Since I spent an excessive number of hours in the arcade growing up and have spent 14 years developing video games, I couldn't pass up the chance to build a few of these for friends and, of course, one for myself!
This lightbox is basically a five-sided box with an additional pair of curved outer sides. The front is replaced by a piece of clear acrylic with a marquee adhered to it and lit from behind with lights. New arcade marquees can be purchased from several online stores and original marquees can be purchased on sites like eBay. If you have a color printer, you can even print your own marquee.
Step 1: Materials
- ~ 2' x 4' Sheet of 3/4" MDF
- LED Light Switches
- LED Strip Lights ~8'
- 12V, 3A Power Supply
- Remote Control (optional, replaces switch)
- 3/4" Plastic T-Molding ~8'
- Adhesive Marquee Sign (under 23" wide x 9" tall for these plans)
- 0.08" x 18" x 24" Clear Acrylic Sheet (0.118" thick should work as well)
- Primer & Paint
- Screws - 2", 1-1/4"
Step 2: Tools Used
Step 3: Cut the Box Parts
The first step in creating the lightbox was to rip a 4′ x 2′ piece of 3/4″ MDF to the correct widths for the different pieces. Next, I used a stop block and the miter gauge to crosscut the top, bottom, inner and outer sides to final size. Note that the exact sizes of these parts will vary based on the size of the marquee sign. There are a plans for different sized marquees as well as SketchUp files that can be modified for custom sizes.
Step 4: Cut the French Cleat
I went ahead and cut a 45 degree bevel for the French cleat. This will be used later to mount the box on the wall.
Step 5: Bevel Inner Sides
I wanted to make sure that as much light as possible would reach the marquee, so I beveled the front edges of the inner side pieces. I left just over 1/8" on the edges to provide more support for the somewhat thin acrylic and to help block light from bleeding around the sides of the marquee.
Step 6: Cut Grooves to Hold Marquee
I cut a small notch in the bottom piece where the wire from the switch to the lights will run. And then on both the top and bottom, I cut a 3/16" deep groove about 1/4" in from the front edge. These grooves will hold the marquee in place once the box is complete.
Step 7: Cut Curves in Outer Sides
Next, I headed over to the band saw and cut the curves in the outer side pieces. I stacked these together to save a little time and to ensure that they matched. After that, I sanded smooth and saw marks.
Step 8: Route Slots for T-Molding
I then installed a 3/32″ slot-cutting bit in my router to make the slots for the T-molding. This bit would normally cut a little deeper than I wanted it to in the top and bottom pieces, so I set up a simple fence as I did not have a larger bearing to use. I then routed the slots in the top, bottom, and outer side pieces. This is extremely dusty without dust collection, so be sure to use a respirator and proper eye protection!
Step 9: Drill Hole for LED Wiring
After I finished all the routing, I drilled out a hole in the back piece near the bottom that was large enough to run the connector for the LED lights.
Step 10: Assemble the Box
I started assembling the box by clamping the sides to the bottom, making sure that the pieces were flush. I then predrilled and countersunk two 2" screws from the bottom into each of the sides.
Next, I glued the French cleat to the top of the back and attached it with three 1-1/4" countersunk screws.
Then I attached the back to the box using two 2" screws from the sides and one 2" screw from the bottom. I also predrilled a single hole per side on the top piece, though it does not get attached until the very end.
For the first box that I made, I attached the curved outer side pieces at this point by using 2 1-1/4" screws per side from the inside of the box. This made it slightly more difficult to paint, so for the remaining boxes, I waited to attach them until after everything was painted.
Step 11: Prime and Paint
I primed the entire box and then painted any parts that would be visible when completed with latex paint. For the Dig Dug box, I used a paint brush and for the Mortal Kombat 2 box, I used a cheap HVLP spray gun.
Here you can also see a few extra ventilation holes I drilled in the back.
Step 12: Connect LED Strip Lights
Once the paint dried completely, I attached the LED light switch to the bottom and ran the wire through the notch and into the hole on the back.
To connect the LED strip lights, I opened the cover on the connector and ran the strip through the slot and under the metal contacts. The connector’s contacts should match the strip’s polarity and touch the small copper contacts on the strip. I also did a quick test here to make sure everything worked before gluing down the strip lights.
Step 13: Attach LED Strip Lights
To run the lights, I simply made a spiral pattern and used a little hot glue to help the lights stick better. The sticky on the back wasn’t always enough to keep them in place.
These strip lights can be cut every third light, so when I got to the end, I simply used a pair of scissors and cut on the marked line.
Step 14: Install T-Molding
The next step was to add the T-molding to the front edges of the top, bottom, and outer sides. I just inserted it into the groove and if there was a spot that refused to lay flat, I added a little hot glue in the groove. When I reached the end, I just used a sharp pair of scissors to cut the molding.
Step 15: Cut Acrylic to Size
Since these were new marquees, I needed to cut a piece of acrylic to size. I used the table saw, but it would probably have been just as easy (and less messy) to use an acrylic cutting knife.
Step 16: Adhere Marquee to Acrylic
After sanding the edges smooth and cleaning any dust off, I applied the marquee to the sheet of acrylic. These marquees came with a peel-and-stick back, but you could also use a can of spray adhesive as well.
Step 17: Final Assembly
And finally, I inserted the marquee into the grooves in the top and bottom of the box and attached the top with two 1-1/4″ screws.
The lights are powered with a small 12V, 3A power supply that simply plugs into the connection on the switch. There’s even an optional remote control that could be used in place of the switch!
I think these turned out pretty well and they were fun to design and make.
Be sure to check out the build video if you haven't already, and please let me know if you have any additional questions!