DIY Gaffer Tape Softbox Grid

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    I shoot often in my small living room, and the spill from the 60cm (24") softbox is unbearable. AFAIK, there's no grid of this size available to UK customers in the price range I'd consider buying it.

    The Strobist approach, making a grid out of cardboard, doesn't really appeal to me. I'm not going to build a grid each time I'll need one, and I plan on using one often. If I'm to make myself a grid, I want it to be good looking, sturdy and easily portable.

    I've tried sewing 50mm black elastic band into a grid. No way, after a few hours I had done only about 10 cells, and even those weren't as regular as to ressemble anything. So I've abandoned that idea.

    The next idea was to make a grid out of gaffer's tape (I chose the cheaper Gaffa Tape, 50mm x 50m from Boyes). I've decided to build it in it's collapsed form, otherwise I would have needed some sort of very complex rig to give it shape. I've failed miserably at my first try - I succombed to the urge to check, while building it, if it looks nice. Big mistake - that glue, when it comes into contact with itself, bonds instantly, for good. If you mess up, you shouldn't waste time trying to unglue and rearrange it - just throw it all away, take some time to remember what your uncle Bob used to say when he crushed his thumb with a hammer, then start over.

    I did start over. The concept is stupid simple. Using a cardboard template cut to the required size, make rings out of tape, sticky side out (1). Stick them on a smooth working surface, they will come out easily (2). Remove the template and press flat the cell with your finger. Stack the cells to the right half-length apart to make a row (3), in my case a row would be 10 cells long. Start the following row half-length to the left, carefully aligning the current cell's right edge to the left edge of the second cell on the row below (no pic, sorry). Keep rolling and laying cells for as long as it takes. Don't give up, don't rush it, and DO NOT unfold the grid until it's finished and no sticky surfaces are left uncovered. If you carefully align all the edges on all the rows, the structure unfolds as a pretty regular grid (4). You only need to add some velcro on it's edges (I've put the fluffy side on the grid; I'm not sure it was teh right choice) and install it on your box.

    Well, it may not be exactly finished. The tape I used proves to be too shiny for my taste, so there will be some light spilled via reflections from the grid itself (didn't actually checked how bad is it, but as you can see from the photo, the tape is only 2-3 stops darker than the diffusion material, when it should be as close to black as possible). I'm going to spray the whole thing with a coat or two of matte black paint before considering it completed. If I could find some thin sticky black velvet tape...

    Sounds easy, but it's not. After a few rows I got better at this, now I can make a 10-cell row in about 15 minutes. My grid has 10 rows. Would I make another one? Well, maybe, but not anytime soon. I'd rather buy a ready-made grid instead - if only I could find one reasonably priced.

    The grid seems sturdy enough to last for a while, and it rolls nicely to fit in the softbox storage case. But with the grid on it the soft box is about as heavy as the ballhead bracket can hold, I have to tighten that screw until I feel it's gonna' break.

    See here another mod and a sample of the light pattern.

    Discussion here.

    mark_outram, steveblackdog, and 72 other people added this photo to their favorites.

    View 11 more comments

    1. ☣ cUKi 27 months ago | reply

      Adriel, thanks for sharing this. I've come to think that highly specular grids would be more power efficient than absorbent ones, while still doing the same job of restricting the light's spread. Only the diffused reflections on the grid are to be avoided. If the stray light is at least 3-4 stops less bright than the frontal light, I guess I too would be more concerned with the price of the material and its mechanical properties.

      The gaffer tape I used was not more expensive than duct tape, it was less than 5 GBP for a 5cm x 50m roll, which was more than enough for that size. In UK, I guess this was the least expensive option - textile ribbons are about 50p a meter or even more, and I couldn't be bothered to cut and hem my own.

      I'm still waiting for the strip box I've ordered last year. This one comes with a factory-made, loose grid, but I plan to make a different kind of grid for it, much tighter and quite different in design - so stay tuned!

    2. Dennis_Ramos 26 months ago | reply

      cUKi, I did this DIY grid after reading and ultimately landing on your post here. I used a black duct tape and I cannot find a non-glossy duct tape although I found a black masking tape that is matte in color but not tear-proof. This took me 3 hours combined for (2) 12 x 56 grids. I'm pretty satisfied with the results. Thanks for a great write-up and post!

      And here's my post of my write up with images:

    3. 26 months ago | reply

      dont get it ! someone can explain in french please ?

    4. ☣ cUKi 26 months ago | reply

      Desole, mais c'est un peu trop long a traduire... Tu peux t'amuser avec la version francaise offerte par Google Translate.

    5. Terapixel² 26 months ago | reply

      Great idea, thanks for sharing!

    6. 26 months ago | reply

      thanks ^^ but google translate is very bad, thats why i was calling for help, from a french :)

    7. mv_photo 26 months ago | reply

      Thanks a lot. I build that one yesterday and it works out great. I also featured it in my blog:

    8. ☣ cUKi 26 months ago | reply

      Looks great, thanks for the link back!

    9. ☣ cUKi 26 months ago | reply

      Q: When laying the first row, I lay the 1st ring, then lay the 2nd ring halfway over this to the RHS, then continue with the 3rd etc? Where does the 2nd layer start? you say 1/2 to the LHS, so the 1st ring ends where the 2nd ring of the 1st layer starts? is that correct.. Sounds complicated when I write it. What about the 3rd row? does if start 1/2 to the LHS of the second row or 1/2 to the right? i.e. same as row one?

      A: You start the second row half a ring's length to the left. So the 1st ring of the second layer ends where the 2nd ring of the first layer starts. The third row starts half-ring to the left of the second row, its first ring ends where the 2nd ring of the second layer starts, and so on. Just build a 3x3 cells prototype as an exercise, it's going to come together easily with just a bit of practice. Hope this helps.

    10. C.DAVISions Photography 24 months ago | reply

      Love the concept. I'm trying to manufacture it this weekend. But I have a question.

      What is the exact size of each cell (Length Width and Depth)? I'm building this for a 20x24inch softbox. Thanks!!

    11. ☣ cUKi 24 months ago | reply

      The size is up to you, of course. Larger cells mean wider light spread but less weight, less tape and less work; smaller cells mean tighter angle and a lot more trouble. 2" x 2" cells (4" flat) would be a reasonable compromise, I guess.

    12. pieropereira 22 months ago | reply

      I've used 2" masking tape to make a 1.6x0.30m grid and it works very well. it is lighter (and cheaper) than gaffers or duckt tape.. It only needs to be painted in mate black.

    13. sephiroth911 15 months ago | reply

      Nice! I've just build a 3x3 prototype and now can't wait for my strip lights to arrive :)

    14. ☣ cUKi 15 months ago | reply

      For strip lights I'd suggest long and narrow rectangular cells, instead of square ones. I ordered my strip box (second try, the first one was "lost" in transit!) without a grid with this idea in mind, but never got to actually implement and try it. Nevertheless it should work well I guess, and would preserve the strip's characteristic quality of light (soft in one direction, hard in the other). Kind of a cross between a grid and louvres, or flexible louvres. I want to use it primarily as a key, not as kickers. If you do make it like that, please post your results and credit the idea.

    15. sephiroth911 15 months ago | reply

      No worries, I'll give credit here, if I ever get it done :-)
      How would I get the cells into rectangular shape? I guess one degree of symmetry less will make your technique impossible?

    16. ☣ cUKi 15 months ago | reply

      It shouldn't be a problem, just start from the bottom-left cell as above, but build the first column first - so add the second cell towards the left, not towards the right as in the picture #3 above. After you complete the first column by adding cells towards the left, carry on with the second column at the right end of the first, and so on for the full length (imagine your grid horizontal, collapsed toward the left). Depending on the size of your strip box (mine is 1.20m by 30cm), you'll need a pretty big working surface - for me that's a toughie, my table's not long enough. I might have to do it on the kitchen floor.

      The fewer cells will make the construction much faster (6x6 20x5cm cells would be fine for my box), but their size would also make stitching with a domestic sewing machine a practical alternative. I have a sewing machine and once I was pretty good at doing all sorts of fancy construction stitches with it. Weed control black fabric is very cheap in UK, lightweight and quite similar to the material used by the Chinese for the grid of my octa. I have a big roll of it, bought it for a few quid to use as black seamless. I'm still pondering (ie., procrastinating).

    17. sephiroth911 15 months ago | reply

      Hm, I'll try ;-) Good thing, it's a rather small/portable strip light for now (60x25cm Firefly strip box). Bad thing, I bought two ;-)

    18. sephiroth911 15 months ago | reply

      Hm, I tested it, but it turned out to be squares again :-( Not sure what I can do about it. Any more hints?

    19. ☣ cUKi 15 months ago | reply

      For a 20x5cm cell size, the collapsed tape ring would be 25cm (+ the thickness of the template). Place one such ring flat on the work surface, then stick the next on top of it, 5cm to the left (this could prove to be tricky). The next ring goes on top, another 5cm to the left, etc. For the next column, start at the right end of the second cell from the bottom, then continue upwards with the required number of cells, adding each one 5cm to the left of the previous, adjacent to the corresponding cell of the previous column. When the finished grid is popped up, the cells should come out at the proper dimensions (I'd make a grid now and take some pictures, but I don't have a strong enough cardboard piece to make the cell template).

    20. justme226 11 months ago | reply

      Its easier to buy an to big grid for about $25 and make an light frame arround it from fabric. What i did is to buy one from 90 x 90 cm, then cut it in 4 peaces and sew an wider band arround it with velcro straps. So it still looks professional and it is on the right size for cheap. 40 x 40 costed me $7.50

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