How to Build a Backlit Light Box

Written by max cooper
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How to Build a Backlit Light Box
A light box is a great tool for viewing slides and negatives. (film image by PaulPaladin from

For a photographer, illustrator or painter, a light box is an essential and expensive tool. While a homemade unit won't give you the colour accuracy necessary for magazine editing, building your own simple light box will save some cash that you can put to use on film, ink or paint.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Light source
  • Sturdy box, open on at least one end
  • Opaque white lighting cover
  • Box cutter
  • Super glue or strong tape
  • Power drill with screwdriver bits
  • Screws
  • Waxed paper
  • Glass from a picture frame

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    Building your Light Box

  1. 1

    Find a light source that suits your needs. A battery-powered, domed safety light is perfect for smaller light boxes. For larger, brighter boxes, use a workman's utility light and a high-wattage bulb.

  2. 2

    Choose a sturdy box. Shoe boxes are too flimsy, but heavy cardboard boxes will work fine for smaller units. For a larger, more permanent light box, use a structure made of wood or metal. Any box you choose should be open on at least one end.

  3. 3

    Buy an opaque white lighting cover---the acrylic kind that covers fluorescent lights in offices---available at most hardware stores. If possible, choose a cover with a non-textured, even surface. The cover should be big enough to occlude the open end of your box.

  4. 4

    Use your box cutter to score the plastic cover, cutting it to the correct size with multiple passes of the blade.

  5. 5

    Install your light source. For smaller boxes, this can be as simple as placing a battery-powered source in the box and turning it on. For more serious projects using AC-powered light sources, drill a hole in the box for the power cable.

  6. 6

    Attach the cover to your box. If you're making a smaller unit with a cardboard box, super glue or strong tape will be sufficient. If your goal is a more rigid unit, using a wooden frame, screw the cover on. Start by placing the cover over the box and marking the screw positions, then drilling pilot holes in the plastic to avoid cracking.

  7. 7

    If all you need to do is a quick tracing, a basic light box can be thrown together with some waxed paper and a piece of glass, perhaps from a picture frame. Choose any box and light source at hand, and place the waxed paper on the inside of the glass, between the glass and the light. The paper will diffuse the light, making an evenly illuminated surface perfect for tracing.

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