Introduction: Light Tubes

About: I play with light

Light painting tubes can be expensive, but are easy to make yourself. This Instructable will cover how to make an easy, low-cost light painting tubes out of a recycled cardboard tubes.

Tubes from kitchen foil, parchment paper, plastic wrap are in the Goldilocks zone, not too thick that's its difficult to cut, not so thin that it flops around, and the diameter works with popular light painting tools.

If you are new to light painting it is a form of long exposure photography where different light sources are used to paint in a scene or make an abstract image. A light tube is simply a tube with different modifiers (like gels) to shape, color or direct light.

Once you make you light tube, place a camera on a tripod, set a long exposure, place your light tube on a flash light and wave it around during a 10 second exposure. Look at the resulting image and experiment.

If you do not have a tripod, place the light tube on a dark surface, and move the camera around during exposure.



  • Cardboard tubes
  • Black Tape (electrical, gaff or duct/duck)
  • Clear tape
  • Black Spray Paint
  • Gels
  • Light source


  • Knife
  • Ruler
  • Scissors
  • Pencil

These items can sub in for gels (but gels are the best choice for col

  • Colorful candy wrappers
  • Kitchen wrap or plastic grocery bag colored in with marker
  • Thin painter's tape

Step 1: Draw Lines Along Length

  • Take a pencil and draw a straight line down the length of the tube
    • Press the tube up agains a straight edge, like a book, cutting board or a another cardboard tube
  • Draw a line with the pencil
  • Rotate the tube a bit and draw a second like ~1/2 inch from the first.

Step 2: Draw Cut Cut Outs

Take a pencil & ruler and ad a mark 5 inch from the end and then make marks 1 inch apart after that.

Step 3: Mark the Rectangles to Cut Out

    We need to cut out every other rectangle leaving six one inch slots

    • Draw on or mark the first 1 inch box and then every other one after that
      • mark, skip, mark, skip... until the end

    This will keep you from cutting the wrong box

    Step 4: Cut Out Rectangles

    Take a knife and carefully cut out each of the marked up or doodles in boxes

    Don't worry if it is not perfect, we can clean up the edges by overlaying tape later

    Step 5: Spray Black

    • Take a can of black spray paint and give it a couple of light coats allowing it to dry between coats
    • The black paint will keep the lighter cardboard from accidentally showing up in photos

    Step 6: Tape Tube

    • Once the paint it completely dry, place strips of black tape along the edges of the rectangular cutouts.
      • This will keep the cardboard tube from tearing when swapping out gel colors
      • And it will clean up any ugly edges

    NOTE: I used a cardboard tube that was not painted to make it easier to see how to tape it.

    Step 7: Cap the End

    To prevent light leaking, cover the end of the tube opposite the flash light, with tape

    Step 8: Add Gels

    Place different colored gels over each of the cut-outs and secure with clear tape.

    If you do not have gels, candy wrappers or colorful tape works well too.

    Step 9: Attach to Light Source

    Take your new light tube and attach it to you favourite torch/flashlight and have fun lightpainting.

    Now that you know how to make an upcycled cardboard light tube, experiment with the number of gel slots, try drilling holes, try a combo of drilling holes and rectangular slots. If your light has a strobe mode, it makes for interesting patterns.

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