Introduction: Portable Light Table

Picture of Portable Light Table

Have you ever wanted to trace something, but no tracing paper to be found? Need to be able to take your tools with you? There have been many times I have wanted a light table, many of those times in places that would not be able to take a big bulky item. I have created a lightweight, small but big enough for a regular piece of paper, & powerful light table. In this Instructable I will show you how to make one for yourself. This project is fairly easy, without needing too many tools or materials.

Step 1: Gather Materials & Tools

Picture of Gather Materials & Tools

The first the materials you will need:

1. A shadow box picture frame

2. LED light strip 5 meters with 300 LEDs (I used a cool white 3528 SMD non waterproof strip)

3. Power supply (check the stats with the LED strip that you buy, mine needed 12v 2amps)

4. Red & black wire

5. Foam

6. Female connector for power supply

7. On off switch

8. A handle (optional)

9. Rubber pads also known as bumpers (optional)

Next the tools:

1. soldering iron & solder

2. wire strippers (a good pair will cut too)

3. drill with drill bits

4. Screw driver

5. optional tools: saw, exacto knife, hot glue gun with glue sticks

Step 2: Take a Look at What You Have

Picture of Take a Look at What You Have

The shadow box I picked up was 14"x11", large enough for a full sheet of printer paper with room left over. It is also deep enough for the foam to fit inside. You can make this with a normal picture frame, but you might need to do a few upgrades. Take the frame apart, mine happens to be plastic & easy to do so. I was also pleased to see that the back was substantial enough so that I would not have to make my own. Take the back & inside part of the frame, use a marker or pen to mark the back with the space that you have to work with.

Step 3: Add the LEDs

Picture of Add the LEDs

Measure the space you have to determine where to cut the LEDs. The strips come with 2 copper pads every so often. Cut at those spots, in the length that you need. Peel the double sided tape that is already attached to the strip, & apply to the back. I have the srtips alternating with + & - next to one another. I did this so that I can solder the wires without crossing the wires.

Step 4: Drill & Cut Holes for Power & Switch

Picture of Drill & Cut Holes for Power & Switch

Drilling the holes for the female side of the power supply, & power on/off switch. If you opt for the handle, now would be a good time to drill the holes for that as well.

Step 5: Solder Together

Picture of Solder Together

Prepare the wires. There are 2 lengths to cut. I have half of each length in red, & half in black. This way each side of the LED strips will look the same when done. Remember to keep one color for each charge. This will help keep things straight if you need to work on it again. Put in place the power switch, & plug. I used hot glue for this. Then solder these as well. I used some longer wires in between the LEDs & the plug & switch. I did this so that I could have the back off without strain on the wires.

Step 6: Finish Up With Final Assembly

Picture of Finish Up With Final Assembly

Put the glass in place, I added a little bit of hot glue to secure it. Next the inside part of the frame. Screw on the handle, add the foam, & put the back on. I added the rubber pads around the back of the frame, far enough around the clips that hold the back on so that I can still remove the back.

Step 7: Plug in & Test

Picture of Plug in & Test

As long as all of the connections are fine, it should work. Have fun with your new light table. Take it to art class, keep it out in your dorm room, or wherever you need it. (Sorry for the quality of photos, my camera does not like taking pictures of it while it is on.)


jomanidk (author)2015-10-14

Nice! Where do you get a 12V 2 amp adapter?

silvertinkerer (author)jomanidk2015-10-14

I got mine online. Good old ebay. By far the best $ rate that I have seen. You can find them in different places. Radio shacks had them for when you lost one for devices you already had. But their not really around anymore. I have found some at the thrift stores, but most of the time you have to buy the item they are to power as well. Some second hand computer shops will carry them.

jomanidk (author)silvertinkerer2015-10-15

Thanks a lot :)

skomager.olsen (author)2015-10-05

Hey mate. Nice build. I'm making it right now. There's just one thing missing. The foam. Where did you buy it?

This type of foam is used as packing. I was able to save the foam from when new equipment came into work. I do not know where to buy it.

I have found that 2 pieces of regular printer paper glued to the inside of the glass works just as well. Some people may like this better as there is nothing actually touching the LEDs.

devicemodder (author)2015-02-15

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

Looks like it works great. Better pictures than I was able to take of mine working.

Thanks, it works really well. i pinned out the power supply and found the brightness pins.

nkz75 (author)2015-03-30

Very nice idea!!

A year ago I got a portable PC that broke down. But the screen was ok...

Does anyone knows how to conect that so I can make this effect using the monitor backlight??? is it possible?

Best regards!

silvertinkerer (author)nkz752015-03-31

Not sure on that one. Someone on here might be able to help you out. My suggestion is to add a surface that you can draw on like plexiglass. Thanks for the comment.

finch16 (author)2015-02-27

i am making for for my project in class

silvertinkerer (author)finch162015-03-01

I would love to hear how it comes out.

steven4872 (author)2015-02-22

I have done this on the bottom side of glass shelves. I use the lights to help my plants grow (I get no sunlight inside during the winter and only morning sun in the summer. The first thing I learned is that making all those solder connections takes a lot of time and the end result was never as neat as i wanted.

You can use aluminum foil tape and conductive epoxy to do the wiring in fare less time. Place a strip of foil on each side of the LED array right next to the electrical contacts. On strip will be connected to the positive terminal of the power supply and the other will be connected to the positive terminal. I then used a syringe to connect the tape to the appropriate terminal on the strip. Overall this method can be done in less than 30 minutes.

Another alternative is to solder 2 wires to 2 or 3 strips and then run conductive epoxy on top of the strips to multiple contacts. The only problem I have had with this method were short circuits. I believe some of the epoxy got between the strips made contact at the edge and shorted. Fortunately all the shorts burned out on their own without doing any visible damage. So next time I will first fill the seams between strips with paint or some sort of glue.

The conductive epoxy I used is Aom Adhesive 902LP 2.5gram single use package.\

2.5 grams may not sound like a lot but I have always had excess .

I used 3ml syringe with blunt needle to apply the Epoxy.

I wonder about how that performs over time. It really did not take me all that much time to solder all the wires on once I set it up. I measured out the amount of wire I needed, & cut as many as needed all at once. Stripped them all, then soldered. it was like 15-20 min tops. If you cut each one out then solder it, the process is going to take much longer.

steinie44 (author)2015-02-15

I just put an all white photo on my computer monitor, and use that.

silvertinkerer (author)steinie442015-02-15

As I have said in the comments before: I always have my laptop with me, but for what I payed for it, I would never use it in this way. I would hate to see someone trash one of their electronics that was not made to be use like this. Are you useing one of the older style of monitor with the hard glass screen? If not you might be doing damage that you can not see.

emilyvanleemput (author)2015-02-14

This is really something I could use, I love the simplicity of it!

Thanks. I find that in projects like this are best kept simple.

Dragonez (author)2015-02-14

I wonder how this would be inserted into the side of a padded briefcase. (I use one for my crafting supplies, including crafts I have to trace for.) What is the minimum thickness needed?

silvertinkerer (author)Dragonez2015-02-14

That depends on what you use for diffusion. An opaque plexiglass screen might do that with almost no space in between the LEDs. It might be worth it to try it out & see how the material performs. Another thing to think of is the switch & power supply plug in port. If you had them in another part of the briefcase, & had wires running to connect where needed, I do not see why it would not work.

linve08 (author)2015-02-13

Hello, I years ago I built one the size of an A4 sheet. As lighting I used two neon tubes diameter and 7mm as opaque plexiglass screen. I used it to select slides. greetings

silvertinkerer (author)linve082015-02-13

Sounds like a great idea. The opaque plexiglass worked as the diffuser, & drawing surface in one, looks like.

FoodDude (author)2015-02-12

Epically COOL !.. I use these for Stained Glass projects, but this has given me ideas for producing a poster size version for my large works... It would be incredible to be able to see the finished project before it's hung in a window. My neophyte question is this. Considering the brightness of LED's and how the light diffuser works, it seems (and this is the light table neophyte in me asking) that you wouldn't need to have this many strips in the frame without losing any brightness level. For example even if you used half the light strips, removing every other strip, the resulting light intensity from even that level of light saturation shouldn't affect your overall brightness. Or am I missing something ? Again an absolutely outstandingly incredibly awesome instructable.

silvertinkerer (author)FoodDude2015-02-13

I think there will be some differences in effectiveness if you reduce the # of LEDs by spacing them out more, but that is just my thought. I am not an expert. Also the type of LEDs will play a role too. Try using 5050 size strip for your project. They may be a little stronger, but will take more amps to run. This project needed 2amps, if you use 5050 LEDs you may need 5amps.

dwbasham (author)2015-02-12

I made a quick light table once when I needed it in a hurry for my daughter's school project. Start with any shoe-box with a lid. Cut a "window" in the lid. Tape a piece of glass or plastic to the lid (inside the lid to avoid sharp edges). Punch a hole in the side of the box. Toss in a couple of strands of white Christmas lights with the plug-end coming out the hole. Put lid back on box and plug into wall. That's it! Instant light table within five minutes.

You could also line the inside of the box with aluminum foil for more reflectance and heat resistance. Try it. Works great.

silvertinkerer (author)dwbasham2015-02-13

True, there are many ways to make something like this. I was going for one that is a little more sleeker, & will hold up to the wear & tare of portable items.

BurgersBytes (author)2015-02-12

You should note that the 3.5mm plug-in female socket used with most 12 volt DC wall plug power sources has 3 connector lugs. The center is for + normally and the other 2 are for ground. Use the ground lug that connects to ground when the male plug is inserted into the female jack or it will not work.

If the power supply adapter has a smaller plug it may be harder to find.

You are correct, the plug does have 3 prongs. I did not want to get too deep in the soldering portion. That is why I suggest testing. Also the plug had a diagram on the back of the package. that will help with instulation.

CrystalG3 (author)2015-02-12

I had been looking at some very pricey LED light tables and just haven't been able to part with the bucks, Now I don't have to. I had been looking at various 'ibles and have now found yours which my poor demented can probably make. Thanks so much for sharing!

silvertinkerer (author)CrystalG32015-02-13

I have had a few items that I have wanted but could not ( for several reasons) part with the money as well. I have found that there are ways to make some of these for a lot less $. Hope you get to make one that works for you.

silvertinkerer (author)CrystalG32015-02-13

I have had a few items that I have wanted but could not ( for several reasons) part with the money as well. I have found that there are ways to make some of these for a lot less $. Hope you get to make one that works for you.

nickrockwell0 (author)2015-02-12

This is awesome. I want to make one as a leisure activity for my students with autism. I'm wondering what kind of foam you used and what you used it for?

I am not really sure as to the type it is, I recycled it. It was padding for some electronics we received at work. I snagged it before it went into the trash can. You can use several types though. Soft white pillow foam from Jo-Ann fabrics would work too.

The reason for the foam is to absorb the light & diffuse it. If you do not have something to diffuse the light then you will have a spotted drawing surface. Which is not an ideal tracing surface. Hope that helps.

You can not see very well, my camera does not like taking pictures of a light source like this. This is a regular piece of paper over the LEDs. No diffusion. I did however just try putting the paper on the surface of the glass inside, & that was enough to do the trick. I would line the glass with paper well above the LEDs, instead of the foam if that is easyer for you.

Thanks, that really clears things up. I had wondered what you had done to the glass to dampen the light. I hope to build it soon, and I'll let you know how it goes!

I would love to hear how it turns out. Please feel free to ask more questions too.

McUsher (author)2015-02-12

I am going to recreate your idea, i am just not sure about the brightness, would you honestly say that your 300x3528 is sufficient? Or would you go the next time for 600x3528 or even 300x 2835?

Thanks a lot for your cool idea!

silvertinkerer (author)McUsher2015-02-12

That all depends on how big you make the overall size of the light table. I did not use all of the LEDs. I saved a few for a lamp I fixed for a friend. I have used it for a few things now & I find that it has enough power for what I need it for.

I also think that I messed up. The strip would have been 600 not 300. If you look at the picture of the finished LED setup you will see 18 LEDs per strip, & 29 srtips, = 522 LEDs. Sorry about that.

McUsher (author)silvertinkerer2015-02-13

Ah, thanks for clarification :) As lumen output in this project it is per square-inch or square-cm the number of strips/LEDs used is pretty irrelevant, only it's density is important! :)

silvertinkerer (author)McUsher2015-02-13

As long as the LEDs have enough power for what they are rated at then they will be bright enough. With a few factors that may influence that. Like what you use for diffusion, space between strips, & how heavy the piece you are trying to trace is.

aanderson24 (author)2015-02-12

A light table is a wonderful tool for artists. Anyone who thinks that such a tool is beneath an artist is truly ignorant. Drawing is not the only skill an artist has. And a light table offers so much flexibility in working several drafts of a sketch, inking and experimenting with adjustments on a new layer, and so many other techniques.
Many of the most famous artists in modern history used these techniques, some with windows, and others with modern light tables.
Printmakers use this tool A LOT! They are artists.
Light-tables and the option to draw over versions on layers inspired early versions of photoshop. Because it allowed work to go so much further.
Laugh all you want. I use a light table in my design process for my prints. It allows me to experiment with inks over my pencil lines. Getting them just right before I carve my blocks. Without a light table I wouldn't be able to refine my original work the same way.

And lets not forget that without the light table the early disney movies would not have been able to have been made. A light table was used for every frame.

linve08 (author)2015-02-13

Hello, I years ago I built one the size of an A4 sheet. As lighting I used two neon tubes diameter and 7mm as opaque plexiglass screen. I used it to select slides. greetings

silvertinkerer (author)linve082015-02-13

Well the great thing about doing it this way is that you can make it as big or as small as needed.

callhow (author)2015-02-12

I like it ...was wondering where & how much the LED light strip w adhesive backing

is ?

BigAndRed (author)callhow2015-02-12

about $10-15 for a 5m strip on ebay from China.

self-adhesive or not, waterproof or not, the possibilities are endless.

here's an example,

if this 1 is finished, just do a search.

silvertinkerer (author)BigAndRed2015-02-12

There are some places online where you can get them for less, but you have to pay way more in shipping or wait forever.

BigAndRed (author)silvertinkerer2015-02-13

Ive been getting led's on ebay for several years and these 5m strips do vary in cost but you must consider several factors, eg. number of led's, 150, 300, 600, length, type of led, 5050 is very strong, 3528 medium, waterproof or not. for this exercise lots of small led's will work better to diffuse better.

5m, 600x 3528, non-waterproof, pure white for under $10, with FREE postage, thats from a 2minute search that resulted in 10555 product hits. It will take about 3 weeks to be delivered, unless you live in the middle of nowhere in some back blocks 3rd world hovel, then it might take 5 weeks via (China Post) camel train.

Hang on, just found a 'tracing light box' for $28 from England. Isn't internet shopping amazing!

silvertinkerer (author)callhow2015-02-12

I got mine online. The site I got mine from took forever to get in, but it was about $5.00. I am not buying from them again.

I think the whole build only cost me about $27.00. I have gotten other LED strips off of ebay. Some of those will come with the power supply, which makes it a little easier. There are even some that come with a remote control that you can change the LED color.

yrralguthrie (author)2015-02-12

Or just turn on your laptop or tablet with a light color screen. This browser I'm using comes up with a mostly blank light blue screen. Could set a white screen saver I would think and screen would be all white.

I would be much more likely to have my laptop or tablet with me than a light box.


True I always have my laptop with me, but for what I payed for it, I would never use it in this way. I am lucky that my backpack that I use for my laptop has enough space for this light table. So I was able to bring it with me the last meeting I had with my artist friends.

About This Instructable




Bio: I am a Goldsmith, Blacksmith, Leather worker, Anime freek, Rennie, Cosplayer, average guy.
More by silvertinkerer:Random Pattern Opal PendantHow To Make Pierce Work JewelryPortable light table
Add instructable to: