Introduction: Solar Eclipse Viewer From Reading Glasses and Cardboard

Picture of Solar Eclipse Viewer From Reading Glasses and Cardboard

Solar eclipses are rare astronomical events which are exciting to watch, but require some form of equipment for safe viewing. Even if most of the Sun is obscured, it still emits enough light, particularly ultraviolet light, that can cause permanent damage to the eyes.

Most eclipse sites recommend using special eclipse glasses, which are often made from Mylar that blocks off most of the Sun's light. If these are not available, the recommendation is often some form of pinhole projection method.

This Instructable demonstrates a way to safely view the a solar eclipse using a lens-based projection method. It also works for (large) sunspot watching. All you really need is a pair of dollar store reading glasses, some cardboard, and duct tape!

Update: For an alternate build that gives larger images, check out version 2!

Step 1: Pinhole Projectors

Picture of Pinhole Projectors

PInhole projectors are easy to construct, requiring only a screen, a pinhole, and usually some form of shielding to block out ambient light. The problem with pinhole projectors is that the images formed are often underwhelming. With a pinhole-to-screen distance of about 30 cm, you'll get an image of the Sun that's barely 2 mm across.

The image size can be increased by making the pinhole-to-screen distance longer. Doubling this distance will double the diameter of the image, but its brightness will be reduced by a factor of 4, as light intensity is inversely proportional to the square of the distance. So, while in theory you can make a huge image with a pinhole projector by having the screen really far away, the image be so dim that it'll be hard to make out anything.

Step 2: Instant Build Method

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However, when a lens is used instead of a pinhole, a clear bright image can be obtained. The trick is finding a lens that has a long enough focal length to produce a large image.

Fortunately, such lenses are easily available, in the form of cheap dollar store or drug store reading glasses. These glasses are specified in diopters, which is simply the inverse of its focal length, f. Reading glasses typically come in the range of +1.0 to +3.5 diopters, which translates to focal lengths of 1 metre down to about 30 cm.

Thus, a +1.0 diopter pair of reading glasses is just perfect for our needs. To quickly build a projection system, simply place the glasses and the projection screen a metre apart. Adjust the glasses and the screen until a clear image of the Sun is obtained.

Of course, this isn't good enough for us. The image formed in this way is often too bright, and it gets annoying when people walk between the glasses and the screen. You also wouldn't want anyone sticking their head in the beam path and looking at the Sun, through the glasses.

Step 3: How This Works

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First, a bit of simple geometrical optics. Reading glasses use convex lenses to achieve their corrective action, so you can simply use the basic rules of geometrical optics to work out where and how big the final image will be.

The Sun is essentially an object at infinity. This means that rays coming from the Sun will converge towards the focal point of the lens, which is at a distance equal to the focal length away from the centre of the lens. Thus, for a +1.00 diopter lens, the Sun's image will be 1 metre away from the lens. A +2.00 diopter lens has a focal length of 50 cm, so the image will appear 50 cm away.

For an object at infinity, the angular size of the image is the same as the angular size of the object. The angular size of the Sun is about 0.5 degrees, hence the angular size of the image is also 0.5 degrees. Knowing the distance at which the image forms, and the angle it subtends, you can calculate its actual size. No need for trigonometry when you have a long focal length and a small angular distance - simply use the small angle approximation (distance x angle in radians), and you'll find that the Sun's image from a +1.00 diopter lens is approximately 9 mm across.

So, while a lens with a higher power requires a shorter projection distance, the image formed is correspondingly smaller. This is also where things start running into the danger zone - you're focusing all that solar energy into a smaller and smaller area. At some point it'll get hot enough to burn your projection screen (think magnifying glass and Sun).

Step 4: What You'll Need

Picture of What You'll Need

Here's the list of materials and tools you'll need.


  • Cardboard tube of at least 1 metres (or enough corrugated cardboard to form a similar sized tube)
  • Matte white paper for the screen
  • Matte black paper for lightproofing
  • Cardstock, or more corrugated cardboard for the lens holder
  • Reading glasses, +1.00 diopters


  • Ruler
  • Duct tape
  • Glue
  • Utility knife
  • Small screwdriver

Step 5: The Case

Picture of The Case

Identify one end of the cardboard tube as your projection screen. Glue the matte black paper to the inside of the tube there, to absorb unwanted reflected light.

Duct tape the tube together.

Step 6: The Screen

Picture of The Screen

Glue some white paper to form the screen.

Cut out a viewing window, then duct tape the screen end together.

Step 7: Cutting to Size

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Make a mark 99 cm away from the screen end of the tube, then cut off the tube at that point.

You should have a tube that's 99 cm long.

Step 8: Focus Mechanism

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Optics is a precision science. Rather than get everything measured out to the last decimal point, it's easier to plan for some way of moving the lens, so that the best focus can be achieved on the fly.

Using the cardstock, construct a sleeve that fits snugly around the tube. This sleeve should not be too loose, some effort should be required to slide it back and forth along the tube.

Step 9: Lens and Aperture Assembly

Picture of Lens and Aperture Assembly

Remove the lenses from the glasses frame, using screwdrivers if necessary.

Cut out some cardstock that fits over the end of the sleeve. This forms the lens holder. In the centre of this lens holder, cut out a small aperture, about 1 cm in diameter. This aperture reduces the amount of light landing on the screen, producing a image that is not too glaring to look at.

Tape the lens over the aperture. This is a good point to try out the lens/aperture assembly, to see if the image of the Sun is neither too bright nor too dim.

Once you've got a lens/aperture assembly you're satisfied with, tape it over the sleeve, then slide the sleeve back onto the tube.

Step 10: Ready to Go!

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And that's it! To use the viewer, aim the lens end at the Sun. Use the shadow of the viewer to guide your aim - find the position that gives the smallest shadow. Slide the sleeve to get a sharp focus. Prop it up or use a tripod for a steadier setup.


GalvanicSpiral made it! (author)2017-08-23

As you can see in the pics, we made ours from a long box, wrapping paper tube, and enough tape to make Red Green jealous. ;-) One addition was the sunglasses lens taped over the reading glasses lens to make the image more comfortable to look at, but we also took a little inspiration from photography and moved the viewport to the end of the projection box nearest the viewer (that little square in the lower-right corner opposite the tube) to make what is essentially a camera obscura. That does make this particular build less suitable for groups unless you're the sharing type, but the projected image is incredibly vivid, and it's especially fun when clouds are around the sun and you can see them so clearly.

Thanks for sharing your project, origamiwolf! This is a huge step up from the pinhole viewers that we're all familiar with, and gave our family a great view of the Great American Eclipse. :-)

Good idea using a sunglasses lens to cut out the light, instead of having an adjustable aperture! Enclosing the box would certainly bump up the contrast, and it could be easy enough to share - just stick a phone camera over the square.

Glad you found the instructable useful and had a great time watching the eclipse!

petersenrw (author)2017-08-21

What direction is the lense to be taped? Curve facing sun or facing white screen?

origamiwolf (author)petersenrw2017-08-21

Either way is fine, but for this build, the curved side is facing the Sun.

bill85pi made it! (author)2017-08-20

This is such a cool and easy project! Just made a viewer for my wife to take to work tomorrow. I used a 99 cent piece of black poster board from WalMart and a $10 pair of +1.0 reading glasses.

If you cut the poster board in half so you have two long pieces, roll one up to make a tube, then roll the other around the first to make a slightly wider tube, the wider one slides on the smaller one to create your focus (and the inside is completely black).

Sun wasn't shining and it was overcast so I thought I'd need a shield over my viewport, but once the sun came out I saw that the image is bright enough that the shield probably isn't necessary. I'm guessing the sun may not be as bright during the 90% eclipse we'll get at my location, so I created a couple of different apertures so I can let in more light if the sun gets dimmer.

Was really disappointed that you can't find +0.5 or +0.75 reading glasses over the counter in my area so I could make the larger image. Everything started at +1.0. If I would have planned ahead a couple more days, I could have bought 5 pair of +0.5 for $8 on Amazon.

Now I just need clear skies tomorrow.

Thanks for posting this project - it's great and looks much better than the pinhole viewer I tried!

origamiwolf (author)bill85pi2017-08-20

Thanks, glad you enjoyed the build, and here's wishing you clear skies for the eclipse!

Ioyka (author)2017-08-18

How would I go about making a larger picture? You mentioned increasing projection distance achieves this but at the cost of a fuzzier and dimmer image. And to remedy that I need a larger magnification, correct? What difference does going from +1 to +2 do to the size?

origamiwolf (author)Ioyka2017-08-18

Increasing the projection distance to get a larger image only works for the pinhole method. When using a lens, the image size is determined by the power of the lens. To get a larger image, you'll need a lens with a lower power. Switching from +1 to +0.5 will make the image twice the size, but it also means that the image will be formed 2 metres away from the lens, so the tube could get a bit too long to handle comfortably.

You can use a second lens to magnify the projected image, which is essentially using a magnifying glass to take a close-up look of the image produced by the first lens.

Ioyka (author)origamiwolf2017-08-18

Thanks for the quick follow up. I'll try this!

maggiej12 (author)2017-08-17

I have eclipse glasses, but if I didn't, I would definitely make this. Best idea

I've seen.

origamiwolf (author)maggiej122017-08-18

Thanks and enjoy the eclipse!

thomasbandy made it! (author)2017-08-15

Thanks for the great instructions! It works with PVC pipe too!

maggiej12 (author)thomasbandy2017-08-17

Great idea to do this with PVC pipe!

origamiwolf (author)thomasbandy2017-08-16

Nice build!

b324 (author)2017-08-15

Thank you!!! I think I can do this!

origamiwolf (author)b3242017-08-15

Clear skies and enjoy the eclipse!

jeanniel1 (author)2017-08-13

What a great and inexpensive idea! Love how you explained the math of it so quickly, too.

origamiwolf (author)jeanniel12017-08-14

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

Greasetattoo (author)2017-08-06

Thanks, I have a few days to make it!

origamiwolf (author)Greasetattoo2017-08-06

Wonderful, it's a quick build and enjoy the upcoming eclipse!

Robert101010 (author)2016-02-22

Very nice! I may need to try this out myself!

whopoder (author)2016-02-22

hohoo! It´s cool!

Thank you.

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