Interchangeable Stencil Box

Have you ever heard about Stencils before?

There are some amazing artists, like Banksi, that create really sharp and smart art by using this technic. Why shouldn’t we also add it to our Light Photography tools and have some fun with it?

What is it?

Well, Stencil is a material into which you cut some letters or a design, so you can reproduce it on another surface. Normally you do it by applying a pigment, but you can also do it by shinning a light source through it.

Why should we use it?

This technic allows us to have a great amount of detail, like sharp letters, and to be able to quickly reproduce it. Imagine you want to have your logo or watermark on your photos. Instead of adding it in post-processing, with Stencils you can add it directly in the photo. Or maybe you want to add 20 Stars to your photo. From now on, you will have no more problems with that…

Applying the Stencil concept to Light Painting isn’t hard! It needs a little bit of preparation (hopefully this tutorial will help you with that) and some practice, but you’ll get some great results in no time.

The easiest way to do it is by buying (or building yourself – check below!) a Stencil Light Box, with a slot for interchangeable designs, if possible.

And that’s what I’ll now show you how to build.


Before you can start, you need to make sure that you have all you’ll need:

  • big piece of cardboard;
  • Utility knife;
  • Ruler;
  • Alufolie;
  • Glue and duck tape;
  • About 1 hour! =)
photo of interchangeable Stencil Box - Materials

Interchangeable Stencil Box – Materials

The idea behind it is to build a Light Box with a slot so we can use it with different designs. At one end you want to have your Light Source (we will use our speedlight flash gun) and on the other end you want a flat piece of light material that will work as your Light Output (we will use a A4 white piece of paper). After the Light Output we will create a slot where we can slide different designs to use with our Stencil Box.

Let’s get to it!

Step 1:

Draw a project of what you’ll be doing. Check all measurements and don’t start cutting until you’re sure that you’ve got it all right. This will avoid some mistakes later.

If you’re not the project-making kind of guy, you can also use ours (and maybe adapt it to your needs):

Interchangeable Stencil Box - Plan

Interchangeable Stencil Box – Plan

…or get the 100% High-Res version for free here: Lights from Dreams – Interchangeable Stencil Box!

Step 2:

After transferring the design with the correct measurements and checking everything out, it’s time to do some cutting. Make sure you use something under your cardboard so you don’t end up cutting also your table or your floor.

I have used cardboard about 5mm thick and I think it worked out pretty well.

Interchangeable Stencil Box - Cuts

Interchangeable Stencil Box – Cuts

Step 3:

Now let’s glue an A4 piece of white paper to work as a “diffuser” on our Light Output.

After that is done its time to glue the slot for the interchangeable stencil designs. Carefully fold it and glue those sides and bottom extra pieces of cardboard to your main box, just in front of your A4 piece of paper. This is the place where you will be able to slide your design into.

When that is done, if you still have the courage, glue some Alufolie on the inside walls of your Stencil Box. This will help projecting the light and getting the best results.

Interchangeable Stencil Box - Slot and Alufolie

Interchangeable Stencil Box – Slot and Alufolie

Step 4:

After everything dried, you can glue the box together. It may be helpful to have someone around to give you a hand. I also find that using some duck tape to reinforce it is very helpful.

Remember that you will use your Interchangeable Light Box outside when it is cold, wet and dark, so it will get bumped a lot. You should build it quite resistant…

Interchangeable Stencil Box - Glued

Interchangeable Stencil Box – Glued

At this point you can test your interchangeable Stencil Box for light leaks. Insert your Light Source on the Light Box and take some test shots. (Don’t shoot just from the front. Take also photos from all the other sides). On the photos, you should see light coming out only from your Light Output (your A4 piece of paper in the front). If on your test photos you see light coming from somewhere else it means you have some light leaks. No problem, just get some duck tape and cover it. That should fix the problem!

And your Interchangeable Stencil Box is now ready! Now it’s time to do some stencils designs…

Step 5:

You can use almost anything as a Stencil Motive.
To try it out I made just two simple ones, one with the name of the Blog and the other with a circle.

To do a Stencil the first thing you have to do is to find a piece of cardboard that fits into your Stencil Design Slot (the one in front of your Light Output, around 5mm thick) and to cut it with the correct measures (A4 size should work fine).

Then, paying attention to the margins, just draw your design on the cardboard and cut it out. (If you want to keep the “insides” of things, like for instance the “inside” of letters – the “inside” of the D or the R,… – then you can use some scotch tape to hold it together, like I did there on the circle to hold the inner part. Also for letters it’s useful to get a Stencil font, which you can easily find for free on the net. That will make it much easier to cut.)

Interchangeable Stencil Box - Stencils

Interchangeable Stencil Box – Stencils

A couple of ideas:

  • You can get more that just White Light Stencils. If you put a piece of thin coloured paper / plastic / gel between your Light Output and your Stencil you can get also some nice colourful results.
  • You can also print your design. Remember that the parts that you don’t want to show on your Light Stencil must be 100% black (so it is quite colour intensive / expensive).
  • You can change the size of your designs by using your Interchangeable Stencil Box closer or farther away from your camera.
  • Remember that you’re not limited to one stencil per shot. You can use it several times (or even several different designs) in one single shot. Like many starts, or many flowers or even many nice little birds sitting on a tree bench…
  • The more precise the cuts on your Stencils (cardboard), the better and sharper your Light Stencil (photos) will be.
  • If you use your Interchangeable Stencil Box on a tripod you can make multi-layered designs, using each layer for a different colour.
  • After some use in the dark, the slot of your Stencil Box might start to get a little bit weak. So the best thing to do is to prevent it by reinforcing it as soon as possible with some duck tape.
  • You never know if you’ll need the same design again. So getting a folder with your ready stencil designs is a good way to spare some time.
  • Get some friends to help you. I bet in an afternoon you’ll get lots of cool designs done.
  • Share your designs with other people. Stencils are usually stylized and simple, so it is very easy to share it (you can even make a vector version of it). The more you share, the more others will also share with you!

Our test shot:

Using those two Stencils, after a couple of tries (hmmm, more like after maybe 20 tries) I finally managed to get the letters inside the circle. But I have to admit, it was a lot of fun to do it!

Photo using the Interchangeable Stencil Box - Lights from Dreams

Photo using the Interchangeable Stencil Box – Lights from Dreams

This technic opens a lot of creative possibilities, which I am sure you will have lots of fun exploring and perfecting. As everything else, practice makes perfect, and I’m sure that as soon as you start using your Interchangeable Stencil Box you will get some new ideas for some cool new photos!

If you liked this tutorial, you can easily share it with your friends, or even download the free PDF version here:

Interchangeable Stencil Box Tutorial

If you have any questions, please drop us a comment and we’ll answer you as soon as possible.


2 thoughts on “Interchangeable Stencil Box

  1. Pingback: A Day At The Zoo Art Kit From SuperCool Art, LLC ~ A Review
  2. Here is something I did: I got myself a Flash diffuser softbox at Ebay for less then 5 bucks. Its 20 by 30 cm so it fits a sheet of a4 paper very nicely. Works perfect.

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