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How to Make a Trace Light Box?

how to make a trace light box

Ready-made trace light boxes are quite expensive, especially the larger ones. However, with a couple of pieces of scrap wood, basic carpentry tools, and a couple of dollars of electronics, you can make your own.

Once you have the materials, learning how to make a trace light box will be easier than you think. If you have made a box in shop class, then you already know all that you need to know.

Make a Trace Light Box – Step by Step

You have to prepare the following first:


  • Drill
  • Table saw
  • Miter saw
  • Utility
  • Dado stack

Materials Required:

  • 1”x4” board (8’)
  • 1/4” Plywood (2’ x 4’)
  • Frosted Plexiglass
  • Foil tape
  • LED Tape Light (10’) – the plug-in type

Detailed Steps:

Step 1 : Cut dadoes into the sides of the board. Set the dado stack to cut 3/8” dadoes into all the 1” x 4”, cut at ¼” from each edge.

Step 2: Cut the wood to size. Since the plywood is already the right size, you will only need to cut the board to the correct lengths. Here is the cutting list that you need to follow:

  • 2 pcs 1” x 4” x 25”
  • 2 pcs 1” x 4” x 17”

Step 3: Make a reflective interior Once the wood is cut to size, stick aluminized tape on the interior sides. This will make the LED lights more efficient by reflecting the light up to the drawing surface. Cover one side of the plywood completely with aluminum tape. Do the same with the interior sides of the boards, in between the dado cuts.

Step 4: Assemble the box. Make sure that the long sides are parallel to each other, and then attach one of the short planks to them. Ensure the proper alignment of the dadoes, too.

Step 5: Install the LED strip. Remove the protective backing of the LED strip and proceed to stick it down on the base of the tracing box. Install the strip using a serpentine fashion. Make sure that there are relatively equal spaces when you lay down the LED strip. Try to cover as much of the plywood with LED lights.

Step 6: Close the box. Insert the frosted plexiglass or acrylic sheet into the dados at the top of the box. There should be complete insertion – that is until the other side of the box.

Drill a small hole in the short edge of the box. This is where you will be threading the wire of the LED lights. Insert the power line of the LED strip through the hole on the other side of the box.

After that, carefully use the short board to close the box completely. Check if the plywood and the plexiglass go into the dado cuts, and then secure it using wood screws.

Insert the plywood through the dadoes with the reflective side facing upward. Make sure that the plywood slides through into the slot at the end. Close the open end by attaching the other short side using wood screws.

Step 7 – Power the LED lights. Connect the power strip to a battery sled or attach a plug at the end so you can use it wherever a power strip is available.

Using a Clear Plastic Container

how to make a light box for drawing

If you want something that is even more simple and even cheaper than the one stated above, here’s a project for you.

What to Prepare:

  • A white, translucent plastic container with a flat lid (make sure that there are no ridges on the lid)
  • A couple of dollar store tap lights with batteries
  • Aluminized tape

Detailed Steps:

Step 1: Cover the inside of the container with foil tape. Make the inside of the container as reflective as possible by covering the inside with a layer of foil tape. Cover the bottom and sides of the container.

Step 2: Place the tap light inside. You can just place the tap light inside the container and leave it at that. However, you can also use a bit of foam mounting tape so that it won’t move. You can fix the light right at the center of the container.

Step 3: Place the lid to finish the process. When you need to use this makeshift tracing lightbox, open the lid, turn on the tap light, and then put the lid back.

This is great for struggling artists who do not have much of a budget to work with after spending a lot on art supplies. The drawback to this makeshift lightbox is that it is quite light and might slide all over your desk.

Helpful Tips:

  • Use cheap paper for initial sketches – The same should be used for your rough sketches, and use the lightbox to gradually clean up the drawing. Dedicate the use of the fancy paper upon sufficiently cleaning up the drawing.
  • Use a cheap writing paper for your initial sketch before transferring it to your watercolor paper using the lightbox and a hard graphite pencil – This will allow you to create an outline faint enough that the watercolor can cover it.
  • Trace a very light sketch for your watercolor paintings with the help of a lightbox – Use a lightbox directly when painting with watercolors or other media.
  • Place the initial sketch under your watercolor paper and put it on top of the lightbox – This will allow you to create a clean watercolor painting without any trace of a pencil outline.
  • Use the technique for other painting mediums as well, like acrylic – This makes your paintings clean and look like you did not use a sketch as a basis.


A good tracing lightbox is an important tool that should be in any artist’s arsenal. However, since most commercially-available light boxes are quite expensive, most budding artists might not have room in their budget for them.

If you know how to make a trace light box, not only will you be saving a lot of money, but you can also customize the size to fit your particular use. It is also not that hard to make, so you will have no excuse not to try.