Turn any photo frame into a shadow box

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Shadow boxes are a great way to add flair to framed pictures and display small objects, but they can be expensive to buy. There’s no need to pay double for a little extra space between the glass and the back of the frame. You can make your own shadow box using some foam board and an inexpensive “deep” frame (having a frame depth of 1 inch or more) using the instructions below. IKEA sells many different sizes of deep frames for under $5. This project is also a way to get old T-shirts out of the back of your closet and into a custom art piece.

Deep Frame Shadow Box

You’ll need:

  • Any size picture frame with 1-inch thick sides
  • Foam board (1/4 or 1/2-inch thick)
  • Razor blade or craft knife
  • Glue gun/glue sticks or super glue
  • Photos, old T-shirts, small items to display
picture frame

This 7 3/4 x 9 1/4 inch frame sells for under $5 at IKEA.

1. Begin by opening up the back of the frame and pressing the tabs that hold the back in place so that they are all vertical. Remove everything except the glass.

2. Using the cardboard mat board as a guide, cut the foam board (any size thickness will work; I used 1/4-inch thick) using a craft knife or razor blade (scissors will crush the foam board).

foam board and frame mat

3. Cut out a total of 4 foam strips matching the inside length of each side of the frame and as deep as the frame when the glass is in place.

4. Carefully glue the foam strips to the inside sides of the frame, making sure to keep the glass in place. Do not glue the foam directly to glass (just the wood or plastic sides) to prevent excess glue from showing.

5. Now the creative part! For the background, stretch an old T-shirt (from a vacation, 5K race, concert, you name it) over a piece of cardboard the same size as the back of the frame. Pin or glue it in place and trim any extra material on the back of the cardboard. If you’re not ready to part with the T-shirt yet, a photocopy of it will also work.

t-shirt over cardboard

6. Attach vacation souvenirs and/or photos directly to the T-shirt or arrange them on the glass. You can use tape to keep ticket stubs and photos in place.

tickets in frame

7. Make sure everything is arranged the way you like and add the T-shirt covered cardboard. Replace the back of the frame and glue or tape it in place. This is fine for a frame that will be hung. If you want to access the frame contents or change the project at a later date, attach small glazier points (available at hardware stores) to keep the frame back in place.

shadow box

This shadow box highlights souvenirs from a trip my sister and I took to Chicago.

Here are some other suggestions for shadow box themes:

  • Concert: Use a concert tee as the background, display your ticket, a guitar pick, and a photo from the show.
  • Baby keepsake: Use an outgrown onesie as the background, and include baby photos, a pacifier, booties, or a footprint.
  • Sporting event: Use a field day T-shirt, 5K race shirt, or old jersey as the background. Include photos of the event, ribbons/medals, and other event memorabilia.
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3 responses »

  1. Another GREAT idea! I have all these Disney pins that I need to manage from a previous trip. My kids are too old to wear them or put them on back packs. This would be a wonderful way to hold onto the fun from that time in our lives.

  2. Seriously good use of travel mementos that otherwise stay in a drawer until one day you don’t know why you hang onto them anymore and they get chucked.

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