About five years ago I built a home-made light table into my drafting board in the studio using a fluorescent shop light, some pine boards, a piece of plexiglass and, of course, duct tape…I did a DIY post about it at the time. Here’s a pic:
This light table served me well, but it did have a fair share of problems:
- Using florescent tube lighting is hard on your eyes. There is an almost imperceptible flickering that occurs that fatigues your eyes and your brain after too long staring into it. I would get a headache or get very tired after a certain amount of time using it.
- The necessary thickness of the box/casing to contain the shop light unit made the drawing surface too high from where my knees cleared the underside of the table. That made it tough to lean over and work high up on a piece.
- The illumination is not even, there are four bands of bright light and even the sanded, diffusing plexiglass can’t completely even out the light.
- The surface are is too big. Light spills out on either side of the work, even with big pieces, and that screw up the effectiveness of the light table itself because there is too much ambient light.
- Anybody that tells you that florescents do not throw off heat is lying. They get plenty hot… not like incandescent bulbs do (I miss my sister’s Easy-Bake Oven cakes), but enough to make it uncomfortable after a while.
Fortunately technology has come a long way in 5 years. Artograph now makes a series of light-boxes called Light Pads, which are LED units that are amazingly light, thin and bright. They come in a variety of sizes, the largest being a whopping 17″ x 24″. I bought the 9″ x 12″ one to use as a portable light table when traveling, and I was blown away.
The 9″ x 12″ Light Pad is only 5/8 inches thick, and is incredibly light despite a solid aluminum casing. It comes with a felt-like sleeve and can be thrown into a small suitcase with ease. The light comes from Super Bright LEDs, which use a fraction of the electricity of regular lights, and are rated to last for 50,000 hours without failing. That’s 4 hours a day for 35 years. The light is perfectly even, and deceptively bright. When I first turned it on, it didn’t seem to be that bright. However in use it works better than my florescent light table thanks to less ambient light and just a better penetration of the overlying work. I can’t figure out exactly why, but it works like it’s brighter than the florescents. There is also almost no heat and no flicker. I can use it for hours without the surface getting warm of my eyes getting tired.
This really is the ultimate light table. I bought the big 17″ x 24″ Light Pad, disassembled my homemade job and using a jigsaw, a fresh piece of plexiglass and some Borco drawing board cover, I recessed the bigger Light Pad into my drawing board for an even surface:
Here it is in action. There is a 3 ply piece of Strathmore bristol over that pencil sketch!
I don’t get very excited about equipment too often, but this thing really is perfect. The only flaw is that it’s not cheap. I did get it cheaper online, so shop about to find the best price if you are interested in one.
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