How to Make a Backlit Table


A backlit table, better known as a light table, helps photographers and artists work with transparent media. Viewing slides on the table makes it easier to see details. Drawings and photographs become easier to trace onto tracing paper or plastic with a lit background. Commercial tables are often very expensive, but you can build your own with a few common tools.

Things You'll Need

  • Large wood or fiberboard table
  • Measuring tape
  • Pencil
  • Saw
  • Router
  • ¼-inch bit
  • Clear silicone sealant
  • 18-by-24-inch translucent acrylic sheet or glass
  • Fluorescent light fixture and mounting hardware
  • Drill
  • Screwdriver
  • Wood screws
  • Extension cord (optional)
  • Create the window. Measure and draw a rectangle 18-by-24 inches on the top of a wood or fiberboard table, then another ¼ inch in from the edge. Use the saw to cut out the inner rectangle. Use the router and a ¼-inch bit to cut away the tabletop around the hole to a depth equal to the thickness of your transparent sheet.

  • Install the drawing surface. Place a bead of silicone sealant along the inside of the window lip. Set the transparent sheet on top of the lip and allow the sealant to cure.

  • Drill holes in the underside of the table to match the mounting hardware for your lamp. Mount the lamp under the clear sheet, leaving a space between the bulb and the drawing surface.

  • Plug in the lamp. Most fluorescent fixtures use short cords that don't work by themselves. Attach an extension cord to the lamp to provide enough length to reach the nearest outlet. You can turn the lamp on and off by reaching under the table to operate the fixture's switch.

Tips & Warnings

  • Using two light fixtures produces a more even glow.
  • If your window is transparent, place a piece of thin paper behind it to reduce glare.
  • If the lamp is too dim, add a white box on the underside of the table to reflect more light.
  • Mounting the lamp farther away from the drawing surface reduces bright spots.

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  • Photo Credit Creatas/Creatas/Getty Images
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