(The Only Guide You’ll EVER Need…)
Drawing and tracing without a lightbox 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 lightbox, and how does it work? Sometimes called light pad/table, a lightbox 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 lightbox 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, lightboxes can be used by photographers to view slides or negatives. Lightboxes 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 Tracing / Drawing LightboxWhile it is quite easy to build a DIY tracing lightbox 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 lightbox 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 lightbox?
- Power Supply
We reviewed the best drawing / tracing lightboxes of 2018 and created 2 comparison tables to help you pick the one that meets your needs. The first table is dedicated to A4 lightboxes, 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.
Top 6 Drawing / Tracing Lightboxes in A4 Size
Amzdeal: an extra thin and cheap light table for drawing
The Amzdeal is a USB-powered drawing light table 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 or an illustration portfolio.
There are gradations (in centimeters) marked on the top and left edges of the acrylic surface, which can be useful for drawing architectural plans. The light is even across the entire surface, and there are 6 brightness settings that allow you to adjust the table lighting according to ambient lighting and paper thickness/weight.
Max brightness is relatively low (2500 lux) compared to other light tables (we don’t recommend using it as a tracing lightbox), 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 BoxThe Zecti is very similar to the Amzdeal, both in terms of features and price. There are some differences, though. First, the Zecti is brighter (3500 lux). Second, the colour temperature is adjustable from warm white to cool white. Finally, the Zecti is USB-powered but the cable has a non-standard connector on one end to plug the lightbox. 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).
XP-Pen CP A4: a Japanese Light Tracing Light BoxXP-Pen is a Japanese company specialized in digital drawing supplies (graphic tablets, stylus pens). They also manufacture light boxes. The XP-Pen CP A4 tracing light box shares similar characteristics with its Chinese competitors (Zecti and Amzdeal), but its mains power supply allows it to be brighter (4060 lux, which is enough to trace using 2 sheets of 140 lb watercolor paper). Moreover, the brightness is dimmable from 0% to 100% (it is not limited to pre-defined settings). With its great features and attractive price, the XP-Pen CP A4 is one of the best entry-level light boards around.
Huion A4 & LB4 Light Pads
Huion is a Chinese company that manufactures all kinds of devices for artists and designers: graphic tablets, 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 dimming is gradual.
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 Lightbox
The most renowned tracing lightboxes are made in the USA by Artograph (based in Delano, Minnesota). The LightPad® LX series lightboxes are superior quality products (at a reasonnable price), with an elegant design and an exemplary finish. Moreover, they are extremely resistant thanks to their aluminium frames and reinforced chrome-steel corners.
High quality LED lights provides a perfectly even illuminated surface with a colour temperature of 6500K (daylight). The lifetime of the lamps is 50 000 hours, which corresponds to 17 years if the lightbox 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 tables), reliability and comfort of use make it a great choice for everyone from draftsmen to scrapbookers and photographers. L’Atelier DIY rates it 5/5.
Our Choices for the Best A2 & A3 Lightboxes of 2018
Junlon A3 Lightbox
You want an Artograph A3 lightbox for drawing or tracing, but you think it is overpriced? Then why not buy the Junlon A3AL instead? Just like the Artograph, the Junlon A3AL is very sturdy thanks to its aluminium frame. The illumination is even, very bright (4200 Lux) and adjustable (4 settings are available: 1600 Lux, 2100 Lux, 3400 Lux and 4200 Lux). Reasonable price is icing on the cake. All in all, it is an excellent value for money product.
Beware: do not mistake the A3AL model for the A3N one. The latter is fragile (no aluminium frame) and poorly made.
Huion Lightboxes in A3 and A2 size
Huion A2, LB3 and A3 lightboxes will surprise you with their high quality and low price. They are thin, evenly lit, and feature continuous dimming control. The maximum brightness of the Huion A3 is very high (4050 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 coloured 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 lightbox, 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 quality 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 lightbox for drawing or tracing and won’t compromise on quality.
What About the Other Drawing Lightboxes?
M.Way, Icoco, Gaomon, Yaufey, Yuelong, Tikteck, Voilamart, Luditek, LitEnergy, DBmier, Sinma, LightingWill, Illuminati, Glisteny, Skyblue, Aibecy, Satisfr, Savfy, Prozor,… there are a number of drawing and tracing lightboxes from unknown brands that we did not review in this article. 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 lightboxes, and who basically try to sell trendy products. Bad quality LED technology, fragile and faulty cables,… here are some examples of recurrent 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.
French version of this guide: Table lumineuse