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How to Create a DIY Portable Light Box for Tracing, Art, and Hand Lettering


Before downsizing, I purchased a light box for my art studio. It was handy and worked great for finessing my art, but it was also expensive, bulky and difficult to use due to the electrical cord.

I sold my light box in an estate sale when I moved to Seattle, but as I do more hand-lettering and bullet journal layout designing, I found myself needing a lightbox again. This time, a bulky professional model just wasn’t an option- due to my space constraints in my tiny studio apartment.

I’d see some tutorials on Pinterest recommending Christmas lights and Rubbermaid totes- but these options seemed even bulkier than a regular lightbox, still required negotiating a cord, and made no promise of a stable work surface. (the bottom of a plastic tote is designed to interlock, not to function as a tabletop, right?) This wasn’t an option that could work for me.

Time to get creative! After some brainstorming I came up with this method which combines a clear frosted plastic project box (like the type used by contractors to hold permits and specs) with cheap, battery-powered, and powerfully bright LED lights.

Items needed to Build your Portable Light Box for Tracing:

Clipboard Box (Clear-frosted finish required)
Battery Powered Lights

First I ordered a number of different clear project boxes from Amazon. (Free returns for the win, am I right?) I wasn’t exactly sure what I needed but after checking out the boxes I got, I settled on this one by Janrax without debate. It’s only 2.5cm deep, which keeps the lights from sliding around too much and makes it perfect for storing in small spaces and carrying between home, office, and class.


The clear frosted finish is perfect for diffusing light, the shallow depth makes it easier to write on the edges, and the clipboard clip seals the deal, helping hold multiple layers in place while you trace letters or images.

This tutorial is pretty self-explanatory. You can simply stuff the battery-powered lights into the interior of the case, or you can produce more even lighting by using either a clear plastic sheet, a piece of glass, or a metal grid (i.e. hardware cloth) to create a more even distribution of lighting.

I wrapped my lights around a piece of glass from a $1 frame purchased at a thrift store. If you go this route, be very careful handling the sharp glass and wear cut proof gloves until the glass is sealed into the plastic case.


The final effect is a light-emanating box that stores on a bookshelf and costs a fraction of the price of a light box.

A portable light box for tracing makes practicing hand lettering much easier


BONUS TIP: Dual Use for Photography Light Box

Open this clipboard and lay on its side for an easy light-diffuser. It softens the light it filters so items photographed on the other side have softer lighting with less dramatic highlights and shadows:

frosted plastic makes an excellent light diffuser for amateur photography

frosted plastic makes an excellent light diffuser for amateur photography


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