How to Make An Inexpensive Light Tent DIY

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Man, do I hate to spend money!  Especially since the economy is in the tank these days.  My wife has been talking about buying a light box or a light tent light-box-light-tent-imagefor taking great digital photos of her jewelry products for over a year now.  You see, she hand makes much of her jewelry and has been desperate to take good quality pictures of them. One day I was window shopping at the mall and there was a camera store displaying this pop up tent type of item that is used for taking pictures and photos of relatively small items under a greatly lit area.  When I saw these light tents for over $125, I said to myself….“self, do not indulge in the prosperity of giving someone else your hard earned cash when you can get the gratitude of building it yourself”. We all know that a lot of light makes for great images from your Digital SLR. Last  year we bought a Canon 50D 35MM Digital SLR camera.  Wow what a camera!  I’ve purchased a few lenses in this past year.  It came with a 28-135 Canon lens and I have since purchased a Canon 50MM (1.4) and a Tamron 70-300MM.  We started looking around online to buy a light tent (or light box as they are called) and found a few, but they were pretty expensive appeared cheaply made for the price.  We then investigated it online that actually making your light tent (or light box) can be a very inexpensive Do It Yourself project. There are many tutorials out there where people use cheap tape to hold everything, but I opted to use a glue gun and Velcro.  If you are fairly nimble with your hands, can cut straight lines with scissors, and use a ruler, you can build one of these DIY projects for yourself.  I thought I would share some pictures in the form of a step-by-step “How Make an Inexpensive Light Tent – Light Box – DIY” tutorial on how I ended up making this light tent (or light box).

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1.  A Cardboard Box – Cost: FREE

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Box that I used to build the Light Tent/Light Box. DIY Light Box, DIY Light Tent

This box can really be of any shape or size.  But I find that having a square box with very close to equal sides, makes for the best light tent box.  This box pictured here was from my new sub woofer that I purchased 4 months ago, it’s size is 17.5 wide x 19.5″ long x 18″ high.  I’m definitely one of those box keepers when I buy things, you never know when you need to return something.  Make sure the box is one of those thicker types of cardboard boxes. The thicker the sturdier your light box will be.  You can search around or as the local department or grocery store if they have one.
2.  White poster board – Cost: 5 pieces @ .39 each
The white poster board was purchased from Target here in Huntington Beach, CA for .39 each.  I used 5 pieces.  The size of the poster board is 28″ x 22″.  This was perfect since the box measured 17.5 wide x 19.5″ long x 18″ high.  The white poster board has two sides, one side is a little reflective(a bit shiny) and one side is flat or dull.  I ended up useing the shiny side to reflect the most light.  The idea is to bounce the light all over the box, taking all the shadows out.  The poster board will line the entire area of the inside of the box.  Another idea is that you can purchase different colored poster board if you want to use alternate colors for your backgrounds.
3. Fabric – European Linen Fabric – White – $11
The fabric used was from my wife’s fabric stash that was near her sewing machine.  I was purchased from www.Fabric.com and it’s name is  European Linen Fabric – White.  She had purchased it back in 2008 and it’s price was $11.  The size was 58″ x 36″ and I ended up using about 3/4 of the entire section of fabric.  Instead of using the fabric that I mentioned you can use old white shirts and cut them up to fit the holes or white fleece would work also.
4. Hot Melt Glue Gun – $4.99
This is something every household should have.  We already had it, so it didn’t cost anything. I think I purchased this hot melt glue gun a few years ago from Amazon.com for $5.  I used this to stick the pieces of Velcro(even though they were adhesive) to the box.  And to stick the Velcro to the fabric.  This isn’t necessary though.  You can use masking tape to stick the fabric to the box if you want, but I found that using the hot melt glue gun worked beautifully easy.
5. Lighting/Light Fixture – Clamp on reflector light – $5.99
The light fixture is one of those “clamp on work lights” from my local hardware store, Home Depot.  You can find it here.  I see the online price is more than the store was.  The lighting will be the most expensive part of this project(besides the camera).  You must have good lighting or you won’t be able to get a quality shot, I can guarantee that.  You want to use a natural lighting colored light.
6.  Light Bulb – EcoSmart 23-Watt (120W) R40 Daylight CFL Light Bulb – $7.99
The light I used is a R40 Daylight compact florescent light from Home Depot.  This light ideal for use in both recessed and track lighting applications. You want to use a natural lighting colored light. Sunlight type of bulb. The bulb simulates natural sun light, creating an attractive, warm atmosphere perfect for taking these types of shots. If you use a regular type of light, you will see that it will cause a “yellow” tint and won’t look right.
7. Miscellaneous Tools Needed:
Scissors, , Box Knife, Tape Measure, Ruler, Pencil, Straight Edge(not pictured), Felt Tip Pen(not pictured)

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Miscellaneous Tools Needed To build your Light Tent(or light box)

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Here are the supplies I used. I did add 2 more bulbs though.

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Steps I used in building my DIY Light Tent (or light box):
1.  Cut Light Box flaps off.
Get your sturdy cardboard box and cut the top part of the box’s top flaps off.  The top of the box will be used to project the main light into the box, so you don’t need the top flaps.

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This is the box now with it’s flaps cut off

2.  Draw the on the box to what will eventually be the frame.
What you’re going to do here is basically cut sections of sides out but still leave sort of a frame.  Get your tape measure out and measure approximately 2.5 inches from the side of the box.  In this picture here, you can see I’ve drawn the border with a straight edge.  Once you have it completely done, you can see a square in the middle of the box on the side that you are drawing on. If you didn’t notice, I left the bottom to be 3 inches instead of 2.5 inches just for stability purposes. Leave the top and bottom of the box alone as you will not need to make any marks on them. DIY Light Box – DIY Light Tent.

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This is the border where I will cut out

3.  Cut out your boxes that you have drawn.
Do it all three sides only. DO NOT CUT OUT THE BACK OR THE BOTTOM of the box!  You can see by the picture above, I have already cut out one of the squares.  The real key here is to have a brand new blade on your box cutter knife. This is so that you can make sure you cut a straight line with ease. Here is an image of all of the squares cut out:

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Box with the squares cut out

4.  Get your poster board ready.
This is where you measure the inside of the box’s frame and line the inside of the light box with the white poster board.  This will ensure that you have the entire part of the box lined with a reflective white color to sufficiently bounce the light around the interior of the box.  Bouncing the light around will remove all the shadows.

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Taking Measurements and making marks on the posterboard so that I can cut straight lines

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This is where I put my wife to work cutting the strips of white poster board to glue inside the light box

5.  Glue the poster board white strips (that you have cut) into the box.
First we started with a glue stick, but quickly found out that it didn’t stick well.  We ended up again using the trusty ol’e hot melt glue gun.  Be sure to make the correct side of the poster board to show.  Try to not allow any of the cardboard to show also.  What I did was since there was a slight variation in my widths of the frames, I measure each one carefully, then matched the cut white strips to the sizes.  But then again, I’m a perfectionist.
6. Placing the poster board white strips in the proper places.
In the images above, she is gluing the strips of white poster board on the sides of the light tent. On the right, You can see that I’ve taken a full size piece of the poster board and glued it to the back of the light box.

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Here she is gluing the strips of white poster board on the sides of the light tent

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Now you can see that I also covered the very bottom of the light tent / light Box box with the white poster board.

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You can see that I’ve taken a full size piece of the poster board and glued it to the back of the light box

7. Cutting the Fabric.
Now is the time you cut the fabric to cover the large diameter holes that you cut into the box.  Since my plan was to use Velcro on the fabric, make sure you cut it about .5 of an inch larger as to compensate for the Velcro and allow you to completely cover the holes. The fabric is essentially used to diffuse the light as you shine your electric light in through the box holes.

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Here I am cutting the fabric. Notice the use of the square straight edge. This helps to keep the angles all correct

8. Setting the White Poster board for the background (curved piece).
Here is the side view where you can see I’ve added the curved part of the poster board. The idea behind the curved poster board is that when you take pictures that you don’t see any background lines. As you can see, I used blue painters masking tape to hold it in place.   The bent white poster board serves as the backdrop to all of your images and pictures.

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Here is the side view where you can see I’ve added the curved part of the poster board. The idea behind the curved poster board is that when you take pictures that you don’t see any background lines.

9.  Finished Do it  Yourself  Light Tent /Light Box.
Here are images of the light box / light tent finished, but not yet in action 🙂 Here is the finished product. You can see the top folded back and it easily folds back and re-attaches with the use of Velcro.  to the right is another shot of the finished product with it’s doors all shut. You can see the top part with the fabric. This will serve as the area to let all the light in.

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Here is the finished product. You can see the top folded back and it easily folds back and re-attaches with the use of Velcro

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Another shot of the finished product with it’s doors all shut. You can see the top part with the fabric. This will serve as the area to let all the light in.

10. Light Tent / Light Box in Action!
One last thing that we may do is put in additional lighting on the sides.  What I’ll do is buy the same exact light setup and use them on the sides.  It may cost me an additional $14 x 2.

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You can see how the light tent / light box look in action with my Canon 50D Camera

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More shots of the Light Box In Action

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Shot #3 with the Light Tent in Action – DIY Light Box – DIY Light Tent

Here are some more images of how things turned out when I shot them in the light tent.

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The End

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  1. This is one the best light box tutorials I have ever seen. Your images are look crystal clear!! Thank you for sharing the step by ste tutorial on how to build this light box. I will be building one soon!

  2. the images turned out great. i’ve made something like this setup also except that i used tracing/wax paper and put one table lamp on each side. but my result isn’t that good. they came out with blue/grey-ish cast on the background. how do i get the pure white background so nice like urs? mind sharing what is ur camera config too?

  3. I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  4. Thank you so much!! I’m very interested in photography, and saving money is very important to me! I am definitely going to make one of these!!

  5. Lorraine Pierce - Reply

    Nice! Thanks for the great tutorial. We photograph some really small items, like our eyeshadows, and use a white, shiny, plastic bowl with the side cit out. Makes for easy clean up.

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