Tracing, Animation, X-ray, Light Box Under $20




My Girlfriend is a Fashion design major working on her MFA, and she often needs to trace her sketches. She uses my animation table but it is a bit too large for her to work with, and she can’t move it around. So I decided to make her a light box. Once I had everything together, it took me less than a day to build. In fact, I made it today.  This is my first Instructable, it will not be my last.

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Step 1: Materials

1 piece of translucent white plastic, from the San Francisco Tap plastics scrap bin, 5 bucks,

1 clip board clip from tap plastics 1 buck

1 1x3 from home depot 3 bucks

1 sheet of back board from home depot, 2 bucks

1 light from home depot 7 bucks,

4 brackets form home depot 1 buck

Some aluminum foil, wood glue, 3m spay mount staples and rivets, already had. durham wood putty.

Total $19.00

Step 2: Step 1

Pick a sheet of plastic pre cut, then you'll be building the box around it.

take your 1x3 and cut your board in the proper lengths, using 45 degree miter cuts on each end. This is just like building a frame.

Step 3: Step 2

now take your 4 lengths of wood, and cut in a groove. I used a little hobby table saw i picked up at harbor freight. Make sure the blade only comes to the width of the plastic sheet, and clamp on a guide making sure the space between the blade and the guide is the width of the plastic sheet. groove the wood so that you're cutting out a corner in each piece.

Step 4: Step 3

now, using wood glue, glue and staple the wood together forming the frame. after your frame is together cut a sheet the size of your frame from your back board. Then glue and staple the back board to the frame. At this point the plastic sheet should fit nicely in the groves.

Step 5: Step 4

Screw in the brackets, and pull out the staples from the top 4 corners. Then Mix up some wood putty and putty anything that needs puttying. Sand, sand and then sand again, using varying degree grit paper

Step 6: Step 5

Adding the clip board clip to the plastic sheet is easy, measure the holes in the clip, and make sure the clip is centered on the sheet, then make sure it is level with the top edge. Mark the sheet, drill the holes, and pop rivet the clip to the sheet.

Step 7: Step 6

Take your box, Spray mount, aluminum foil, and plastic squeegee outside, spray the non shiny side of the foil and glue it inside the box, along the bottom and the sides. use the squeegee to get an even spread. Then take your light, and attach Velcro to the back of it. (This is only if you're using a battery powered light, if you're using a plug in light, you'll want to screw it in, and drill a hole in the box for the plug to come through.) 

place the light on the top side of the box.

Step 8: Finish

Either stain, or paint you're box, She liked the wood color and grain so I used a clear coat.
After it is dry, place the plastic sheet, what is now a translucent clipboard into the box's groves, and you're finished. To turn the light on and off, simply pull out the clipboard, push the button, and put the board back in, She can now use this as a light box, or just a large clip board from drawing.

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    8 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    An alternative for light source (probably more useful on larger boxes) would potentially be LED tape in cool white; go around all edges? 12v battery or mains with laptop PSU


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I made one in 1998 for a college project, Its not much larger and the light source is a plug in light (wish they had leds back then) I also used aluminum foil for reflector. I also noticed at that time the light sorce got pretty warm and needed a vent. Anyway, my sister stole it not long after I made it so she could do some stuff. Funny thing she still has it. Nice idea like your box.


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Yeah, for me I bought a Light Pad that has equal lighting over the entire pad which I need for traditional animation. But is it possible to line the bottom with those clickable lights? Where you push them and they turn on - there are the really huge ones that you'd probably only have to put 2 in there. I dunno I'm thinking outloud because I'd like another home-made, lightweight lightbox as a backup.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Yes, it's possible to line the bottom with clickable lights. That's actually quite a brilliant idea I'd like to use.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I thought about that, but, it works really well as is, and it would add weight to it, my Girlfriend is 5 foot tall and 95 pounds, so I tried to keep it as lightweight as possible. That is why I used pine. Also why I used foil instead of sheet metal. I'm thinking about making one for myself, it will be brighter but heavier.