When we started this website a year ago, it didn’t take long for me to realize my photos needed better lighting. Of course, I went to Pinterest to see if I could find a tutorial on how to make one, but none of them suited my needs. At the time, we were staying in a tiny condo, so it was unrealistic to make it out of a big cardboard box—I had no place to store it and I couldn’t leave it out. My solution was to design my own DIY Collapsible Lightbox.
Since the projects we make here in the Vault can be much larger than say jewelry or a plate of food, I needed mine (pictured above) to be 24 inches, squared. That’s much larger than what most of you need, so this tutorial will show you how to make a smaller version. What’s great about this design, though, is that you can customize it to any size you like, all the sides just need to be equal. I chose the dimensions below because Dollar Tree foam board is 20 inches by 30 inches and I wanted to give you the most frugal options.
- 6 – 20-inch by 30-inch Foam Board Sheets (from Dollar Tree)
- Box Cutter or Similar
- White Duck Tape
- 1 1/8 Yards White Sport Nylon Fabric (OR get them to cut one 19-inch piece and one 20-inch piece)
- 3 Work Lamps with Clamps
- 3 Daylight Bulbs or OttLite Bulbs
- Extension Cord with Three Outlets
- Long Ruler or Tape Measure
- (Optional) Pencil
- (Optional) Cutting Mat & Rotary Cutter
Step 1: Use the box cutter (or pencil) and long ruler to mark notches 20 inches in from both of the 30-inch sides.
Step 2: Use the long ruler to make a long straight edge to guide your box cutter to cut off the 20-inch segment. The goal is to have six, 20-inch by 20-inch squares. Make sure to cut on a cutting mat or other safe surface.
TIP: When you make that first cut, don’t cut very deep. Then sit the board on its side and slightly fold the board back on the cut. Now you can push the box cutter all the way through without cutting anything underneath, plus it will make a cleaner cut.
Step 3: Remeasure all the sides of all the squares to make sure they’re all 20 inches in length (or your desired length). A slight variance is fine, but if one is off by like 1/2 inch, it will throw off the build later. If you have one that is much smaller, save it for the top or bottom.
Step 4: You will be using only four squares for the next few steps. Use the box cutter (or pencil) and the long ruler to mark notches 2 inches in from the edge in each corner.
Step 5: Use the long ruler to guide your box cutter to cut the fours lines to make a square. Your goal is to cut out the center, leaving a 2-inch border. Use the above tip to cut shallow at first and then finish on its side.
Step 6: Take square (A) and square (B) and position them into a 90-degree angle. Use white Duck tape to tape the two squares together on the outside while they are at 90 degrees. This is important for folding later.
Step 7: Take square (C) and square (E) (solid) and position them into a 90-degree angle. Use white Duck tape to connect the two squares together on the outside while they are at 90 degrees just like the previous step.
Step 8: Position the two 90 degree pieces (A&B and C&E) together to make a box. Tape the (A&B) piece to the (C&E) piece on the inside in the two un-taped corners. Taping them on the inside is important for folding later. You can test out how they fold if you like.
Step 9: Now tape the bottom square (F) to the back square (E) on the outside of the box.
Step 10: Tape the top square (D) to the front square (A) on the outside of the box. Now the box portion is done.
Step 11: You’ll need to cut three, 19-inch squares out of your Nylon fabric. For those with cutting mats and rotary cutters, this will be fairly simple. For those with scissors, it’ll be fine. The squares do not need to be perfectly square, they just need to be big enough to cover the openings and small enough to leave space to tape them on. If you’re using scissors, feel free to use a pencil to mark your measured cut lines. The bottom line is that unless you are entering this lightbox in your local county fair, no one will know if the fabric is cut perfectly or not.
TIP: If you don’t mind paying for two separate pieces, you can get your fabric store to cut one, 19-inch piece and one, 20-inch piece of fabric, then you’ll only have to make a few small cuts total.
Step 12: Tape the three, 19-inch fabric squares to the two sides and the top of your lightbox. I tore off little pieces for the corners first, then put longer pieces on the long edges. You don’t have to completely tape every exposed edge of the fabric, but it doesn’t hurt.
Step 13: Now you should be left with a 20 inch by 60-inch piece of fabric. You’ll use this for your backdrop. Lay it lengthwise on the bottom of the lightbox, going up the inside back, and out the top, over the back again. This design is great for draping backdrops and changing them out while the lid helps pin them in place.
Step 14: This step is super easy! Put your lightbulbs in your lamps and clamp them either to the box itself or to chairs or items around your lightbox. The three lamps should shine into the two sides and the top of the lightbox. An extension cord with three outlets at the end is helpful to power the lamps.
Of course, you need to see how this sucker folds up! It’s very simple:
- Lift and fold the top back.
- Pull out the backdrop.
- Fold back the bottom.
- Lift the entire box and “close.”
You are now ready to take your first photograph! I don’t know about your house, but mine is super dark and I simply cannot take great photos without a lightbox. Yes, outside in natural light is best, but the weather and available times to work don’t always match up with that. This puppy works 24/7, 365, rain or shine. Here’s a comparison between lightbox and no lightbox. The first is on bare wood, then with white nylon over wood, then with the lightbox.
For those of you who don’t need to photograph crafts or food or whatnot, a lightbox can still be very useful. Your background doesn’t have to be white either, you can get colored Nylon or use things like floor tile and baskets to make your photos stand out. Instead of having to find the perfect stock image for your parenting, lifestyle, or deal blogs, you can take your own amazing photos with your cell phone, like these.
Some of you might be questioning why I use Nylon unlike most of the other lightbox tutorials. Here are a few reasons:
- Muslin/ Cotton Fabric: I used this at first and all my photos kept coming out a dingy gray. A photographer I know pointed out that the fabric was absorbing the light and suggested the Nylon since it reflects the light. Also, everything sticks to this fabric!
- Tissue Paper: It’s too thin and too much light gets in, creating shadows. It also rips easily which isn’t ideal for constant tear down and storing.
- Poster Board: It doesn’t let in enough light, which is the point. It also doesn’t reflect the light on the inside.
- Curtain Sheers: The name says it all–they are way too sheer and let too much light into the box. I looked at Dollar Tree and Target and didn’t find any opaque curtain sheers, but if you find some pure white ones, they might work. You shouldn’t be able to see right through them, though.
- Nylon: It filters the light from the lamps well, it reflects the light inside perfectly, it’s durable, and things don’t stick to it, even glitter. Also, it comes in many colors for your backdrops.
Thanks for stopping by to see our DIY Collapsible Lightbox tutorial! If you have any questions about how to make it, please leave a comment below or comment on our Facebook page and we’ll get right back to you.
If you liked this tutorial, be sure to check out some of our other Recent Posts.