How to Build a Tattoo Light Box

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Tattoo light boxes are used to view and trace tattoo designs without the expense of a thermograph machine. The box is fairly simple to set up--then, all you need to start tracing is a hectograph pencil. Building your own light box can save you more than $100 and allows you to customize it to your liking.

Things You'll Need

  • Frosted Plexiglas (1/8ths-3/16ths acrylic)
  • Cordless fluorescent fixtures (12")
  • Fluorescent lights (12")
  • Adhesive Velcro
  • Plywood
  • Pencil
  • Silicone adhesive
  • Measuring instrument (ruler)
  • Tracing paper (optional)
  • Hook and hinges (optional)

How to Build a Tattoo Light Box

  • The purpose of your light box will affect the size. A portable light box is best at about 10x12," while a fixed light box will be 24x24." The next step is to choose a material for the frame. Most commercial light boxes have an aluminum, fiberboard, plywood, or wooden frame. The best material for beginners is plywood--it is cost-effective and easy to work with, yet strong enough for a tattoo light box.

  • The perfect brightness and distribution of light is important. Cordless fluorescent lights are ideal for this purpose. Inside the box, lights should be no more than 3" from each other. For example, a 2' square light box will require about 8 12" tube lights. For smaller light boxes, use 6" tube lights.

  • Using a pencil, trace the five sides (four sides and bottom) of the light box onto the plywood. When measuring depth, take into consideration the height of the light and fixture and the empty space needed. Leave 4" between the lights and the Plexiglas. For the standard light and fixture, leave 1.5," plus the 4" of space (5.5" total).

    For example, if you are planning a box that is 14x16," you will cut two pieces that are 5.5x16," two pieces that are 5.5x14", and one piece that is 14x16" (the bottom). Once you have cut these pieces, using wood nails and a hammer, attach three sides and the bottom to make four sides of a six-sided box. Do not nail the fourth side of the box.

  • Now, apply the fourth side and attach the lights to the bottom of the box. Using adhesive Velcro strips, attach the light fixtures to the bottom of the box, spaced about 3" apart.

    The fourth side should not be permanently attached so that the on/off switch can be accessed and lights and batteries can be changed. It can be fastened using grooves in the corners or a corner hook on one side and hinges on the other.

  • Attach the Plexiglas to the top. Thick, frosted Plexiglas will provide a solid and durable work place. The frosted side should be on the bottom, as this will best spread the light evenly. The Plexiglas should be measured to the dimensions of the bottom, plus that of the width of the plywood. For example, if the dimensions are 14x16" using 3/4" plywood, the measurement of the Plexiglas should be 14.75x16.74." Using the silicone adhesive, attach the Plexiglas to the three permanent sides, but not the removable side.

    As an additional step, you can attach a rubber padding around the top edges of the box for extra grip and comfort.

Tips & Warnings

  • Light boxes are also useful for other art purposes, such as flash tracing, slide viewing and silhouette tracing.
  • The average 12" cordless fluorescent light fixture requires 8 AA batteries. Plug-in fixtures can be used as well, but will require a hole in the side of the box for the cord.
  • If you do not have access to frosted acrylic, attach a piece of tracing paper to the underside of the acrylic Plexiglas.
  • A quick and easy alternative to a light box is to turn your TV to a staticy channel and, turning the volume all the way down, use the light to trace. The static will even hold the paper in place.
  • Even out the light to avoid "hot spots" in your light box.
  • Exterior measuring is suggested for building the box. However, if you choose interior measuring, account for the width of the building material.

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