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How confident are you at drawing someone's portrait?
Don't worry! With this machine, a pencil, and a bit of patience you can draw anyone's portrait - you just trace their outline onto a piece of paper.

It couldn't be simpler!

What is it? This is essentially a Camera Obscura, but with a couple of modifications to turn it into an amazing drawing machine.

It is derived from similar devices (for example the Victorian one shown above), except in our case the image is projected onto a piece of paper inside a light proof box.

I have made several of these for various events and clients and happy to share the design here.

How Does it Work? Light bouncing off the subject is reflected by the 45° mirror and down through a convex lens in a light proof box onto a piece of white paper.

The user looks through the viewer into the box and traces what they see.

Thanks to everyone who viewed and voted! I got a Runner Up in the the OPTICS COMPETITION!

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials

This is quite a simple build and very cheap.

Main body:

As you can see from other photos on this post, I have constructed this design in the past from MDF and scrap cardboard boxes. This model is made from 7mm two ply cardboard sheets.

I have a stock of 7mm sheets that are 1metre² , and two of these is more than enough.

You will also need:

Glue gun and several rounds of sticks

Paper tape to make the hinge and to make your cardboard joints neat.

Matt black paint (acrylic, or whatever you have lying around)

Some flexible lightproof material to seal the arm-holes e.g. thick fabric, black felt, serge. I used some foam material that I had lying around.

The special ingredients are detailed below. These are needed to make the Magic Drawing Machine come to life.

1. Convex Lens approx 100mm diameter, focal length approx 300-350mm. The photo above is from the online vendor from which I have bought lenses. These are very cheap here in China, but a quick search on ebay shows that they are readily available and fairly cheap elsewhere. They are sold as school educational equipment. The lenses I have used are glass, but acrylic would work just as well.

2. Plain Mirror. Just a normal mirror. Size is not crucial, but should be squarish, somewhere between 120mm and 180mm along each side. Again, ebay is your friend here if you don't have anything suitable lying around. I have found glass to be the best here, although acrylic could work, but the mirror surface must be perfectly flat. I have tried reflective plastic material and it doesn't work.

Gannburg9 months ago
Great Instructable! I've been drawing with a camera obscura for a few years now and this design makes mine look like 16th Century!
DennisO229 months ago
Great instructable. Do you have a design for a Camera Lucida?
hugheswho (author)  DennisO229 months ago
Not yet - that is something I might look at in the future, although first I want to work on the technique for using this device effectively - i.e. how to blindly trace a portrait in just a few seconds.
nakita_dog9 months ago
That's very similar to this approach:
Kink Jarfold9 months ago
Next is the Camera Obscura, right? Great Instructable. --Kink--