How I Made My Portable Light Table

Last month I had a small catastrophe. I was sitting happily by my light table, in heavy thought about what to draw next. Apparently I was in way too heavy thought, cause the next thing I know there’s a nasty cracking kind of sound and I’m pulling all limbs up and away from it. Where my right elbow had been placed there was now a bunch of tiny glass shards and there’s a long crack running from one side to the other. Fuck. So I have a light table in bad need of a new glass (well, I’m thinking plexiglass next time round) no tools needed to fix it, nor way to transport a glass that size. What to do till I get it fixed? Make a tiny transportable one that’s what.

The following is more of a long banter than a concise how to, just so you’re warned.

Starting off I had absolutely no idea what to make it out of, except I’m getting a flash light for the light source. No blueprints, no plan, just me making it up as I go along. Alrighty then, time to go hunting for usable things around the flat. *grins*

Portable light table -starting point

This ended up as my starting point, a nice, solid old book-and-whatever gift box and I’m taking some sturdy card board off of the back of an old sketch book. Note the t-ruler, I love that thing, I’m finally able to make straight lines. Buuuut, I needed a bit more stuff than that to make everything work, so to make things easy for you here’s a photo I took after I knew how everything would turn out, plus a list of all the stuff used.

Portable light table -materials


Things I ended up using:
-old gift box
-sturdy card board from an old sketch book
-a few sheets of card stock paper
-see through plastic from a binder
-vernier caliper (just to make things a bit easy while measuring)
Not in photo:
-light source (small led flash light, uses little electricity and doesn’t get too hot)
-masking tape
-blue tack
-pizza paper
-aluminium foil

Light table drawing surface

First off was the drawing surface, what did I have that would make a decent one? I had no glass frames, and quite honestly I didn’t want glass in this one. For one thing it would be clunky to get a nice fit without it confirming to the size of the box… and before I got my big light table I used to use glass from a frame, until one night when I’d left it on the floor and ended up stepping on it on my way to toilet. Ooops. I hate that sound. So no glass, but what else then? Oh, I know, I have like a gazillion folders and binders laying around, surely one of them must have something I can use. Yup, there’s a binder made of plastic thick and springy enough to make a pleasant surface to draw on. As a bonus one surface is smooth, while the other has some texture to it -great to soften and bounce the light a bit more around (and it still have no problem functioning as a binder^^).

So I measured up both cardboard and plastic to fit snuggly inside my box, and using the breadth of the t-ruler I get a nicely sized edge to make the drawing surface hold up. I tape the plastic to the cardboard, making sure to keep it nice and tight.

Light table some assembly required
(Some assembly required.)

Now was the time to figure out just how I was gonna keep it up beside the edges of the box itself, and keep the surface steady. That took some heavy pondering. Taping it was out of the question. Then I thought about keeping it up like shelves on a wall… but that didn’t sound good either. And using cardboard underneath it would take a lot of cardboard, which sounded like a bit of pain to make. Then I realized, no I really didn’t need a lot of cardboards, just four pieces to fit the inside edge of the drawing surface, and some thick paper folded like an accordion between it and the box. That shit can take a lot of pressure, trust me on this… or try for yourself;)

I measured the depth of the box with the caliper, took away the thickness of the surface to get the right height for my sides.  Then used the leftover cardboard from the first step, cause hey right length and all, to cut out the sides. Well, I got three out of it, last one I had to make from the sketch book;) Then I took some heavy, yellow paper I rarely use, cut it up at the same height then folded it at roughly the same size, but no longer than the space between the box and the inner walls. That mark on one of the cardboard pieces was made as a guide.

I checked how things were going before properly assembling everything… not bad, but the surface was sliding a bit around, so I used some leftover paper to make a small edge to keep it steady.

Light table starting to come together

Okay, time to start assembling things. First off I decide it would be easier to get everything right if I just make the thick cardboard pieces fit nicely around the surface fastener. I get some more leftover paper to make corners and have the pieces hang together. Then I get out the masking tape again, and prepare for it to get fastened to the bottom. Tape down, drawing surface up it takes me a couple of tries to get it fit right inside the box. Taking the top away I get the tape properly fastened in the bottom, then fill the gap with paper.

Light table all assembled.
All assembled.

Now all that is needed is some light, so I use blue tack to stick the flash light to the bottom. That way it won’t move when I place my light table wherever I want it and it’s easy to take out when the batteries needs to be recharged.

Light table ready to use.

Voila! There we have it, ain’t it spiffy?

Light table all lit up.

All lit up and ready for some serious inking;)

Just a couple of notes at the end. I cut out a small piece of pizza paper and taped it on top of the flash light to soften the glare from the leds. Then I added a fitting piece of aluminium foil to the bottom of the box to bounce the light around even more, as per my brother’s suggestion. It does give a bit more light:)  There’s no picture of that here cause I’ve misplaced my camera cord… again.

The big question is of course, does that thing work? Yep, and it sits really nicely in my lap when I use it too. I do get a little trouble with the 300gms paper if the original lines are a little feint, but I can just make sure it’s directly on top of the light source and it all works out… and should I for some reason want to use heavier paper, well I can just get some stronger lights;)