How to Build a Light Box for Tattoos

Written by katherine eastman
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How to Build a Light Box for Tattoos
Tattoos are standardised when a transferable guideline is used. (tattoo image by shime from

The diffuse illumination from a light box provides greater precision when tracing designs for potential tattoos.While portable devices are relatively affordable, they are very limited in size and usefulness. Designs larger than a standard 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper will require a larger light box, or awkward and frequent repositioning of the original design and tracing paper. Building a light box for your design transfer needs offers a greater degree of variation and customisation, but requires additional tools and materials.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • 18" x 24" clear polycarbonate plastic (Plexiglas) sheet.
  • Newspaper
  • Can of glass frosting spray
  • Masking tape
  • Ruler
  • Electric drill with 1/8" metal bit
  • 1" x 4" plywood, 8' length
  • Jigsaw (optional)
  • Carpentry clamp
  • Box of #12 wood screws
  • 1/4" Philips screwdriver head
  • Fluorescent light fixture: 21" thin line, under counter profile (8 to 16 watts)
  • Fluorescent light bulb
  • 4 flat screws (1/2" fastener)

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    Prepare the glass

  1. 1

    Find a well ventilated or outdoor area and remove the protective film from the piece of polycarbonate plastic. Cover the surface of your table or workspace with newspaper or another material to prevent unwanted painting. Shake the can of spray frosting, then remove the cap. Spray the polycarbonate plastic, keeping the paint nozzle 18 to 24 inches away from the sheet. Move your arms back and forth across the surface of the plastic with slow, smooth motions. Continue until well frosted. Allow to dry.

    How to Build a Light Box for Tattoos
    Spray frosting is a quick and cost-effective way to create diffuse light. (spray image by Dragana Petrovic from
  2. 2

    Cut eight pieces of masking tape, 2 to 3 inches long. Cover each corner with the tape. Press half the length of tape against the flat side of the glass, fold it over the edge and smooth it on the other side. Use the second piece of tape and cover the remaining side in the same way, forming a square of tape with both sides of the glass covered. Repeat on the remaining three corners.

  3. 3

    Measure a half inch from the top and bottom, and make a mark. Measure a half inch from the side at each mark. Draw a circle on the masking tape where the points meet. Repeat for all four corners. Place the glass on a table or elevated surface. Move the corner you plan to drill through off the edge of the table, holding the remaining glass firmly in place. Drill a hole through the mark in each corner with the metal drill bit. Set the glass aside.

    Build the box

  1. 1

    Cut the plywood into two 18-inch pieces and two 23-inch pieces with the jigsaw (many lumber stores will do this for you if you ask them). Lay the 18-inch pieces flat on your work surface, and hold them securely in place. Measure a half inch from the top and bottom, and make a mark. Measure a half inch from the side at each mark and make a circle where the points meet. Repeat for both sides and both pieces of wood. Use the drill to make pilot holes in the wood at each mark, making sure to drill completely through the piece.

    How to Build a Light Box for Tattoos
    Measure multiple times before you begin drilling, just to be safe. (Powerful electric drill on a white background image by terex from
  2. 2

    Clamp one of the 23-inch planks with the end facing you. Measure a half inch from the top and bottom, and then a half inch from the side. Mark were the two measurements meet. Repeat this process for both ends and both pieces of wood. Drill pilot holes about 3/4 of an inch deep, though an estimate is acceptable.

  3. 3

    Assemble the box by connecting the 23-inch top and bottom to the 18-inch sides. Lay one side perpendicular to the top piece (either one will serve) and align the holes. Place one of the #12 wood screws through the bottom hole and use the screw driver to tighten the screw until the two pieces are joined. Move to the top hole and repeat. Connect the other 23-inch piece, now the bottom, to the side piece using the same method. Press the other side piece against the top and bottom and connect it as well, making sure that the holes match up.

  4. 4

    Place the piece of plastic carbonate frosted side down over the top of the wooden rectangle. Mark where each hole in the plastic carbonate rests on the wooden frame. Remove the glass and drill a shallow pilot hole over each mark.

  5. 5

    Open the fluorescent light package. Connect the fixture to the inside of the top piece of wood using the screws provided. Insert the fluorescent tube. Replace the sheet of plastic carbonate, frosted side down. Use the 3/4" finishing screws to connect the glass to the light box. Lift the box to retrieve the plug and test out your new light box.

Tips and warnings

  • Take extra care when drilling through the plastic carbonate to avoid cracks or breaking.

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