When I tell people I maintain a website about light boxes, the response I often get is: “What exactly is a light box?”
In the simplest terms a light box is a type of light that uses a low-watt diffuse bulb to spread light throughout a small translucent box. They have several different uses.
In art, a light box is used for stenciling, transferring designs or patterns, or tracing. For example, if you’ve ever gotten a tattoo, the tattoo artist may use a light box to trace out the pattern you’ve chosen or drawn for your tattoo with transferable inks, allowing him or her to transfer the pattern to your skin as a guideline before they start drawing on you. Or comic book inkers may use a form of tracing for their art finishing in comic books and graphic novels.
Photography uses light boxes for looking at negatives and slides. With a light box to lay small transparent images on to view, the photographer has a much easier time figuring out what images he or she wants.
Other uses include stained glass design, embossing, quilting, calligraphy, or lettering. Basically, any purpose that requires a form of tracing to transfer artwork from one medium to another can use a light box.
Light Therapy: The Most Popular Use for Light Boxes
Because a light box delivers diffuse, non-straining light in a variety of wavelengths, light boxes are sometimes used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of depression instigated by a lack of sunlight, especially in northern climates. Not only do light boxes deliver full-wave light for therapeutic reasons, they can also deliver UV light.
Regular light used to treat SAD can be much too bright and intense. With constant exposure to bright light, you can strain your eyes. The diffuse light of a light box eliminates many eye strain problems and allows you to expose yourself to light for much longer and with more frequency. And because light boxes deliver light with little or no UV light, it’s a safer way of getting light therapy than exposure to sunlight.
Most light boxes that deliver light to treat SAD should concentrate their light emission on the shorter wavelength blue light naturally delivered by the sun. They should be cool and diffuse, allowing you to stay close to your light box so you can expose yourself to the highest possible amount of light.
Light boxes for SAD therapy should also be large enough to deliver light all over the user, and make allowances for the user’s movements during a normal day. You should be able to mount your light box on the ceiling, which will allow the light to diffuse throughout the room and provide you with the maximum amount of exposure when you want it throughout your day.
You should also be aware of what times of day you should use your light box. Your therapist or physician should be able to tell you what the ideal times are, and you can adjust its location accordingly.
Portable light boxes are also a good idea. Hard-to-use or inconvenient light delivery devices wind up in the closet. A light box on a stand, with a handle so you can easily move it around, is probably your best bet.