A light box is one of the most useful tools you can have in your studio. Resembling a stripped-down tablet, these slim devices illuminate flat surfaces from behind so you can place material on top for tracing or close observation. Use a light box, for instance, to weed vinyl, trace designs on watercolor paper, transfer tattoo illustrations, illuminate diamond painting, and view photo negatives. While you can find full, table-size light boxes, the market for portable ones is growing. These are typically engineered with LEDs to reduce eye fatigue, offer different brightness settings, and require connection to a power source to operate. Below, a roundup of our favorites.
1. Gaomon GB4 Light Box
This light box comes from one of the biggest players in the digital tablet game, and it’s engineered with the same sophisticated, reliable technology for which Gaomon is known. Just 0.2 inches thin and weighing 1.6 pounds, it features an acrylic surface that is super smooth and durable. The distribution of LED light is even across the active area (just under 10 inches by 14 inches) and is bright enough to show through heavy media, even something as thick as 140-pound watercolor paper. A single button serves as a power switch as well as a dimmer. Notably, this light box is designed to remember the brightness setting of your last session.
2. FirstPower Rechargable A4 Light Pad
Reliable light pads with built-in batteries are difficult to come by, and this is the best one we’ve found. On a full charge, the lithium battery of this streamlined device can last for up to six hours, depending the degree of brightness. There are five preset levels (instead of full-range dimming); the maximum level emits quite a lot of light but doesn’t reach the intensity of boxes that must always be plugged in. The light pad does, however, accommodate a USB adapter to both charge and power the device. Compared with our top pick, this lightbox offers a smaller illuminated area and is thicker, but it’s also lighter.
3. Tiktecklab Ultra-Thin LED Light Box
This is a budget-friendly light box that’s about as thin as Gaomon’s product and features an illuminated area about 9 by 12 inches large. It does everything you’d want a tracing tool to do: The light is strong enough to be effective in daylight and is adjustable to three levels, and its surface is uniformly smooth. The tech isn’t as streamlined as higher-end products, and there’s a black mesh pattern that shows up below the surface, but unless you intend to use this box to view negatives, we don’t consider this a dealbreaker.
4. Huion A2 Light Box
Another light box designed by a digital tablet company, this is an excellent option if you’re looking for an upgrade pick. While the pad is just 0.3 inches thick, the illuminated surface is massive. Weighing 4.4 pounds, this is a heavier device than our other picks, but it also offers more power since it runs via a plug-in AC adapter, which can generate more brightness than a USB connection. Other notable features include an anti-slip base, full-range dimming, and embedded centimeter rulers.
5. Ohuhu LED Light Box
Known for its high-quality alcohol markers, Ohuhu has also developed a light box that caters, of course, to serious illustrators. This relatively inexpensive tool is packed with lots of smart details: measurements (in centimeters) along two edges, a rubberized base to prevent skidding, and a magnetized surface so you can use magnets (included) to hold your paper in place. Most notably, the box offers three light temperatures—cold, warm, and yellow—intended to balance the tones of various paper types.