Tina Made a PVC Light Box

Last week, I did a first-ever collaboration project with Jason of Onigiri Everyday. We’d been meaning to make ourselves light boxes for months and months now, and we finally did it. I actually made one a few years ago out of a cardboard box and tissue paper– tutorial here— but I kept punching holes into the tissue paper. Oops. It became too annoying to replace the fragile paper over and over, so I wanted to try this (more durable) PVC pipe + fabric version.

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When we looked at the tutorial, it really didn’t seem very hard at all. But we ran into a few difficulties, and had to modify some of the original measurements/directions. Here’s the final list of materials we used (the list is for ONE box only, and the tutorial will be written for one box, though we each made one).

Materials:

  • 4 x 22″ sections of 1/2″ PVC pipe
  • 4 x 20″ sections of 1/2″ PVC pipe
  • 4 x ½” PVC 3-way side outlet elbows
  • 4 x 1/2″ PVC male adapters***
  • thin white fabric cut to 79.5″ x 26″ and 26.5″ x 26.5″ (e.g. muslin or a 200-count white bed sheet)
  • heat bond tape (“no-sew” hemming adhesive)
  • 2 small C-shaped hook screws
  • white poster board
  • kitchen twine (or anything similar)
  • 3 binder clips (one large, 2 small)
  • power drill
  • iron
  • scissors
  • tape measure/yardstick
  • hack saw (or PVC cutters, if you have)
  • 3 clamp lights with bulbs

***NOTE: The Home Depot we went to did NOT have PVC 3-way side outlet elbows without threading (one of the three holes had threading), which meant that the PVC pipes did not just fit right in– we had to buy adapters, which threw off our pipe measurements, reflected above. See picture below for labeled parts. If your PVC 3-way side outlet elbows are smooth (no threading), then you do NOT need the 4 adapters mentioned in the materials list above, and your PVC pipe should be cut into 8 x 22″ sections of 1/2″ pipe (as stated in the original tutorial), instead of 4 x 22″ and 4 x 20.”

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Onto the directions…

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Home Depot sells PVC pipes in 10′ lengths, so you need to buy 2 of those and cut them down to size– 4 pieces at 22″ each and 4 pieces at 20″ each (once again, if your side outlet elbows are smooth, cut 8 x 22″). We didn’t have a PVC cutter, but a hack saw worked just fine. Connect the 22″ pipes into a square shape using the side outlet elbows. Add the 20″ pipes, using the adapters if needed, into each of the 4 corners of the square. Finished frame should look like a table (4 legs with the ability to rest a flat surface on top). I forgot to take a picture of the frame alone, but you should be able to figure it out based on the very first picture in this post.

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The next step is the fabric. Cut 2 pieces– one that is 79.5″x26″, and another that is 26.5″x26.5″ (a square). Note that these measurements are different from the ones in the original tutorial– the original measurements were NOT ideal for us so the ones given in this post are what we recommend.  After cutting the fabric, use heat bond (“no-sew”) tape and an iron to create your slipcover that goes over the PVC frame.

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The finished slipcover should cover 3 vertical sides of the frame (using your long piece of fabric), as well as the flat top (your square piece). The picture above, from the original tutorial, shows this in blue– you’re essentially combining those 2 blue pieces (white in real life) to become one connected piece. Basically, the heat bond tape melts with the heat of the iron, fusing the fabric together. Helpful hint: It will be 92390x easier to have TWO people work on this step– one person to position and hold down the tape between the edges of the fabric, and another to do the ironing. After the slipcover is done, flip it inside out to hide the seams and make it look cleaner.

The original tutorial essentially ends here (after propping up a piece of poster board inside the light box to be used as an infinity wall). However, the poster board does NOT prop itself up (the tutorial suggests putting the box against some kind of support). To remediate this problem, we got creative and modified it so that the light box could be self-standing.

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Basically, we drilled holes in the inner parts of the back two legs of the light box, and added C-shaped hook screws where we could tie kitchen twine from which we could clip the poster board.

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The holes were drilled 16″ from the bottom (so measure from your ground surface up the pipe leg).

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Jason is such a boy scout, he somehow tied the kitchen twine in such a way that the length could be adjustable.

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Clip the short end of your poster board onto the twine using binder clips (shown above with one– use two for more stability). This is what the inside of the light box should look like with the fabric slipcover on it.

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We used a large binder clip to secure the top edge of the slipcover to the PVC frame.

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ALL DONE! Kind of. Next up is to add light sources. The light box is pretty big, so it’s imperative that you have even lighting from the top, as well as the two sides.

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We used 3 clamp lights. One clipped onto the back horizontal PVC pipe (as shown above), and the two side lamps were slipped onto chairs. Note that in the picture above, the 3rd lamp is hidden from view (the very right side of the picture), but it’s there! Anddddd the results of the light box in action:

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These were taken with a Canon Rebel T3 and post-processed via VSCO cam (just slightly– changed the contrast a bit). The pictures would have probably been fine as is had I had my camera in the correct settings, but it was only my third time shooting in manual and I’m still trying to figure things out by trial and error. 🙂

Total cost of the light box (minus the lamps) was ~$16. Super inexpensive, and totally worth it if you want to up your photography game.

Jason and I decided we would separately take pictures and post about this project, so read his take on our light boxes here. It’s so interesting to see the project through someone else’s eyes…! Hopefully more collabos with him to come in the near future. In the meantime, check out the rest of his blog for some crazy amazing DIYs… a couple pictured below:

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industrial pipe shelf

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vintage soda crate chalkboard nightstands

Pretty sweet eh? If you’re not into girly crap like I am, his blog is good resource for male-oriented DIYs. 🙂 ‘Til the next collab…

PEACE.

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7 thoughts on “Tina Made a PVC Light Box

  1. Pingback: Let There Be Light: DIY PVC Lightbox for Photography |

  2. oh good job t! 🙂 i made a mini one with white poster board but it’s definitely not as good as that… maybe i’ll try to make one like that! thanx for the tutorial! 🙂 xoxo

  3. Pingback: Tina Made Wooden Instagram Coasters | Tina Made It

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