Papercut Applications

Papercut Lightbox One

Here’s a project Muriel and I dreamed up and made together. It’s an illuminated papercut illustration. You can make this kind of light up art piece for not many dollars, and adds a new dimension to your artwork. Use your own custom built box and light setup, or use a pre-made object. Here’s what we did.

I drew the design, and Muriel cut it out. Here is the finished papercut.


At my local thrift store, I found a metal box frame for $5.The light guts were gone, and the face was pretty beat up, so i took it out and replaced it with two pieces of plexiglass. You can make a light-up art piece with many different kinds of objects– clocks, a shadow box picture frame, aquarium, et cetera. I also got a string of waterproof LED tube lights for $12 at a hardware store.


Once the design is cut, I placed it on a sheet of custom cut plexiglass I got from Columbia Art in Portland, OR. Two pieces at this size (7 7/8″) cost me $6. You can get custom cut plexiglass at many hardware stores, art supply or frame shops, or online. Or use a pre-cut piece that will work with your particular box frame. Shown here are all the layers I put together for my piece’s face.


  1. A sheet of Dura-Lar (plastic sheet thicker than acetate, but thinner than most plexiglass) with the white protective sheet left on to help diffuse the light from its source. My sheet was pretty big and cost $8 for a huge piece. It wasn’t necessary for this piece to work, but I got it in case the plexiglass was stubborn going into the frame. It would also work instead of the plexiglass to keep the art stable, and now I have plenty left over for another project.
  2. A sheet of white paper– just a piece I cut from regular printer paper.
  3. 2 squares of green acetate film (a huge sheet for $4), also from Columbia Art to make a cool color background. You could also use a piece of colored paper or fabric.
  4. And for the visible surface, I sandwiched the cut art between the remaining piece of plexiglass, which stays put pretty well once it is positioned.

My box frame had little metal tabs inside it that hold all of the layers in place once they are put in the desired order, similar to the tabs the back of many picture frames have. If you construct your own box, you can get creative with how to keep your layers together.

Put all together with the lights tucked in the back, the light box looks like this.

Lightbox 1. White paper, green acetate backing.

And here’s what the piece looks like plugged in! In this photo, I don’t have the back screwed on yet, as it will need a hole cut in it to accommodate the power plug. That’s why all the light is spilling out of the back, which I won’t want when I get it mounted on a wall. Depending on your design, where you mount or place it,  and how you want it to look, you could leave the back open or closed for different effects.

Lightbox 1. White paper, green acetate backing, LED lights

My total cost for this project: $35. Without the Dura-Lar, that would be $28, and without the acetate $24. Using other substitutions for frame construction, background, and light sources, you could do this type of piece for much less.

Have fun, and feel free to share with the links below.