By Larry Brogan
Courtesy of Tattoo Road Trip: Most tattoo artists are already familiar with the idea of tracing stencil images, where you lay a piece of tracing paper over the original image and sketch out a line drawing. Many times the image you are tracing is very detailed or quite dark, making it difficult to render an accurate image because of the semi-translucent nature of the tracing paper or velum that you are using. This is where a light table or lightbox comes in very handy.
Typically, this is simply a sheet of glass or plastic, with a light behind it, that illuminates up through the paper image you are tracing, making for a clear, discernible image, which enables you to pull out more detail and create a much more accurate line drawing as well as save you time in the process.
Light boxes can be purchased from art and tattoo supply companies, and vary a in size, shape and cost, or they can be easily built by anyone with a little handyman skills. Most light tables utilize fluorescent light bulbs due to the cool nature of these bulbs as opposed to the high heat generated from incandescent or halogen lights. There are also light boxes that use LED lights and are, thus, able to be slimmer and more portable than the traditional fluorescent bulb boxes. I prefer the light from fluorescent bulbs over LED lights, but either can work well.
Large-scale drawing tables that double as light boxes can be found at art stores, or you can do what I did and build your own. I incorporated a two-foot by four-foot light table with a small desk that I built from two-by-fours and a two-by-four-foot Troffer fluorescent fixture (typically used in drop ceilings or as shop lights) and a piece of tempered glass. I used tempered glass, due to its inherent strength and the lessened likelihood of breakage over non-tempered glass. The glass was sandblasted on one side, in order to create a frosted translucent glass, instead of clear, and makes for a much more even light displacement and hides the light fixture underneath. You can also use a thick sheet of white Plexiglas, but that can be more prone to scratching and flexing, when you rest your arms on the table.
Tattoo artists who work tattoo conventions would benefit from the use of a light box but while traveling, but you can only bring so much with you. A very simple light box can be made from a clear clipboard (found at any office supply store) positioned over a bright light source. But be careful that you do not get too close to an incandescent bulb or else the plastic will warp. A fluorescent bulb gives off far less heat, with less chance of warping your clipboard. If it is daylight and you are near an outside window, just tape your design and tracing paper to the window for a quick light box solution. You can even utilize your computer’s monitor or laptop screen as a light box, in a pinch, especially if you are not able to print out an image.
(Larry can be found at Tattoo City Skin Art Studio in Lockport, IL.)