Best Light Box Tracers

Updated October 2020
Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons

Buying guide for best light box tracers

Whether you're just starting to make art as a hobby or you're a professional in your field, sometimes you want to trace an image. Light box tracers make the tracing process much easier by shining a light through the pieces of paper you're using so you can more clearly see the image you're tracing. Using a light box tracer, you can trace onto standard paper rather than tracing paper. With a bright enough light box tracer, you can even see right through card stock or heavyweight watercolor paper. 

You have plenty to consider before you choose a light box tracer, though. You need to decide what size you require, how bright it should be, and what power source you want, among other factors. 

We've written this illuminating buying guide so you'll know just what to look for in a light box tracer. You can check out our top five light box tracers above or read on to learn more. 

LED light boxes do have a shelf life, since LED bulbs don't last forever and usually can't be switched out. However, most LED light boxes last for 30,000 to 50,000 hours of use.

Key considerations

Dimensions

Depth: If it's been a while since you used a light box, you might be surprised by how slim they are now. Light box tracers used to be several inches deep to accommodate light bulbs, which could make the box awkward to work with. Today, thanks to improved LED technology, even cheap light box tracers are often less than 0.25 inch thick. Unless you prefer the extra depth in your light box tracer, we'd generally avoid models any thicker than 0.32 inch (8 mm).

Size: Choose a light box of an appropriate size for the projects you want to work on. A compact light box tracer won't be much use to you if you usually work on huge sheets of paper. Light box tracers either indicate their size in inches or tell you what paper size they fit. For instance, most inexpensive light box tracers are size A4 (approximately 11.7 by 8.3 inches). You can find light boxes all the way up to size A1 (approximately 34 by 24 inches), though these are pricey. Always check whether the given dimensions are for the drawing surface only or include the edge (the part that doesn't light up).

Brightness

The brightness of a light box tracer is measured in lux and generally ranges from around 1,500 to 5,000 lux. The brighter the light box, the more clearly it will show the image underneath your drawing paper. Dimmer options are fine for basic use, but if you need the light to make its way through two pieces of heavyweight paper, such as watercolor paper that’s 160 grams per square meter (GSM), you'll need at least 4,000 lux. Almost all light boxes have adjustable brightness, though the adjustability varies. Some only have low, medium, and high brightness options, whereas others can be set at any point between the lowest and highest possible brightness.

Power

Some light box tracers use standard AC adapters. Others are powered by USB cables, which can be plugged into either a computer, power bank, or power outlet using a USB plug adapter. You may find that your USB light box won't reach its full brightness unless you power it from an outlet. There are also light box tracers with built-in batteries. These can generally be powered using an AC or USB adapter when desired, switching to battery power when you need it. They're great for use on the go or anywhere you might not have access to a power outlet. 

Features

Ruler edges

It's fairly common for light box tracers to have ruler edges, which may measure in inches, millimeters, or both. Ruler edges are useful when scaling drawings up or down, or simply when you're trying to draw an object of a particular size. Unless you're 100% sure you'll never need a ruler edge, it's a good idea to choose a tracer that has this feature, even if you'll only use it once in a while. 

Brightness memory

Some light box tracers remember the level of brightness you were using the last time and return to that level when you switch the tracer back on. This is a handy feature to have if the model you choose allows you to select from a wide range of brightness levels (rather than just three or four), because it's frustrating when you find the perfect brightness level but can't get back to it the next time. 

Cord

We'd recommend choosing a light box tracer with a cord that’s at least a few feet long, in case you can't position yourself right next to a power outlet. An extra-long cord is great if you know you'll need close to the full length every time, but it can get in the way when you’re close to the outlet. 

Tilt

If you don't always like to work with your light box completely horizontal, choose a model with adjustable tilt. Alternatively, you might be able to find a stand to fit your light box tracer. 

"Some light boxes come with a clip or paper holder to fix your paper in place while drawing. Alternatively, small pieces of tape will usually do the trick. "
STAFF
BestReviews

Light box tracer prices

Inexpensive: Basic light box tracers cost around $15 to $30. Most options in this price range are quite compact — generally A4 size — and vary in quality. The very cheapest might not be great, but you can find some decent options at this price. 

Mid-range: These light box tracers cost from $30 to $60. You can find some excellent models in this price range, including extra-bright midsize options and those with built-in battery packs. 

Expensive: High-end light box tracers can cost anywhere from $80 to $350. These models tend to be very large and are generally used by people who do technical drawing for a living, though, of course, amateurs can use them, too. 

Tips

  • Check the weight. Most of today’s light box tracers are relatively light, which makes one easy to carry around with you. 

  • Check the accessories. Some light box tracers include various accessories, including paper holders, clips, and a stand.

  • Learn how to adjust your new light box. It isn't always obvious, but light box tracers are all fairly straightforward to use once you know what you're doing. A quick look through the instruction manual should give you all the information you need.

  • Consider how often you'll use your light box tracer. If you'll only be using yours once in a while, an affordable option will get the job done. On the other hand, if you think you’ll use it often, a high-end model will offer better value in the long run.

Other products we considered

You may have already checked out our favorite light box tracers, but those aren't the only decent options available. We also love the Huion A4 LED Tracing Light Box, which is a reliable option from one of the top names in LED light boxes. It reaches an impressive 4,480 lux — bright enough to shine through two sheets of thick watercolor paper — but it’s designed to be gentle on the eyes.

The ME Dimmable A4 LED Tracer Light Box is more affordable than the Huion, but it can still reach a respectable 4,000 lux at full brightness. It measures approximately 14 x 10 inches and is available in several colors.

Another bargain option is the Luditek LED Light Box Tracer, which measures approximately A4 size and is impressively thin and lightweight. You can choose options with or without ruler edges depending on your needs.  

Light boxes with LED lights shouldn't cause excessive eye strain, but it's still important to take regular breaks during long drawing sessions.

FAQ

Q. Can light boxes be used for more than just tracing? 
A. Yes, there are many other uses for light boxes aside from tracing. Some people like to draw freehand on light boxes, since the underlighting shows more detail, making it easier to be precise. They're also useful for looking at slides or transparencies and doing 5D diamond painting. 
 

Q. Who regularly uses light box tracers for their work and/or art? 
A. Tattoo artists often use light boxes to trace designs onto transfer paper which can then be transferred onto their clients' skin. Architects and other people whose work involves technical drawings may use light boxes to help with precision. People who sew may use light boxes to trace patterns or to help scale patterns up and down. Animators also commonly use light boxes for their art. 
 

Q. What can I trace using my new light box? 
A. You can trace any image on a single sheet of paper. Photographs aren't traceable unless you scan them and print them out on standard paper, since proper photo paper is too thick for light to shine through. If you want to trace an image from a book, again, you'll need to scan and print it (as you probably don't want to tear a page from a book just to trace from it). 

BestReviews wants to be better. Please take our 3-minute survey,
and give us feedback about your visit today.

Take Survey

Our Top Picks