Update: Tweaking my DIY light table

Since my original post on creating my own light table, I have received all kinds of wonderful ideas on how to improve on my plan. I thought I should share the ideas with you so you can decide what will work best for you…

The first suggestion was to paint the inside of my plastic container with a silver paint so to help contain and reflect the light inside the container. I used a plastic primer and then a metallic paint to paint the inside of my plastic container…

The next suggestion was to paint the bottom of the lid of the container with a frost paint. I found a frost paint at Lowes and tried it out…

I also decided to try different types of battery operated lights. These lights are florescent lights from Walmart. They do cost more money but I bought four of them and added batteries…

I actually bought two short and two long (the short ones were cheaper). Here they are inside the box without the lid.

The florescent lights are a little brighter so I laid them on their sides around the edges….

What I really like…

  • I love using battery operated lights so I can set the light box anywhere I want in the room. I can set it on a table or on the floor. I wont leave the lights on too long at a time so I am hoping the batteries will last for awhile.
  • I like that the basket is lite weight and durable.
  • I like that I can store my light table supplies inside the plastic box and put it all away easily.
  • I like the florescent lights better than the button lights for this but I still plan to use my button lights too.
  • I really like that metallic paint  I am thinking it would be fun to use for other ideas down the road. I could make my own play pizza pans:)

What I don’t like…

  • Having to buy so many AA batteries but the payoff of being able to move the light box anywhere I want is worth it to me.
  • The frost paint was a little blotchy in spots but it worked well enough.

I have a few more ideas to share with you on things you can make to explore on top of the light table but it will be a week or so before I can get them all ready to share.   I hope this is helpful to you all as you plan your own light tables. If you have any other suggestions or light table ideas – leave a link below to your light table ideas.  For now – I am happy with how this turned out and plan to introduce it in the classroom very soon.

To see the original light table post, click here!

To see how I made the colorful discs on top of the light table click here!

By |2011-06-18T00:51:03+00:00June 18th, 2011|

About the Author:

Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. has been working and teaching in the field of early childhood education for over 30 years. Deborah currently owns and teaches in her own part-time, private preschool called The Children’s Studio. Deborah’s deep passion for teaching and working with young children is documented and then graciously shared with millions of readers around the world through her blog and other social networking communities. Deborah believes that young children learn best through play and exploration and embraces this belief in all that she does in her own classroom so that she can effectively and passionately share rewarding, real- life, tried-and-true practices with other teachers, parents, and leaders across the field of early childhood education.


  1. Fiona Fajardo-Hernandez June 18, 2011 at 1:23 am - Reply

    Instead of using frost paint on the inside of your lid, you might want to try an easy (and cheap :D) recipe for frosting windows which I found on the internet (I’ve forgotten where :S). I’ve tried this on glass, and it worked beautifully. I’ve never tried it on plastic, so it might take a little experimenting to get it to work. I’m also not sure if the bulbs emit enough heat to melt the DIY frosting. But well, I guess it might be worth a try : ) Here’s the recipe and instructions for use:

    Frosting Windows (Duplicating Jack Frost)
    This is perfect to create privacy, such as in a bathroom, or for shielding an ugly view. Make sure your windows are clean before you start.
    Dissolve 4 heaping tablespoons of Epsom salts in one cup of beer. This will foam. Let set for at least 30 minutes. The salt crystals will partially dissolve.
    Apply to window. This can be done with a 2 inch paint brush, but for a nicer effect, dip a facial tissue or terry cloth in the liquid and wipe over the window as if you were washing it. Then while the window is still wet go back and dab and pat at the glass with the wet tissue.
    Mixture dries to form beautiful crystals. This looks even better the next day, and lasts a long time. It can be washed off with water and a cloth and is easily reapplied.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 18, 2011 at 1:30 am - Reply

      I am so going to try this – but I do wonder if it will stick to plastic. It doesn’t fall off later?

  2. Tina June 18, 2011 at 7:52 am - Reply

    Save the receipt for those lights! I have had 3 and none worked for more than a couple weeks. I finally gave up! :o)

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 18, 2011 at 10:51 am - Reply

      I guess I would have to switch to a corded light but so far so good 🙂

  3. Meg June 18, 2011 at 8:42 am - Reply

    I love this! A friend of mine found me an old projector (think back to our elementary days!) that I love to use to play with light, but it’s quite heavy and hard to transport on public transit. I think I’m going to have to try this out.

    I recently posted a list of my favorite materials to explore with light if anyone is interested and if anyone wants to add their own ideas to the list!


    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 18, 2011 at 10:51 am - Reply

      Thank you for the list Meg! Lots of ideas to try:)

  4. Scott June 18, 2011 at 11:55 am - Reply

    You are continuing to inspire me, Deborah. I may need to make a trip to Walmart and begin experimenting myself. I think I really need a light table.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm - Reply

      I am on a light table mission Scott:) More ideas to come!

  5. Andrea June 18, 2011 at 1:51 pm - Reply

    So did painting the inside of the container just make it more opaque? I’m trying to picture this in my head – I’m assuming it would not work as well to use just a solid coloured container for the bottom. I really love this idea and am so glad you are posting the process you are going through as you make tweaks to it! I am very excited to try something like this next year!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      Yes, you need the top to be see through but not clear. A solid colored container might not work so well because you are not reflecting as much light throughout the inside of the container but it is certainly worth a try. I couldn’t find a solid colored container that was narrow rather than deep. So far, I am finding that painting the inside of the container with the metallic paint has given me the best results. A big factor is how well the lid is frosted on top to diffuse the light and how good of lighting you choose to use. Make sure your container is not too deep too! A deep container just keeps the light further away and does not work as well. I wish I could explain better but I really am just learning as I go:)

      • Andrea June 19, 2011 at 4:00 pm

        That’s what I was thinking about the solid coloured container, too. Good reminder about the depth of the container – I wouldn’t have thought of that!

      • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 19, 2011 at 11:46 pm

        Yes – if it is too deep the light can sit too far away:)

  6. Zoey June 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    I made a light box out of an old motion picture from an Op shop( what e Australian’s call thrift/charity stores), one of those ones with a waterfall. I took out the picture and removed the rotating motor and then lined the glass with baking paper. It works extremely well and I am extremely happy with it. Only cost me 8 dollars too!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 19, 2011 at 11:48 pm - Reply

      Now that is a wonderful and thrifty use of old materials! It is funny how you can find the oddest things and make them useful for the classroom!

  7. Laura Boyer June 20, 2011 at 12:22 am - Reply


    I am loving all of your information that you are posting about light tables. I bought a storage tub like yours last night and will work on it tomorrow. I am going to try to use aluminum foil to cover the bottom and sides and use a string of white Christmas tree lights (because my husband will have a fit if I spend anymore money on preschool things right now). I already have the frost paint. As for some activities to use on the table, I happened to find some colored transparent beverage stirrers at Walmart on one of the aisles that will be great for making shapes and things, and then at Walmart in the arts and crafts section I found some transparent colored alphabet beads for making words! Woo hoo! And then as I was looking at your ideas for the colored circles from plastic cups, I thought of an idea. I have a laminator I bought at Walmart a couple of months ago. I am going to laminate some colored tissue paper and then cut it into shapes and letters with my Sizzix, punches and scissors. I have a blog site and I will put all of this information on it and post my site when I am finished. 🙂 Thank you so much for getting the wheels in my brain turning. 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 20, 2011 at 12:47 am - Reply

      You have went all out Laura – definitely share your blog post with me once you have time:) I can see your mind is spinning with ideas!!

  8. Fiona Fajardo-Hernandez June 21, 2011 at 2:39 am - Reply

    It worked really well on glass and stayed put until I cleaned it off several months later (using just mild detergent and a rag). I’m not sure if it will stay on plastic. Perhaps it would work if you prime the plastic first, just like you did before using the frost paint?

  9. Teresa Berger June 21, 2011 at 12:52 pm - Reply

    I have been wanting a light box for a while, but like you said they are expensive. I love these ideas. I am going to try and make some this summer for my preschool class.


    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 21, 2011 at 6:34 pm - Reply

      Awesome Teresa! Have fun!

  10. April June 21, 2011 at 2:53 pm - Reply

    I am creating a shopping list right now with all of your supplies!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 21, 2011 at 6:33 pm - Reply


  11. April June 22, 2011 at 10:07 am - Reply

    I couldn’t find the battery operated bulbs at my local wal-mart…I might have to try another one 🙁

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 22, 2011 at 11:16 am - Reply

      I found them in the hardware section near tools and electrical supplies! I hope you have better luck!

  12. Shelley June 26, 2011 at 5:06 am - Reply

    I just made the light box today using all of your advice. I had actually never heard of one of these but I am so glad you introduced it to me. I got the bin from walmart but they did not have florescent lightts ( I had to get those from Lowes…also where I bought all of the spray paint). I wasn’t able to find the assorted cups but I didn’t read your note about them being in the birthday party supplies section until to late. The #6 cups I did buy worked wonderfully. I also made a list of the many “free” things you can use on this. I am so excited for my sons to wake up in the morning (16 months and 4 years). I know that they will both enjoy this!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 26, 2011 at 10:46 am - Reply

      We love doing it at night too – just before bedtime! I love that you found the supplies you needed! I hope you all have fun exploring!

  13. Joy June 28, 2011 at 3:42 pm - Reply

    I made a light box out of a Sterilite brand under-the-bed container found at Walmart for a few bucks. It comes with a white lid, but if you turn it upside down, the bottom is opaque. I filled it with white Christmas lights and voila! It doesn’t look as good as yours, but is cheap and easy and works in a pinch!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. June 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm - Reply

      Perfect – thank you so much for sharing this idea! It might be just the trick for others to try!

  14. April July 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm - Reply
  15. Sandy July 10, 2011 at 5:03 pm - Reply

    I just went to Wal-Mart to get my supplies and I actually found clear totes WITH frosted lids!! They are fairly shallow, but not very big…which is okay becuase we teach in a home and our space is very limited. Anyhow, I’m so excited to try it out…I’ll post details when I’m done. I also picked up some suncatchers…NOT colored…in their craft section…I was thinking the kids could actually color them with washable markers, use them on the ligh table, then we can rinse off the marker and use them again and again. They were only 47 cents and they had about 12 different designs.,..puppy, kitten, dolphin, flowers, buttlerfly, rainbow, etc…

    Thank you for ALL of these awesome ideas…I’m a DIY girl all the way (my hubby was even impressed at the sensory table I made from PVC pipe)!!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 10, 2011 at 11:01 pm - Reply

      I was just thinking about making my own sensory table and stopped in to look at PVC pipes today – but I didn’t have a plan or a tub so decided I better wait. Still deciding how i want to make one. I love the idea of letting the kids color the suncatchers – you are on the ball!

  16. sylvie July 20, 2011 at 6:18 pm - Reply

    will these lights get hot? the plastic may melt and the paint may become toxic or catch on fire….or has this been addressed?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. July 20, 2011 at 10:07 pm - Reply

      No – they do not get hot at all really. I leave them on all the time and they are not hot to the touch either. But it is ALWAYS smart to take precautions to keep things turned off when not in use and to check it out periodically.

  17. Solana August 9, 2011 at 10:21 pm - Reply

    I love this! I’ve been wanting a light take, but it’s costly! So, if the cover is clear, it needs to be sprayed? Is a white cover considered opaque?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. August 9, 2011 at 11:32 pm - Reply

      It needs to be opaque or frosted might be another way to describe it.

  18. geraldine September 11, 2011 at 9:12 pm - Reply

    I made a light table using rope lights from home depot and an old storm window. I just set the lights in the table near a plug, taped some tissue paper over the plexiglas window then set the window on top. I also placed some acrylic mirrors in the bottom of the table to reflect light up. The lights are great because they don’t get hot and they are completely encased to the kids cant get to the wires.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 11, 2011 at 11:20 pm - Reply

      Great idea – I imagine yours is a little brighter than what I ended up with. I keep saying that one day I will go back and revisit this again. For now – this is doing the trick:)

  19. Gwyneth September 11, 2011 at 9:39 pm - Reply

    What a great idea! We just freecycled away a huge light table (to an architecture student) but I’ve been wanting a small one for kids’ (and my) crafts! Next time maybe buy rechargeable batteries? — They are far cheaper in the long run. THANK YOU for all the wonderful ideas. 🙂

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 11, 2011 at 11:19 pm - Reply

      Two people have now told me to try the rechargeable batteries! Looks like I need to try them out:)

  20. jackie September 11, 2011 at 11:16 pm - Reply

    Have you tried rechargeable AA and AAA batteries, Deborah? We’ve had ours for several years and use them in everything: remote controls, clocks, gameboy controllers, cameras, flashlights etc), and they’re still going strong. They cost a bit more initially, and you have to buy the charger, but they have such a long life span.

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. September 11, 2011 at 11:18 pm - Reply

      No – I haven’t tried the rechargables! I didn’t think they would work that well. Thank you for the tip!

  21. kat October 18, 2011 at 3:36 pm - Reply

    I LOVE your blog! I have been looking for something like this for a long time! I had been searching websites but it turns out I should have been searching blogs! Thank you so much for contributing your knowledge and experiences to help other little kids, I really appreciate it. I can’t tell you how much fun I have had looking though your blog and the links to other great blogs, thank you again!

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 18, 2011 at 9:40 pm - Reply

      Ahhh, that is such a sweet comment Kat – Thank You for taking the time to write me:)

  22. Jean Young October 30, 2011 at 5:33 am - Reply

    In my quest for a cheaper light table I found your site and thank you!! Today I found a $5 clear scrapbook paper plastic storage bin. It’s perfect to have a set. And it’s really shallow and space saving! I did the frosted paint. I was wondering if you felt if the metallic really made a big difference?

    • Deborah J. Stewart, M.Ed. October 30, 2011 at 8:50 am - Reply

      Well, I do think it helps but I have had others who just used some aluminum foil as well. I think something that either reflects the light or at least keeps light from coming in from the sides of your container.

  23. Adria August 5, 2017 at 9:42 am - Reply

    This is wonderful. I am trying this out for sure. Any updates to this post as I see it is quite old. Just came across it today.

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