Any serious or not serious artist needs a lightbox. Lightboxes are used to illuminate a picture from behind so that you can trace the image on to an overlaying sheet of paper. In a pinch, you can also use this to look at x-ray film to see how your bones are healing after that Knex or bicycling mishap.
Many others have constructed lightboxes or light tables before. My design was inspired by the new Mac aluminum keyboards. They are sleek, look pretty cool, and does it job in a minimalist package. This is my entry into the Let It Glow contest. A frugal investment for a professional tool costing several times more.
Step 1: Get the Essentials...
- 1" x 2" wood stock
- 1" x 4" or 1" x 6" wood stock (1" x 3" was used in this prototype project)
- 3/4" #8 wood screws
- white paint
- wood glue
- jig saw (hand saw works also)
- sandpaper (orbital sander or other power sander)
- drill, screwdriver
- ...if you are lucky enough to have - pocket hole jig/drill or plate joiner or dowel jig
- 23 inch undercabinet slimline plug-in flourescent light - $19 USD
- 18" x 24" Lexan clear polycarbonate plastic sheet -$14 USD
Step 2: Frame It Up!
We will make a wooden frame to support the sheet of plastic. The light is attached under the header part of the frame below. This is an open box design so we should have no problems with heat buildup.
You don't really have to get out a tape measure to do your measurements. For the header piece, just put up the 1 x 4 to the long edge of the plastic and mark the length which should be 24". Cut that piece.
Measure the 1 x 2 and mark the same way for the 2 side pieces which should be 18". Cut those pieces.
Lay the two side pieces together on one of the edges. Place a 1 x 2 perpendicular to them and mark at the end of the plastic. This will be the filler piece for the bottom part.
Take one of the 1 x 2 and trace its profile onto both top ends of the header like in the picture. Cut that out with a handsaw or a jigsaw. This will be use to join our side pieces to the header. The header piece is our "support leg" for the light tablet. The 1 x 2 are attached flat to the header to form out frame for the plastic.
Glue the side pieces to the header. You could strengthen these joints with various woodworking techniques. I have a pocket hole jig which lets me drill an angled hole into the wood for a screw to go in. The filler piece is then glued between the side pieces at the bottom. Again, I have used pocket screws to pull them together. You can experiment with tenons, dowels, a long screw or nail through the end, etc. in order to reinforce the joint.
Try to make everything square or fit to the rectangularness of the sheet of plastic.
Once all the glue is dry, round over all the edges and corners. Do this outdoors as you will have a lot of sanding dust. It is much easier to do with some sort of power sander.
While you are outside, sand one side of the plastic to make it cloudy in appearance in order to diffuse the light. The plastic came with a label saying that the unprinted side should be exposed to any UV. I kept that side as my "good" side to use as my drawing surface. I scuffed up the backside with my orbital sander. I used a medium 100 grit which did a good job. Wear a mask to avoid breathing in the plastic particles. Take a file to round off the sharp corners of the plastic.
Prime and paint the frame in any color you think is cool.
Step 3: Final Assembly...
Mount the light to the underside of the header according to manufacturers directions.
Position the Lexan over the frame with the scuffed side down. You can glue it down with maybe a silicone caulk or GorillazMiko glue but I didn't want a wierd glue line showing up under the plastic. I opted for screws at each corner.
Drill and countersink the screws so they are flush with the surface. Don't tighten too much to allow for any plastic expansion and contraction. The surface does flex a bit but it still provides enough support for comfortable drawing on.
Step 4: Lights, ...
So, how does it work?
Just plug it in and use...
It seems to do better when the table or surface under the light tablet is a light color to help diffuse the light. I recommend that the header be made of a 1 x 4 or 1 x 6 to elevate the tablet higher so that the light diffuses better on the angled tablet. I guess you could make a back with a reflective surface as a diffuser but that would turn it into a clunky light box. Also, a little deflector or opaque tape on top of the light source would help to diffuse the hotspot strip of light. The light tablet is actually brighter than the pictures show and is quite useable. And the ambiglow on the sides is pretty cool.
For all of those budding artists out there, go make one and enjoy.