Introduction: Under $30 Light Table

Picture of Under $30 Light Table

How to build a light table for under $30 for all your light table-ing needs

Step 1: The "Table" Part

Picture of The "Table" Part

First I had the wonderful idea of building a light table, then I went about it in the simplest way I knew how. I got a table!
This table was $10 dollars from a reuse center

Step 2: Aquiring Plastic

Picture of Aquiring Plastic

I decided that I didn't want to be tracing on glass because I tend to break all things glass so I made the tracing area out of plastic.

I found this nifty 11x14 sheet of .25 inch clear plastic at Home Depot for $3, it seemed a good size for the drawings that i'll be doing.

Step 3: Measure Once Cut Twice!

Picture of Measure Once Cut Twice!

Proceeding headlong into the project, I measured the center of the table, and then traced out the dimensions of the plastic sheet to be inserted into the hole. Then I took the plastic outline and brought all four sides inwards by a quarter inch (0.25 inch) so that the plastic would have a lip to sit on when I was done.

Step 4: Circular Saw

Picture of Circular Saw

I used a circular saw (to cut a rectangle, go figure) and cut out the inner lines (leaving the 0.25 inch extra from step 3). Using a circular saw didn't get me perfect corners so I used a screw driver and dug out the corners to my liking.

Step 5: Router? No I'm Not Talking About the Interweb.

Picture of Router?  No I'm Not Talking About the Interweb.

I borrowed a router, which is a tool like a drill but instead of bits that are meant to go into things vertically, this is meant to spin and be pressed horizontally against things and the sides of the bit are used to create lips and such for banisters or what have you.

Step 6: Routing It

Picture of Routing It

I used the router with a 0.25 inch bit set to the depth of my plastic sheet and went around the edges of my cut. This was my first time ever using a router so i'm rather proud of the results, but when I tried to set the plastic sheet into the lip I'd created it still needed a little more off so I used the router a little against protocol by using the very tip of the bit and not the cutting part to get the corners. This resulted in a little burning as seen below, but now the plastic fit!

Step 7: Plastic Fixins

Picture of Plastic Fixins

So now that the table itself was done, It was time to work on the plastic. I didn't like the idea of my light table blinding me so I decided to frost the glass. I took the clear plastic, sprayed it with adhesive, laid down some paper on it and cut off the excess.

Step 8: Finishing the Table

Picture of Finishing the Table

Then I set the newly frosted glass into the table again and glued it down with gorilla glue. If you want you can cut a 0.25 inch off the paper on each side so that you're gluing the plastic to the table not gluing the paper to the table. It's probably more sturdy but I haven't had any troubles with this method (I bet you could even go without gluing if you felt so inclined)

Step 9: Lets Get This Lamp Going

Picture of Lets Get This Lamp Going

Initially I tried using a $1 lamp from the reuse center I got the table at, but that didn't seem bright enough for my tastes so I headed back to home depot and picked up a circular bulb ($6) from the bulb section and a powercord with a lamp attachment and clamp-y guy at the end (also $6). Luckily the packaging allowed me to screw the bulb in the lamp socket on the cord at the store to make sure it fit before buying them!

I just used the little dinky clamp that came with the lamp cord to attach the bulb to my desk, but a more elaborate set up could very easily be constructed and if you have any questions feel free to ask me, and i'll help you out.

Step 10: Testing the Table!

Picture of Testing the Table!

All that was left was to fire it up and test this light table, and the brightness was perfect! I think the round bulb also helped get the right amount of light throughout the plastic.

And that's it! I hope you enjoyed this instructable, it was my first one but hopefully not my last.


Mossmilldesigns (author)2016-11-13

You could have simply sanded the plastic with a piece of steel wool or fine sandpaper to frost the plastic Paper isn't a good idea anyway unless you use cool led lighting. Regular light bulbs get way too hot and placed that close to the paper, could be a fire hazard.

mogmog2 (author)Mossmilldesigns2016-11-23

Not an issue with that lamp as it's a fluorescent: these run very cool.

soireadthisbooktoday (author)2016-03-24

What a GREAT job! You were brilliant.

Scssrwzrd (author)2015-10-19

oh my goodness! I've got a glass top portable table and a round circular light from a broken magnifying light this is a perfect inspiration for me thanks so much for sharing I'm i gonna improvise it a little more and have a light table without spending a dime!

SaveOurSkills (author)2014-04-07

That dog'll hunt. Good job

picturesofsilver (author)2013-10-20

thank you!! simple & effective

IrishSnow35 (author)2013-07-28

Great job!

EcoExpatMike (author)2012-09-12

I built one using an old Xray light thing I salwaved from a hospital I was demo-ing...

jfox16 (author)2011-09-11

Tip ....

If you are not handy with saws or just do not have any use a heavy duty plastic storage box or plastic bucket.

If the sizing is off you can easily heat an old knife over the fire to make holes or cut through the plastic.

For looks you can simply glue some fancy wrapping paper, wall paper or paper grocery bags over the plastic container just go light on the glue.

After the paper is applied you could go a step or two further and paint it or add
a pen and pencil holder.

ChrissyCola (author)2010-08-13

batvans, BRILLIANT suggestion for portable light box... i'm about to go dig all of that out of my garage right this second. Thanks for saving me a trip to home depot :)

I made a portable one, it was the top of a scanner ,a cardboard copypaper box ,and a fish tank light fixture.

That is an awesome idea!

batvans46 (author)2010-07-28

instead of frosting, you can purchase a large self healing frosted cutting mat for 20 bucks online. i have one on my homemade table and it is amazing.

hierarchy (author)2008-02-08

this is neat! but instead of a table can u make a portable box? with a light that can be plugged in?

batvans46 (author)hierarchy2010-07-28

see my post earlier about the portable light table.

Angi 3369 (author)hierarchy2009-07-09

Hey. Went to a local computer repair shop, got a free broken scanner, took the guts out, got a small light at Lowes that had a removable cord, installed it in the scanner using florist gum, (you can use any sticky thing that will allow you to remove it if necessary for service), threaded the cord through one of the empty ports, frosted the glass with tracing paper, then put it back together. Cost 8 bucks. If possible get a light with a cord switch so you can turn it off instead of just unplugging it. Hope this helps.

terren272 (author)2008-03-22

The way to get the corners is with a chisel and hammer. It doesn't take very long. The other way is to round the corners off he plexi glass with a file... or woodblock+sandpaper. This will take longer than the chisel, but you get a rounded corner look that might impress.... someone. :)

fiducianullus (author)terren2722009-12-30

 No, the way to get the corners is with a jig saw. 

I really need to get one of those!

batvans46 (author)GraffitiBatman2010-07-28

try harbor freight if theres one in your area, or craigslist. they come in handy for tons of stuff.

GorillazMiko (author)2008-02-03

Really awesome idea. My dad has one of these at his work, except it's kind of those ones that he won't give me. He works for printing and stuff. It's about double the size of the plastic thing you have-no double but double again, quartriple (is that how you spell it? Firefox doesn't agree.). Yeah, it's pretty big, and I want it real bad, but he needs it, so I might try this. Awesome Instructable. +1 rating. (added to favorites)

That sounds kind of amazing. Nothing I ever draw is that big (I smear even 11x14 drawings) but the idea of a twin bed sized table just for arting with lights and what not makes me all tingly.

ghostis (author)GraffitiBatman2008-02-07

Hi GraffitiBatman, Try drawing with your whole arm while standing at a table or holding a large pad. It will keep your palms off the paper and give you much cleaner lines (believe it or not! ;). -Adam

GraffitiBatman (author)ghostis2010-07-25

ha! Those actually aren't my hands but a friend of mines. You're right though! Palms on the paper both add smudges and nasty hand oils to the paper.

Thanks so much!

ghostis (author)GorillazMiko2008-02-07

Hi Gor! I think you were looking for "quadruple." I hate it when you know something isn't spelled right, but you can't get close enough to see it in the list ;-). My brother and I are thinking about making a larger portable LED-based light table. Maybe I can get an instructable up before summer! -Adam

GorillazMiko (author)ghostis2008-02-07

Cool. If you do, I look forward to seeing it!

12Hippos (author)2009-11-22

What a beauty! Mine is a bit different. I had a broken 32" plasma TV. So I took out the screen out, leaving only the back light. Then, i put it on a synthesizer stand and it is bright enough to go through 6 sheets of letter sized paper.

GraffitiBatman (author)12Hippos2010-07-25

Wow, NIce work! I love to see broken TV's re-used because there are so many in dumpsters around me.

batvans46 (author)2009-12-22

for people wanting a portable light table, find a drawer from a dresser or something in a dumpster, whatever size you like you can probably find. then find a cheap lamp of some sort, i used a fish tank lamp (again, from a dumpster lol), mounted the lamp inside the drawer and drilled a hole for the power cord, and used a picture frame to secure a small sheet of plexiglass to the top. and yes, the plexiglass and picture frame came from a dumpster too. cost me 85 cents for the screws.

of course, you can do the exact same thing without dumpster diving, if you are squeamish about such practices you can easily procure the parts by other means.

GraffitiBatman (author)batvans462010-07-25

Hopefully this is a pro dumpster diving audience on instructables. Your idea sounds like it would work quite well!

fancypenguin845 (author)2008-02-14

hmmmm... mebbie if u just made a clear plastic box, drilled a hole in the bottom, and inserted a plug-in light bulb fixture...

That sounds like it would work too! I did it this way to maintain the tables use as a table and give me a large space to work with.

 amen - but some of us would like a more permanent fixture.

lordbot (author)2010-07-25

i really like this design!

Hey replace the white paper with the thing in sid broken cood lights /\/\/\/\/\/\/\\/\/\/\/\/\/\ - plastic """""""""""""""""""" - white stuff /\/\/\/\//\/\\//\/\/\/\/\/ -plastic tada

piemaster89 (author)2009-12-04

I think tracing paper would work just as well if not better since it's more translucent.

kariswg1 (author)2009-09-18

I did this a couple of years ago, but had my brother do all of the cutting and routing. I tried to buy white plexiglass but couldn't locate any so I taped tracing paper onto the back side of the clear plexi. I found a clamp type lamp to use on the underside of the board. Like minds think alike......

bluefly1215 (author)2009-09-08

Good choice of light source. I made a portable one in 1996 my sister won't give it back. i should make a new one. The only tools I had to use were hand tools, not the easiest when the saw was a kids saw. Guess you use what you have. Very nice, I like the table you found!

feltonite (author)2009-07-03

You can also sand the plastic with fine grit sand paper.

obdan (author)2009-03-22

White spray paint does the trick much faster and more effectively

Alostrael444 (author)obdan2009-06-06

You can also buy a spray especially for frosting glass/plastic/acrylic that has many fascinating applications.

Corporate American (author)2009-05-08

When I was a kid, I would just put the papers up to the television screen or a window...seemed to work okay and it was free.

keif999 (author)2009-03-28

Great info mate, just go a few questions, ive brought a nice little pre made light table which is originally made for negs, but plan on changing the buld to a stronger 1 so i can use it for silk screen. My question is.... This light box i have has frosted glass as does your table but would this not add to the exposure time or does it help in some way? Also whats your exposure time for this table and your bulb wattage please as all this info will help me with my dummy runs. Thanks in advance. Enjoy K

bryndi (author)2009-03-11

Maybe buying white plastic would be a good idea, then I won't have to frost it, less paper to go up in flames, which I have a problem with.

GraffitiBatman (author)bryndi2009-03-11

Ha! That sounds like a good idea to me!

pestan (author)2008-08-20

dude you can buy one for much less and without the blood sweat and toil....good job though

robhybrid (author)2008-02-09

All you need is a piece of glass and a light. The glass doesn't have to be frosted because the paper you're working with is opaque. If you have a glass table, just put a lamp under it and presto, it's a light table.

twp3 (author)2008-02-07

Good job! If you make another one of the tables, you might want to use a jig saw (saber saw) to cut out the middle instead of a circular saw. To make sure you keep the sides perfectly straight (even if you still use a circular saw), clamp a piece of wood to the table and run the saw alongside the piece of wood. If you make sure that the clamps are good and tight, it will make your cuts perfectly straight. When you rout out the lip, stop just short of the corner and take out the wood that remains in the corner with a small chisel and a small hammer. Score the top of the wood table along the lines into the corner first and then chip the wood out slowly, bit by bit. That will give you a nice sharp corner and make your job look even better! But, you did a great job for your first time! Congratulations!! Tom

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