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Tip: Make Your Own Light Table

In workshops when sketching a composition on to watercolor paper I like to use the windows as a light table. This way we can sketch our drawing on to watercolor paper with minimal lines, but sometimes windows or light tables are not available. In that case we will use graphite transfer paper, but the problem with that is the graphite can easily smudge, leaving a residue which can mix with the water giving you muddy color. The other thing that can happen is depending on how much water you use the graphite lines can disappear off of the composition. We can always work with what is avaialble but I have found when doing a workshop some organizations think they can't afford a light table due to the expense. Light tables run for around $40 to $299 depending on the size and are available at art stores. So here are some affordable ideas.

Use a Glass Door as a Light Table
Just go to a sliding glass door, make sure there is enough light coming through, tape the tracing to the door then place you watercolor paper on top. This works well for both 140lb and 300lb paper. 

Portable Light Tables
You can purchase a portable light table from an art store for approximately $40 to $299 depending on the size. 

Make your own Light Table
This is a great idea for individual artists or small art organizations with limited budgets. 
  • Use a large shallow plastic container
  • Fill with tiny white Christmas lights then use the lid as your table-top (make sure the lid is smooth without ridges) for defused lighting line the container with wax paper then place the lights inside. 
  • Using the same idea of the large shallow plastic container go to Home Depot or Lowe's and get under cabinet florescent lights. These are ready to go units (you will need 2-4) then all you have to do is cut a hole in one end with a box cutter for the cord then use a multi-plug adapter. 
  • Try an old wooden dresser drawer, this works really well, just add the Christmas lights inside or use the under cabinet florescent lights. Then place a piece of Plexiglas or glass on top. The advantage of the drawer is that the lip of the drawer helps prevent the lid from slipping.
You can use clear, white or frosted Plexiglas if you already have Plexiglas available you can sand the surface to make it more frosted which helps diffuse the light.

home made light table   

photo by

photo byArt Projects

The light boxes with lids are a great for activity for kids too, in a dark room they can play with sand, paint, etc on top of the plastic boxes. If you don't want to use electricity, either because of kids or your in a location where there is none, you can use tap lights available at most hardware stores, Home Depot, Lowe's, Walmart etc (battery powered lights which can die out quickly)  

Here are a couple of links to some blogs with good photo and step-by-step instructions.


  1. Wonderful idea. They are so expensive to buy. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Thank you for such excellent options for an easy light table for those on a budget. Silly how much those professional ones cost! I am lucky enough to have a handy husband who created one out of orphan parts already in his workshop, along with some scratched-up plexi from an old picture frame. Since then, my artist friends have nagged me that he should make one for each of them. These ideas should put them into the ball park.

    I DO love my light table, it has so many uses, and it's hard to remember living without it. Besides transferring drawings neatly and easily, I often use it to lay patterns and other ideas under my half-finished paintings for review. Or I paint directly in order to add patterns/designs without having tell-tale pencil lines. They look fresher and more interesting, I find.

    I'll share your ideas for simple ways to build a light table with my artists' sisterhood (sisterofthebrush) of artists, they will all thank you.

  3. Thank you for featuring our super simple DIY light table! I loved looking around here and am so envious of your talent.

    - Trina from DIY corporate mom

    1. Thank you Trina, You have a wonderful blog with so many fun ideas for kids. I was happy to let others know about you and share your photo.


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