For less than $100 I built my own lightbox for tracing, drawing or inking. It’s awesome and building it myself allowed me to customize my lightbox to fit my needs perfectly. Here’s what I did:
13″ x 16″ (x 6″ deep) DIY Lightbox perfect for tracing, drawing and inking. Five foot power cord with a dimmer & on/off switch attached to the box via velcro. Holds my paper in place without paperclips or a clamp. LED lights to prevent overheating– also much more pleasant, less headache-inducing light than fluorescents. All for under $100.
What I bought:
– White Acrylic Sheet 13″ x 16″
– Thin MDF 13″ x 16″
– 1″x6″x6′ Plank cut into 4 pieces (two 14.5″ & two 13″). I used a hard pine because its pretty and decently durable.
– LED puck lights (3 for $40 at Lowe’s– cheaper ones exist, but I wanted the dimmer switch and lights that were already chained together)
– Plastic Tile Edge Molding (for holding your acrylic in place)
– Contact Cement
Tools I had:
– Power Drill & Bits
– Hammer + Nails
– Latex or Rubber Gloves
STEP ONE: CUT YOUR WOOD, MDF & ACRYLIC TO SIZE
I wanted a 16″x13″ drawing surface, so I cut my white acrylic sheet & MDF to be 16″x13″.
The plank of wood I bought was labelled 1″ x 6″ x 6′. What that actually means is: .75″ x 5.75″ x 6′. So in order for the sides of my box to overlap perfectly, I cut the plank into 4 pieces: Two pieces 13″ long, & two pieces 14.5″ long. This accounts for .75″ overlap at the corners.
All these items can be found in Lowe’s or Home Depot and they will cut them for you as well. However, they don’t guarantee precision so you may opt to cut them yourself. I had all my pieces cut in-store. The edges weren’t perfect, but after a little sandpaper, no one’s the wiser!
STEP TWO: BUILD YOUR FRAME
Drilling pilot holes is important to prevent your wood from splitting. To do this, clamp your side pieces to a hard surface, mark your pilot holes, and drill! Make sure to consider the width of your plank. Since the thickness of my side pieces was 3/4″, I drilled pilot holes 3/8″ from the short edge. This is important for ensuring the corners of your frame are flush.
Next you will want to clamp two sides to make a corner, and nail them into place. (This required two people, one to hold and one to clamp.)
Do this with all four corners, and you should end up with something like this!
STEP THREE: ATTACH YOUR BASE
On the bottom side of my frame, I used the power drill to boar a small hole along the back, bottom edge. This took a really steady hand and a little sandpaper.
Now you can string your LED lights’ power cord through. Make sure to put your controller & plug on the outside, and the lights on the inside of your box!
Using the same table-clamping method for my last pilot holes, I drilled some holes along the edge of my MDF– which will be my base. These holes were also 3/8″ from the edge.
Hammer some nails into this sucker, and you’ve got a box!
STEP FOUR: ATTACH TILE MOLDING
This tile edge molding is awesome and was really just a lucky coincidence that we noticed it at the hardware store. It fits our acrylic sheet perfectly and can even be used to hold your paper into place while your tracing. We got an 8′ piece for less than $3.
Cut into 4 pieces: two 13″, & two 14.5″. Make sure you cut at 45 degree angles, and measure from tip to tip.
To attach, you will want a good adhesive for both plastic & wood. We used contact cement: but make sure you use gloves! The stuff is really really sticky and doesn’t want to come off. It also smells bad, so good ventilation is a must here.
STEP FIVE: PLACE YOUR LIGHTS
Finally, you’ll want to either glue or velcro your LED puck lights to the base. We started with sticker velcro, but the adhesive wasn’t very strong, so we eventually glued the velcro to our lights & base.
We did the same thing with the light controller on the outside of the box.
Slide your acrylic into place…
And voila! A beautiful lightbox and a sense of accomplishment.
Success! And the only casualty was this bent up nail.
So there ya go. You should do it! It’s fun!