(The Only Guide You’ll EVER Need…)
Drawing and tracing without a light box is like painting on a canvas without an easel: it is quite possible, but it is much less pleasant. But what is a drawing / tracing light box, and how does it work?
Sometimes called light pad/table/board, a light box is a transluscent surface that is evenly backlit by LEDs. It allows you to draw with the highest precision, wherever you are: in the dark, on the train, etc. Provided it is bright enough, the light source also makes it possible to trace a picture or its outline onto a non-transparent yet translucent paper such as sketch paper, drawing paper, canson paper, watercolor paper or stained glass paper. An illustrator can, for example, use a tracing light box to ink a comic strip directly from the pencil sketch, without tracing paper or carbon paper.
In addition to being great for drawing and tracing, light boxes can be used by photographers to view slides or negatives. Light boxes are also a really handy tool to use for crafts. Indeed, one can use them for scrapbooking and creative stationery (for embossing), but also for serigraphy, calligraphy, stained glass technique, quilling and even embroidery.
Features to Consider When Choosing Your Drawing Light Box
While it is quite easy to build a DIY light box with a plastic tray, an opaque glass plate and fluorescent tubes or LED bulbs / strips, it is recommended to go for a quality product with a perfectly even illuminated surface that does not heat. But with dozens of models on the market, choosing a light box can be a real headache. The perfect device has to meet your needs and offer the best quality at the most competitive price. So, what to look for in a tracing / drawing light box?
Do you plan to bring your drawing light box with you while you are out? Then you should consider buying one in A4 size. It will be lightweight and easy to carry in a bag or a backpack. Do you usually draw on A3 or A2 paper sheets? In this case, a larger device should be preferred. A3 is the most common size in pencil portraiture and other kinds of art while A2 is useful for portraits of full-body.
Obviously, a good light box should have a bright light. If you need one for tracing, the LED lighting should be bright enough to shine through 2 sheets of (thick) paper. A tracing light box should have a maximum brightness of at least 4000 lux. For other applications (drawing, photography, quilting, etc.), 1500-4000 lux should be more than enough. Most light boxes have adjustable brightness so you can dim or brighten the light to the level that suits your project. Generally, they offer 3-5 levels of brightness, but top-of-the-line products allow you to adjust the brightness continuously.
- Power Supply
A light box plugged to a power outlet will generally be brighter than one powered by USB. The latter must be connected to a computer to operate, but it is also possible to purchase a USB wall charger. However, with a USB-powered device, you can get a car charger and an external battery and thus have a completely portable light table that you can use everywhere.
We reviewed the best drawing / tracing light boxes for artists and created 2 comparison tables to help you pick the one that meets your needs. The first table is dedicated to A4 light boxes, and the second to A3- and A2-sized devices (click here to directly see the second table).
Please note: if viewing from Canada or Europe, article links may be substituted for an equivalent model if the selected model is not available in your country.
2019’s Top 6 Tracing Light Boxes in A4 Size
|Tikteck A4||Zecti A4||AGPtek A4||Huion A4||Huion LB4||Artograph Lightpad 930 LX|
|Tracing Light Box Picture|
|Light Pad Dimensions|
9.45 x 14.17 x 0.25 in
240 x 360 x 6.4 mm
10.2 x 13.7 x 0.2 in
259 x 348 x 5 mm
9.45 x 14.17 x 0.25 in
240 x 360 x 6.2 mm
10.6 x 14.2 x 0.3 in
270 x 360 x 8 mm
10.6 x 15.7 x 0.3 in
270 x 400 x 8 mm
11.4 x 14.4 x 0.47 in
229 x 305 x12 mm
8.26 x 12.20 in
203 x 304 mm
8.6 x 12.1 in
218 x 307 mm
8.26 x 12.20 in
210 x 310 mm
8.7 x 12.6 in
220 x 320 mm
9.0 x 12.6 in
228 x 320 mm
9 x 12 in
229 x 305 mm
|Color Temperature||8000 K||3200-5600 K||7000 K||9000 K||9000 K||6500 K|
|Max Brightness||2500 lux||3500 lux||4000 lux||4480 lux||1500 lux||5000 lux|
|Continuous Dimming Control?|
|Power Supply||USB||USB||USB/Power Adapter||Power Adapter||Lithium Battery||Power Adapter|
Tikteck A4: an Extra Thin and Cheap Light Board for Drawing
This is a USB-powered light board for drawing that is good value for the money. It is ultra thin (0.2 inches / 5 mm), very lightweight and it can easily fit into a document-case, along with your sketchbook, your drawings and/or your illustration portfolio.
There are rulers (with gradations in centimeters) on the top and left edges of the acrylic surface, which can be useful for drawing architectural plans. The illumination is flicker-free and even across the entire surface. Moreover, by holding the on-off button, you can adjust the table lighting according to ambient lighting and paper thickness/weight.
Max brightness is relatively low compared to other products (we don’t recommend using it as a light board for tracing), but it is sufficient for most uses. And with its low price, this light table is a great choice for children who want to practice and learn how to draw.
Zecti Drawing Light Box
The Zecti is very similar to the Tikteck A4, both in terms of features and price. There are some differences, though. First, the Zecti is brighter (3500 lux). Second, the Zecti is USB-powered but the cable has a non-standard connector on one end to plug the light box. Pro: it is more durable than a conventional microUSB connector, which limits the risk of damage and bad contact over time. Con: if you loose the cable, you won’t be able to use your drawing light box anymore (but this problem should be put into perspective given the extremely low price of the device). Last, but not least, the color temperature is adjustable from warm white (3200 K) to cool white (5600 K).
Of note, a color temperature of 5000 K is recommended for viewing and judging color transparencies / slides. Since all other light boxes have color temperatures ranging from 6500 K to 9000 K, the Zecti stands out as the device of choice for photographers.
AGPtek A4 Tracing Light Box
The AGPtek A4 is thin, lightweight, has a ruler (in centimeters). This tracing light box can be powered by connecting it to any USB port or an electrical outlet using the supplied AC adapter. This is great, because it allows you to use the device without requiring a computer nearby.
This light box has 3 levels of illumination: low, medium, and high. The brightest light setting (4000 lux) is bright enough to trace using 2 sheets of 140 lb watercolor paper. With its great features and attractive price, the AGPtek A4 is one of the best entry-level light boards around.
Huion A4 & LB4 Light Pads
Huion is company that manufactures all kinds of devices for artists and designers: graphic tablets, stylus pens, pen tablet monitors, drawing light pads… Huion A4 & LB4 models are great light pads at a great price: they are ultra slim, light and beautifully made. Illumination is uniform, and the brightness is dimmable from 0% to 100% (the power button acts like a dimmer switch: you just have to press and hold it to change the brightness).
With 4800 lux, the Huion A4 is one of the most luminous light pads on the market, while the Huion LB4 is the first drawing light pad ever with a rechargeable Lithium battery. Huion LB4 has an autonomy of 5 hours, during which it can be used completely wirelessly. It’s the perfect portable drawing board! However, Huion LB4 has a much lower brightness (1500 lux) than the A4 model which has a mains power supply.
Artograph Lightpad 930 LX: the American-Made A4 Light Box
The most renowned tracing light boxes are made in the USA by Artograph (based in Delano, Minnesota). The LightPad® LX series light boxes are superior quality products (at a reasonnable price), with an elegant design and an exemplary finish. Moreover, they are extremely resistant (see for yourself here and there ) thanks to their aluminium frames and reinforced chrome-steel corners.
High quality LED lights provides a perfectly even illuminated surface with a color temperature of 6500K (daylight). The lifetime of the lamps is 50 000 hours, which corresponds to 17 years if the light box is operated for 8 hours a day. The Artograph LightPad 930 LX has adjustable brightness (from 500 to 5000 lux) so you can brighten or dim the light to suit your tracing needs. Its super brightness (Artograph makes the brightest light tracing tables), reliability and comfort of use make it a great choice for everyone from draftsmen to scrapbookers and photographers. It’s probably the best tracing light box on the market.
Our Choices for the Best A2 & A3 Light Boxes for artists
|AGPtek A3||Huion LA3||Huion LB3||Artograph Lightpad 940 LX||Huion A2||Artograph Lightpad A950 LX|
|Light Box Dimensions|
14.6 x 18.2 x 0.24 in
370 x 470 x 6.2 mm
14.2 x 18.8 x 0.3 in
360 x 479 x 8 mm
13.8 x 19.7 x 0.3 in
350 x 500 x 8 mm
14.8 x 19.8 x 0.47 in
375 x 502 x 12 mm
14.7 x 22.4 x 0.3 in
373 x 570 x 8 mm
20.5 x 26.8 x 0.47 in
520 x 680 x 12 mm
13 x 16.9 in
330 x 430 mm
12.2 x 16.9 in
310 x 430 mm
11.8 x 16.5 in
300 x 420 mm
12 x 17 in
305 x 432 mm
12.6 x 20.5 in
320 x 520 mm
17 x 24 in
432 x 610 mm
|Color Temperature||6000 K||10000 K||9000 K||6500 K||10000 K||6500 K|
|Max Brightness||2600 lux||4050 lux||1500 lux||5000 lux||2000 lux||5000 lux|
|Continuous Dimming Control?|
|Power Supply||USB/Power Adapter||Wall Adapter||Lithium Battery||Wall Adapter||Wall Adapter||Wall Adapter|
AGPtek A3 Tracing Light Box
The AGPtek A4 is slim and surprisingly lightweight for its size. The illumination is even and adjustable (3 settings are available). The brightest setting (2600 lux) is bright enough to allow you to trace from light sketch paper onto watercolor or bristol paper.
The device comes with a 6 feet (1.8 m) long USB cable. An AC adapter is also included, so you don’t need a computer when you have a power outlet within reach. It is also possible to connect the AGPtek A3 to an external battery for complete mobility.
Reasonable price is icing on the cake. All in all, it is an excellent value for money product.
Huion Light Boxes in A3 and A2 Size
Huion A2, LB3 and LA3 light boxes will surprise you with their high quality and low price. They are compact, evenly lit, and feature continuous dimming control. The maximum brightness of the Huion LA3 is very high (4500 lux), while that of the Huion A2 and Huion LB3 is much lower (⩽ 2000 lux). This light intensity of 2000 lux is high enough to make a drawing on white paper, but if you plan to use colored canson sheets, you will need to choose a model that offers more intense lighting. Also of note, the LB3 is battery-powered, which makes it very mobile: you can trace or just draw absolutely anywhere you want.
However, be careful before buying a Huion A2 light box, because the dimensions of the lit surface are smaller than those of an A2 page (12.6 x 20.5 inches / 320 x 520 mm instead of 16,54 x 23,39 inches 420 x 594 mm). So make sure that it is the right size for the sheets you usually use.
Artograph LightPad 940 LX (A3) and LightPad 950 LX (A2)
The LightPad 940 LX and LightPad 950 LX by Artograph feature the same lightweight yet robust aluminium design as the 930 LX, but with larger lit area. The robustness of Artograph products is particularly reassuring when it comes to large format LED light boxes.
As usual with Artograph, high intensity LEDs provide a perfect, evenly lit surface, and the brightness is continuously adjustable, from 500 to 5000 lux. With all these high-end features comes inevitably a high price tag. The Lightpad A940 and A950 are therefore premium products that are intended for artists or architects who will frequently use their light box for drawing or tracing and won’t compromise on quality.
What About the Other Drawing Light Boxes?
There are a number of drawing and tracing light boxes from unknown brands that we did not review in this article (i.e. M.Way, Icoco, Gaomon, Yaufey, Yuelong, Voilamart, Luditek, Amzdeal, Litenergy, DBmier, Sinma, LightingWill, Illuminati, Glisteny, Skyblue, Aibecy, Satisfr, Savfy, Prozor, etc.). You should know that Amazon sells a large number of Chinese generic products that are imported by third parties who don’t know much about drawing light boxes, and who basically try to sell trendy products. Bad quality LED technology, fragile and faulty cables, etc. are some examples of common problems with poorly made Chinese products. Of course, we should not generalize and some Chinese manufacturers produce surprisingly good quality products at low prices. So, be sure to read customer reviews before buying a LED light box from an unknown brand.
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French version of this guide: Table lumineuse