to have our own metal working workshop...

Nice project. I was considering using it for a light table for photographing transparent products like glass decorations, wine glasses, etc. It provides the interior illumination of the glass object to show off color and details. The issue I find is that in your project there is a dark region in the middle. I wonder is there a way to make the lighting even throughout the surface without showing any "hot spots" or dark edges.

Why not leave the control box outside the light box, so you can change the colour of the box?
Not much use for design, but as a photographer, It'd be handy :)

1 reply

ignore that, just realised you have the single colour version. I got the more exspensive multi-colour version...

This is awesome. I didn't have the sheet metal resources like you-- I used pre-cut wood, MDF and acrylic from the hardware store and it worked out surprisingly well. Here's a link to my version: http://annibye.wordpress.com/2014/01/19/diylightbox/

1 reply

Can anyone make one for me please? Happy to pay the going rate. Please email me laheff@hotmail.com

Could you use wood for the frame instead of sheet metal?

Why does the acrylic really need to be frosted (if using the pre-fab acrylic frame method)? Also, are the LED lights bright enough to see details when tracing onto a thick paper (such as arches, reives BFK or watercolor paper)?