How to Make a DIY Projector for Art

How to Make a DIY Projector for Art

Whenever I make a piece of art that’s larger than 16″ x 20″, I need a way to project my original smaller sketch onto the larger canvas.  I’m looking into buying a real projector, but in the meantime, my homemade projector is doing the job.

Keep in mind, it’s less than ideal.  The lumens are so low I can barely make out my drawing when I project it onto the canvas.  For my paper collages, I really just need the rough outlines so I can get the proportions correct and this is doing the job.  Bottom line:  it’s cheap, gives off a crappy image, but hey, it works for my needs at the moment.

Here’s what you need:

  • A shoebox or a box of similar size
  • Scissors, exacto blade or box cutter
  • A magnifying glass
  • Tape
  • Sheet of white paper (optional)
  • Cell phone
  • paperback books, CDs or something similar in size


Step 1

Place your cell phone on the outside of one end of the box with the bottom of the phone lined up with the bottom of the box.  Mark where the center of the phone is on the box.


 Step 2

Center your magnifying glass by the marks you made in step one and trace the glass.

Step 3

With your exacto blade, cut out the circle.  This will be the hole for the lens.

Step 4

Place a white sheet of paper on the bottom of the box.  This will act as a reflector, that helps increase the light from the phone.  As I mentioned, the lumens the phone gives off is so low, any extra helps.  I had a white piece of cardboard, which is shown in the picture.

Step 5

From inside the box, place the magnifying glass over the hole and tape to the box.

Step 6

Place your books or CDs at the opposite end of the box from the lens and line up your cell phone with the lens.  Make sure to brighten your screen all the up and take it off auto-brightness.  If you did not flip your image, then lock your screen and turn the phone upside down.  The purpose of the CDs (or books) is so you can adjust the distance the cell phone is away from the lens.  You’ll need to either add or subtract CDs to get your focus.

Step 7

Wait.  Wait until its dark. Really dark. A pitch black room is best.  The bigger the canvas, the farther away you’ll need to set the projector.  That means the projector will give off less light, resulting in a fuzzy image.  It takes some coordination between adding or removing CDs and figuring out the best distance between the projector and canvas in order to get an image in focus.

DIY Projector with iPhone

If you are wondering what does the phone have to do with this set up, I use it for my sketch.  I sketch my drawing on paper and take a photo of it.   You could just use the photo as is, but I find it’s easier if I darken the lines.  I enhance the lines in Photoshop and flip the image.  A high contrast image helps with the definition of the image, especially if you are projecting onto a large canvas.   Then, I email myself a jpeg.  I save the image to my phone and then…wait.  Wait until its dark.


Back to blog