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Light boxes! Tutorial

My most favorite DIY project is finished!!

Light box!!

I don't know what gave me the idea or why I decided to do this, but this is one of the DIY projects for my wedding that I'm most proud of.

I made two light boxes with our names on them out of plexiglass.

All in all, it was a relatively simple thing to do, but it was  a little pricey, and it required me doing a ton of things I'd never done before.

First, I needed to find a service provider who could help with materials.  I did a bit of searching for a laser cutter, and I stumbled upon Ponoko, which is a company that executes your 2D and 3D designs.  They have a pretty good selection of materials and they will laser cut your designs for you.   I then had to teach myself how to draw using Inkscape (an open source graphics program) with the parameters set by the laser cutter.  That took a little while, since I'm not a graphic designer and have never used programs like Illustrator or Draw.  What I really liked about Ponoko was that I could upload my design and get a price quote instantly. I learned really fast to eliminate any extraneous lines in my design to ensure that I used as little laser time as possible, since Ponoko charges by laser time.

Going through all of the materials that Ponoko offers, I decided that the fronts of my light boxes would be acrylic, and I picked out two colors that went with my peacock colors. They were .118 inches thick, and I decided to go with the largest size that they offered, which was a little over 30 inches by a little over 15 inches.

I then started hunting for fonts.  I wanted fonts that worked with our personalities and interests.  I decided to use one called Rebuffed for my own name, since the Buffy the Vampire Slayer was so important to me and a good hunk of my closest friends met on the official posting board back in the late 90s.  I used a font called Grouser for Graham because he's been DJing with in a revisited 1920s-40s style called Electroswing for the last year or so, and I wanted something that was somewhat Art Deco-y for him. I liked this particular font because it meant that I could keep the middle of the "A"s without too much extra gluing.  Graham did point out later that if we are generally "Glitter and Doom" (the name of a Tom Waits tour that we thought was particularly applicable to us), he's usually "Doom" and I'm usually "Glitter" but with the signs, we are reversed.  That's perfectly ok.

After I placed the Ponoko order, I started thinking about the materials for the rest of the box.  At first, I thought I'd build something out of wood, so just the front would glow.  But then I thought a little more about it, and I decided that I'd look for frosted plexiglass so the whole box would stand out.  It was a frustrating search, as I couldn't source any locally.  However I did find a company online called Eplastics, and they had exactly what I was looking for. And even better, they could cut it for me!  I decided to order .250 inch white plexiglass with about 35% light transmission, since they said that's what is generally used in light boxes for photography studios.  I think I probably could have gotten away with a little thinner plexi, but I know this is going to hold for a long time.

The last major material purchases were at IKEA and Home Depot.  I bought an LED lighting strip at IKEA.  I thought about maybe getting one of the color changing strips, but since the acrylic for the front was colored, I didn't think that any other colors would look good.  Plus this particular strip was $15.  I went to Home Depot for some MDF (I'm pretty sure the one I used was 1/8 inch thick, not 1/4 inch)  for the back of the boxes and some white spray paint to make the MDF blend better with the rest of the box.   I also stopped at my local art supply store for a roll of 12" vellum.

Plexiglass cut 6 inches.  Plexi with image.  Silicone.  Light from IKEA.

Vellum and gorilla glue in addition to the pieces of plexi, silicone and lights.

So in sum, the materials were cut out acrylic, plexiglass cut to size (remember to take off 1/2 inch to accommodate the width of the plexi, I took off from the 15 inch sides), lighting, silicone, gorilla glue, vellum, MDF and spray paint. Not pictured: super glue.

Also, I bought two pieces of plasticore (30"x20"), to make signs from the inside letters.  That particular part of the project was pretty straight forward:

With the pushed out letters, I made another set of signs.  Just attached them to a piece of plasticore.
The 'stina lettering was a little harder to place than the Graham lettering.

The lettering in my name was a little more challenging, since I couldn't just line up against one of the lines of the plasticore, so I traced it out from the other piece.  I think we're going to hang these two signs from the front gate of the property, to let people know they're in the right place.

The only real cutting I had to do was the MDF.

Because everything else was pre-cut, the only thing I had to cut was the MDF.  I had a circular saw (which I never get to use all that much), and I just traced the sign onto the MDF and went to town against the lines. My dog did not like the sound of the circular saw.  No limbs or other unintended appendages were cut off. I count that as a victory.

I started by making the four pieces of cut plexiglass into boxes with the silicone.  I had the two shorter pieces cut to go in the inside of the boxes, and so the silicone was on the outside short edges of those two pieces.

When making my first two connections, I used the fourth piece of silicone to square everything off. I also pressed something heavy against the other side to ensure that it was flush.

I used a book to ensure that my angles were at 90 degrees.   I then lined the top of my box with silicone, and I gently placed the sign on top of the box.  I put books on top of the sign to ensure that the plexi and acrylic  came together.  I let the plexi dry, and I used a razor to cut any of the silicone that bled out, making sure that I did not pull it out of the seam.

Next, I cut two pieces of vellum to the full length of the box.  I lined the outside edges of the inside of sign with super glue (super glue is more transparent than most other glues), and I pressed the vellum into the super glue, so the velum was pressed against the inside of the sign.  The vellum overlapped in the middle of the box, and I had to superglue vellum to vellum in the overlapping parts.   For the inside of the "a" in 'stina, I superglued the acrylic directly to the vellum. (I forgot to take pictures at this part.)

I went outside, and I spray painted the MDF white.  I then used gorilla glue to attach the lighting strip to the MDF, drilling a hole at the very bottom so the cord could slip through.

Finally, I lined the back of the box with gorilla glue, and I pressed the MDF on to the back of the box, letting it dry overnight.

Along the way, I made some mistakes, some costly, some not.

For example, I didn't come up with the vellum idea until well into production:

Without vellum

This is the box without the vellum or the spray paint on the MDF.  I quickly realized that the inside of the box had to work well in order for the whole box to work. The vellum was a great idea because it's easy to work with and it's not so thick that the light won't come through.

I had originally attached the vellum with Gorillia glue, and it looked TERRIBLE.  Gorilla glue expands, and it's not opaque, so there were all these splotches of glue along the edge of the sign. I had to meticulously go through and pull it out. Super glue worked much, much better.

I also neglected to measure the sign perfectly when I placed my Plexi order, and my first plexi was too short. I thought about cutting the signs down, but as you can see, we're pretty close to the edge. So I'll probably make some more light boxes that are designed for the smaller plexi later on down the line.  That was a $100 mistake.

But ultimately, I worked everything out and I couldn't be happier with the results.

The lightboxes are going to be on the outer edge of the dance floor, and they'll glow throughout the night.  Later, we'll hang them in our house.  We'll probably give the inverse signs to his mom.

Complete! Two light boxes!


Graham: $15.07 for cut
$15.75 materials
'stina: $14.30 cut
$15.75 materials
$11.23 shipping

plexi: $78.72
cut: $15.00
shipping: $18.00

Ledberg lighting strip: $14.99 x 2

Home depot:
MDF: 1/8 inch 2'x 4' $4.00ish x 2
spraypaint 1 can white: $1.
silicone clear: $3.99

Texas Art Supply:
Vellum 12" x 20': $4
Plasticore: $4.25 x 2

=$239.29 ish.

I think it's totally worth it.