KR-5 Is a special request by my lovely girlfriend Katelynn who is a graphic design and fine art major at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL. I asked her for project ideas, and she suggested I build a light box that will help with tracing drawings and other projects.
Note: This is not to be confused with a light box used in photography. Those are for creating a soft white “void” background to special product photos or stock images. This “light box” is for artistic illustration purposes.
Another Note: I am not taking credit for this unique idea, this project is simply my own version of it with my own customizations. The original idea came from Instructables user bigtreehouse. Make: Blog Article | Instructables Article. I also found another version of this project on Junk Genesis.
My adventure started with many trips to the local thrift stores. Eventually I came across this Samsonite-style hard plastic briefcase from Goodwill. These are very common in thrift stores, and are often available for around $5. This was ideal since the opening lid has a mini “accordion-style” paper file. This would make it simpler to store drawings, paper, supplies and the power cord. I also found it important to find use a briefcase instead of a suitcase since briefcases have metal support arms that will hold the lid open while using it. If you desire a larger light box you could go with a suitcase, although you would have to add some type of supporting arm to the project.
First things first, it was important to rip out the paper lining that lined the bottom compartment of the briefcase. I saw this as a potential fire hazard, and just a overall difficulty in mounting the lights or other wiring. Just rip the crap out and throw it away.
Since I’m going to be mounting lights in the bottom of this, the idea is for the entire light area to reflect and diffuse light evenly through the plastic surface. A green/brown painted bottom will not do this properly! So I set off to the local hardware store to get some Krylon plastic-bonding matte white spray paint.
In order to make this look like a clean project, and not sloppy graffiti, I used scotch tape, a garbage bag, and plastic wrap to cover the parts of the briefcase that I did not want paint splattered on. I went outside, and happily sprayed a good amount of paint on the bottom making sure to get an even coat. It’s important to make sure it’s all white and none of that hideous green comes through. I let it dry upside down outside so that trees or birds don’t drop crap on the wet paint. Although, I think a small bug doomed itself and got stuck in the wet paint. Sorry bug, that’s what you get for not knowing what wet paint is.
It’s like looking into a heavenly void of forever soft white marsh mellowness. Also, please ignore the trash receptacle I’ve made out of my truck bed. If you have a pickup truck, you probably appreciate being able to throw trash back there while doing 65 down the interstate. It always goes in, I promise.
These are the fluorescent lights that I decided to use. I was looking for some type of desk lamp with an AC adapter wall-wart, although I decided that these types of lights would suit the project better. I chose to use two lights so that I could get the largest and most consistent diffused light drawing area.
A bonus with these lights is that they are designed to be mounted in your kitchen under your counter in a series. They can be daisy-chained, and they are independently switchable. This makes having two of them very easy, without altering the original design of the lights to much. It’s also important to get lights that fit comfortably in the box!
I decided to not go with a battery powered solution simply because I did not see a reason to add that much weight and annoying-ness to the final product. I didn’t want to have to burden Katelynn with buying a new pack of D-Cell batteries every time she wanted to draw a picture! Besides, direct AC will be perfectly fine unless you decide you need to trace work in the middle of a park or in a car.
WARNING: These lights deal directly with your wall’s mains current! Use extreme caution when wiring these lights, as you are dealing with high voltage and currents that could result in serious injury or death! It is really important to ensure all your connections are correct and safe, as there could be a potential fire hazard also! If you have any question as to what you are doing when plugging things into the wall, please ask a professional!
What I’m doing here, is relocating the lights’ switches to mount them externally on the briefcase. I pulled the switches out, and used some thicker 18AWG orange wire from a old computer power supply to be able to mount them far away. Of course, after soldering the switch the way I wanted it, I realized that it would be impossible to mount the switch on the briefcase with the wires already set! De-soldered it, cut the holes in the briefcase and then proceeded to mount the lights.
In order to mount the lights to the case, I drilled small holes in the back of them and got some rivets from the hardware store. I measured up and drilled the same holes in the case. The rivets work perfectly. I used aluminum rivets to work with the plastics better. Be careful while drilling the lights as to not disturb any of the AC lines inside.
Also, I went ahead and daisy-chained the link between the lights with the supplied cable. They come with something like a 5″ male-female cable to chain them. Keeps things clean!
The gray plug mounted on the briefcase is the AC plug from an old Playstation I got cheap at a goodwill. I yanked it out, and for simplicity I used the AC cord too. This makes the AC cord modular, and not fixed for better portability and storage. If the cord was fixed to the outside, there would be dealing with wrapping it up when it was time to leave. This method allows the user to yank it out, throw it in the case, and go! Also we already know that full wall AC current can safely be transfered to the playstation with it’s existing lines so using this here gives me that safe feeling.
Well, I originally intended to have only one switch. But in my lack of pre-designing, I realized that one switch doesn’t control the entire chain of lights. I discovered this after already installing and cutting the hole for the single switch. So I decided to add a rather useless feature by installing the second switch. This enables the user to independently control both lights. How useful is that? I don’t know, but it’s pretty damn cool anyways.
Also, the plastic of the switches is really soft and melt-able easily. In my soldering adventure with the second switch, the plastic got a little to hot and melted. The melting kinda re-located the inner workings of the switch and crippled it. If you look at it this way: it gives it a special trick only the owner will know! It is required to hold the switch in the “on” position for about 3 seconds for it to stay on! Otherwise, it just flicks back off. Security measure? Take that thieves!
As for the final step, I used the color that was suggested in the above linked instructables arcticle for the drawing surface. I measured the area of the case that this would be dropped into, and ordered the smallest sheet that US Plastic Corp had that would fit. The specific color is White #7328. This shade of white is said to transmit 18% of light, and I have found that it diffuses (spreads out) the light evenly. Thickness is also important – You don’t want to just cut the side from a plastic storage bin, as it will be to thin and flimsy. I used 1/4″ thick acrylic so that It is sturdy enough to not flex while drawing. I bought a 12″ x 24″ sheet for $18.30 from US Plastic Corp.
The photo above shows the sheet already cut down to size. Notice I cut out notches so the metal lid arms on the case have room to move up and down. I kept the protective paper on while cutting, so the surface doesn’t get scratched by the jigsaw. It took me some trial and error to get the sheet to fit in right. The frame of the case wasn’t exactly square, and also it was tricky cutting notches on the underside to achieve the correct height in the box to allow the lid to close. The case already had rivets on the inside that was used to keep the paper lining in place, I simply cut the above mentioned notches in the acrylic so it would drop down and stay snug.
My original plan was to attach hinges so the acrylic would be able to be flipped up in the event of maintenance. Although, the way I cut it lets the acrylic fit snugly so it doesn’t move during transport, and it’s still able to be lifted out when needed.
Drop the acrylic in, and it’s done!
She loves it!
Things I would think out better next time would be finding a better way to measure the inside of the case to better fit the acrlyic, and think out the light switches first! Also, not over-heating the damn switch!
Unfortunately, shortly after the completion of this, I got in a small accident with my truck while I had this with me. The impact shattered one of the bulbs, and detached one of the rivets. Which brings me to my next point: Walmart doesn’t seem to stock the replacement bulbs for these lights! If anyone finds them please let me know! Until then, i’ll end up just buying a new light fixture (~$12).
If any questions or comments, I love the input! please post a comment below. Or feel free to email me firstname.lastname@example.org Constructive criticism only please, don’t be a stupid jerk!