The Tracing Light Box And Its Use

My Tracing Lightbox Set-up

I’ve owned a tracing lightbox for years and use it often. While light boxes themselves were not used in the Middle Ages, tracing often was. So I think using this tracing method is fine for scroll production if you choose.

If my goal were to create a completely authentic work I would use another tracing method. If I were entering a competition I would also document that method as period. That’s easy to do.

Me Working On A Preprint

Light boxes have many uses, besides the obvious 1:1 tracing. They’re helpful when reproducing the same pattern multiple times such as a repeating motif. They help when you want to align a design from one page with another page. They’re great when you want to use your earlier art to add to a current handout, notecard or other largess. I leave mine in place and use it as my work surface.

There are many lightboxes available to purchase. From very slender to standard deep sided ones, even free standing tables. Surface area, light source, and power supply also vary. Commercial prices start at $20 and go way up from there.

Where I live I usually shop at Dick Blick’s. That is where I bought my Autograph 12″x18″ Lite Tracer II. I’ve had it at least 10 years, so long I don’t remember what I paid. It was worth it because I haven’t even changed the bulb yet.

Prices have gone up. At least I know $125 for my same one seemed high. Amazon may have better rates than Blick, but they didn’t have my size.

It pays to shop around, especially with the many options available. When searching on-line, look for “tracing light box” or “copy board”. If not you’ll get photography items.


  • Weight and portability–I prefer a model I can easily move and store. Since I bought mine you can find ultra thin LED tracing pads that start at $40.
  • Even, strong light–Even light reduces misjudging line transfers due to artifact shadows.
  • Surface quality–Size and smoothness. If I were buying a new light box I would prefer it be at least 11″ x 17″ so it will be larger than the average scroll I do. That saves moving the support around as I work. The surface should also be free of scratches, shadows, and bumps.
  • Durability–I want a long life for any art investment. The more portable the light box the more important durability becomes. It’s even better when it has a warranty.
  • Value–I want quality for my money. As with anything, I’ll pay more for features when I know I’ll actually use them. Added features such as battery and computer connection must prove their higher cost to me.

Using a light box is simple. Place your original image under your support. I tape a few corners together with masking tape to prevent the line I’m drawing moving away from the original. This is important if your lightbox is smaller than the items you’re using and you must move it as you work. Dim the room lights and turn on the lightbox. I work across my page in a manner that does not smear my pencil line. After I’ve finished tracing the lines I want, I lift a corner and compare my tracing to my original. I check to see I haven’t omitted anything or need more detail.

Here are two videos showing artists using a light box.

If you’re interested, here are three YouTube videos that show economical, simple ways to make your own.

Using a lightbox is easier and less messy than some other forms of tracing, especially those from the Middle Ages. That’s why lightboxes are so popular.

Related Prior Post:
Is Tracing Period?

Categories: Materials And Tools

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