How To Create A DIY Lightbox From Scratch – Light Up Your Next Art Project!

Looks like it is finally time to build a lightbox for the house, anyone want to bet if I break the glass before it is done? Welcome to The Hippie Geeks. If you enjoy this video, be sure to subscribe and hit the bell notification icon to catch all our new content!

Everyone in the house has wanted a lightbox to use on various projects for a while now, and when I found a couple of 18 inch lights for sale I knew it was time to get started. To build a light box, or tracing table, you will need three things at an absolute minimum. Lights, a clear surface and something to prop that surface up above the lights. I have had a 22 inch by 24 inch pane of tempered glass for a while, we picked it up at Habitat For Humanity to use in a solar wax melter (which worked great) but was now ready to be incorporated into this project. We have several 2×4’s left over from another project that we dismantled that can be used for this project, so that covers the propping up part. By picking up the lights that were on sale that then covers the last thing we needed, so it was time to get the project started.

The first thing that happens with most of our projects is a sketch, and this one was no exception. Here is the quick sketch that got this project going. The sketch started out with the pane of glass, which is 22.25 inches wide and 24 inches tall. I wanted to be able to inset it into the 2×4’s and miter their edges, so I needed to do some quick math to find out what size they needed to be cut. Using the 24 inch side as an example, the first thing you need to do is decide on how far you want to inset the glass. In my case, I wanted it to be inset a quarter of an inch on each side. As a 2×4 is actually only an inch and a half thick, that means that I needed to leave an inch and a quarter past the length of glass on each side giving me an overall length of 26.5 inches for that side of the box. Doing the same math for the other side gives me an overall length of 24.75 inches on those sides. I also sketched in an idea of how I wanted to lay out the lights and connect them outside the box, but you never really know if that is going to work out until you actually dig into the project.

With my dimensions figured out, it was time to take advantage of a break in the rain to get the wood cut. You know, before Oregon decided to drench us again. I started out by rough cutting each of the ends a bit longer than I would need, just to have some wiggle room. I cut the two longer sides at 28 inches, and the shorter sides at 26 inches. Well, that is what I was supposed to do, more on that later. Once they were ready, it was time to cut channels in them with the table saw. They make fancy wide blades that you can use to do this, however I don’t have those, but you can work around that with just a basic table saw blade by shifting the blade over a sixteenth of an inch at a time. The first thing to do is grab a scrap piece of wood, as you need to get your channel location and depth set first. For the glass I wanted the channel to be a quarter of an inch deep, and I wanted it a quarter of an inch inside the two by four to hold the glass in place. I also wanted to cut a three quarters of an inch deep channel in the bottom of the pieces so that I could put a plywood base onto it, without adding more height to the finished product. You could make the glass flush mount with the wood, but you would need to glue the glass down to hold it in place, the choice is yours.

Once that was done, these pictures show the profiles of the channels that I made in the wood. One for the glass, and the other for the plywood. After that it is time to get the 45-degree cuts that will give us our mitered edges. The first cut goes up against the edge of all four pieces. Then you can measure over to the other side to get you the length you need. The first two went great, cutting them each at 26.5 inches as per the initial sketch. Now right here, lets take a look at what I measure out for the short sides. Yep, that is me marking out 22.75 inches. If you remember our sketch, and I obviously didn’t, that was supposed to be 24.75 inches. I won’t notice this fact until I am finished here and try to dry fit them. Make sure to do what I was supposed to do and follow the plans. Needless to say, I did some cursing, and then re-did the whole process for those sides, this time at the correct length. I would like to say that is the last mistake I made during this project, but let’s be real, it’s probably not.

With the pieces re-cut and dry fit on the bench with the glass, here is what the project is looking like so far. Not bad! It almost looks like I know what I am doing. Sometimes. You can use clear glass if you want to, but a frosted surface will help to diffuse the light and spread it across the entire piece of glass. As I am only using two lights, one on each side, it is going to be important to diffuse the light. When you are looking to frost glass, you have two options. One is an etching cream that will physically etch a frosted surface into the glass that cannot be scratched off, and the other is a spray on material that will give you the look of frosted glass, but can be scratched off as it is just a coating.

I thought that the etching cream would be the better option, as I know myself and it is likely I would scratch up the coating or mess it up in some other way. There are two problems with the etching cream. One, it is expensive, we are talking $8 for a very small bottle of it. The store I went to only had two available, so I picked them up as I figured that would be plenty to put a nice coat across the glass. After taping everything off, I started with one bottle, and quickly realized that it was not covering nearly as well as I thought it would. After waiting to see how it was working, I spread the other bottle across the surface. I left the cream on there for an hour, at which point it started drying up, and to say that I was disappointed would be an understatement. Even though I thought I had spread the cream out evenly, it was obvious that I had not. After searching online, it looks like you need to be able to use a very thick coat of the cream for it to do a good job of etching. If I was just etching a logo onto a glass mug, this would have probably worked great. To use etching cream over the amount of area I needed (almost four-square feet) the cost would be astronomical to actually get a thick coating. It was late at this point, so I decided to try hitting the glass with the sander to see if I could even it out. Here is a spoiler, it did not.

The next day I went and picked up some of the spray on material. This was considerably cheaper at $4 a can that would supposedly cover 25 square feet. I headed home and taped off the edges again and started coating the glass. I wanted to use several coats, and the can said that I could reapply every five to ten minutes. It also says to use it in a well-ventilated space, and they are not kidding. I was in the garage with the door open and a fan going, and it was still pretty strong. It was wet again outside though, and I really wanted to work on this project, so this was the best option I had. Once that was finished and had dried for a little over an hour, it was time to get it fit in.

Amazingly, the frosted look of the spray had evened out all the imperfections that the etching cream had left, and really this is the option I should have gone for in the first place. If you are doing something where you will be able to touch it, use the cream. If you just need the look like I did here, definitely go with the spray. Now that the glass was ready, it was time to get the box assembled. As I wanted to be able to take this back apart in the future, I did not use any glue but just connected each corner with two screws. I picked up a band clamp for this project as it would hold everything in place while I secured the frame, and it worked great. I put in all of my screws and removed the clamp, happy about how well it had worked and moved on to the next step.

An important thing to remember is that with the inside of the light box, you want to reflect as much of the light as possible out of the box and thru the glass. As wood isn’t very reflective you need to either paint it either white or silver, or do what I did and use a metal foil tape. No, not duct tape. There is an actual metal foil tape that is used in HVAC applications, that works as a great reflective material for something like this. Simply cut strips to length and apply them all around the perimeter of the box.

After that I grabbed the plywood that I had cut out for the bottom of the box and covered it in the same foil tape. It sticks down really well and doesn’t have drying time like paint would so you are able to continue the project without having watch paint dry, which is always a plus in my book. Once it is covered set it aside, as it is time to get the lights set up in the box. Finally.

I knew that I wanted to use two lights, on opposite sides of the box. These particular lights are actually able to be daisy chained together, which means you only need to have one wire going to the wall to power them both, which is great. They come with a six inch cord to connect them to each other, unfortunately in my case that is not going to be long enough. As each light comes with a power cord and this six inch connector though, what we can do is to chop a length of wire out of the power cord that you will not need to use, and splice it into the middle of the extension. This is pretty straight forward, just remember to connect the wires back up the same way that you cut them apart, so that you truly are just extending the length. As I want to be able to take this apart in the future if I need to change something, I am using wiring nuts for now to connect everything. If this works out as well as I hope, I will come back in and re-do these connections with solder and heat shrink which would clean up the look a bit. This way will work safely however and gives me the length I need to connect the lights.

Now that I have the ability to connect them together, it is time to mount the lights inside of the box. After placing the light all the way to one edge and marking the midpoint of the distance to the other edge, it is time to get the lights attached. In a recurring theme, I do not want to mount them permanently in case I need to change something. I happened to have some very high bond double sided tape on hand and figured that would work great to keep the lights in place. After applying two pieces of tape to each light I pressed them firmly against the wood, sticking them into place.

Keeping with the theme of having the inside of the box being reflective, I went back over the connecting cable with foil tape. Make sure that it does not get stuck up inside of the wire nuts as it is actually conductive, and a short is not something you want to have happen in here. Now that the lights are installed, and I know where the external plug needs to attach to the lights, it was time to drill a hole for the power cable. I wanted to be able to use the other extension as a power pass thru, and after measuring the connector I decided that a three quarters inch hole would be perfect. I grabbed a butterfly bit, and carefully started drilling into the side of the box. You don’t want to push in super hard, as it would be possible to break thru and destroy the light we just installed. If that is something you are worried about, just drill this hole first after you figure out how you want to lay out the lighting, but before installing it.

At this point I took the connecting cable and pushed it into the hole, and then connected it into the light. I then plugged my remaining power plug into the end so that I could make sure that my lights were still working, and as a surprise to everyone they were! After that I wanted to put it all together and try it out, just to see how well it was going to work. I attached the plywood backer to the frame with four screws, flipped it over and switched it on.

Success! The diffusion isn’t perfect, but it looks pretty great and has plenty of light to be able to shine thru a couple of sheets of paper. I did a quick test run with a mandala pattern, and it works great. We aren’t finished yet however as there are a couple of more steps, but we are really close. Now that everything is functional, it is time to get the short cable connected securely to the box. After pushing the connector in flush with the edge of the box, I went inside and taped the wire in place with some more foil tape. At this point, for some reason I decided that I wanted to have the connector sticking out from the edge of the box a bit and started hot gluing it in place like that. After a minute, I decided that had been a stupid idea and pushed it back into the box before the hot glue had time to set. Pushing it back in was definitely the better choice, and after it was in place I went to the back side of the cable and coated it liberally with hot glue, making sure that it would not move before covering it back up with foil tape.

At this point, the light box is functionally finished. However, I wanted to hit the finished frame with the sander to remove any splinters from the surface, and to round off the corners. I did a pretty thorough job, but the palm sander made quick work of it and after ten minutes or so it was nice and smooth. I needed to clean the sawdust off of it, and while I don’t have an air compressor for that task what I do have is a shop vac, which can blow a pretty strong air volume when the hose is hooked up to the back of the unit. After that, the last thing to do is attach a handle for carrying it around. After a couple of quick measurements to make sure that it was centered, I attached it with two screws and suddenly this project is ready for a final test, this time with an insect wing.

This project took a little longer than I expected, but in the end, I am really happy with the result. It was pretty affordable, even with the complete waste of $16 that the etching cream wound up being. I can’t wait to see what projects this will help bring to life, and the enjoyment that everyone will get out of it. I will leave some affiliate links to everything I used in this project in the description below if you are interested in picking any of it up yourself.

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Amazon Associates Links To What We Used In This Video:
12″x24″ Glass Pane – If you cant find something locally:

Etching Cream:

Rust-Oleum Frosted Glass Spray – If you cant find it locally:

Foil Tape:

Light – This is a 12 inch version, 18 inch is sold out:

Light – This is a 24 inch version, 18 inch is sold out:

Strap Clamp:

Amazon Associates Link To Our Editing Equipment:

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