The best lightbox for tracing
Investing in the best lightbox for tracing could transform your creative workflow. A lightbox allows you to trace easily and accurately onto normal paper of various sizes, and so are used widely by artists, illustrators, designers and architects. It can be used in the initial creative process too, for example for copying a rough sketch on scrap onto professional drawing paper.
The best lightboxes are also useful for non-pen or pencil tasks, such as scrapbooking, viewing slides and photo negatives, tattoo design, calligraphy, quilting and so on. But whatever you’re going to be using your lightbox for, we’re confident that you’ll find the perfect model for you down below. Want to give the modern digital version a go? See our best drawing tablets round up, or specifically the best drawing tablets for kids.
This old-school art tool has never been more popular, and there are now quite a few quality options to choose from – as well as bargain options if you’re looking for something more basic. Read on for our pick of the best lightboxes for tracing, or for more in-depth information, jump to the how to choose a lightbox section.
The best lightboxes for tracing in the US
Huion leads the pack when it comes to the best lightboxes for tracing right now, and this is our top A3 lightbox. It’s slim, with a large working area, ideal for tracing onto larger artworks. This lightbox promises a cold, even light, and the powerful LED illumination means it’ll work with even the thickest of paper. Plus, the brightness is adjustable. It shouldn’t heat up in use either: you can use it for 24 hours in a go, if you need.
On the downside, the power cord is quite short (just 48 inches), so you might want to pop an extension cord in your basket too, unless your desk is right next to a power outlet. That’s a minor niggle though: overall this is a great quality and generously sized light box that should more than meet most artists’ tracing requirements.
If it’s an A4 lightbox you’re after, we’d recommend the Huion’s L4S. This is a reliable, good quality product with all the functions you need from a light box. You can adjust the brightness level using the power button (it’ll remember your preference next time you turn it on, too). It’s also lightweight and portable, with an included bulldog clip to keep your artwork in place as you trace. A 2-metre USB cable is included, for charging. The power in this product is its portability: if you want the flexibility of working larger than A4, we’d recommend our number 1 pick (also from Huion). But if you can deal with the smaller size and want something you can pop in your backpack and carry about wherever you need it, this is an excellent option.
If you’re on a budget and want a cheap light box that does the job, try the LitEnergy A4 Tracing Light Box. An Amazon best-seller, this lightbox is slim and lightweight, and delivers a very decent 4000 lux of LED illumination for a very low price. The light can be dimmed or brightened at the touch of a button, and there’s a memory feature that remembers the settings when you switch it off. It powers via an included USB cable, although if you want to plug it in at the wall you’ll need to pick up an adapter separately.
For ultimate flexibility when it comes to scale, this is largest light box Huion makes. Although it’s important to note that although many places refer to it as an A2 lightbox, the illuminated area is smaller than A2, you still have a massive working area to play with: 20.5 x 12.6 inches, the largest on our list. While the size means you’re probably not going to be toting this around very often, it’s also pretty slim at just 0.28 inches thick.
Like all the Huion light boxes, you’re getting powerful, even LED illumination that can be continuously adjusted using the power switch, and the memory function means this light box will remember your previous settings when you switch it back on. It’s powered via wall socket, and can be used for long periods without heating up. If you need a generous workspace for your tracing, this should be your top pick.
Artograph’s lightbox is significantly more expensive than its rivals on this list. But if money is no object, it can offer something the others don’t: a (fully adjustable) range of brightness from a dim 500 lux to a sunglasses-bothering 9000 lux. That’s going to make your tracing a heck of a lot easier, especially if you’re working with heavier weights of paper, or even fabric. The model looks pretty darned swish too, with an extruded aluminium frame and chrome steel corners that are both beautifully sleek and physically durable.
With a decent working area of 12 x 9 inches, it comes bundled with a protective storage sleeve and power supply. There’s also a dedicated storage bag, sold separately, which is very cleverly designed and well worth investigating. In short, this light box doesn’t come cheap, but with its good looks and that superior 9000 lux of brightness, you are getting what you pay for.
The best lightboxes for tracing in the UK
Huion’s L4S Light Pad is a great option if you’re new to the light boxes and want a device you can easily carry anywhere. It offers adjustable levels of brightness via the power button and a brightness memory function. The level of brightness it offers, at 1100 lux, isn’t the highest on our list, but it’s still sufficient for most tracing purposes. The L4S is cheaper than many, and comes with a 2m-long USB cable (though not an adapter) and a bulldog clip to fix your papers in place.
The main downside is if you want to go bigger than A4. At 210 x 310mm (roughly A4 size), this is one of the smallest among the models featured here. But that’s why it has such excellent portability, so if the latter is what’s important to you, it’s clearly one of the best lightboxes.
If the L4S made you think Huion only did small lightboxes, then this model will quickly disabuse you of that notion. This model offers a very generous working area of 20.5 x 12.6 inches, the largest on our list. It’s also super-thin, and comes with a 6.56-feet long cable and plug, so it can be powered directly from a wall socket.
You adjust the brightness not in ‘steps’, but in a more graduated way by holding down the power button, and although this can be tricky to get used to at first, you’ll soon get the hang of it. There’s also a brightness memory function. Overall, this is a high-quality, solidly constructed model that’s not only lightweight and slimline (making it easy to transport and store) but most crucially, offers a superior-sized active surface. So if you want a generous amount of workspace for your tracing, it comes highly recommended.
Looking for something that’s cheap and cheerful, which just gets the job done? Then we’ll recommend the LitEnergy A4 Tracing Light Box, which offers excellent value. This model provides brightness up to a very decent 4000 lux. It’s fully adjustable: keep pressing the touch switch for several seconds until you get the desired level you want. And there’s a smart memory function too.
It comes with a USB cable (although no adapter) and user manual, and the company offers an impressive 360-days warranty and hassle-free return policy. And that’s basically it: there’s nothing particular special or different about this model. But it does the job it’s tasked with well, and for such a low price, what more could you ask for?
Looking for a good quality A3 lightbox? Huion has you covered there, too. This model is slim, with a large working area of bright, non-flickering, solid LED light. Again, you can take advantage of the graduated brightness levels to suit different paper thicknesses. You can also use it for extended periods without it heating up. On the downside, some users have complained the power cord is too short, so double-check with the retailer you’re buying from, and perhaps pop an extension cord in your basket too if you’re concerned. Overall, though, this is a great quality and generously sized light box that should suit most artists.
The final entry in our roundup of the best light boxes for tracing comes from Lumsburry. If you need an A3 light box but don’t want to shell out too much cash, this is a great basic option. Although you don’t get graduated dimming, there are still 3 different brightness levels to choose from. There’s a ruler along the top and side edges, and you also get some nice added extras thrown in: a drawing glove (to keep your hand clean when working with charcoal or pencils and a some non-slip mats to keep the board firmly in place. While the Huion will last you longer, this is a good basic option.
How does a lightbox work?
A lightbox is quite a simple device. It’s basically a square or rectangular container with a glass or plexiglass surface, and a light shining beneath it. You switch the light box on, place the image you want to copy on the glass, place your paper on top, and the light should enable you to see your image clearly enough to trace it.
Depending on the thickness of paper, you may have to dim the lights in your studio; the darker you make the room, the easier the image will be to see on the lightbox.
Also note that while these devices are called ‘lightboxes’, they’re not big, chunky and box-like. Most are indeed very sleek and thin, so they’re also often called ‘light tables’ or – more accurately still – ‘light pads’ as they’re similar in size and shape to a notepad, or indeed an iPad.
How to choose a lightbox
In this post, we’ve gathered together the the best lightboxes for tracing that represent the best value on the market today.
They all offer a high level of transparency, and adjustable levels of brightness, to help with both accuracy and eye strain. So the choice between them will mainly come down to specifics like the size of working surface you need, how lightweight and portable you need the device to be, and how strong you need the light to be.
The overall best lightbox for tracing, in our view, is the Huion A3 LED pad, which is the second on our list. That’s because it’s an extremely reliable and solid performer, offers a good range of brightness levels, a great brightness control system, a generous work surface area, and an excellent bag of extras.
However, other models of lightbox may be more suited to your specific needs, so we’ve also included five other on our list, each of which has a unique selling point.