If you want to improve your artwork quickly, you must learn what is a light box and why you should use one for drawing! The light box is also called a light table when the entire surface is used and is very useful for tracing drawings.
What is a light box for in drawing? A light box is a box with a glass (or plastic) surface, with a light source below it. This box is very useful for artists, quilters and even animators to trace their art.
If you’re just looking for the best light boxes for your budget, check out my Recommended Light Boxes page!
But why exactly should you use a light box and how do you use one? Let’s cover that.
Table Of Contents
What Is A Light Box
A light box (or lightbox) is a tool that is mostly used by artists to draw and trace art.
It’s specially useful for artists that are practicing calligraphy or lettering. As well as artists that want to trace an artwork to re-use without messing with the original art.
A light box can also be mentioned as a light table, but these tend to be quite bigger and less portable than light boxes.
Why Use A Light Box For Drawing
Light boxes can very quickly improve your drawing process and allow you to make fewer mistakes.
Not only does a light box helps you trace an image so that you can make a new copy and refine it, but it also improves your muscle memory. And this doesn’t only apply only to drawing.
In fact, many calligraphy and lettering artists tend to use light boxes to improve their work and perfect small aspects of it over and over again.
Light boxes are also super kid-friendly since it’s much easier for a small child to learn to draw by tracing on top of a previous drawing. Not only that, but their confidence will also receive a boost while they’re having fun. A real win-win situation.
How To Use A Light Box
Light boxes are pretty straightforward and easy to use.
Nowadays they may come with some extra functionality like the ability to dim and brighten your light with the touch of a button. But the general functionalities are still the same.
So here’s how you use a light box:
- First, check the top of the glass or plastic surface and be sure there is no extra film or cover on it. Some light boxes include a protective screen that needs to be removed before using it.
- Plug it in! Most light boxes are plugged into either an electrical socket or through a USB cable to your computer. Plug your light box wherever it makes sense. Oh, and there are some portable light boxes as well. That way you don’t need to plug them to anything while working.
- Switch it on. Now, this depends on each individual light box, some even don’t have a switch and just turn on by plugging them in. Others have a simple On/Off switch that you can push, so push that.
- Put your base drawing on top of the box. First, you’ll need to put the drawing that you want to trace on the light box itself. Some light boxes have an extra glass or plastic surface that you can put your base drawing underneath and it doesn’t slide away easily. Use that if your light box has one.
- (Optional) Change the functionality to your liking! As I said, some light boxes have extra functionality like the ability to dim the strength of the light. So tweak around with the settings until you’re happy with it.
- Put a paper sheet on top of the drawing. This will be where you trace your drawing.
- (Optional) Some light boxes include paper holders so that the paper doesn’t slide away while you’re drawing. If your light box included one, be sure to put it on! If not, you can leave it as it is or use some tape around the edges to keep your drawing in place, just be sure to clean it up later.
If you’d like a video to help you better understand how you can use a lightbox, check this one out by Windy Iris Art:
Is Using A Light Box Cheating?
Let me just be very clear that using light boxes is NOT cheating. It can be a big part of the drawing process and artists have been using them for years and years.
Tracing has been associated with cheating for so long, it’s not even funny!
In fact, tracing is just a technique to help you improve your artwork quicker. When you use a light box, it’s just making the whole tracing process easier. You’re even learning by using one. By repeating and improve a drawing you did before.
You just copy it and redo and fix the mistakes you did before. Not only that but using a light box is very useful for when you ink. For example, you do the sketch in pencil. Most of the times a sketch ends up being messy or the page will become smudgy. But if you want to ink this work and for it to be a clean final product, you use a light box to re-trace the sketch and then ink it.
The same goes for animators. Animating is very complex! And the changes from frame to frame need to be perfect. This is why it’s frequent to use a light box or other tracing materials, so you can see the previous frame while working on a new one.
A light box is a tool, just like pencils and pens. And if your work requires it or makes things easier for you, use it!
Drawing Light Box DIY
I understand that sometimes it’s rather cheaper (and more fun) to create your own light box, so here’s a step by step guide on how you can create your own Light Box!
But before that, let me just say that there amazing light boxes that you can buy that are pretty inexpensive. For example, the PicturePerfect 9”x13” costs around 24$~ (click to check the price on Amazon) and it’s an amazing light box. Dimmable light and even includes a paper holder, super great!
Anyway, if that’s out of your budget or you just want to Do It Yourself, then here’s how you can make your own drawing light box.
- Get a transparent container. Anything will do as long as it’s clear on the top. Storage containers usually work very well with this since they are transparent and have a rectangular shape.
- Put some portable lights or lightbulbs inside the container! You’ll need a light source so that you can see through the original drawing. I recommend some tap lights like these ones from SOAIY, since they are very easy to use.
- You’re done! Just turn the lights on, close the container, put the base drawing on top and then a sheet of paper for you to trace on.
Things To Do With A Light Box
There are a lot of things to do with a light box, you don’t have to just trace a previous drawing!
In fact, there are a lot of fun activities that are suitable for children as well, and that help them become better artists while having fun.
- Draw leaves and plants! Instead of using a base drawing to trace, you can use small plants and leaves as a base. Draw their shapes, the outlines, and the little details.
- Use your fingers to draw. Try drawing with your fingers for a change, you can get a base drawing and see how different the overall drawing will look if you use your fingers! Use watercolor or ink to do this.
- Practice Calligraphy and Hand Lettering. Light boxes are amazing tools for artists that like to draw calligraphy and do hand lettering. If you want to practice your work, put a sheet with the letters you want to practice below and go all out. Your letters will improve much quicker this way.
- Coloring images. If you already have images painted, but you want to try different styles of coloring or you want to make a “color this image” assignment for your kids, a light box will be very helpful. Just grab a base drawing, trace the outline of the image and have fun coloring it! This is also very helpful if you want to practice new styles and techniques.
- Use it for quilting! I honestly do not know much about quilting, but if you want to learn more check the video below where Ann Butler uses a LightPad PRO1200 to do stipple quilting.
There are many possibilities of things that you can do with a light box, and I’m sure I haven’t covered them all!
If you want to get started with a cheaper light box, I recommend the one I’ve talked before from PicturePerfect (check it on Amazon)
Or if you want to see a few other Light Boxes and which one is the best, check out my Recommended Light Boxes page!
Why are light boxes used in photography? These types of light boxes that we’ve talked in this article aren’t quite the same ones used for photography! For photography, light boxes are small areas that are very well lit so that the photos are almost shadowless. Photographers use these for high-quality product photos and more.
Can I use a light box for quilting? Yes! As I’ve talked about in the “Things to do with a light box” section, a light box can be very handy for quilting.
And while we’re talking about light boxes, you might be curious about Negative Space Drawing (with some Examples!)
Patricia Caldeira is the main writer here at Don Corgi. She's an art teacher with over 20.000 happy students across many platforms and courses!
Enjoy your stay and as always:
Keep on drawing!