New Studio Light Table!

August 28th, 2012 | Posted in General

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’s the Light Pad recessed in my drawing board. There is a piece of clear plexi over it that matches the thickness of the Borco, so it’s a pretty seamless 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.


  1. lyn says:

    brilliant idea. I would imagine very flattering on the face as well.bring on photo opportunities.

  2. Lisa says:

    Wow, that’s nice. I got a huge antique drafting table (bakelight crank handles, the whole deal) for 50 bucks at a yard sale. It’s not very user friendly to adjust the angle, but now I’ve got a sentimental attachment! :^P

  3. Tracy Latham says:

    Tom, I followed your lead a few years ago with your original homemade light table, and I can deal with everything but the bulkiness of it. Admittedly, I don’t look at mine as much as you but suspect the flickering would get to me after day in and day out use. I noticed some LED light pads around the time I added the light box at my local art supply store in Nashville, and thought they were a nice concept. At the time, I was afraid they were not bright enough. Congratulations on your new piece of swanky gear and the streamlining of the all important drawing space.

  4. Jim Keefe says:

    Amazing – Incredibly innovative.
    One question, is the new light table hooked up to the Batman William Shakespeare Bust the way the old one was?

  5. Bill Karis says:

    very cool….I recessed a plexi-sheet into my drawing board a few years ago, and would put a light source on a tri-pod underneath. Your new setup sounds a lot more stable. Thanks for the information.

  6. michael Garisek says:

    Awesome Tom

  7. Stacy Curtis says:

    I replaced my DIY light table with the same LightPad a few months ago.
    I love it and it’s portable if you need to take work on the go.

  8. Max says:

    Hi, Tom!

    Do you know what exact color temperature this LighPad has?
    I can not find this info anywhere, so I would highly appreciate your help.



New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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