The 10 Best Tracing Light Pads
This wiki has been updated 30 times since it was first published in August of 2015. Whether you're an animator, a graphic artist, or simply someone who loves to draw, one of these tracing light pads will let you create accurate and beautiful reproductions of just about any image. They provide ample illumination, with some models able to shine through multiple layers of paper, and they can also double as portable X-ray, photo negative, and slide viewers. When users buy our independently chosen editorial recommendations, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
August 17, 2020:
Removed the Cricut Bright Pad and Litup LPB3 due to availability concerns. Added the Craftymint 19-Inch, which has a large surface area good for art projects that require more room than drawing on standard letter paper. Also added the Picture/Perfect Advanced, which has a built-in filter designed to prevent eye strain.
Light pads are useful for a number of different projects. Some models are designed to be versatile, while others are built with a specific purpose in mind. For example, if you plan to use your light pad to trace embroidery patterns onto fabric, you'll want to make sure that you choose a model that's bright enough to shine through thicker materials.
Also, if precise measurements are important to your work, note that some pads have built-in rulers. Some, like the Small Fish Ultra Portable and Huion L4S, use the metric system while others, like the Craftymint 19-Inch, use imperial units.
June 27, 2019:
Thanks to the advancement of LED technology, artists, animators, and photographers can get their hands on a tracing light pad for a reasonable price. Many of today’s models come with convenient amenities like built-in rulers for measuring your handiwork, USB outlets, nonslip rubber surfaces, rounded edges for comfort, and a lightweight, portable build. In addition to tracing, many find these devices to be useful for viewing negatives, as well as making models, jewelry, and needlepoint crafts.
Joining our list today is the Cricut Bright Pad, available from an established name in crafting supplies. It’ll help you work in comfort, thanks to its adjustable LED light, nonslip base, and six-foot USB power cord with a wall adapter. It’s great for projects like weeding and quilting. If you already own the popular Cricut die cutting machine, you just might find a Bright Pad that matches it, as it comes in pastel colors of rose, blue, or mint. Note that if you’re looking for a battery-powered model, this isn’t the choice for you, as it’s only for use with U.S. power outlets.
Another new addition is the Small Fish Ultra Portable, which is refreshingly slim and lightweight, so it’s great for those who enjoy tracing and other projects while on the go. (However, like the Cricut, this one is not battery operated.) Like some of the others, this model comes with a built-in ruler that’s useful for artwork that requires measurement. It’s made to be flicker-free and won’t get hot, no matter how long you use it at a time. It’s refreshingly affordable, and you can buy it with confidence, thanks to its 12-month warranty.
Leaving the list in this update are the DBmier LED A3 and the Co-Z Ultra-Thin, due to issues with availability.
Light Pads: Child's Toy, Artist's Tool, Doctor's Diagnostic Aid
When selecting a light pad, make sure to consider the size which will best suit your needs.
The concept of the light pad couldn't be more elegantly simple: a light pad consists of a flat, translucent plane below which light is shined. Light pads allow designs, writing, or other content printed on one sheet of paper to be visible through one or many other sheets, making it easy for the user to transfer the original design via tracing. Light pads also make it easier to view photographic negatives, and may even make it easier to see the fine patterns or internal structures of items ranging from leaves to fabrics to scientific slides.
A light pad therefore, simple in design though it may be, has many potential applications and these range from the purely recreational to the educational to the artistic to design to diagnostics. As a toy, a light pad can help child or adult alike create drawings and patterns copied from almost any flat document. A light pad can serve to assist youngsters just learning to write the letters of the alphabet, but it can also help an adult practice the writing of a foreign language: imagine the ease of learning Arabic's flowing script or the intricate characters of Japanese by tracing instead of copying. So too can light pads help hone the hand of the budding calligrapher or graphic designer. Light pads not only make practicing writing or drawing more productive, but they make it more satisfying and rewarding, too.
The aspiring artist, linguist, or design professional interested in using a light pad is in luck: many light pads are reasonably priced. And even the most high-end options, those with adjustable light settings and which are made from the most durable materials, are usually relatively affordable. When selecting a light pad, make sure to consider the size which will best suit your needs. If you'll only be using standard 11" by 8" paper, it will be easy to find a great light pad that's quite affordable. But know that much larger light pads, even units measuring up to 17" in width, are readily available, and these may be necessary for viewing larger documents such as x-ray slides or various schematic documents or pieces of artwork.
Also consider durability as a factor: many of the lower cost light pads are more than suitable for use by adults, but one might consider spending a bit extra on a stronger, more resilient light pad if it will be used in a classroom or by younger children. It is cheaper to buy one sturdy light pad once than a more easily damaged light pad twice or more.
The Light Pad In The Hands Of The Artist
A light pad is an artist's secret weapon. These handy tools can serve artists at all levels of skill and experience, for example helping the transfer of a sketch from the master painter's field notebook to a canvas prior to commencement of a new work. They can also help the budding cartoonist copy his or favorite panels to practice a character's expressions.
Just note that if the original media is too thick, many of the details will be lost when viewed through the layer of paper atop it.
And unlike traditional tracing paper, the added illumination of a light pad lets the artist work using most standard papers, canvases, or other related media. A bold design will be clearly visible through several sheets of paper, in fact, allowing an artist to overlay a few different layers of image to create a composite design they can copy onto the top sheet of paper. This can be a great asset to the graphic designer trying to create a logo, and it can help the cartoonist trying to replicate a character in many different panels of their work.
While light pads work best when the artist is copying a monochromatic work, many colors will be visible through a single sheet of paper, so they can be used even with colorful original works such as paintings or photos. Just note that if the original media is too thick, many of the details will be lost when viewed through the layer of paper atop it.
For the youngster looking to refine his or her hand, the light pad helps to develop the fine motor control and muscle memory needed for successful artistic creation. Far from suppressing the creative mind by encouraging copying instead of original production, a light pad helps to train the hand and eyes that will then be able to create images seen only in the imagination without the limitation of unrefined ability. Any parent or art teacher wanting to support the young visual artist should of course encourage individual, non-directed artistic creation, but should also enlist the help of a light pad to assist the establishment of good mechanics.
The Light Pad Beyond The Arts
Beyond the arts, a light pad can be used to view media such as x-rays or photographic negatives, and they can help illuminate slides to be studied by magnifying glass, microscope, or simply by the naked eye.
Many light pads are lightweight enough to be brought into the field, and some units are even powered by USB connection, making their use in forensic work not just feasible, but practical.
A light pad can help an architect plan a multiple-level home or building by enabling him or her to view multiple floor plans at once and it can help an industrial designer plan the inner workings of a complex machine. In short, whenever there is need to see beyond the surface of a single document or other type of media, shining light through can be illuminating indeed.