Introduction: Cardboard Camera Obscura

About: Maker educator using tools to teach kids to be independent creative thinkers!

Camera Obscura just means dark room! With this instructable we'll be creating a small dark room out of cardboard, cereal box, masking tape and a cheap plastic hand lens. You can use this little contraption to view the world upside down, turn it into a pinhole camera, or use it as a cell phone projector! It's a great tool for teaching kids about how the eye works, how we perceive light, and about translucent, transparent and opaque materials.

Step 1: Step 1: Gather Your Materials

You'll need...


A cereal box, chipboard or a file folder (something stiffer than paper but softer than cardboard)

White paper or vellum

A plastic hand lens

Masking tape


A box cutter or exacto blade

Cut mat (not pictured)

Step 2: Step 2: Cut Out Your Cardboard Pieces

Using the provided template, cut out all of your cardboard pieces. You can do this using a box cutter, exacto blade or a laser cutter if you've got access to one. Try and keep your edges as straight as possible, it will make joining your pieces together much easier.

Step 3: Step 3: Tape Your Cardboard Pieces

Lay your cardboard pieces out as pictured. Put a single piece of tape on each side of the front, overlapping with each side.

Step 4: Step 4: Tape on Your Lens

Tape your lens over the front opening. If you angle the handle, the lens should fit without you needing to cut anything.

Step 5: Step 5: Finish Building Your Box

Fold all of the pieces over so your box looks like a box. Tape all of the outside edges, trying to cover any light gaps. The darker the inside of your box, the clearer your image will be. You can also cover the outside in dark paper if you choose.

Step 6: Step 6: Cut Out Your Screen Holder

Using the template provided, cut out your screen holder. If you use a file folder like I did, cut two pieces and tape them together, this will make it a little more sturdy. Make sure and add your score lines as well. This will be where you fold the holder up into a frame.

Step 7: Step 7: Fold Up Your Frame and Tape It Together

This is the only tricky part of this project. Fold up your frame on the score lines so the corners tuck into a small V. See the picture for detail. Tape over the V and secure all four corners. When you're done your frame should look like the photo!

Step 8: Step 8: Tape in Your Screen

Cut out a piece of paper or vellum slightly larger than your frame opening. Tape it over the inside of the frame.

Step 9: Step 9: Insert Your Frame and Test It Out!

Insert your frame into the back of your camera obscura. You can use the handles to adjust the distance between the screen and the lens. Experiment with different distances, different light sources and a darker box. Try turning your project into a pin hole camera or a cellphone projector!

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