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How to Trace Without Tracing Paper

how to trace without tracing paper
If you want to draw and copy an image effortlessly, one of the best and fastest tricks is to use tracing paper. You can just place it atop the picture, trace it, and you are all good to go!

However, the problem is you do not have tracing paper available. Perhaps, your last resort is to sketch from a reference photo. But we all know it is going to be difficult, especially for a beginner artist.

Luckily, there are quick and easy ways how to trace without tracing paper, which I am going to show you in this article. A lightbox or pad is among the popular options. But you can also make good use of a bright window in your home, a flashlight app on your tablet, and a pencil to create your own carbon paper or transfer paper. You can even make your own tracing paper, too!

TIP #1: Use a Tracing Lightbox or Light Pad

If you are an artist or an illustrator, chances are you have a lightbox or pad. If you don’t, you are probably at least familiar with it. Back then, lightboxes were big, bulky, and would usually feel hot.

Nowadays, modern designs are much lighter and slimmer, which resemble tablets or iPads. Hence, they have been called “light pads”. Aside from that, they have improved the lighting by using LED bulbs to ward off any heat.

But of course, this innovative tool does not come free. Typically, you can already have a good light pad at around $20. Some brands are much more expensive because of wireless designs and added features. Thus, if you do not mind spending some money, I recommend investing in this.

Things You Will Need:

  • A lightbox or pad
  • A piece of paper


  1. Light pads or boxes may vary in design and preset settings. Therefore, it is best to check the product’s manual for instructions. But generally, if it is powered by electricity, just plug it in and turn on the device.
  2. Place the picture on the light pad and a piece of paper atop it.
  3. Light pads usually have dimmable light settings. Adjust it according to your preferred brightness level.
  4. Start tracing.

TIP #2: Tape the Picture on a Bright Window

A bright window is a practical and economical version of a light box. I guess you already have an idea how to trace your picture on it. This trick will work as long as you have a window where bright light comes through and also big enough to place a picture and paper on it.

Things You Will Need:

  • A bright window
  • A piece of paper
  • Tape


  1. Simply place the picture on the window.
  2. You can tape the corners to secure the position of the picture.
  3. Put a piece of blank paper over the picture. Start tracing.

TIP #3: Try the Blank White Screen on Your iPad or Tablet

The concept is quite similar to a lightbox or pad. However, I do not recommend this method for heavy-handed users or kids. Moreover, it is best to use pens or markers with bigger and wider tips rather than sharp pencils or superfine pens. Since you will be using a tablet, this requires extra precaution when tracing a picture to make sure you do not damage or scratch the screen.

Things You Will Need:

  • iPad or tablet
  • A pen or marker with wider tips (you may also use a pencil as long as you trace lightly with it)
  • Cling wrap
  • A piece of paper


  1. Use cling wrap to cover the surface of your iPad or tablet. This protects the surface from scratches.
  2. Open a blank white photo or an empty webpage. I recommend working in a darker environment or room to maximize the light coming from your tablet.
  3. Place the picture on top of the tablet. You can tape the corners to keep the picture in position.
  4. You can simply adjust the brightness levels according to the settings on your device.
  5. Place a piece of blank paper atop the picture.
  6. Make sure to use a pen or marker with wider tips or any drawing tool that is not too sharp. If you have to use a pencil, carefully trace on paper and do not press too hard to avoid scratches on your screen.

TIP #4: Try the Power of Pencil

Another quick and easy trick is to use a pencil and paper. Using these materials, you can make your own transfer paper or carbon paper to transfer a picture and trace it. This concept is similar to how you would use graphite paper since it utilizes pencil lead as well.

Things You Will Need:

  • A dull and soft pencil
  • A piece of paper


  1. Get the paper-based image you want to trace. Flip it over, with the picture facing down the surface.
  2. Use a dull and soft pencil to rub the graphite heavily at the back of the picture. Keep in mind that you should only rub the pencil on the areas where the drawing is. Do not shade or fill in the whole paper. Focus on these parts as well as other significant details or texts. The heavier you rub the pencil on the paper, the better. Heavy graphite will help the picture transfer to another paper.
  3. Afterward, get a piece of blank paper. This is where you will do the tracing.
  4. Place the picture over it. Make sure that the graphite or pencil-rubbed side is facing down the blank paper.
  5. Carefully trace the lines or details of the picture using a pencil or pen. As you draw and trace the picture, the graphite helps transfer the details of the picture onto the paper or surface of your project.
  6. When you are done, you can see traces of graphite depicting the picture you want to create.
  7. Another tip is to make a photocopy of the picture if you do not want to write or draw on it.

TIP #5: Make Homemade Tracing Paper Using Baby Oil

If you do not have tracing paper, why not make one? If you have baby oil (and of course, paper!), you are all set for making your own tracing paper.

Things You Will Need:

  • Baby oil
  • A piece of paper or office paper (this will serve as your tracing paper)
  • A brush or a cotton pad
  • Tissue paper


  1. On a flat surface, place the paper you want to use as your tracing paper.
  2. Put a reasonable amount of baby oil on a cotton pad. Then, dab it on the paper. At this point, you will notice that the paper becomes translucent. Repeat the process until you cover the entire paper.
  3. Use tissue paper to wipe any residues of baby oil.
  4. Hang it to dry. You may also use a hair dryer if you want to speed up the drying time.
  5. As soon as it is completely dry, you will have translucent or tracing paper to trace the pictures for your project.


It is not the end of the world when you do not have tracing paper to trace paper-based pictures. The good news is there are many effective and easy ways on how to trace without tracing paper.

The tips and tricks mentioned above are the most popular methods to try, and most of these items are easily found in your home! Whether you have the budget or not, you surely can figure out which method best suits your needs and preferences when working on artistic projects such as tracing images. Hope this helps!

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