Build a Lightweight Laptop Drawing Board

Today, I want to show you how to build a lightweight laptop drawing board in 4 easy steps.

As artists, we’re all familiar with the concept of drawing boards. Drawing boards are portable, not-always easy to handle or carry surfaces that provide support for drawing. They’re like a drawing table without legs. They can be large or small, plain or fancy, inexpensive or very expensive. Just take a look at the offerings at Dick Blick or any other online art store, you’ll quickly see how vast the choices are!

What I’m talking about in this post cannot be bought, though. It’s something of my own invention; something created out of necessity.

Build a Lightweight Laptop Drawing Board in 4 Easy Steps

In several demonstrations, I’ve mentioned using a working mat assembly. What I’m talking about is a lightweight, laptop drawing board on which I can work with a colored pencil project.

I often work on drawings while they’re in a mat so I can see how they might look framed. These are what I call working mat assemblies because I use them over and over for works-in-progress.

I also use these supports to safely transport work and display it at shows or between sessions.

Over the years, I’ve collected a number of standard sizes, but they can also be built to size for non-standard projects.

Showing you how to build a lightweight laptop drawing board of your own is the topic of this post.

Build a Lightweight Laptop Drawing Board in 4 Easy Steps

Before I begin it’s important to stress the importance of using archival materials whenever possible. When I started making these laptop drawing boards, I used corrugated cardboard because it was handy and cheap. When you combine three sheets, it’s also remarkably strong and light weight.

But it’s not archival. It contains acids that could leach into drawing paper if you leave the drawing paper and cardboard in contact with one another too long. Covering the cardboard with mat board provides a barrier as well as a drawing surface, but it’s still not advisable to use these drawing boards for anything but drawing on.

Now on to the tutorial!

What You’ll Need

3 sheets of corrugated cardboard or foam core board
1 piece of mat board, uncut (preferably archival)
1 piece of mat board with an opening (preferably archival)
Heavy duty tape (I use packing tape)
4 Binder clips

Supplies to make your own laptop drawing board

I salvage corrugated cardboard from incoming shipments of frames, mat board, art supplies, and whatever other sources are available. For larger projects, I check with a furniture store or grocery store for discarded boxes.

Undamaged cardboard is best. A few scuffs and dings are acceptable, but stay away from pieces that are torn through or punctured.

TIP: If you can’t find castoff cardboard, you can always purchase boxes or sheets of cardboard at any store that sells shipping or packing supplies. Buying materials won’t be quite as frugal, but it is still quite acceptable.

The best option is to use archival foam core board or gatorboard. Depending on the thickness you use, you may need only two pieces. I wouldn’t recommend using only one piece of foam core board since that would be too easily damaged.

Step 1: The Mat

Buy or cut a mat to use with your drawing. It doesn’t need to be an expensive mat, but it should be as archival as possible, since it may be on your artwork for some time.

Standard sizes are best because they can be used over and over, and the resulting artwork can be framed with standard size mats and frames.

Color does matter. I’ve shown a collection of colors above, but neutral colors are usually best. They won’t skew the way colors appear as you work on your drawing. White is also an excellent mat color and black can be useful.

Step 2: Prepare the Cardboard or Foam Core Board

Cut three pieces of cardboard or foam core board to the same size as the outside dimensions of the mat you’ll be using (Step 1.) With a mat that has a 16 x 20 opening, the outside dimension may be 20 x 24.

If you use cardboard, don’t cut the cardboard to include the flap unless there’s no way around it. Creases are acceptable, but make sure they are surface only. If you have to use a portion of flap, use that piece of cardboard in the middle when you assemble the drawing board.

Notice the corrugation on these three pieces doesn’t run the same direction. The top and bottom piece are cut with the “grain”. The middle piece is cut against the”‘grain”. Combining pieces with the corrugation in opposing directions provides the best possible strength with the least amount of weight possible. It doesn’t matter which is on top, but make sure the grain is alternating one piece to the next.

If you use foam core board, it doesn’t matter because there is no grain.

Make sure your cuts are straight and square. I use a large cutting board to cut materials to size. A straight edge and knife are also acceptable. You can also have a framer cut material for you.

Step 3: Tape the Pieces of Cardboard or Foam Core Board Together

The method of combining the pieces is personal preference. I like to tape across the corners with standard, heavy duty packing tape. This allows me to take the boards apart with minimal fuss if I need to.

My husband prefers hot glue. Lots of it. When he makes a shipping box with hot glue, it’s next to indestructible. It would make an excellent laptop drawing board, too, if the small amount of added weight and additional time in construction are not a factor for you.

Tape each of the corners as shown above, crossing the corner at a roughly 45-degree angle, then folding the tape over the opposite side. You can tape from front and back if you wish. I generally tape only from one side, but use a long enough piece of tape to have a couple inches overlapping the back along each side.

TIP: Make certain the edges are lined up before you tape them.

Step 4: Add the Drawing Surface

When the pieces of cardboard or foam core board are taped together, you’re ready for the mat board. This is your drawing surface, so use the smoothest mat board possible. I usually use the back side because it is firmer than the front. It resists impressions and scuffs much longer and is also usually the smoothest side.

If you don’t have mat board available, you can use a few sheets of heavy weight drawing paper. I’ve had suitable results with two or three sheets of 80 lb. drawing paper.

Whatever you use, you’ll want something thick enough to prevent the corrugation in the cardboard from showing up in your work. Also use something archival if you use cardboard so the acids in the cardboard don’t leach into your art paper.

Place the drawing surface over the corrugated cardboard and tape it in place just as you did with the cardboard.

Step 5: Add the Mat

The final step is the mat through which you’ll view your work. The outside dimensions of the mat should be the same as the size of the cardboard and drawing surface for the best results.

The inside opening should be a little bit larger than the framed size of your project if you want the image to go all the way to the edge of the framed drawing.

You can also make the opening a little smaller than the final piece so the mat will create a margin of unused paper around the margin. The drawing can then be framed with this “plain paper margin” showing between the edge of the artwork and the framing mat for a unique and interesting framing treatment.

The mat also provides a place to rest your hand while working. If the laptop drawing board is very large, it is also a place to rest a bridge.

I don’t generally tape the mat to the laptop drawing board because I may want to remove it for photography or other purposes during the drawing process.

Instead, I put a binder clip on both sides of each corner. If the laptop drawing board is very large, I may also put a binder clip in the center of the longest sides.

Your New Drawing Board

This is the finished laptop drawing board with a drawing in place. As you can see, using the mat over the drawing allows you to check composition before transferring the drawing.

Finished laptop drawing board

It takes about 40 minutes to cut the cardboard, prepare the mat board I used for the drawing surface and assemble the laptop drawing board for an 18 x 24 inch drawing. The laptop drawing board weighs less than a pound and is solid enough to work across my lap in my favorite chair or at a horse show.

Of course smaller laptop drawing boards like the one shown above take less time to make and weigh less.

Speaking of Traveling….

You can cut a second piece of mat board to the same outside dimensions, clamp it over the laptop drawing board with the working mat in between, and have suitable, lightweight protection for your work in progress while traveling or for storage.

TIP: If your work ends up in storage, make sure to use archival mat board under and over the artwork.

Are You Ready to Make Your Own laptop drawing board?

There really isn’t much to it and if I can do it, then you probably can too. You can save time by using pre-cut materials, but even with those added costs, your new drawing board will cost less than almost anything you might buy ready to use.

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