DIY Blue Gel Transilluminator

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An image of a DIY blue gel transilluminator

Why make one

One of the big costs of switching away from ethidium bromide to something like Sybr Safe is that you need a new gel transilluminator. From Invitrogen, such a thing can cost quite a bit. In Richard Murray's lab we have built our own blue gel transilluminators for about an order of magnitude less than the Invitrogen price to help offset the higher cost of the Sybr Safe DNA dye.


  • Get a light table
    • We've had good luck with the Porta-Trace light boxes bought from Amazon/local arts supply stores, both 1 and 2 bulb versions (see picture).
  • Place blue light filter(s) on top
  • View Sybr Safe stained gel with appropriate emission filters

Total cost should be around $50-100 depending on how you set things up.

Other Uses

  • Can be used to screen for GFP-expressing colonies visually
  • Can be used to screen for RFP-expressing colonies with different filters


  • Imaging gels can be a bit tricky if your imaging apparatus does not sit nicely on top of the gel imager.
  • Place a piece of glass over the Roscolux filters if you are going to cut a gel on top of them
  • Be careful with liquids, fluids, nearby conductive buffers, etc. as your light box may not be waterproof.


  • Apparently, someone has tried this before: [DIYbio:Notebook/Open_Gel_Box_2.0|Open_Gel_Box_2.0]. This was news to us, we found this after we put our page up on OpenWetWare. This other team clearly has precedence, though we still like our gel boxes.
  • Let us know if you try this and have any suggestions or improvements, and feel free to update this wiki page with your experience.


Feel free to get in touch with Joe Meyerowitz if you need any help getting yours to work.