Understanding Light box Tracing

Understanding Lightbox Light Table light pad Tracing

If you’re a designer, illustrator or architect, you’ll probably find that a light box saves you a good deal of time. By providing illumination from below, they allow you to trace images from one piece of paper to another with ease.

This article will explain what light boxes and light box tracing are, how they work, and what architects tend to use them for. It will also give you some hints on how to choose the right product for you, since the range on sale today can be quite overwhelming.

What is a light box?

When you were a child, you probably used tracing paper to copy your drawings. It involved a lot of flipping and a lot of smudgy graphite, but you could pass more or less the same image from one sheet of paper to another.

If there was no tracing paper to hand, you probably also figured out that holding thinnish sheets of paper to the window let you do a similar thing. In short, light boxes and light tables are the modern, grown-up equivalents of these processes.

Light Box Tracing - what is a lightbox

How do light boxes work?

Lightboxes are ‘boxes’ with a clear screen at the top and a light source inside. When they are switched on, it’s easy to see through (almost) any paper that is laid on the screen. So to trace an image, the original is laid directly on the screen, secured with a clip, and then covered with a blank sheet of paper.

The lower image will be visible through the second piece of paper, ready to be copied.

In truth, these days, lightboxes aren’t really boxes at all; they’re more usually slim tablets with LED backlighting. And light tables are the same thing, but on a larger scale and with a stand or even legs.

What is the purpose of a light box?

The most obvious function of a light box or light table is to transfer an image from one piece of paper to another – for example, to turn an initial drawing (perhaps on rough paper) into a finished one (on art paper) – but they can also be used to combine two original images, since the light can generally penetrate more than two sheets of standard paper.

Additionally, a light box allows you to reuse one master background – the interior of a room, say, or a streetscape – and rearrange elements within it in different ways.

Other creatives have other uses for light boxes and light tables; for example, photographers use them to view negatives, and embroiderers use them to transfer patterns onto fabric.

How to choose a light box

There are lots of light boxes and light tables on the market today to suit all needs and budgets. The following things are worth bearing in mind when choosing one:

Surface size

Most light boxes are roughly A4 (210 x 297mm) or A3 (297x420mm) size – perhaps a little larger, on occasion. Clearly, the smaller your device the more portable it is, so if you’ll mostly use yours on the go, think small!

At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re routinely working on A2 (420x594mm) paper or bigger, consider investing in a heavier-duty light table rather than a thin tablet.

Surface material

Traditionally, the screen of a lightbox or light table was made of glass. After some time, these tended to crack from the heat of the bulb, which is why today most screens are made from shatterproof acrylic. However, you may still find some devices with glass screens.

Power source

Light boxes can be powered in one of three ways: USB, AC adaptor, and battery. The first is the most flexible, as you can connect your device to a power source with a standard USB cable or use your power bank, laptop etc to run it.

Using an AC adaptor has the advantage of stabilising the light source, so if you’re going to use your lightbox for long periods, it’s best to have the option of plugging it in at the mains.

And finally there are batteries, which allow for maximum flexibility – for example, if you need to work outdoors or in a library with few sockets – but will of course need regular charging, and may result in flickering light.

Screen luminosity (inc paper)

All but the cheapest devices will have an adjustable brightness setting; better models will even remember your most recently used settings. There may be fixed settings (e.g. one to five) or a wheel that lets you choose precisely how much light you want.

You’ll need to select different levels of brightness depending on how light your room is – the darker the room, the less light you’ll need – and how thick your paper is.

While most mid-range light boxes will penetrate thick watercolour paper and even card, cheaper ones may struggle even at maximum brightness. (Try to use energy-saving bulbs to avoid them burning out too quickly.) Conversely, using very thin paper and a very bright light will soon tire your eyes.

If you intend to do a lot of detailed, technical work, look for luminosity of 3,000 lux; for general purposes, between 1,500 and 3000 lux will suffice.

Device weight

Light boxes are not usually heavy, weighing around 3.5 kilograms at most, but if you know you’ll need to carry yours a lot then look for a lightweight model. Three or four kilograms in a rucksack might not feel like much; the same weight stuffed into a tote bag will.


You can pick up a student’s light box tablet for as little as £20, but a professional light table could set you back thousands. It really depends what you’re going to use your device for, and how long you intend to keep it.

In the following section, we’ll look at some of the most popular light boxes and light tables currently on sale, so you can compare what you get at different price points.

The best light boxes for light box tracing

These are five of the most popular light boxes on the market today.

LitEnergy A4 Tracing Light box – A Bright and Cost-Effective Option for Creatives

LITENERGY Portable A4 Tracing LED Copy Board Light Box

The light pad is a portable, ultra-slim (0.2'' thick) and lightweight tracing tool with adjustable brightness, a flicker-free LED surface, USB power connectivity, and versatile applications ranging from stenciling and animation to sewing and sketching.

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The LitEnergy A4 Tracing Light Box emerges as a standout choice for artists mindful of their budget, offering bright illumination at a reasonable price point. This light box simplifies the tracing process, with its user-friendly controls and USB connectivity, although it should be noted that extensive use can lead to the device heating up.


  • Exceptionally bright illumination.
  • Economically priced.
  • Lightweight design.


  • Tends to get warm with continuous use.

The LitEnergy A4 Tracing Light Box, priced accessibly, targets a wide market range, including young artists developing their skills, students, professionals, and hobbyists engaged in activities like sewing, crafting, and photography. Its design supports the intricate needs of creative projects.

Design and Construction: The LitEnergy A4 Tracing Light Box features a straightforward rectangular shape, encased in a frame with a choice of colors. Our reviewed model had a black frame.

It is equipped with an LED light screen sized for A4 paper, flanked by ruler markings on two sides. The device is notably lightweight yet feels sturdy. Four felt pads on the back elevate it slightly from surfaces.

This model includes a USB 2.0 cable for power, conveniently long enough to reach wall sockets without restricting placement. Users should note that the glossy sides can attract fingerprints and smudges, suggesting the need for regular cleaning to maintain its appearance.

LED Screen and User Experience: The lightbox’s screen impresses with its brightness, offering over 4,000 lux with a color temperature range of 9,000-12,000K. This makes tracing a breeze on various paper types.

We even enlisted a child to test its ease of use with thicker paper, finding it effective for a range of materials. The brightness is adjustable, which is beneficial for eye comfort and varying project requirements.

A memory feature that retains the last used brightness setting upon restart adds to the convenience, especially when taking breaks due to the device’s tendency to heat up. The lightbox is claimed to have a long lifespan, backed by reliable LED technology.

Pricing: The LitEnergy lightbox is very affordable, typically retailing around £36, with occasional discounts making it even more attractive. While its build may feel less premium compared to more expensive models, its performance and price point offer great value, particularly for those who prioritize functionality over aesthetic finish.

Conclusion: While the LitEnergy A4 Tracing Light Box might not boast the high-end construction of pricier alternatives, its impressive brightness, portability, and affordability make it a compelling choice for budget-conscious artists, hobbyists, and parents looking to encourage their children’s creativity.

Huion A3 LED Light Pad Review

HUION LA3 Portable USB LED Tracing Light Box

This light pad offers adjustable brightness with memory function and eye-friendly technology, suitable for tracing through heavy paper, USB powered for easy charging, and boasts a thin, portable design with a large drawing area and extra accessories, including pad pucks and a metal paper clip, backed by a one-year warranty from Huion.

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The Huion A3 LED Light Pad stands out as an exceptional choice for a lightbox. If you’re already familiar with drawing tablets, you might know Huion as a reputable brand in that area, but they’re also a leading name in lightboxes.

The Huion A3 LED Light Pad is the top choice here, offering a combination of a spacious drawing area, slim design, and an impressive maximum brightness of 4,050 lux, making it an ideal match for most users.

Its LED lighting is cool, uniform, and sufficiently bright to penetrate through even the thickest of papers. An added convenience is the smart memory feature of the Huion A3 LED Light Pad, which remembers your last used brightness level.

This is particularly useful if you’re working on a long-term project with consistent paper types, saving you valuable time.

The lightbox provides ample drawing space with a working area of 16.9 x 12.2 inches. A minor drawback is the length of the AC cable, which at 44 inches might limit where you can place the lightbox in your workspace.

Nevertheless, considering that the lightbox is rated for a lifespan of 50,000 hours and can be used continuously for up to 24 hours without overheating, it stands as one of the best choices for those who anticipate heavy use of their lightbox. So, you might consider rearranging your workspace to accommodate this.


  • Affordable
  • Slim profile
  • Consistent light distribution


  • Power adapter is sensitive to movement
  • Non-adjustable, unconventional support feet

Cricut Brightpad Go Review

Cricut BrightPad Go Flexible LED Light Box

The Cricut BrightPad Go is a cordless, portable crafting tool with a scratch-resistant surface, adjustable LED light for enhanced visibility, and a sleek, non-slip design for ease of use in various crafting activities like weeding, tracing, and diamond painting.

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The Cricut Brightpad Go, while designed for crafters, also excels as a top choice for tracing and drawing due to its build quality, bright 4,200 LED display, and portability.

It features a substantial 29.2cm x 22.8cm working area and a robust 6H hardness surface, making it resistant to scratches and damage – ideal for use with sharp weeding tools, as well as pens and pencils.

What stands out about the Brightpad Go is its portability and light weight of 676 grams, allowing for easy use on a table or lap, and its compactness for outdoor projects, supported by a rechargeable battery lasting nearly two hours.

For those finding the Brightpad Go’s price too steep, Cricut also offers the older, wired Brightpad. This offers similar features but has only three brightness settings and lacks the portability of the wireless model.


  • Scratch-resistant surface
  • 4,200 lux brightness
  • 5 LED brightness settings
  • Lightweight and portable


  • Not suitable for heat transfer

HSK A2 Artist tracing Light Box review

HSK A2 Artist tracing Light Box

The A2 size light box boasts an innovative design with a lock button to prevent accidental changes, easy portability with a slim aluminum frame, adjustable brightness up to 5500 Lux, and is versatile for uses in animation, calligraphy, diamond painting, and more.

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The HSK A2 Artist Tracing Light Box is an excellent choice for artists, offering a true-to-size A3 workspace, which is a significant advantage as some lightboxes claim to be A2 but include the frame in their measurements.

It boasts an LED brightness of 5500 lux / 1200 Lumens, perfect for drawing, with a dimmer switch to adjust brightness. A standout feature is the light lock; by holding the dimmer for three seconds, the HSK A2 memorizes your preferred brightness (confirmed by a flash).

The latest model in the HSK series features a robust aluminum frame, enhancing its strength but also increasing its weight. While we appreciate the sturdiness and stability (aided by small pads that prevent slipping), it does reduce the lightbox’s portability.

We’ve chosen the HSK A2 for its large, convenient size, but the brand also offers this model in smaller, lighter versions with brighter LEDs, such as the HSK A3 (7000 lux), HSK A2 (7000 lux), and the HSK B4 (6000 lux).


  • Spacious, brightly lit workspace
  • Innovative light ‘lock’ feature


  • Limited portability

To Sum Up…

A light box is a fairly inexpensive device than can make your life as a creative, much easier. It eliminates the need for traditional tracing paper, allows closer attention to detail, and is better for your eyes than working under a desk lamp.

If you choose yours wisely, it should be a friend to you for years to come.

FAQs about light box tracing

When should you use a light box?

A light box can be used in various scenarios, particularly in fields that require detailed visual work. Here are some common situations where a light box is useful:

  1. Tracing and Drawing: Artists and illustrators often use light boxes to trace drawings or transfer designs from one piece of paper to another. It helps in maintaining precision and symmetry in artworks.
  2. Calligraphy and Lettering: For calligraphers, a light box aids in maintaining straight lines and consistent letter sizes, especially when working on opaque papers where guidelines aren’t visible.
  3. Diamond Painting and Embroidery: Light boxes can be very helpful in crafts like diamond painting and embroidery, providing a clear view of small, intricate patterns and symbols.
  4. Animation and Cartooning: Animators use light boxes to create a series of images that show progressive phases of movements. This is crucial for creating smooth animation sequences.
  5. Tattoo Designing: Tattoo artists often use light boxes to create stencils for their designs, ensuring accuracy and detail in the tattooing process.
  6. Inspecting X-Rays and Photographs: In medical fields or photography, light boxes are used to view X-rays or negatives more clearly, highlighting details that might be missed under normal light.
  7. Quilting and Sewing Projects: Light boxes are useful for aligning fabric, tracing patterns, and ensuring even stitching in quilting and sewing.
  8. Slide Viewing: For those who work with photographic slides, a light box provides a backlit platform to view and organize these slides effectively.
  9. Jewelry Design: Jewelers can use light boxes to inspect and design intricate pieces, as the even lighting helps highlight fine details.
  10. Education and Demonstrations: Light boxes can be used in educational settings for demonstrating drawing techniques, biology slides, or other visual aids.

Remember, the key advantage of a light box is its ability to provide uniform, bright light from beneath your working material, making it easier to see fine details and create precise, professional-quality work.

What is a light box also known as?

A light box is also commonly referred to as a light table. This term is especially used when the device is larger and resembles a table, allowing for bigger projects to be placed on its surface.

Both light boxes and light tables provide an evenly illuminated surface, ideal for various activities that require enhanced visibility and precision.


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