Monday, June 7, 2010

Building a Light Box for Drawing Designs

From In the Garden

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a landscape designer-a new one at that. Being new to the field has me facing some hurdles and needing time to learn some tricks. Well, last year when I designed my first landscape while concurrently taking a landscape design class I learned you should draw a base map first, then draw your design in draft mode on tracing paper placed over the base map. Once the draft design is final and you are ready to put the design to the vellum you just place the tracing paper design under your vellum and begin drawing. Sounds easy right? Nope, Vellum is not as transparent as tracing paper and I could not clearly see my design through the vellum. To say I had some difficulties would be putting it mildly. The solution was a light box (thanks to Mr. Fix-it who suggested it).
Mr. Fix-it and I came up with a design and commenced to making a light box so I could design in comfort and with ease. There are commercial drafting tables and light boxes available but I did not want the expense at this point, plus I felt I could work with what we would be able to design.

I had already purchased the two 18" fluorescent lights at a local big box store for about $10 a piece. The large sheet (36" x 27") of tempered glass was picked up at the Nashville Habitat Re-store for $10 as well. For a long time I simply placed the glass on top of the lights and worked that way. It was not a good plan because the glass is extremely heavy and put a lot of weight on the lights. The next step was to build a box. I purchased a few boards of red oak (3" wide but you can use any width for your box).
Full sheet designs on vellum are 24" x 36". My glass is a bit bigger than the size of the full sheet but the lights are not as big, therefore the box did not have to be as big. The two pictures above are a bit misleading because that current design I am showing is drawn on tracing paper that is sized 19" x 24" and is not full sized. When I have a full sized drawing on this glass (as in the first picture) you would not be able to see the box at all. We built the box big enough to provide a stable base for the glass and to contain the two lights. The corners were mitered, glued, and screwed together to make a square, then stained a golden oak color. I attached the lights and made a groove for the cords to come out of the box. I think it looks and works fine and the total cost was less than $40. I just love it. I might add that the desk in my office does not have square edges-they are rounded. Therefore the desk would not work for designs because the T-bar would not accurately move along the edge to ensure a square working area. The glass takes care of that and I am able to move it around as I need to....

in the garden....

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team,

In the Garden


  1. I used this same sort of contraption when I built architectural models. One thing I found helped a lot was to have frosted glass instead of clear. A can of spray on frosting can be used to paint the back side of the glass. It dries evenly and smoothly. If you decide you don't like it, a razor blade will scrape it off easily. The frosting helps to spread the light across the surface better making it easier to see all parts of the drawing and not just that over the lights.

  2. That is a great light box, and how wonderful that you did it yourself. I need a small one and this gives me ideas.

    Tom's idea for spraying the backside with frost, sounds great too.

    Wishing you well with your landscape design work.


  3. Tina,
    You one upped me on this project. Looks like it'll be perfect for what you need it for. Good luck with the designs!

    I bought a ready made light box years ago for reviewing slides with, not used much any more.

  4. I use something similiar when I trace desings off for embrodiary. Of course, that is nothing compared to what you are doing. I can't imagine desiging gardens--although I think that would be the best job in the whole world.
    Have a great day Tina!

  5. What a great idea. I hope it helps you get your new career moving. I have noticed a lot of tables in meeting areas now have this as well and wonder why.

    Have a great week!

  6. Great idea. Good luck with your designing. Carla

  7. Tom, Thanks so much for the tip on frosting the glass. I hope to get it done today as I think that will really help. I can't wait to try it now!

    Dawn, Thanks!

    Flowerlady, The light box is a perfect working spot for all things. It's easy to clean the glass. Tom's idea is indeed a perfect one. One I'll be putting into place asap.

    Randy, I'm surprised you don't use your light box so much anymore. You build so much I can see you working over it to get it all just right. That deck in the woods is very nice.

    Linda, That is so neat you use a box to trace embroidery designs. I think they can be used for all sorts of things but wouldn't have thought embroidering. Which is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. You have a great day too! It is cool here so I'm thinking gardening today.

    Les, It seems light boxes/tables are very versatile-even with the proliferation of computer generated drafting and what not. My table sure gets used here.

    Carla, Thanks! It is going well.

    Dave, Thanks! Hubby's idea but we worked together on it.

  8. That is an ingenious idea. Both of you did a great job. Many pleasant hrs will be spent working on it.
    I hope all have a wonderful day. Tina, Skeeter, Anonymous, Dawn, Jean & Nina.

  9. What an awesome idean and job of making it with little money compared to what you would have paid for an already built one. Even then you probably would not have it in the wonderful wood of oak.

    Ditto to you Lola. It is a great day here after nearly a week of rain so I will get moving here and get outside.

  10. You and Mr Fixit are a wonderful creative team! Love this lightbox! gail

  11. What a great way of making your own lightbox! I wish I were that creative.

  12. Lola, Thanks! It is a wonderful day today so this lady is cleaning her garage:( Needs to be done but will be nice when it is!

    Mom, Lucky you to have rain. Clarksville got 3 inches Thursday evening yet in my area I only got 3/8"! Urgh! Anyhow, the garage is calling so it's probably better or I'd be planting and digging. You have fun in yours!

    Thanks Gail! My husband is simply awesome. Someday maybe you guys can meet.

    Catherine, No creativity on my part just smart thinking on Mr. Fix-it's part. It sure serves a purpose and don't we all come up with the best ideas when we need a better way of doing things?

  13. Isn't it great having clever hubbies who can come up with and make these things for us? :)

  14. Mr. Fix It is so good. Great light box. I have some drawings of our garden from when we started with our property. I think I taped everything to the patio door at one point to get light behind the vellum. That frosted glass idea sounds smart too. Happy designing tina!

  15. This is wonderful Tina. A great solution for a vexing problem.

  16. Tina, I would love to meet Mr Fixit! gail

  17. Good job, that will make your drawings a lot easier. I'll bet you saved a lot over the price of a commercial light box.

  18. Cool table Tina -reminds me of the kind used years ago in drafting. Company still here but I needed a reprieve -rofl. Off to Track club with the kiddos in a few. Hi Lola, Jean, Nina and Skeeter:0)

    Tina -my crepe myrtles are in FULL bloom -this is so weird. Do you think it will try to rebloom in the fall? Ciao

  19. Yeah, my little crepe Myrtle is showing signs of blooms. Can't remember it's name but is supposed to be red. It's very small & only in the ground this yr. makes 3.
    Tina, my little peach is hanging on. I still have it in it's original container. Keeping it watered good. It's beginning to get the pinkish blush like it's supposed to. I hope it makes it to maturity. I planted the apple & it's doing great.

  20. It looks like it does the job for you! Great way to economize.

  21. GSS, Now that is innovative-and worked great too I'm sure.

    Marnie, They are quite expensive. I think cheap ones are about $100? Not sure.

    Melanie, Yes indeed.

    Gail, One of these days...

    Rose, Thanks! The designs are coming along for sure.

    Anonymous, Yup, drafting is what I do basically. No, I don't think our crepes will bloom again. They are all about one month early. I checked my bloom times from last year:) The good news is that most crepes bloom a long time so they should still be in bloom next month-hopefully. Odd that they are so early as other things are late. I just can't figure it out. Have fun with company:]

    Lola, Yahoo for the peach! Keep it watered and add a bit of slow release fertilizer and it will be happy for sure.

    Cameron, Yes indeed.

  22. That is an awesome light box Tina. I have one (that I purchased) but it is no where near as large and it could be handy for me to have a bigger work area too. I love how you all brainstorm and create solutions together.
    I'm sure you'll use this a lot.

  23. Hi Tina - sorry it's been so long since I've visited. I've been swamped with a work deadline and have also been neglecting my garden, too! Love your idea for the lightbox. Always better to re-purpose what you have than purchase what you don't!

  24. You're igenious! I've been taping papers up to the sliding glass door and doing a messy job of tracing that way. Then I have to clean up the lines back at the kitchen table. Your method looks much better.

  25. Tina, HELP, I have squash bugs all over my tomatoes. What to do?