Introduction: 3D Silhouette Light Box

Picture of 3D Silhouette Light Box

I am always on the lookout for interesting arts and crafts projects, especially ones that are fun to do with kids. I recently came across the work of artists Hari & Deepti. They create amazing 3D papercraft art using silhouette cutouts and light. In researching their work, I also came across a tutorial by Instructables user bunbun_da_bunni. This inspired me to try making one of my own. I modified the construction techniques to make them a little easier to assemble. I also worked out a way to make these 3D silhouette images from photographs. That way you can easily recreate images of places that are special to you.

So in this project, I am going to show you how turn a photograph into a 3D silhouette light box. This is done by separating the picture into different layers based on how far away the objects are in the scene. Each layer is then turned into a silhouette cutout. The layers are reassembled with spacers in between each one. This gives the image the appearance of depth and creates a 3D effect. You can also add lights behind the cutouts to make your images glow and create shadows between the layers.

Step 1: Watch the Video

Here is a video walkthrough of the project.

Step 2: Materials

Picture of Materials

Here are the materials and tools that you will need for this project.


Cardstock or Thick Paper


Printer Paper


Elmer's Glue

LED Light String


Photo Editing Software

Sharp Knife

Step 3: Select a Picture

Picture of Select a Picture

The first thing that you need is a picture to use as a template. You can either take one yourself or find one online. For the best results, try to get a picture with a lot of depth. You want to have interesting objects at different distances from the camera. My favorite scenes to use are caves, forests, and valleys.

These images where shared via creative commons and can be found at the following links:

Step 4: Separate the Image Into Layers

Picture of Separate the Image Into Layers

Now you need to separate the image in to different layers. Open the picture in your favorite photo editing program. Start by selecting objects that are the closest to the camera. Then copy and paste them into a new layer. Repeat this with the next set of objects that are a little further from the camera. Continue until you have separated the whole image into layers. Group together all the objects that are at the same depth. If a given object is particularly thick, it may need to be included in multiple layers.

In this case, there was a lake in the center of the picture. I wanted to make the water glow with the back lighting so I left it blank in each layer. It will be covered up with a plain white backing.

Step 5: Turn Each Layer Into a Silhouette

Picture of Turn Each Layer Into a Silhouette

Now in each layer, select the portion of the picture that is visible. Fill this section with solid white and fill the remaining empty space with a very light gray. You want there to be an easily distinguished line between the two sections but you don't want to waste a lot of ink filling the blank space. Do this for each layer.

I have attached a zip file of silhouette layers.

Step 6: Print the Layers Out on Cardstock

Picture of Print the Layers Out on Cardstock

Print out each layer on a sheet of card stock.

Step 7: Cut Out the Silhouettes

Picture of Cut Out the Silhouettes

Lay down a protective cover (such as a sheet of cardboard) to protect your work surface. Now use a sharp knife to CAREFULLY cut out the gray area of each sheet. The more exactly you can cut out the details, the better it will look.

Step 8: Cut Out the Spacers

Picture of Cut Out the Spacers

In order to create the 3D effect, you need to space out the layers. To do this I used a cardboard frame between each layer. You can make the cardboard frames any size that you want. But the inside dimensions of the each frame needs to be a little smaller than the outside dimensions of the card stock. That way, they overlap.

Try to make the frames about the same size. But they don't need to be exact because they shouldn't be visible.

Step 9: Attach Silhouette Cutouts to the Cardboard Frames

Picture of Attach Silhouette Cutouts to the Cardboard Frames

Place the silhouette cutouts on the back side of the cardboard frames. Center the card stock with the opening in the cardboard frames. Then attach them together with tape. Try to make the card stock a little tight in both dimensions so that the paper won't sag or fold.

I was intending to back light the box, so for the last layer, I attached a sheet in thin blank printer paper. This lets in a little more light than the card stock would.

Step 10: Glue the Layers Together

Picture of Glue the Layers Together

Take the first layer and apply a thin bad of glue around the frame on the back side. Then stick the second layer on top of it. Make sure that the two layers are properly lined up. Then apply glue to the back of the second layer. Repeat this process until all the layers are stacked together. As stated earlier, the back layer was just a thin sheet of plain paper.

To make room for the lighting, I attached two more cardboard frames. This created a small compartment behind the picture that was just big enough for a string of LEDs.

Once all the layers are stacked, I set a heavy book on top to help press them together.

Step 11: Create a Paper Cover for the Light Box

Picture of Create a Paper Cover for the Light Box

Now you need to make a cover for the box so that the cardboard and the tape will not be visible. Because I am using a lot of plain white paper and card stock, I decided to continue the theme and make the cover out of white poster board.

First I measured out how wide and tall a sheet would need to be to wrap around the front and sides of the box. Then I added an extra inch to allow for tabs that could be taped to the back side. I cut out a piece of poster board this size.

Next, I cut out a rectangle in the middle that was a little smaller than the dimensions of the pictures. I cut out the corners so that the sides could easily be folded up around the sides of the box.

I centered box on the cover. Then I folded up the sides and taped the edges to the back side of the box. If the cover does not perfectly fit the box, you can add cardboard spacers around the sides. Just stick in small pieces of scrap cardboard to fill in the gaps.

Step 12: Add Lights to the Back Side

Picture of Add Lights to the Back Side

The light box works best if you have a built-in light behind the picture. To accomplish this, I used a string of battery powered LED lights. I chose battery powered LEDs because I wanted it to be easily portable. But you can also use AC powered lights.

I attached the lights around the edges of the frame with hot glue. Then I ran the power cord down below the box.

Step 13: Finished Silhouette Light Box

Picture of Finished Silhouette Light Box

Now your silhouette light box is complete. Turn down the lights in your room and turn on the lights behind the picture. Your box should glow and make an attractive 3D image in silhouettes.

This can make a nice wall decoration, or mood light. You can even use it as a night light in your child's bedroom. Your kids can even help you make it. Try it out and have fun.


zposner (author)2016-12-12

It would be cool to make one of a city outline

ЮляД (author)2016-06-01

Beautiful ideas!

pachytrance (author)2015-12-29


Yonatan24 (author)2015-12-02

Awesome! A laptop screen could look really cool for this!

rparra made it! (author)2015-10-15

Me tomo algo de tiempo pero lo logré, Gracias.

ckatrycz (author)2015-08-27

That is a heavy weight! Sweet project!

Porda (author)2015-01-26

Great video. I'll have to try this with a Colorado mountain scene.

Olek410 (author)2014-12-06

What software did you use to layer the image

I used an ancient program called "Paint Shop Pro." But you can use any program that lets you manipulate "layers."

Do you know some free software because your software cost

assemblyrequired (author)Olek4102015-01-25

Olek, you could consider GIMP. It's an open source software that is free and allows you to use layers and do other photo manipulation. It would do this just fine.

The website is, and they also have a tutorials page to help you get started.

Hope this helps you out!

One free alternative is to print the picture out multiple times and cut the layers out with a knife. You can then either trace the cutouts or turn them around and use the back side. If the printout is faint and the card stock is thick, it might not show through at all.

Mysterious_Gal (author)2015-01-24

OMG I love this

DIY Hacks and How Tos (author)2014-12-18

Here is another one that my wife and I made for a coworker.

ymasullo made it! (author)2014-12-04

Thanks for replying and sharing your pdf's. As you can see I made it! I think foam core works better that cardboard, however. I used basic box cardboard for the layers but then realized I had the foam core so I used that for the front. The lights are a strand of 10 led's that are battery powered. I've gotten a new image with a perspective that is different...looking OUT of a cave towards mountains and trees. That will be my next attempt. Thank you again.

Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

Raphango (author)2014-12-03


ymasullo (author)2014-11-28

I agree with icelandinthesun. Can you possible share your print files? I don't think I have a print editor that I can use. I have everything else. Would LOVE to make this NOW! :)

You can download any image that you see on instructables. Just click on the image. This will bring it up in an in-screen window. You can right click and save the image. Or you can left click it again to bring up the image page. This gives you access to the original (largest) file. Example. You can just do this for each image that you would like to save.

The creator of this instructible didn't provide images for each layer, ... this is what I was referring to.

I have attached a zip file of the jpeg images.

mommamoose59 (author)2014-11-27

Definitely gonna try making one of these! Love the idea...and yes, it would make a great night light for a child's room...

e-beth (author)2014-11-27

You could add a little spaceship with a tiny Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway inside. :b

Erchan (author)2014-11-27

cool silhouette art... depth photo art... night lamp

bretinc (author)2014-11-27

that is so awesome, ill be making one of these for sure!

ThisIsMyNameOK (author)2014-11-26

Very nice. I've been planning to do something very similar for awhile, since I found some cardboard in the closet I had saved for making picture frames, and then forgot about. Maybe I'll get around to it one of these days.

icelandinthesun (author)2014-11-26

Could you put the layers to use in a file to print out? than i could do this tonight and vote you golden

Wired_Mist (author)2014-11-24

Hey, not bad ! would have never thought about using photo editing to cut apart an image like that. Any chance you will add some different colored Led's for each layer? even just a diif shade of blue/white

You can put the lights in any way that you want. To fit LEDs between layers, you just need to use two sheets of cardboard to make it wide enough or a standard LED.

paybackiv (author)2014-11-24

This is great! Gotta try making one!

connie46 (author)2014-11-24

I love it!

About This Instructable




Bio: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker ... More »
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