Introduction: A $20/20min Commercial Quality Folding Light Box / Light Tent

About: Professional prototyper, avid tinkerer, engineer by nature. I specialize in product improvement and refinement, so I will try to help with a suggestion on instructables now and again. Try not to get offended, …

If you have been looking for a DIY light box for product or close up photographs you already know you have a multitude of choices. From cardboard boxes to laundry hampers you might be thinking the project has been done to death. But Wait! For $20 and 20 minutes you can build a light box that is easy to use, easy to store, and looks as good as or better than the commercial products. Let's get started!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You need:

2 Expandable Window Screen units (4 Screens)
Industrial Strength Adhesive Velcro
Roll of Velcro One-Wrap (Not shown - Must stick tightly to the Velcro above)
Diffuser fabric - I used 200 thread count twin bed sheet
Spline roller tool
A pair of scissors

Note: The velcro I ended up using isn't pictured. I bought white industrial adhesive with four large pieces per package (two mating pairs).

Note: Make sure the one-wrap grips the industrial adhesive Velcro well. I found some that doesn't.

Step 2: Disassemble the Sliding Screens

Pull the screens apart to their maximum expansion. Remove the white clips.

Pick a corner and gently push the screen out until you can get a grip on the rubber spline. Pull it out of the track. Remove the screen.

Step 3: Install the Velcro

Take the fuzzy side of the Velcro and cut the width down to the size of the frame and 1.5 inches long. Clean the frame with rubbing alcohol to assure a good bond. Place the Velcro tabs in the locations shown in the pictures. Be sure to place them on the side without a spline groove. Notice the sides use two pieces on the top edge.

Note: I forgot to get these pictures before the diffuser was installed. Don't get confused, you do that in the next step.

Cut six pieces of One-Wrap 4 inches long and two 3 inches long. (Not Shown)

Step 4: Install the Diffuser

Clean the frames thoroughly to prevent any dirt from getting on the fabric. Cut the fabric about 6 inches larger all the way around and iron it to remove wrinkles. Lay the fabric on the frame and roll spline into the groove on one end.

Stretch the other sides by hand and roll in the spline. If you press your fingers on each side of the frame as you roll the spline in you will create a little slack. If the fabric it too tight the frames will warp upward causing the frame not to lie flat. You want the fabric smooth but not tight enough to warp the frame. It might take a couple of tries, but keep at it. When you are done your fabric should be pretty wrinkle free. You can always touch it up with an iron.

Now you are ready to trim the excess fabric. Take your time and be careful not to cut the spline. I pulled the fabric taught and worked down the seam with an Exacto knife. Trim hanging threads with a pair of scissors.

Step 5: Assembly

Use the Velcro straps to attach the sides and back. The straps will be tighter if you put them on with the sides at less than 45 degrees and then pull the sides in to place. Pulling them to a 45 degree angle tightens the strap. Place the top on, using the long straps on the front and the short ones on the back. Use binder clips to hold your poster board backdrop. Notice the frame is sturdy enough to hold a brass desk lamp!

Step 6: Use It!

The light box is ready for use. Place it on a surface, add your background with some binder clips, turn on your lights and take your shots. When you are done, remove the top and fold it up.

The picture below was taken after a 5 minute setup which included borrowing the model car. The lights are desk lamps with 100 watt reveal color corrected bulbs.

Now I am no photographer but I thought it looked pretty good!

Step 7: Enhancements!

The current design can be built with common tools and I think that makes it a more appealing project. I may eventually replace the Velcro that attaches the back and sides with a pop-riveted piece of nylon strap for added durability. It seems to work fine as it is. When the Velcro is tightened the light box is very rigid.

I will probably experiment with the diffuser fabric. The twin bed sheet was used to lower cost. I found a thin silk-like fabric for $9 a yard but the frames are just large enough to require two yards of fabric. Smaller frames could be done with one yard, and you could use a cheaper fabric on the back frame. It is hidden by the backdrop in the pictures.

You can scale it up or down as needed. I found two sizes of expandable screen frames but for a little more money you can make a light box of any size. Most home improvement stores sell all of the parts to make these frames up to 6 foot by 6 foot. For a really large frame you could use full sized window screens or even screen doors.

If you make enhancements or larger light boxes using this design let me know! I will link them here for others to learn from. Happy shooting!