Laptop Lightbox Technique for Paper Wall Art





Introduction: Laptop Lightbox Technique for Paper Wall Art

I wanted some wall art for my dorm room in college, so I developed this easy method of reproducing designs from mspaint using construction paper and tape. I used this technique to produce an octopus design and some Zelda sprite decorations.The main trick is using a computer screen as a makeshift lightbox.

You will need:
  • A design or some pixel art
  • Construction paper in appropriate colors
  • A bright monitor
  • Scissors, pen, tape

Optionally, large pieces of sturdy cardboard and some kind of glue to reinforce them. The Zelda sprites were simpler and I have better pictures, so I'll be using them to show you how this method works. I'll show you how general the method is by describing my octopus design at the end, which used the exact same steps as the sprites.

Step 1: Trace the Sprites

Here's the only trick to the process: using your monitor as a lightbox! First, decide how large you want your pieces to be in real life. Then count the pixels and figure out how large they will need to be to achieve that.

Open up your design in any program like mspaint where you can zoom in super close to the pixels. Adjust your zoom until their physical size on the monitor is the size you want it in real life, then lay a sheet of construction paper on the screen. Gently outline the shapes you'll need in that color with a pencil. When working with pixels, you really only need to mark corners - take serious measures to avoid putting too much pressure on your monitor in order to avoid damaging it. Try to arrange the pieces on a grid, almost as if you were playing tetris. The more shared edges, the less cuts and the easier it will be to ensure that the paper pixels are of consistent size. You can make barely-visible scribbles and then reconstruct the correct shape later. Of course keep in mind that simple arrangements (2 or 3 pixels in a group) don't need to be traced and can be drawn entirely with a ruler.

Remove the paper and draw a proper outline of all of the shapes with a straightedge. You'll want to be very strict about the sizes here. Each line segment must be identical in length, or your sprites will have unsightly gaps. This is much less important for more free-hand shapes like the octopus, but you still want things to line up.

NOTE that some colors may be too dark to trace through. If this is an issue, there is a way to circumvent it... but it will double your work. Simply trace through some white computer paper first, then use the resulting pieces as stencils to cut out the shapes in the color you actually want. I had to do this for all of the black parts in my sprites.

Step 2: Cut and Arrange the Pieces

Cut out the pieces. Lay them out like a puzzle as you go to make sure you have all of the correct bits. It's fun to see your progress, and keeping track of what's been done already will save you headaches later. Trim or recut any pieces that don't line up properly.

Step 3: Tape Them Up!

Once you've got all of the pieces ready, reassemble them upside down. You basically want to assemble a mirror image of your final design. Then you can go all around and tape the pieces together securely.

At this point, you can call it a day. I left my wall art like this for several years in college, using sticky tack to secure it to my wall. Eventually though, the pieces started to get a bit droopy and hard to secure. I then got a hold of a large cardboard box (from a flatscreen tv) that was double-corrugated. I traced my sprites onto it, cut out backer pieces for each one, and glued them together. I don't have photos of this process, but now my sprites are sturdy and easier to mount on a wall. I would highly recommend doing this up front if you have any nice cardboard around. My octopus is a bit more complicated to reinforce because of the curves and negative space, so it's still just taped paper to this day.

Step 4: Bonus Octopus Art

Just to show you that this method isn't limited to pixel art, here are some photos of the project I did immediately afterwards.

I used the exact same technique to reproduce a design I created in mspaint as a larger piece of construction paper wall art. Of course, since the whole thing was made with black paper I had to cut each piece out twice.

I wanted to play around with figure-ground relations, so I left the outer shape looking like several full sheets of construction paper strewn carelessly on the wall. The octopus itself is defined by the absence of paper, where the wall texture shows through. The fish was cut out and moved outside of the piece to try to give some movement, break the boundary and keep the piece from feeling constrained. Plus, one cut; two fish!

Thanks for looking! As always, I'd love to see anything you make that is inspired by this instructable.



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    13 Discussions

    How big did you make each pixel please replay

    I did this (admittedly before I found your ible) to make a stencil for a halloween t-shirt. Like you say, super easy ;D. You should enter this in the "I can too" contest. It's quite a useful technique!

    I haven't tried this in a while, but you could also try iron-on pencils from a fabric store. Trace your design onto white paper using the pencil, then iron that to your better paper and cut it out. You need to think through the mirror-image issue, and work with paper in a color that shows the pencil, but it saves cutting out twice.

    I am makin this today

    Cool! I would consider laminating each piece, or the whole thing, just to prevent paper curling.

    That is fancy and I will have to do this. Wonder if I am skilled and patient enough to make a Kerbal or two...

    This is so cool I love it thx again


    4 years ago

    Great idea! You could use a piece of clear acrylic over the monitor to protect it from pressure.

    1 reply

    Yeah, clever! That would also make it easy to trace physical designs. You could place a sheet of paper with your design over your monitor displaying a blank white screen, hold it in place with the acrylic, and trace away.

    Those turned out awesome! I really like the octopus one and how you didn't have the pages line up perfectly. So much cooler the way you did it :D

    I love it! My classroom has huge wall clings Mario Bros.and I have a great 8 bit wreath for Christmas I hang, I'm going to use this to make a few more game characters! Thanks so much!