Introduction: Light Box

Time: around 6 hours

Cost: up to $35

A light box is a box with one translucent side that allows light to pass through. Light boxes are functional in many different crafts/arts including photography, illustration and design. Cheap light boxes online start around $40, so I thought I could build a nicer one for less money. I wanted to design a box that fulfilled the functional aspects of a good light box, but that was also simple and beautiful enough to be used as a lamp or display for negatives. It can sit flat on a table for drawing and viewing negatives, vertically on a bookshelf, or even hung from a wall.

Here are a few creative uses for the light box:

-Viewing slides and negatives
-Backlit macro photography
-Tracing drawings and photographs
-Converting slides and negatives into digital photos
-Watercolor paint surface
-Displaying transparencies
-Lamp, when hung or displayed on a bookshelf

Check out the photos for some examples of these uses!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

This project requires a few standard tools and some inexpensive materials. It there's a tool that you don't have access to, don't give up! Be creative, and ask me or other members for ideas about doing this project with what you have. Anyway, here's what I used:


-Table saw
-Compound miter saw
-Drill Bits
-Small hammer
-Flathead screwdriver
-Ruler or tape measure
-Wood glue
-Masking tape


-Walnut board, at least 4" wide, 3/4" thick and 4.5' long (about $10)
-2 pieces of 10" by 12" glass ($4)
-Candelabra lamp kit ($6)
-Fluorescent candelabra bulb ($3)
-Aluminum tape ($5)
-1/8" birch plywood sheet ($4)
-2 sheets of drafting vellum ($1)
-Small finishing nails and screws ($1)

The total cost should be about $35 if you buy everything new. I was able to scrounge up or repurpose a lot of these materials though and only spent about $15 on new materials. Everything listed is available at hardware stores, expect drafting vellum, which is carried at art stores like Dick Blick.

Step 2: Preparing the Sides

I chose to use walnut because it's a high quality hardwood and its dark color and grain beautifully contrasts with the stark white glow from the glass. If you're buying wood, try to find a dedicated lumber yard in your area, rather than a Home Depot or Lowes.  I go to . You'll pay 2-3 times less per board foot at a dedicated lumber yard and have a much better selection of nice hardwoods. You could also use a cheaper wood like pine and a dark stain to get a similar effect for less money.

1) Cut your board down into four sections, two 14" pieces and two 12" pieces. These will be the sides of the box. We'll finish the miter joints in a later step.

2) Rip your four boards down to a width of 4" on a table saw.

*Remember your PPE! Glasses and earplugs go a long way when you're using power saws.

Step 3: Cutting the Grooves

I chose to use grooves to hold in the glass front and back panel. This is sturdy and gives a nice finished look, since I want to use this light box as a lamp and display piece.

1) Measure the thickness of your glass, including the drafting vellum, and back panel. For me this came to 1/8" for the back panel and 1/4" for the glass front. 

2) Set the blade height on your table saw to about half the thickness of your board (between 1/4" and 1/2").

3) Leave a 1/4" between each groove and the edge of the board. Any thinner and it could break off. 

4) It may take several passes, but adjust your cutting guide until you have a 1/4" groove on one edge and an 1/8" groove on the other edge of the board. Check out the pictures if this is confusing. When you're all done, your backing and glass front should rest easily in the appropriate groove.

Step 4: Miter Joints

A miter joint will allow the glass to slide nicely into place while hiding the grooves and gives the light box a finished look.

1) Start by cutting one edge of each board at a 45 degree angle. Make sure the grooves are on the 'narrow' edge. See photos for clarification.

2) To figure out where the next cut will be, rest your piece of glass in the groove so the edge of the glass just meets the end of the groove. Now take one of the other pieces of wood and use the 45 degree angle as a guide. When you're all done, the whole length of the groove should be the length of the glass.

Step 5: Backing

Cut your 1/8" plywood backing to the same size as your glass, in this case 10" by 12". Now drill two holes, one along the long edge and one along the short edge. They should be centered and about an inch from the top. This will allow you to hang your light box from a nail or hook if you want to.

Step 6: Light Socket

I needed to find a way to get the bulb socket into the board cleanly without distracting from the box. I chose to put the bulb centered on one of the shorter sides.

1) Mark the center with a pencil.

2) Drill a pilot hole with an 1/8" bit all the way through the board.

3) Now, using a 1/2" bit, drill a hole from the outside of the board about 1/8" deep.

4) Drill from the other side using a 3/4" bit until you meet the 1/2" hole.

I found that this method of drilling lets the oddly shaped light socked sit comfortably.

Step 7: Reflective Backing

Cover all of the interior wood surfaces of the box in aluminum tape (you can easily substitute aluminum foil and adhesive spray). This is important because it helps evenly distribute the light from the box and helps dissipate heat to avoid any 'hot spots' that could be caused by the bulb.

Step 8: Electric

I'm certainly no electrician, but this was easy enough. I needed to cut the wire in order to fit the socket into the hole made in step 6. I didn't want any unsightly electrical tape, so the switch provided a great place to hide everything.

1) Open the switch by the small screw

2) Cut the wire in the center, and feed the socket into the hole. Use hot glue to secure the socket in the hole.

3) Strip the two ends of the wire where it was previously cut, just enough to reconnect the copper.

4) Wrap the copper around itself and secure with insulating electrical tape.

5) Place it back in the switch housing and replace the cover.

6) Test with a lightbulb.

I chose to use a daylight (white) CFL bulb with a wattage equivalent of 80 W. The brightness and color are up to you, but the CFL bulb is important in such a small space. This isn't an easy bake oven, and the CFL bulbs give off much less heat than a standard bulb (and the use less energy and last longer!) I chose a bright white because it didn't give a yellow tint to my negatives, and the 80 W equivalent brightness wasn't too harsh once it passed through a diffuser.

Step 9: Gluing It All Together

I chose only to glue three sides together (two joints) so that I could open the box to replace the lightbulb or clean the glass.

1) With the backing in place for alignment purposes, glue two joints together.

2) Use masking tape to hold everything in place.

3) After about an hour, put finishing nails in the two glued joints. I drilled small pilot holes to ensure that I didn't crack the wood. 

Step 10: Light Diffuser and Finishing

A light diffuser scatters the light as it comes out of the box so that you get an even sheet of light rather than brighter and darker spots. There are tons of different ways to diffuse light. The best thing I found was drafting vellum. Unlike printer paper, it has an even consistency. If you used a sheet of printer paper you'd see all of the fibers in the paper. Two sheets worked well for me. Cut it to size, sandwich it between the glass panels, and slide the whole thing into the top groove. It should be snug but slide in and out easily.

Finish by putting the last side on the box and securing it with two removable finishing screws. Give it all a good sanding and cleaning and it's ready!

Step 11: Finished Light Box

The Photography Contest

Participated in the
The Photography Contest

Instructables Design Competition

Participated in the
Instructables Design Competition

Make It Glow

Participated in the
Make It Glow