My choice of working with Cyanotype and Gum Dichromate photographic printing processes this semester left me in need of a consistent UV light source for image exposure. UV light is the kind the sun emits, which means that I could just expose images through contact with sunlight, right? Seems simple, except I live in the state of Indiana and while we get plenty of sunshine our weather even in the height of summer can be considered moody and shifty. On top of that inconsistency is the fact that at the start of this semester we were smack dab in the middle of an Indiana winter.
So, printing outdoors (and I love anything that includes me being outdoors) was not an option, but maybe for fun in the sun this summer. The university has a UV light box (this is exactly what it sounds like – a box with built in UV lights for printing) that I could use, but considering I commute that seemed quite far away for my needs. My logical conclusion to these issues was that I needed my own UV light box. I began by pricing already constructed, ready to purchase light boxes available online. One glance at the prices attached to the items, and I knew that my student budget was not going to result in a purchase.
This led to quite a bit of online research about building a homemade light box, and is also where I had to involve my best guy. Because, building my own light box is definitely outside of my current skill set. Thankfully, he helpfully jumped into the slightly confusing world of constructing an UV light box. It is confusing not because it is super complicated, but because a lot of the information available is specialized for specific instances, and I wasn’t always confident that all the factors from an ‘example instance’ would meet my specific needs.
I wanted to make the best decision possible about which type of UV light bulbs to purchase, and there are a lot of options. I did find one website that helped more than all the others when it came to understanding UV light sources. After, reading the above linked article I had more of an idea of what type of bulbs to buy. I could not find any of the bulbs I needed to purchase at my local box stores so I went to the Internet. Choosing the right type of bulbs was critical to the project and a most important first step. The dimensions of the box and what type of fixtures/ballast used all relied on the size of the bulbs. I made my final decision after much internal (and internet) debate, I had no idea if these bulbs would expose at a turtle or hare’s pace so I crossed my fingers for a hare’s pace and ordered a case of 6 F32T8BL or 8 diameterinch, 32 watt Black Lights. My lucky, crossed fingers worked, and a stack of 6 bulbs are providing 3 – 7 minute exposures for both my cyanotype and gum layers, what I would consider a hare’s pace in the world of alternative printing.
I am not going to provide step-by-step instructions for the complete building of a light box, but I will attach some images and here are a few general steps. Decide what dimensions you want to print then base your bulb purchase on those dimensions, choose a fixture (or buy all the pieces and wire yourself), and attach everything together in a box constructed without a bottom (the bottom isn’t needed unless you want it). I ended up going with the cheapest fixture for six bulbs that I could find (picture below), and my best guy ripped, sawed (hacked?), and re-wired it to the dimensions needed. The bulbs had a gap between them that I thought would mess up my even light coverage so this was necessary in my case. The images included here will give you an idea how this process unfolded. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome of this project and the convenience of printing it provides.