Introduction: Inexpensive DIY LED Lightbox for Tracing

Picture of 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!

Step 1: Materials/Tools/Equipment

Picture of 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.

- "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

- 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

- AutoDesk Inventor 2012
- PC
- Soldering Iron

Step 2: Design the Box

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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

Picture of 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!

Picture of 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

Picture of 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.

Picture of 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

Picture of Plug It in and Enjoy

Stand back and admire your handiwork.

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


ButchC4 (author)2017-01-23

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.

devicemodder made it! (author)2015-01-01

made one with an old lcd monitor, just separated the lcd from the backlight and left the control circuitry in the monitor so the button turns it off

AchillesI (author)devicemodder2016-04-09

Brilliant! Thank you for saving me a remarkable amount of money, or better yet giving me a means to immerse myself into my passion for sketch

devicemodder (author)AchillesI2016-08-02

No problem.

fancycool12 (author)2016-05-19

You can also just turn off your desk light, take your computer, search up white (or use this link : ) and put it on fullscreen and full brightness and VOILA

52193 (author)2016-04-19

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.

AddoL (author)2016-02-16

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

debbieding (author)AddoL2016-02-19

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.

SOCmonkeybiz Cards (author)2012-02-27

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. : )

much better

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.

eGadgetGuy (author)2015-08-25

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.

Dave Malby (author)2014-08-29

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

A1IT3R (author)Dave Malby2014-12-02

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

alcurb (author)2014-08-18

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.

dan3008 (author)2014-08-09

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 :)

dan3008 (author)dan30082014-08-09

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

annibye (author)2014-01-20

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:

lheffernan1 (author)2012-12-19

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

matariki (author)2012-10-28

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

anniemo (author)2012-06-14

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)?

CrunchFist (author)2012-06-05

Awesome idea! I recently discovered Polaboys--a German-made LED lamp that looks like a huge Polaroid photo--but they're insanely expensive (like $3000!). Your idea has given me a great idea for my own DIY workaround though. Thanks!

WinbookXL3 (author)2012-03-02

Go to any sign shop that fabricates electrical signs and buy a few feet of
translucent white or diffusor white vinyl. Apply vinyl to inside of acrylic.
I would also suggest using .063" aluminum sheeting to build box
enclosure. you could also ask if the have old signs that you can salvage LED
moduels from.

jphphotography (author)2012-03-01

I made a larger one using wood and under counter fluorescent fixtures however I wanted to make a smaller one like this. A few years ago our IT dept was getting rid of scrap LCD monitors, they were pretty much giving away ones that had the backlights fail. I took one of the broken LCD monitors apart and found they contain a perfect diffusion panel. I've had it sitting around waiting for me to get off my but and make an LED version, maybe your instructable will be the nudge I needed.

kiwibum (author)jphphotography2012-03-02

As soon as I saw this Instructable I thought of a couple of old diffusion panels I've kept from broken LCD monitors I've pulled apart. Kept them thinking they would make great light signs. As you say they would make great light boards too, another thing to add to my must do list. Thanks for the inspiration.

wooac (author)2012-02-27

How's the color of the light? How does the IKEA LED strips compare to those $30 strips from Costco?

deathmango (author)wooac2012-03-01

Another cheap option for lights is to buy a string of outdoor white led Christmas lights. I found a strip of 100 bulbs for 60% off pre-Christmas price. To get them shining the right way, I poked them through a sheet of cardboard, leaving all the wires underneath. Nowhere near as elegant as designerik's solution, but cheap, easy, and bright.

[edited for redundancy]

designerik (author)wooac2012-03-01

The light is a little dim, but it's pretty white. It produces plenty of light for tracing through two sheets of paper and I can "control" the contrast by switching my desk lamp on or off.

I'm not familiar with the Costco LEDs, but I imagine they would work just fine. I wasn't looking for anything special in terms of light color.

rickharris (author)2012-02-27

Your hole for the wire should have some protection for the wire or it will chafe through. A grommet is the normal way. You should also fix the wire on the inside to prevent pulling and subsequent damage.

otherwise good job.

For those who cant get translucent acrylic normal clear acrylic and be frosted with: A frosting spray used for windows, a solvent or fine grade sand paper (wet and dry ideally)

deathmango (author)rickharris2012-03-01

Good tips. I used a piece of tracing paper between two thin pieces of acrylic for mine, so that's another possible "frosting" route.

designerik (author)rickharris2012-03-01

Good point about the hole and fixing the wire. I realized that while building it, but I didn't have the hardware on hand. I'll probably end up doing something like that in the near future. As this thing pretty much only moves from my desk to just next to my desk, I'm not in any big hurry. Thanks for the tip.

A light sandblasting is also great for frosting acrylic or glass.

deathmango (author)2012-03-01

This is a sweet, sleek design! I love your minimalist take on the project -- using so few pieces. Beautiful!

RAULRO (author)2012-03-01


oscarfalcon (author)RAULRO2012-03-01

Great idea...

sortiz1 (author)2012-02-27

I've been meaning to make a lightbox for a long time, and have LED's as a learning project for this year. Perhaps I can modify this guide for someone who is a bit short on snazzy tools/cutters.

designerik (author)sortiz12012-03-01

That would be awesome. I tried to offer some alternatives, but i know there are lots of ways to do things. I know not everyone has a TechShop in their neighborhood (yet)

Texas1st (author)2012-03-01

What about using the self-adhesive frosting film that is used to cover glass windows? Also, i would splurge on a tempered piece of glass for the project. Frost it on the inside. The glass will clean easier than the acrylic and look nicer longer.

This is definitely something I'm thinking about doing as a project with my son. Thanks!

designerik (author)Texas1st2012-03-01

That's a great idea. I've also seen a spray paint for frosting glass.

dkolenda (author)2012-03-01

I know it's not DIY, but for $140 you could get a 6x6 Rosco LitePad

designerik (author)dkolenda2012-03-01

I looked at a few options, but I need something that will fit 11x17. They get really expensive at that size. This one cost less than $100.

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