Thrifty Luggage Light Box



A couple weeks ago I found THIS awesome DIY thrifty luggage light box on Instructables and it gave me an idea. I have been wanting to make a light box to burn screen prints and my handy father-in-law was coming for the holidays so I recruited his help.

First we went shopping! We found a florescent light panel (the piece that holds the light bulbs) and flush toggle switch for a couple bucks at the Habitat for Humanity store.  We got a new electronic ballast from Lowes (between $10-15 depending on whether you get a 2 bulb or 4 but we'll get to that).  We had an old computer power cord but needed something to plug it into so we found a computer repair store and scored a scrap part for FREE!  Last but not least, I ordered a piece of square 1/4" acrylic from the glass shop and two (white) black fluorescent light bulbs online. In doing research (white) black fluorescent bulbs are ideal for burning screen prints. However, you can use regular fluorescent or halogen light bulbs (I do not recommend halogen because they contain hazardous chemicals) they just take longer to burn your screen.  I got my bulbs from for a reasonable price and they were here in 2-3 days.

Recap. So, here is your shopping list: 
  • luggage in desired size (recommend no smaller then 15-16" long to fit 12" bulbs)
  • light panel from a flourescent light fixture (2-4 bulbs; wires intact)
  • electronic ballast (2 or 4 bulbs)
  • toggle switch (or any switch really)
  • old computer power cord and receiving outlet
  • 1/4" acrylic cut to size
  • fluorescent bulbs or (white) black bulbs
  • 4 angle brackets and bolts to hold the acrylic in place
  • white semi or gloss paint
If your super thrifty this should cost you around $50-60 (for a 2 bulb box) and no more then $100.  To complete this project you'll also need a drill, sharp box knife or Dremel, some miscellaneous screws/bolts, wire nuts, wire clippers, pliers, paint brush and E6000 glue. You will also need some short of saw and sander to round the edges of your acrylic if you cannot get it cut the exact shape at the store. We cut the acrylic corners ourselves with a scroll saw and sanded the edges to save a few bucks.


First thing we did was gut out the fabric and everything from the bottom of the luggage.  At this point I would recommend painting the bottom first but we got excited and fit all our light components to make sure they would work then painted. The paint simply help reflects the light as well as conceal the unattractive mess you made by pulling out all the fabric (which we did because some older fabrics are not fire retardant and we didn't want to take a chance with exposed wires).

Before you paint you will actually want to cut the holes for your toggle switch and power outlet. We had a Dremel but most luggage can be cut with a sharp box knife and some patience. There is no real logic to placement. We just placed them were we thought most convenient and/or attractive. In the tutorial he placed them both along the side of the luggage, which is a bit easier to wire.


Once you've cut your openings and painted the bottom then you want to install your light components and wire everything together. I had help but its pretty easy and you can find lots of basic wiring information online for ballasts and switches. Just make sure all your exposed wire ends are connected properly or enclosed in a wire nut.


Next we installed four angle brackets along each side of the luggage about 1/4" from the top and simply bolted the acrylic in. How did you secure your nut through 1/4" glass you ask? I took four nuts and secured them to the bottom of the bolt openings with E6000 glue in advance. Just make sure you don't get glue in the threads or it won't work!


Plug it in and your done!


I love that the cord is removable and can be concealed inside the luggage when not in use. I am going to go a step future and add pockets to the upper lid so I can store my screens and screen making supplies in the luggage as well.


Then it will all be hidden in this attractive vintage luggage in my office. :)


But first I had to test it out and make my first screen print ever! I'm sure there will be lots more to come as I keep finding fun vintage images and new ideas for the shop.


TIPS: I used a two bulb fixture hoping the white paint would help reflect the light a bit. If you are simply using this as a light box for drawing then two bulbs is more then enough. However, for screen printing you must be directly above the light source for it to properly burn the image. Unless you are only doing small screens (which I mostly am) then two bulbs is fine but I highly recommend going with a four bulb fixture.  Also, if you just want a simple light box for drawing as shown in the original tutorial then you can frost your acrylic by taking a medium then light sand paper to the bottom.  Just make sure the smooth side is facing up when installing it into the luggage.


  1. Cool idea! What materials did you use to create the screen print, I am unfamiliar with that process? Molly

    1. Tara! Thanks for mentioning our

  2. I used screens from an online store that already have the emulsion (chemicals) on them. Here's how the basics work if your not familiar:

  3. Thanks, that video was awesome. I think I'm going to have to try and make my own screen print now! - Molly

  4. Great article, Tara! Thanks for mentioning our We'll definitely send this to our readers.