Under $30 Light Table




How to build a light table for under $30 for all your light table-ing needs

Teacher Notes

Teachers! Did you use this instructable in your classroom?
Add a Teacher Note to share how you incorporated it into your lesson.

Step 1: The "Table" Part

First I had the wonderful idea of building a light table, then I went about it in the simplest way I knew how. I got a table!
This table was $10 dollars from a reuse center

Step 2: Aquiring Plastic

I decided that I didn't want to be tracing on glass because I tend to break all things glass so I made the tracing area out of plastic.

I found this nifty 11x14 sheet of .25 inch clear plastic at Home Depot for $3, it seemed a good size for the drawings that i'll be doing.

Step 3: Measure Once Cut Twice!

Proceeding headlong into the project, I measured the center of the table, and then traced out the dimensions of the plastic sheet to be inserted into the hole. Then I took the plastic outline and brought all four sides inwards by a quarter inch (0.25 inch) so that the plastic would have a lip to sit on when I was done.

Step 4: Circular Saw

I used a circular saw (to cut a rectangle, go figure) and cut out the inner lines (leaving the 0.25 inch extra from step 3). Using a circular saw didn't get me perfect corners so I used a screw driver and dug out the corners to my liking.

Step 5: Router? No I'm Not Talking About the Interweb.

I borrowed a router, which is a tool like a drill but instead of bits that are meant to go into things vertically, this is meant to spin and be pressed horizontally against things and the sides of the bit are used to create lips and such for banisters or what have you.

Step 6: Routing It

I used the router with a 0.25 inch bit set to the depth of my plastic sheet and went around the edges of my cut. This was my first time ever using a router so i'm rather proud of the results, but when I tried to set the plastic sheet into the lip I'd created it still needed a little more off so I used the router a little against protocol by using the very tip of the bit and not the cutting part to get the corners. This resulted in a little burning as seen below, but now the plastic fit!

Step 7: Plastic Fixins

So now that the table itself was done, It was time to work on the plastic. I didn't like the idea of my light table blinding me so I decided to frost the glass. I took the clear plastic, sprayed it with adhesive, laid down some paper on it and cut off the excess.

Step 8: Finishing the Table

Then I set the newly frosted glass into the table again and glued it down with gorilla glue. If you want you can cut a 0.25 inch off the paper on each side so that you're gluing the plastic to the table not gluing the paper to the table. It's probably more sturdy but I haven't had any troubles with this method (I bet you could even go without gluing if you felt so inclined)

Step 9: Lets Get This Lamp Going

Initially I tried using a $1 lamp from the reuse center I got the table at, but that didn't seem bright enough for my tastes so I headed back to home depot and picked up a circular bulb ($6) from the bulb section and a powercord with a lamp attachment and clamp-y guy at the end (also $6). Luckily the packaging allowed me to screw the bulb in the lamp socket on the cord at the store to make sure it fit before buying them!

I just used the little dinky clamp that came with the lamp cord to attach the bulb to my desk, but a more elaborate set up could very easily be constructed and if you have any questions feel free to ask me, and i'll help you out.

Step 10: Testing the Table!

All that was left was to fire it up and test this light table, and the brightness was perfect! I think the round bulb also helped get the right amount of light throughout the plastic.

And that's it! I hope you enjoyed this instructable, it was my first one but hopefully not my last.

Be the First to Share


    • Book Character Costume Challenge

      Book Character Costume Challenge
    • Made with Math Contest

      Made with Math Contest
    • Cardboard Speed Challenge

      Cardboard Speed Challenge

    72 Discussions


    2 years ago

    You could have simply sanded the plastic with a piece of steel wool or fine sandpaper to frost the plastic Paper isn't a good idea anyway unless you use cool led lighting. Regular light bulbs get way too hot and placed that close to the paper, could be a fire hazard.

    1 reply

    Reply 2 years ago

    Not an issue with that lamp as it's a fluorescent: these run very cool.


    3 years ago

    oh my goodness! I've got a glass top portable table and a round circular light from a broken magnifying light this is a perfect inspiration for me thanks so much for sharing I'm i gonna improvise it a little more and have a light table without spending a dime!


    7 years ago on Step 10

    I built one using an old Xray light thing I salwaved from a hospital I was demo-ing...


    8 years ago on Introduction

    Tip ....

    If you are not handy with saws or just do not have any use a heavy duty plastic storage box or plastic bucket.

    If the sizing is off you can easily heat an old knife over the fire to make holes or cut through the plastic.

    For looks you can simply glue some fancy wrapping paper, wall paper or paper grocery bags over the plastic container just go light on the glue.

    After the paper is applied you could go a step or two further and paint it or add
    a pen and pencil holder.


    9 years ago on Introduction

    batvans, BRILLIANT suggestion for portable light box... i'm about to go dig all of that out of my garage right this second. Thanks for saving me a trip to home depot :)

    2 replies

    9 years ago on Introduction

    instead of frosting, you can purchase a large self healing frosted cutting mat for 20 bucks online. i have one on my homemade table and it is amazing.

    Angi 3369hierarchy

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Hey. Went to a local computer repair shop, got a free broken scanner, took the guts out, got a small light at Lowes that had a removable cord, installed it in the scanner using florist gum, (you can use any sticky thing that will allow you to remove it if necessary for service), threaded the cord through one of the empty ports, frosted the glass with tracing paper, then put it back together. Cost 8 bucks. If possible get a light with a cord switch so you can turn it off instead of just unplugging it. Hope this helps.


    11 years ago on Step 6

    The way to get the corners is with a chisel and hammer. It doesn't take very long. The other way is to round the corners off he plexi glass with a file... or woodblock+sandpaper. This will take longer than the chisel, but you get a rounded corner look that might impress.... someone. :)

    3 replies