Introduction: Light Up Picture Box

I wanted to make my friends a special gift following their wedding this year, and a box seemed appropriate. They could put mementos of their relationship or wedding inside. One of their wedding favors was a coloring book filled with drawings the bride, Waffleguru, created of some special moments. Their engagement at a lantern festival was one of them, and I thought it would be perfect if I could use that image and make it even more fantastic with some LEDs.

Because Christmas was approaching quickly, I didn't photograph the process. Therefore, for the purpose of this instructable, I'm using another of Waffleguru's images that included my husband, daughter, and myself to create a second version for us.

Because this was a gift and uses my friend's artwork, I'm not providing cut files. You'll need basic Illustrator or Inkscape skills to create your own version.

Note: I have a Glowforge at home, but would really like to have an Epilog in my high school art classroom.

Materials and Tools:

Illustrator, Inkscape, or other vector software

black and white illustration

access to laser cutter

1/8" plywood

tissue paper

mini LEDs (I used these)

paint and brushes (I used watercolor)

white glue (I prefer quick dry tacky glue)

clamps and/or binder clips

masking tape

Step 1: Artwork

To begin you'll need a black and white illustration. As I said in the introduction, I used some drawings by Waffleguru.

I had to edit the image before tracing to move my daughter from the far right to be next to my husband and I before I traced it. I could have done this with photoshop or another editing software, but I opted to redraw the image in Adobe draw on my iPad.

Open the image in the vector software of your choice and trace it.

In Illustrator: Object > Live Trace > Make, Object > Live Trace > Expand

In Inkscape: Path > Trace Bitmap > OK > Close Window, Path > Break Apart

Decide what you want in the foreground, middleground, and background. Create a separate layer for each by copying and pasting appropriate pieces that need to line up and deleting/editing everything else. All light-up elements must be in the last layer.

Behind the last layer of artwork you'll need a copy of anything that will light up and a path from a hole for your LED battery to each light up element. My LED battery needed two layers of holes to fit, so I also put a hole in the top layer of the box as you can see in the next step. The hole in the top of the box also allows you access to the switch to turn the lights on and off.

Note: Measure the length from the battery to the first light and make the path that long to avoid extra cord piling up in the battery hole. (See step 10)

Step 2: Box

Use a box generator like MakerCase to generate cut files for a box that matches the height and width of your image layers.

I wanted my lid to open and close easily, so I opted to separate the tops of each side piece. This allows me to add hinges later. Simply cut the stroke at the same place on each side of the shape, move apart, and reconnect the nodes with a line.

Step 3: Cut

Be sure to choose the flattest pieces of 1/8" plywood you can find before cutting. The flatter the pieces, the better they'll fit together when assembling your box.

I used a Glowforge with 500sp/80% power when engraving and 200sp/full power when cutting. I usually find that 220 speed is enough to cut flat plywood, but many of my pieces were warped and needed a slower speed to compensate.

You can see in the last picture on this step that I made a mistake when creating my files. I originally had an additional back piece I didn't need, and ultimately needed a frame piece for the front that isn't pictured here. I created it later and you'll see it in the painting steps.

Step 4: Paint

You can check out my instructable Watercolor on Laser Cut Wood to get a better idea of how to paint your own designs like I painted my family, but I'll break down how I painted the box in case it's helpful.

Be sure to have a large-ish container of water (small containers get icky fast) and lots of paper towels.

Step 5: Painting Wet-On-Wet

I used a wet-on-wet technique to get the blue and black to bleed together while creating a semi-ombre effect from more blue at the bottom to more black at the top. This same technique was used on all the box pieces as well as the picture background and frame. Run the pieces under a faucet just long enough to get them wet before painting. A damp sponge would have the same effect.

Step 6: Painting the Box

When doing the box, be sure to line up your pieces the way they'll fit together before painting to make sure you're painting the right ones the right color.

Step 7: Assemble Picture

Apply glue to your top most layer and clamp it in place on the next layer with binder clips or small vices. Allow to dry.

Continue to do this a layer at a time until just before you would glue on the piece with the LED paths in it.

Apply glue to the back of your last artwork layer and spread the glue around with a damp brush or your finger. Lay a piece of tissue paper over the glue and gently smooth it down.

Use a boxcutter to cut away the excess tissue paper or gently tear it away.

Set the top aside to dry. Your artwork should be fully assembled.

Step 8: Assemble LEDs

Glue the LED paths piece onto the box top ensuring you've glued any/all small pieces. Clip in place. No need to wait for it to dry before beginning to place the LEDs. However, if there is a lot of glue squishing out into the paths, use a damp paintbrush to brush it away.

Place the battery into the hole you've provided and work the cord up the path. Place at least one LED in each area you want to light up. In the first one I made, I had two strips of lights to allow me to make closer lanterns brighter with more lights and further lanterns dimmer with less lights. In this one, I put two lights in the biggest lantern and one in the others so I could use just one LED strip.

Tape the lights in as you go while making sure not to tape over any areas that will light up.

Cut off any excess lights at the end.

Turn the lights on and make sure they work. Place your artwork pieces over the top to ensure you like how they look. After the next step you won't be able to change the LEDs again.

Step 9: Assemble Box

Glue the top artwork pieces over the LEDs.

Clip in place an allow to dry.

While the top is drying, lay out all the bottom pieces in the correct configuration and apply glue as pictured. Fold up each side one at a time and tape together anywhere it's not tight. Don't tape more than necessary. The tape can cause the wood to splinter and consequently remove paint.

Glue the smaller sides to the top in the same manner. Tape as needed.

Step 10: Finishing Touches

Use a damp brush to smooth out glue that squishes around the edges.

Cut and glue pieces of leather to the side for hinges or screw on some metal ones.

Apply a bit of tape to keep the battery in.

Optional: Apply a latch to the side opposite the hinges.

Step 11: Enjoy

Homemade Gifts Contest 2017

First Prize in the
Homemade Gifts Contest 2017

Epilog Challenge 9

Participated in the
Epilog Challenge 9

LED Contest 2017

Participated in the
LED Contest 2017