• Do You Need a Light Box?

    Today, we’re going to talk about the benefits of owning a light box. We’ll also explore clever DIY alternatives, including a bright computer screen and a light-filled window.

    Do You Need a Light Box? | The Postman's Knock

    If you find yourself creating a fair amount of illustration or calligraphy, then a light box may help you to work more efficiently! Today, we’ll discuss what a light box is and how you can use it to enhance your creations.

    What is a Light Box?

    A light box is a device with a bright surface that’s designed to shine through two layers of paper. This feature enables you to place one sheet of paper on top of another and see the content from the bottom sheet. As a result, you can trace the underlying image or text onto the top sheet.

    Using a Light Box to Make a Sketchbook Journal Page | The Postman's Knock

    I use a 9″x12″ Artograph LightPad 930 light box (affiliate link). I like it because it’s very bright and it provides a large surface for me to work on. That said, this specific light box is not moderately priced for occasional use. There are many light boxes with rave reviews available on Amazon — like this one (affiliate link) — offered at a fraction of the LightPad 930 price.

    Do You Need a Light Box? | The Postman's Knock
    This is my trusty Artograph LightPad 930 light box, which I find to be basic and effective.

    I would recommend reading reviews before you decide which light box to purchase. Remember: if you don’t like the light box that you buy, you can always return it!

    Common Uses for a Light Box

    1. Envelope Spacing

    If you plan on addressing several envelopes at once, a light box will really help with quick and effective spacing! First, make a template to slip into your envelope. Be sure to mark the middle of the envelope, include slant lines, and make X’s between address lines.

    6 Helpful Calligraphy Hacks | The Postman's Knock
    An envelope template like this one is useful when you need to address a lot of envelopes (e.g. for an event).

    Put the envelope and the template on the light box, and the template lines will shine right though.

    6 Helpful Calligraphy Hacks | The Postman's Knock

    You can write directly on the envelope while it is placed on the light box. After you finish, there’s no need to erase any pencil lines. This can save you an incredible amount of hassle, and not having to erase eliminates the risk of smudging not-yet-dry letters or accidentally crumpling the paper.

    6 Helpful Calligraphy Hacks | The Postman's Knock

    The caveat? You can only use this technique for light-colored envelopes. Light will not shine through dark envelopes.

    2. Envelope Art

    I love using my light box to make quick work of envelope art! In fact, I created the Illustrated Roses Template with light box use in mind. You can put the template under any light-colored envelope and trace over the roses with waterproof ink (like Ziller).

    Vintage Roses Illustration Printable Being Used with a Light Box | The Postman's Knock

    Once you trace roses in the upper left and lower right corner of the envelope, fill them in with watercolor. Finish up by adding the recipient’s address in the calligraphy style of your choice (I used Kaitlin Style for the example below). Your envelope — featuring an ornate and impressive illustration — is now ready to send!

    Decorated Envelope | The Postman's Knock

    3. General Art Projects

    In addition to mail art concepts, there are several cool art projects on this blog that were designed with a light box in mind. They include the Easy Illuminated Letter Tutorial, the Flourished Ampersand Art Tutorial, and the Woman’s Silhouette Calligraphy Art Tutorial.

    ✨ Making Illuminated Letter "V" Art: Real Life Edition
    The Easy Illuminated Letter Tutorial is arguably the most popular tutorial on the TPK Blog. It encourages the use of a light box.

    I also love the Next Level Illuminated Letters Tutorial and the “You Made This?!” Lily Drawing Tutorial, both of which also include traceable printables.

    4. Sketchbook Journaling

    A light box can enhance your sketchbook journal pages by allowing you to create accurate representations of photos. I trace over photos all the time in my sketchbook! As long as you’re using a clean sketchbook page (without drawings/content on the other side), this technique will work.

    Using a Light Box to Make a Sketchbook Journal Page | The Postman's Knock

    Once you finish tracing, you can enhance the drawing however you see fit! I finished up this drawing with earthy tones and the Cristo, which I also used my light box to trace.

    How to Make a Sketchbook Journal (and Why You Should!) | The Postman's Knock

    A lot of people really enjoy freehand drawing in their sketchbooks, particularly because sketchbook content is personal and doesn’t need to be perfect. That said, I think that the fun part of sketchbook journaling is adding watercolor! That’s why I often speed up the drawing part by using a light box.

    5. Pen and Ink Illustrations

    A light box can accelerate and enhance the production of illustrations for your home. For example, to make the Arc de Triomphe illustration below, I used the light box to trace over a photo of the Arc in pencil. Then, I used the same pencil to trace over the Illustrated Roses Template in strategic places behind the Arc.

    Arc de Triomphe Illustration | The Postman's Knock

    For illustrations like the Arc de Triomphe, I like to trace over the photo in pencil first. I then work from that pencil illustration without shining light through the paper. The pencil lines give you an excellent idea of proportion, and you can use your skill and imagination to fill in the rest.

    Do You Need a Light Box? | The Postman's Knock
    This illustration is one of those featured on the Springtime in Paris cleaning cloth.

    Light boxes aren’t only useful for pen and ink drawings; you can also use them to create watercolor paintings! In the Basil Watercolor Painting Tutorial, I used a light box to create the base layer for a lovely basil illustration. Tracing techniques are used for several projects in the Ultimate Beginner’s Watercolor Online Course as well.

    In lesson 7, we take on this quaint Dutch home. This lesson will teach you how to draw architectural subjects and apply details -- like a brick texture -- to those subjects.
    Having a light box saves you the trouble of using a ruler to draw windows, doors, and edges for architectural drawings. (I walk you through how to make this painting — and others like it — in the Ultimate Beginner’s Watercolor Online Course).

    Light Box Alternatives

    Before you rush to place your order for a light box, it’s important to remember that you’ve got other options. Here are some effective DIY alternatives that artists use:

    1. Light-Filled Window

    Watercolor Cactus + Quote Artwork Tutorial | The Postman's Knock
    I used a bright window to trace over a cactus template for this project.

    You can tape a printout to your window, then tape a blank piece of paper over it. The light will shine right through. The disadvantage here is the severe vertical angle that you have to use.

    2. Shine Light Through a Glass Table

    DIY Light Box | The Postman's Knock

    Before I had a light box, this was the set-up that I used. I shone a lamp up through a glass table! The effect wasn’t as potent as a light box, but it worked.

    3. Use a Computer/iPad Screen on Maximum Brightness

    Do You Need a Light Box? | The Postman's Knock

    This is a genius technique that reader Srividya used to make this sketchbook page after she saw the Summer Travels Sketchbook Page Tutorial. Just set your electronic device to maximum brightness and open a photo of the subject that you want to trace over. Place a piece of paper over the screen, and trace!

    I, personally, love my light box and use it often. I hope that this article helps you to decide whether that will be the case for you as well. Thanks very much for reading, and enjoy your weekend!


    Lindsey's Signature | The Postman's Knock