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DIY Tracer Projector

Tracer projectors help an artist to recreate the basic shape of a subject. The normal procedure is to photograph the subject, print out the image in the size desired and manually transfer the image to tracing paper using the projector. The traced image can then be manually transferred to the canvas or other material using carbon paper. Making your own tracer projector saves you money when compared to the cost of buying a projector. It also allows you to make a larger or smaller projector and vary the brightness of the light bulb used, depending on your needs. Just swap out the light bulb for a lower wattage bulb when low light is desired.

Things You'll Need:

  • Photo Frame
  • Zip Ties
  • Corded Light Socket Or Work Light
  • Milk Crate
  • Waxed Paper
  • Cardboard
  • Strapping Tape
  • Glue

Disassemble the parts of the photo frame leaving the frame itself intact. Slide off the back. Remove the cardboard filler. Remove the glass; you will reinsert the glass later.

Put the light socket inside the milk crate. Feed the plug out one of the holes in the side of the crate. Secure the light socket to the top edge of the milk crate with a zip tie. If you have a work light with a cage, you can suspend both the bottom and top of the light cage from the top edge of the milk crate using zip ties.

Line the sides of the crate with cardboard. If you prefer, wrap the outer sides of the crate with the cardboard instead. It doesn't matter if it's lined or wrapped as long as the cardboard prevents light from escaping through the sides. Tape the cardboard to the crate.

Cover the top of the crate with waxed paper to dull the intensity of the light. Secure the waxed paper with strapping tape.

Glue the photo frame face down to the top of the milk crate along the edge not covered with waxed paper. Reinsert the glass in the frame.


To use the projector, place the photo on top of the glass and tape a piece of tracing paper over the photo.


  • Make sure the surface under the projector isn't flammable or likely to melt when exposed to heat from the light.
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