I’ve been hand lettering for a while now and I’ve still not got round to purchasing a light box / light pad. For those that haven’t come across a light box or light pad before, a light box is a box that lights up, sending light out just through the top. A light pad is pretty much the same thing as a light box but tends to use led lights not a bulb, light pads are usually thinner and lighter than light boxes and tend to be more portable. They’re great for tracing your hand lettering, and refining it until you have it how you want it.
Last year I mostly relied on using a window in my apartment to trace any lettering that I needed to. This technique worked well until my lettering skills progressed and my lettering pieces became more detailed and more time consuming to trace. Leaning up against a window at an awkward angle for long periods wasn’t too comfortable on the wrists! The winter came along and many gloomy low light days followed, again making my window tracing technique all the more difficult, as the lack of light made my drawings a lot harder to see through the top layer of paper.
One day I was quite short on time and knew I needed to trace my hand lettering to refine it. The idea of standing at the window awkwardly and squinting at a piece of paper for the best part of an hour didn’t appeal to me, and I knew I didn’t have time to go out and try to find somewhere that sold a light box / light pad. In that moment of desperation I decided to improvise and create my own light box, and that’s what I’ve been using ever since! The instructions for making your own light box are just below.
What You Need
A good medium sized cardboard box (some unwanted Amazon packaging is good for this). – Usually free!
A glass chopping board that over-laps the width and length of your chosen box slightly (one with an opaque backing is best even if it has some patterning on it). – Less than $5 from thrift shops / charity shops or discount stores!
A pair of scissors.
A few sheets of aluminium foil (optional).
A roll of brown packaging tape (optional).
A couple of large, stretchy rubber / elastic bands (optional).
A bright flashlight / torch (you may need more than one flashlight / torch depending how bright and big it is). – You most likely will have a flashlight / torch already, but if not a flashlight / torch can usually be bought quite cheaply from a discount store for just a couple of dollars.
Take your medium sized cardboard box and cut the top lid or top flaps off with a pair of scissors. This will form the base of your light box. Try to cut the edge / edges as neatly and as straight as possible, as you don’t want to create an uneven edge where light can escape from.
Step Two Optional
This step is optional if you want to try and improve the brightness of your light box. To do this you can use brown packaging tape to attach aluminium foil to the inside of your box, if you’re feeling adventurous use glue instead of tape. This means when the top goes on the box any light inside will be reflected off of the foil and have little choice but to go up and out through the top. The light box will still work without this step but may not be as bright.
Next place your flashlight or flashlights / torch or torches inside the box and turn them on. If you do use a couple of flashlights / torches try and space them evenly inside the box so the light won’t end up significantly brighter in one area.
Place your chopping board on top of your cardboard box so it covers the edge / edges where you cut the lid or flaps off. I recommend placing it so that the opaque side of the chopping board is facing the inside of the box and the smooth glass side is facing away from the box, it will provide a nice smooth surface to work on and there’s no risk of scratching the opaque coating off of the chopping board.
At this point your light box is complete, yay! It wasn’t too much work at all really was it! If you notice any light coming out from under your chopping board where it touches the edge of the box, you could try putting a few layers of tape over the edges as this might help fill any gaps. As you can see my chopping board has a gingerbread man pattern on it, but the light travels through just fine still and the pattern is not too distracting. You can place your light box on your lap, a desk or floor and start tracing your hand lettering. To get the best results, choose a room to work in with the least light and shut the curtains this will make your light box brightness even better.
Step Five Optional
If you want to you can take a couple of large rubber / elastic bands and place them around two opposite ends of your box, this will help to fix your chopping board in place. Make sure the rubber / elastic bands are not too close to the middle as you don’t want them getting in the way of your work when you’re tracing. I don’t use rubber / elastic bands as I find my chopping board doesn’t slide around all that much, and it makes getting your light source out to turn off when you’re done working more of an inconvenience, so this step is optional.
I hope this do it yourself (DIY) tutorial is helpful, it would be great to hear if you’ve followed along and how you’re finding the home made light box, so feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.