Introduction: Make a Cordless Lightbox

Picture of Make a Cordless Lightbox

Recently designed and constructed this light-box which requires no 'mains' power supply. Just insert a 9V DC battery.

Have just finished my upload file and wanted to share.

Now everyone can make their on light-boxes. Wanted to get it out there before someone tried making everyone pay for it.

Cheapest A4 powered box is between $40 & $50. The material here would not reach $15.
The real bonus is you can now sit where ever you want to do your tracing.

Step 1: ​Gather Your Components

Picture of ​Gather Your Components

What you are going to need :

LED light strip

ON/OFF switch

9V DC battery - standard off the shelf

A4 size sheet of acrylic sheet (can be any size you like really)

Carpet tape (1/2")

20mm Sq wood to construct frame

and of course whatever tools (powered/non-powered) to best get the job done, eg. Table saw, router, drill & bits.

Step 2: Build Your Box

Picture of Build Your Box

The box needs to be built to suit whatever size piece of acrylic/perspex you got your hands on or want to build to.

So, build your box first to fit that sheet. You can size the sheet exactly later.

The box frame will first need to be routed to contain the acrylic/perspex sheet.
Next, rout out the recess to hold the LED light strip (7mm wide strips).
Clean, smooth, round edges - whatever you need to do before cutting up the strip for the box.
Cut the box frame into the lengths required to surround your section of acrylic/perspex

Step 3: Assemble the Box Frame

Picture of Assemble the Box Frame

Assemble box frame around acrylic/perspex sheet.

Lift the edges of the protective cover from the sheet to allow fitting of the sheet to the box frame but do not remove it completely at this stage. We still need to protect the sheet as much as possible throughout the rest of the project.

Step 4: Build the 'control' End of the Light Box

Picture of Build the 'control' End of the Light Box

Now we need to build the section that holds our battery compartment, ON/OFF switch and wiring connecting it all to the LED strip yet to be installed in the box frame.

Our battery is approximately 50mm X 27mm X 13mm. Choose where you wish to locate it and create the recess for it from the back of this piece of wood.
The channels for the wiring then need to be cut to connect our wiring between the battery, Micro switch and LED strip light to be installed into the box frame.

Once this channel is cut out, match mark, then drill the opening hole into the box frame to connect the wires of the LED strip light.

Once completed, this channeling will be covered with a backing cover, possibly plywood.

Step 5: Install the LED Light Strip

Picture of Install the LED Light Strip

Now that we know the entry point on the box frame for our wiring, we can go ahead and install the LED Light strip.
Insert the connecting wires into their entry hole and position the strip for placement of the first light.
Start stripping off the protective covering from the adhesive backing (small sections at time) and stick to the recess.
To terminate the end of the light strip, check for the allocated 'cut' point immediately before where the strip overlaps where it started and cut. That end is now finished.

Step 6: Connect the Pieces

Picture of Connect the Pieces

It is now time to connect the 'control' section to the box frame. You can glue or screw them together.

Connect the wiring to both the battery and micro switch. This is where you will need to test your light strip, to ensure it all works prior to closing things up.

If things are good, remove the inside protective cover from the acrylic/perspex sheet.

Step 7: Install the Back Cover

Picture of Install the Back Cover

It is now time to install the back cover to the assembled light box.

If not already done, establish the area on the inside of the back cover to which you will apply the piece of aluminium foil. Apply the carpet tape to this area. A length along each side of the foil should be sufficient as it will be protected inside the box.

Install this cover to the back of your box. This can be fixed together with screws, glue (not recommended - you might want to get into it again), or carpet tape again. The carpet tape has rather good adhesion ability.

Step 8: Finish It Off

Picture of Finish It Off

Finish off the box however you wish.
Oiling it is quick and can really bring the good qualities found in some woods.
There is something to be said for holding on to a piece of wood compared to a piece of plastic.

If you give this project a go I think you will be very pleased with the results. I think they will also make great gift.

I've only made the one and already had people putting in requests for one.

Step 9: 24Hr Test of a 9V 900mAh Battery


cgrenard (author)2016-09-22

Very nice! Think I have a weekend project to do...Thanks!

nightshift911 (author)2016-02-09

How deep is your box?

imwilly (author)nightshift9112016-02-09

The last few boxes I made were 22mm thick. May seem like a lot but this is limited by the battery I chose to use. Then, what other choices were there? The point was to make it cordless. Hope it works out for you if you choose to make one. Good luck.

jpayne21 (author)2015-04-08

Light boxes are cool. Very nice job on yours.
I made one last year but mine needs to be plugged in. I used a single CFL which gives lots of light. I also used a sheet of clear plexiglass. I gave the inside a light spray of white paint to defuse the light.

imwilly (author)jpayne212015-04-08

NIce idea about painting the underside of the clear sheet.

Since posting my 'instructable' I have come across a lot of great ideas from other people. The good thing about this is others get to pick and combine a lot of good ones.

Thanks for the feedback. Always good to hear what others are doing.

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

made one with an old lcd monitor that i had no use for, just separated the lcd from the backlight
and left the powersupply in the monitor and rewired the ps on to a
switch and the brightness to a pot to adjust the brightness of the ccfl
in the monitor.

janiols (author)2014-12-25

Hi - would this work for tracing with 90 lb. paper?

imwilly (author)janiols2014-12-25


Until you asked, I had never considered paper weight and sizes. After doing a quick bit of 'googling' I can explain my comment to Jake a bit more clearly.

I'm not sure what the 90lb paper scale you ask about is.

Check comment to 'Jake Maverick' for the test I did.

The paper I tested was 80gsm or 0.0038" (Caliper) times four (4) sheets = 0.0152" (Caliper) or 312gsm.

This is the link I referenced on paper sizes -

Hope this helps.

Jake Maverick (author)2014-11-20

Great stuff. I had built my own boxes for LCARS type panels (mains powered)...but also been thinking about making this type of light box. I had just painted the inside of them white to reflect the light around...but your aluminium foil- that really work much better? looks a bit thicker than the type you would use for cooking...?

Looking at those LEd strips they're up to about 5630 now i they would be a lot brighter...I've recently been running a 50 cm strip of 5050s off a 12 volt battery pack, was only one for a few hours before the batteries went- Durcacell as well! how long does your 9v battery last on these?

imwilly (author)Jake Maverick2014-11-26

Hi Jake, finally got to doing some tests using a white interior. My test was to see how many sheets of printer paper I could pile on top of of what I wanted to trace.

The result : four (4) sheets for the white interior (5) sheets for the silver lining. Not that much difference really. My wife already has the foil for cooking, so I guess I'll stick with it. What I has initially considered was 'car headlamps utilise a mirrored silver lining'. How wrong could they be?

Another point to consider is how bright a light do you want to be staring into while you trace. This sort of thing can cause eye-strain fairly quickly.

Jake Maverick (author)imwilly2014-11-26

Great, all useful info....couple of things to add though- the newer 5050 lights and now the 5630 are a lot a) prob would drain 9volt battery lot quciker and b) I have generally been using 12 volts with them, but dimmer switches are cheaply available to work with those lights...designed to clip in between lights and mains adapter, but sure could easily be adapted to work with battery pack. Although with the size of them might be better to have outside the box.

I will be a while before i get to what i got planned, if ever though...but all food for thought!


Painting the inside flat white would give better light distribution and the light would automatically be white instead of silver colored.

yep, got it- definately convinced now and white paint cheapper than metal foil! ;-)


silver coloured light? wasn't aware there was such a thing....;-)

i was thinking of trying the foil, but really you need even light distribution, and i know white works well...

i'm also still wondering on the opal acylic panel....i was thinking clear plexi, and either spray the back with frosting spray or white vellum paper underneath.....again i'm not sure the opal will give you the best/ even light distribution or bright enough....has anybody tried the several possibles/ knows which works best? not something you can really tell without it right in front of you...

Check the first image of step 8. Notice how it's white around the edges
and grey in the middle. That's from the foil. If it had been painted
flat white then the reflected light would also be white. Depending on
the color of the LEDs of course.

You can also see the missing LEDs where they connect to the switch in the LLH corner. Painting white would disguise that also.

imwilly (author)Jake Maverick2014-11-20

This battery works well. I tested it on a full 5M strip initially. It lasted two (2) hours.

Though it continued to light the strip, I could see a noticeable reduction. From that I estimate a 1M section should last ten (10) hours. Even then it will still continue to light up the box for a while. You would really have to be working it to do ten hours straight.

It is interesting reading every ones comments. I'm keen to get back in the shed and try some of them, particularly the white box interior.

Thanks Jake (and every one else)

Jake Maverick (author)imwilly2014-11-20

You very welcome and wd be very happy to learn anything else you discover. You've done a great job on this- and i have big things planned, if i ever get the finaces and the space sorted out....think spaceship/ maybe star trek style home cinema type lots of lightboxes. Not had the funds or the time to do it yet...but hoping one day. So very interested in figuring out the absolute best way of doing these things....i'm also thinking resin coated workstops as well...but i can't figure how to do it with slanting the internal screens slightly, with tinted resin on top....i'm sure it will end up being a very expensive mistake that way!

weird thing on the 12v battery pack- took some out and they seem to still have plenty of juice in them, so i reckon voltage just dipped a bit- not enought o light the strip. I'm curious if that is the same with the 9v pp3 battery? sounds like it lasting longer than 8 X AA batteries

pmann1 (author)2014-11-22

Completely brilliant! Thanks!

jimvandamme (author)2014-11-21

I have several transparency/slide adapters from old scanners, and none of them fit my present scanner. All had tiny, thin fluorescent tubes. I took them apart and wired up the inverters to wall warts (9-12V) and they work fine for illuminating slides and negatives. Of course I have to use a regular camera, not a scanner, and use Gimp to turn them into a positive or crop them.

Erchan (author)2014-11-21

Perhaps a styrofoam sheet (2inches thick) may be an useful alternative as the wood?! (easy engrave, easy cut, easy carry)

But of course wood frame will be more durable...

Also I wanna ask what kind of led strip lights used? Color, size, watt etc.

profpat (author)2014-11-20

good work! i have one but i use 4 thin 8 watts fluorescent bulbs mounted on an old scanner casing!

Chico da Rave (author)2014-11-20

I would change the battery type.
9v batteries are very low capacity.
6x AA batteries here are cheaper than a 9v battery, much more capacity.
You do have lots of space there!

imwilly (author)Chico da Rave2014-11-20

Though everyone considers the box to be compact, the battery (13mm thick) and LED strip (7mm wide) are what limits the thickness of my box. If I could change them it could be even more compact.

Commercial (powered) boards are down to about the thickness of the acrylic.

redsunmtm (author)2014-11-20


if you had used white in the interior of the box instead of black, you would have won more light ! (glossy photo paper for ex.or aluminium paper (more reflective for sure !))

imwilly (author)redsunmtm2014-11-20

Thanks for that. I had been considering painting the interior of my next box white to compare the results. You've just encouraged me to go ahead with it.

jetringer51 (author)2014-11-20

How long does the battery last?

imwilly (author)jetringer512014-11-20

refer comment to BigAndRed re: battery power. cheers.

BigAndRed (author)2014-11-20

the led strip is 12v and your using a 9v battery, im surprised it lights up at all. how long does a battery last?

imwilly (author)BigAndRed2014-11-20

This battery works well. I tested it on a full 5M strip initially. It lasted two (2) hours.

Though it continued to light the stip, I could see a noticable reduction. From that I estimate a 1M section should last ten (10) hours. Even then it will still continue to light up the box for a while. You would really have to be working it to do ten hous straight.

jULIANOC (author)2014-11-20

Eu reciclei e utilizei um recarregador de celular antigo como fonte de energia para 6 leds espalhadas em pontos estrategicos.

Pedro HenriqueT (author)2014-11-20

Someone have a youtube link of the final result?

thefeeb (author)2014-11-20

Absolutely amazing. I'd love to build one, but not entirely sure I will get around to it. Please let me know if you create an online store for these. This is possibly the most relevant/exciting instructable I've seen.

jlepack (author)2014-11-18

Very nice.
I built mine with a cfl bulb but it's rather bulky unlike yours. Is it bright enough to trace easily?

imwilly (author)jlepack2014-11-18

Thanks for looking. The short answer is - Yes, plenty bright enough. Take a look at the second last image in the Instructable to see how bright. I used about a 1M portion of a 5M X 300LED strip to get this result.

dailodai78 (author)2014-11-18

nice and convenient. I may have to try this one out. Best part is it's VERY affordable. Great Job.

Treasure Tabby (author)2014-11-17

Sure beats the make shift one I came up with. Nice! :)

Porda (author)2014-11-17

This is awesomely convenient! I've always wanted to have a personal light box for tracing.

I'll be adding one of these to my backpack for sure.

seamster (author)2014-11-17

This is great! I've needed a light box for years, and this slim design would be perfect for me. Thanks!

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