Shadow box ideas and how to make one

Shadow box ideas and how to make one
Themed ideas

How to make a shadow box step by step

If you can't find a shadow box that meets your needs or would rather make your own, they're not too difficult to make at home. Here's what you'll need to make your own shadow box out of wood:

  • A photo frame
  • Wood panels
  • Hot glue gun or special wood glue
  • Nail gun or drill
  • Pencil
  • Measuring tape
  • Nails or screws
  • Woodworking materials (handsaw and sandpaper)
  • Paint (optional)

Here are some basic steps you can follow for how to make a shadow box:

  1. Using a pre-made picture frame means you don't have to cut any glass, a big positive in our eyes! Find a picture frame that is the right size to fit all your display objects, then either pop out or cut out the backing of the frame. If the glass viewing panel can be removed, use this chance to glue it in place inside the frame to prevent it from shifting or falling out.
  2. Lay the backing down onto a piece of wood and trace around it to find the right size for your shadow box backing. Cut out this piece using your handsaw or whatever other cutting apparatus you're choosing to use.
  3. Measure the sides and top of the backing piece using measuring tape. These measurements will inform the length of the side panels we will now cut. The width of these panels should correspond to how much height you will need for your display objects. When cutting your panels, be sure to subtract the thickness of the top and bottom pieces from your side pieces so they will fit flush inside the frame itself.
  4. Use your glue of choice to adhere the pieces of the frame together into a square or rectangular shape. You can also use a nail gun or drill to further secure the frame with nails or screws if you are worried about the integrity of your glue. Wait for this to dry, then sand down any rough corners or surfaces and paint or stain your frame if that's what you desire.
  5. This is the step where you will decorate your backing and apply any of your display items. We will go into more depth about this later!
  6. Apply a line of glue around the outer edges of your filled backing and then lay the frame over the top, waiting for the glue to dry fully. Again, you can use nails or screws to strengthen the integrity of the frame to the backing.

Your shadow box is done! You may like to attach hooks or another hanging receptacle to the back of your frame, or you can simply stand or lean it on any flat surface to display it.

How to adhere objects in your shadow box

While glue is a great all-rounder for adhering things to the backing of your shadow box, you have other options that are worth considering depending on the type of things you wish to display. Here are some different options you can try, as well as what they are useful for:

  • Glue and foam dots can be used for light objects like images, tickets, fabric scraps and small pieces of plastic. Choose clear dots if possible so they won't show through any of your thinner pieces.
  • A glue gun can be used for heavier items like small pieces of metal or stone, but be careful only to use a small amount so there isn't any excess.
  • Double-sided tape is great for paper and can be cut to suit the shape of your objects.
  • If your backing is made of a softer wood you can use push-pins to adhere fabric, paper and plastic mementos. Be aware that once a pin is used a small hole will be forever in your trinket, so pin wisely!
  • Velcro fastenings are fairly strong and easy to cut to size.
  • Craft wire can be wrapped around objects and hung from the top of your shadow box, but it will require a bit of pre-planning if this is the route you want to take. You can drill in small hooks to the inside edge of the top of your frame to hang them from, or even drill holes in the backing and pull the wire through there before knotting it, much like how dolls are often tied into place in their packaging.
  • Silicone is strong and will hold most objects but it gives off fumes as it dries and can dissolve some objects like shells - take care when using!

Extra DIY shadow box ideas

While what you use to fill your shadow box goes a long way to its look, there are lots of other fun ways you can embellish it to make your shadow box really stand out! Here are some of our favourite ideas for decorating a shadow box:

  • Sand and stain/paint it - while you may like the original colour of your shadow box, unless you have coordinated your panels and backing it may need a coat of paint, or at least a wooden stain.
  • Add a background print - the backing of your shadow box can be painted to match the frame, but adding a print is a fun alternative that can really take your shadow box to the next level.
  • Pyrography or carving on frame - add some details to the frame of your shadow box using pyrography or carving tools. Be aware that pyrography should only be done on raw wood, as the fumes from using a pyro tool on stained or painted wood are dangerous to breathe in.

Step by step

Themed shadow box ideas

You can make a shadow box to celebrate and memorialise almost any event. If you're keen to make your own shadow box but aren't sure what event to start with, here are some shadow box ideas you can try:

  • Baby shadow box - celebrate the newest member of your family by placing some of your baby's things into a shadow box. Those little booties and beanie you know they'll outgrow but is just too cute to throw away? You can save them forever in a shadow box! Pop in a photo or even their ultrasound image, a hand or footprint, their hospital band and maybe even a lock of hair for an adorable time capsule you'll love looking back on as your child grows up.
  • Graduation shadow box- celebrate graduation from school or university by showcasing your graduation cap and sash inside a shadow box! You can also add in your certificate, student ID and other everyday objects like a lanyard, timetable or even a map to help you remember your hard days of study.
  • Holiday shadow box - rather than creating a traditional photo album, show off the souvenirs of your latest vacation inside a shadow box! Pop in things like train tickets, hotel brochures, postcards, photos, theme park cards and exotic trinkets like shells, dried flowers and stones. Things like maps make great background prints as well!
  • Wedding shadow box - show off the best parts of your special day in a big, beautiful shadow box! Display things like your veil/tiara, a dried flower from your bouquet, table placards, one of your professional photos and a trinket or two from the venue to help immortalise your wedding.
  • Birthday shadow box - whether it's your 1st birthday or your 100th, remember the special event using a shadow box! Fun shadow box ideas for birthdays include displaying number candles, confetti, a photo of the event, some wrapping paper and ribbon and any other little trinkets from the party.
  • Memorial shadow box - help remember a loved family member or pet by creating a shadow box filled with reminders of them. Memorial shadow box ideas include photos, a hand (or paw) print, common items worn by your loved one like glasses, a broach or a ring, dried flowers from the service and one of their favourite quotes or verses.
  • Flower shadow box - shadow boxes don't have to be for events! You can choose to display something you think is beautiful, and one of the most popular shadow box fillings is flowers. Flower shadow boxes are a great way to add some bright colour to your home, and can be made using real dried flowers or crafted paper flowers. Flower shadow boxes also make great gifts!

Find all your shadow box supplies at Spotlight

If you're ready to get crafting and have some great DIY shadow box ideas you want to try out, check out your local Spotlight for all the crafting supplies you'll need. You can also look online for shadow boxes, picture frames and craft supplies, with all available for home delivery or click and collect with a variety of payment options to choose from.

For great craft ideas and advice, check out our create blog online! And for an easy shadow box project to start you off with, why not try making this Crayon Shadow Box project?

Looking for a more interesting way to display your treasured photos, trinkets and memorabilia? The shadow box is just what you're looking for! Essentially a photo frame with a larger depth, shadow boxes (also known as keepsake frames) are a lovely way to display precious objects in a way that is safe and stylish, while allowing you to get as creative as you wish.

We'll go through everything you need to know about shadow boxes, including what exactly they are, how to make them, what you can use them for and fun ways to decorate them! At Spotlight we have a great range of pre-made shadowboxes, as well as all the materials you need to make and decorate your own. So if you're still not convinced, read on to find out more about the world of shadow box craft!

Quick links

What is a shadow box?

If you've found yourself asking 'what is a shadow box?', you're not alone! A shadow box comprises of a frame, glass cover, thick side edging and a backing. They are usually made of wood, but you can also find metal and thick cardboard versions around that provide different finishes and price options.

Essentially a shadowbox is a deeper, stronger version of a photo frame. The depth allows for three-dimensional objects to be displayed, rather than just photos and pictures, while the extra strength is needed in case any of your display objects have a bit of weight to them. Because of this extra depth your displayed objects will cast a shadow when attached correctly, giving them an attractive 'floating' effect.

They can be used to present all sorts of things, including folded clothing, paper craft shapes, shells, flowers, jewellery and more. If you have smaller treasures you want to show off a shadow box is a great way to do so!

How to choose a shadow box

There are many excellent pre-made shadow boxes to choose from at Spotlight, with varying designs and sizes available to suit your needs. When choosing a shadow box, there are three things you need to consider:

  • Size - whatever you want to display needs to fit comfortably inside your shadowbox, preferably without touching the sides or the glass covering. It's a good idea to measure the length, width and height of your display objects using measuring tape, and then compare them to the potential frame you want to buy. You may want to leave a few centimetres between the edge of your frame and your display objects to create a clean barrier of negative space, as well as small gaps between your display pieces themselves to prevent them from looking cluttered.
  • Frame colour - at Spotlight you can choose from a variety of shadow box colours including clean white, natural wood and black. Each frame is better at suiting certain display objects than others, so keep in mind what you plan to display when choosing. Black is great for formal objects like a uniform or graduation-themed shadow box, white is wonderful for celebration shadow boxes themes around birthdays or weddings, while natural wood works well for displaying holiday trinkets or for creating a shadow box filled with natural flora and botanicals. Keep in mind the white and wood frames can also be painted over if needed.
  • Frame thickness and material - if you plan to display heavier objects like medals, uniforms or souvenirs, a thicker and stronger box will provide some peace of mind when you hang it. A thicker box will be able to hold up stronger objects - for instance, a pinned medal may slide down and rip on a cardboard backing but will stay solid in a wooden one. They will also hold up better should any of your display pieces detach whilst still in the shadow box.

Keep these points in mind when choosing a shadow box so you can rest assured you've picked the perfect shadow box for your treasures.




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