Introduction: Making a Pinhole Camera With a Laser Cutter

If you are interested in photography and have access to a laser cutter, making a pinhole camera is an incredibly fun activity. The process of making the camera teaches you a lot about the principles of photography and allows you to get some really amazing photos without having to buy a camera.

Step 1: Prepare Your Materials

In order to construct your own pinhole camera, you will need the following materials:

  • Access to a laser printer
  • Access to design software
  • A large sheet of wood (At least 24x12)
  • An aluminum can
  • A needle/ pin
  • Electrical tape
  • Scissors
  • Sealant (Caulk works best but word glue does the job)
  • Black paint (acrylic or spray)
  • Photo Paper

Step 2: Create a Protoype

Creating a prototype is important because you can get a feel for the limitations of the process and begin to understand what you need to adjust for your design. A lot of household objects can be used to prototype but cardboard and oatmeal boxes are the most effective. If you have time and the equipment go ahead and shoot some photos with the prototype to get a feel for how light effects the image and also how to punch the pinhole.

Step 3: Sketch a Prototype Camera

This is an important step so don't skip it! Getting your ideas down on paper after your original prototype is very helpful. It helps you realize what is or isn't possible when designing using software and can help you get flowing in the design process.

Step 4: Design a Camera Using the Software of Your Choice

Any vector based design software should be fine for designing a pinhole camera. I used Adobe illustrator. You should try to design a camera with a few things in mind. Will this design let a lot of light in? Will this design be functional? And of course, will this design look good? Certain design elements can be incorporated that help the construction stage of the process. Be sure to consider all the stages when designing.

Step 5: Laser Cutting

Upload your design file to the laser cutting software and adjust the speed and power settings to suit your needs. Feel free to add some designs on your camera that will give it its own unique look. Be careful when removing the cut pieces from the original sheet as some of the cuts may not have gone all the way through.

Step 6: Prep for Assembly

After you have all of the pieces laid out, you will want to paint the inside walls of the camera black in order to keep it as light tight as possible.

You will also want to go ahead and make the pinhole. This is done by cutting out a square piece of an aluminum can and piercing it with a needle. Be sure to take your time on this step because the quality of the hole will have a large impact on how well your camera performs. Using sandpaper to smooth the hole after you punch it can be very helpful. I recommend you take the time to wrap the piece of can in electrical tape so you don't end up cutting yourself when assembling.

Step 7: Assemble the Camera

Once the panels are all painted and the pinhole is prepped, it is time to assemble. I recommend getting some caulk or another type of sealant to keep it together and also keep the light out. Wood glue will work but won't be quite as effective.

Coat all the corners and seams with your sealant and also feel free to use more electrical tape to make sure the pieces fit together properly. You can always go back and take it off if you want your camera to look better but the tape helps get better images.

Step 8: Go Shoot Some Photos!

The most fun step is here! Go out and experiment. The easiest way to do this is take images with different exposure times until you dial it in. You can also calculate you focal length to help you find the f-stop of the camera and get an estimated proper exposure time.

Websites such as can help save time with these calculations.

The most important part of this step is to have fun!