How to Make a DIY Light Box for Just a Few Dollars
For the maker hoping to sell their creations online, few things are as invaluable as a light box. Gone are the shadowy photos of work, surrounded by distracting pieces of bric-a-brac and detritus.
By using a simple light box, the product takes center stage. With just a few materials and some careful cutting, you can add value and professionalism to your product photography.
Commercial light boxes are available for purchase, but they offer virtually the same quality as a simple DIY replacement that can be made from materials you likely already have in your home.
For this build, we will use the following:
- One 20” x 20” x 24” cardboard box (though you can use whichever size best suits your needs).
- White poster board, or similar backdrop.
- White fabric to diffuse our light.
- A T-square or similar to measure our cut-outs.
- A razor knife to cut our cardboard box.
- Scissors to cut our fabric.
- Sturdy tape to support the edges and secure the backdrop/diffusion walls.
- A pencil or marker to mark our cuts.
- Three desk lamps; any light source will do, but having adjustable necks like these gives you an extra element of flexibility for playing with shadows.
With our materials assembled and our pencils sharpened, let’s get started!
Step 1: Preparing the Box
For our light box, we are going to be cutting three rectangular holes into the left, right, and top sides of our cardboard box. Since cardboard is not exactly the most structurally sound material in the world, it is a good idea to reinforce the corners and edges with our sturdy tape:
Once we have these taped up, we can go ahead and mark our cuts. The size of the holes themselves is not hugely important, but we need to make sure we leave enough of an edge to keep the box intact.
By using a framing square like this, we can easily mark and cut straight lines that are perfectly parallel to the box’s edge.
That said, a big T-square like this is not required—you could achieve much the same result by simply placing a ruler against the edges of the box and drawing your lines that way. The chief thing to remember is that we need enough cardboard on each edge to be structurally sound: 1.5” to 2” should be plenty.
Once we have our marks on the box, it’s time to make our cuts.
Step 2: Cutting the Windows
Whenever you use a razor knife, it is always important to remember a few safety rules:
- Always cut away from yourself: if you feel you need a better angle, rotate your workpiece (or simply move!).
- Use a sharp blade: a dull blade can lead to forcing the knife, which can cause slips and injuries.
- Slow and steady wins the race (and avoids bodily harm).
Hold your straight edge against the mark you want to cut, and, aiming away from you, slowly run your blade along the straight edge.
Repeat as many times as necessary to get a nice clean edge, but don’t worry if it isn’t perfect. The goal is simply to have a hole to shine light through (plus, it’s about to be covered up anyway!).
Once the holes are cut, double-check how sturdy your box is. If it seems to be crumpling anywhere, tape up the affected areas, or add a reinforcing strut of cardboard from the scraps you just cut out.
Step 3: Installing the Diffusion Screens
For this light box, we’ll be using some inexpensive white fabric as a diffusion screen. These diffusion screens let the light shine in but cut down on the harshness. This would be the difference between having a lamp pointed in your face versus being softly lit.
Measure the dimensions of the holes you cut in the top, left, and right sides of the box. Add an extra two inches to the top and sides of the rectangle you measured. This will give us a rectangle of the same proportions, but with an extra inch on each side.
Transfer this new measurement onto your white fabric—one easy way to do this is to cut a piece of cardboard to these dimensions, and then trace that onto your fabric, like this:
Once your shape has been traced onto your fabric, cut it out with scissors. Again, there is no need to be perfect here. We really only need enough fabric to cover the holes we cut. When working with cardboard like this, think function over beauty!
With those shapes cut out, drape and tape them over your box holes so that you have something like this:
We want the fabric taut—pinning it in place while you tape can be a big help here!
Step 4: Placing the Backdrop
Finally, we must install a backdrop for our object to be photographed against; generally speaking, a cardboard background does not scream “professional.” We want a simple, unobtrusive, solid color as our backdrop.
For this, we will be using a sheet of white poster board, though any color can be used, depending on the mood you are trying to set. Cut your backdrop to fit the width of your light box, and tape it in place. You may need to use two pieces, as shown here:
Now, we can take some pictures. Set up your 3 lamps, with one pointing into each of your windows, and get snapping!
Why Buy When You Can DIY?
Product photography is all about, you guessed it, the product. By building and using a light box, you can immediately shift the focus to your product and better highlight its features.
While traditional light boxes are available for purchase, with a little bit of time and a whole lot of cardboard, you can very easily build one that is just as good for a fraction of the cost. All you need now is a great product to sell, and you’re ready to take your hobby to the next level!
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