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Is Using a Light Box Cheating?

Is Using a Light Box Cheating

There are some questions that guarantee a heated debate in the art world. Tracing is one of those topics. Is using a light box cheating is probably another such topic. We’ll soon find out, won’t we?

Here’s the question to get the discussion started.

When I started using colored pencils I used a light box. I still use one. I can draw without it but it takes so long to draw freehand. I have used the grid method but it does not work as well. Do you think that it would be better to wean myself from the box? I am 69 so taking shortcuts helps. I enjoy your help.


Thank you for your question, Jim. I think I can put your mind at rest.

Is Using a Light Box Cheating?

The short answer is no. Using a light box is not cheating. A light box is just another tool.


Using a light box is no different than using a camera to “sketch” a subject instead of taking the time to draw the subject from life. Using solvents to blend could also be considered a form of cheating if an artist considers using a light box to be cheating.

You might also look at it this way: Is it cheating to use a calculator to tally up your grocery bill as you shop, or should you do the math by hand?

We could take the comparisons a lot further. For example, is using a cell phone to contact family members cheating or should you write a letter? Or is using a car cheating when you can walk?

But I think you get the point.


For the longest time, I thought all tracing was cheating. I believed I had to draw every drawing by hand. I called it freehand, but I actually used a grid to create my line drawing. (Is a grid cheating?)

I also used transfer paper or a light box of sorts (large windows) to transfer the drawing to the painting surface. Was that cheating?

In the end, I came to the conclusion that none of those art-related tools was any more a form of cheating than using my calculator to keep track of purchases while shopping. I had no problems with the calculator, so why did I feel differently about art?

Does that Mean You Don’t Need Freehand Drawing Skills?

Not at all.

It’s always good to know how to do things the old-fashioned way, by hand, whether you’re working on your next drawing, or basic math. Knowing how to draw well frees you up to draw and sketch wherever you are, whether you have an electronic device or other tool or not.

It’s not a bad thing to practice freehand drawing skills, too, because that does give you an additional drawing tool.

This is a life sketch of some trees as seen from my backyard. I have no problem with using a light box to transfer line drawings, because I know I can draw freehand. Is the light box a substitution for drawing? No. But it does help me finish work more quickly.

But it’s absolutely all right to continue using your light box.

What’s the Bottom Line?

What it all boils down to is personal preference. Some things really are written in stone and are always right or always wrong. If you jump off a cliff without a parachute, you will fall. (Even with a parachute, you’ll still fall; you’ll just fall more slowly.)

This is not one of those things. If you believe using a light box is cheating, then you shouldn’t do it. Doing something that you perceive to be cheating diminishes your pleasure in the creative process.

If you have no problems using a light box, then make the best use of that light box that you possibly can and enjoy making art!

There are, however, a few guidelines you should follow:

  • Never copy someone else’s art and call it your own. That’s not cheating; it’s stealing.
  • Using a light box doesn’t guarantee a perfect drawing every time. You still have to do all the layering, blending, and shading. So keep up with those skills.
  • Take the time to work on freehand drawing skills by sketching either from life or from photos. You won’t regret the time you spend in that activity.

What do you think? Is using a light box cheating?

I’ve shared my thoughts on this topic. Do you agree or disagree?

If you’d like to weigh in (and I hope you do,) click the “leave a comment” link at the top of the post. I’ve underlined it in red in this illustration.

You can also scroll down to the bottom of the page and type your comment.

Our goal here is to help one another learn in order to find the best solution for their individual needs, so keep it friendly!

Do you have a question about colored pencils? Ask Carrie!

4 thoughts on “Is Using a Light Box Cheating?

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Carrie, and for the interesting discussion!

    1. You’re quite welcome.

  2. I’m not sure that “cheating” is the word for using a light box, or tracing. And certainly people have every right to use whatever tools or techniques they choose. Personally, I just don’t think works produced using such tools are art. It’s not really different from coloring or painting in a coloring book.
    What has happened to using the imagination? Drawing from life or from a memory? To me, the cherished comment of “wow, it looks just like a photograph!” is just sad. There is no “right” or “wrong” to this discussion, of course. It’s all a matter of personal opinion, and that is mine.
    Thank you.

    1. Susan,

      Thank you for reading this post and for taking the time to leave a comment.

      You are absolutely right in concluding that there is no right or wrong answer to this question. Like so many other parts of drawing, it’s a matter of personal preference. I know of many artists who use nothing but colored pencils in their work and reject the use of other tools such as solvents and mixed media.

      There are also artists who think working from a reference photo is not art or that life drawing is the only way to make “real art.”

      There is a place for all of those artists, just as there is a place for all types of art.

      Speaking for myself, I find a great deal of satisfaction in creating realistic artwork. When I was doing portrait work, my goal was always creating a portrait that looked like it could take a breath or blink at any moment. When a client told me the portrait I’d painted looked just like their horse, that was high praise. High praise indeed.

      So all of our goals are different, and the tools we use are also different.

      Thank you again for taking the time to comment, as well as read, this post.

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