Introduction: Cheap 'n Easy Digital Picture Frame

Picture of Cheap 'n Easy Digital Picture Frame

I basically made this as a birthday present for my girlfriend. Looking for an awesome gift idea? This is it! Total cost was under $100, and could be substantially less if you're savvy.

I know I'm not the first one to come up with the idea of a homemade digital picture frame. I'm not even the one to come up with the idea of using the particular lcd screen and digital photo viewer that I chose. But I can write a darn good how-to about it, and there's no stopping me!

(3/14/07) Edit: For an easier setup, take a look at my new picture frame here.

Step 1: The Basics

Picture of The Basics

After reading in a forum about someone who used a Sony PSOne LCD screen and a SanDisk Digital Photo Viewer in order to make a digital picture frame, I just had to try it. He said it was easy, and indeed it was.

The SanDisk Digital Photo Viewer is basically a little black box with 4 slots on the front to accept different types of memory cards from digital cameras. You stick in the memory card, hook up the composite video(or s-video) to the tv, and turn it on. The device automatically plays a slideshow of your pictures, and you don't have to do a thing. This makes it really really useful for this project.

The particular screen I used was a 5" Zenith lcd screen made to attach to the GameCube for people who enjoy playing high graphics videogames on small screens : ) The internals are identical to the Sony PSOne screen or the Zenith Xbox or Zenith PlayStation 2 screens of the same size. If you see any of these on eBay for less than $40, grab 'em!! Considering that suggested retail value is over $100, that's a bargain. I've seen used ones for as low as $25(+S&H;). Granted there are other screens that you can use, and by all means go for it. The basic concept is that in order to keep things simple, the screen needs to be large enough to enjoy viewing pictures on and already accepts composite video. It's that easy.

Step 2: The Frame

Picture of The Frame

Okay, I'll have to admit that a lot of this project came into being largely due to dumb luck and chance. I had to find a picture frame that was large enough to place the screen behind it and look good, too. I picked one up at Wal-Mart that wasn't too pricey but looked great. It just so happens the frame wound up being just large enough to have the screen fixed in the middle and still be able to insert an SD card with about an eighth of an inch clearance - just enough. I'll show you in more detail a little bit further on...

Step 3: The Guts

Picture of The Guts

Before you even make the frame, it's probably a good idea to get the internals working before you go flying into this project full-fledged. I'd post some pictures of the thing working, but I kinda need the memory card in the camera in order to take pictures... You get the idea.

The connections are simple. Even if you have minor experience with soldering it's easy. All you have to do is connect the video out from the viewer to video in on the screen (see picture), connect power to the screen and viewer, and make sure to connect the ground of the screen and viewer together. That's it.

Once again, sheer dumb luck came in handy. Now, the screen can only take 7.5 volts of power. Much more than that, and it'll fry. The adapter that comes with the viewer is labeled for 12 volts (but I was measuring 15 with my multimeter... all lies!) and so you'd think that the viewer needs 12 volts to run. Not so! I just so happened to test if it would run off of 7.5 volts, and luckily it does. This means that you only need one adapter to power the whole project, and you don't need a voltage regulator or whatever to step down the power for the screen. If you got a Sony PSOne screen, hopefully it'll come with a 7.5 volt adapter. My GameCube screen only came with a car adapter, so I just salvaged a Sony PSOne screen adapter I already had. However, for those of you who aren't in the habit of hacking up lcd screens to use for making portable Super Nintendos and such, I think you can get a 7.2 V adapter at RadioShack or somewhere like that for not too much. Should work...

Edit: Due to problems people have had, I'll just state it here and now - make sure that your power adapter is not giving you more than 9 volts! Check it with a multimeter yourself! If you're getting an image, but it's got something weird going on with your picture, then your voltage is probably incorrect. Easy way to test your setup without having to build any sort of regulating circuit would be to connect 5 or 6 AA batteries or a 9 volt battery. Naturally, they won't last long powering your setup, but it's an easy way to check if you're doing everything right.

Double Edit: Also, make sure your power adapter is providing enough current to power the system. I don't recall exactly how much this system draws, but if you can get something that provides at least 800 mA or higher then you should be good (I'd say go for 1 Amp to be safe).

If you find that you have an adapter that's just unreliable in its voltage, then go find a "7808 voltage regulator". Google search for how to use a 7808 voltage regulator, and then USE IT! It will then give you a steady 8 volts - just right for this project. RadioShack sells a linear regulator than you can adjust the output voltage, but you have to build a small circuit to get the output you want.

Step 4: Mounting and Housing the Screen

Picture of Mounting and Housing the Screen

We've already covered how I made the frame for the box that I attached to the back of the picture frame. Now we'll take a look at how I made the backing and how I mounted everything.

For me, mounting items in my projects = copious amounts of hot glue (and epoxy where needed). I attached the screen to my custom matting with hot glue, I attached the metal frame to the matting with hot glue, I attached the digital photo viewer to the back of the screen with hot glue, and I attached the power switch, relocated remote sensor, and power input jack to the backing with hot glue. Lots of it.

The backing was made using some high-impact plexiglass that I bought from Lowe's. I sized it and cut it with a dremel, although something like a table saw probably would have given a better cut. However, I don't have that and I was basically making this whole design up as a I went along.

I then spray painted the underside of the plastic with some white Krylon Fusion spray paint specially made for painting plastics. If you've never used this stuff before, it's awesome. No priming, and it holds great. Dries fast, too - fifteen minutes! And you only have to wait 30 seconds between coats! Good stuff and worth the money. You can get it at Wal-Mart, I think. The reason I painted the underside of the plastic was to give it that cool iPod look. If you've ever held one before, you know what I'm talking about - colored on bottom with a shiny plastic coating over it. It's a neat effect and easy to do. My pictures don't really convey this effect, but it's pretty cool to see in person.

Step 5: Attach the Backing to the Frame

Picture of Attach the Backing to the Frame

This part was pretty simple and could be changed to fit whatever you think would work best. I basically got some cabinet hardware that has a little metal piece that slides in between two rollers in order to snap shut. I used epoxy to mount the two clasps, and they work great. I thought about using magnets, but chose not to because I worried that it might slide off. With the metal tab being held between the two rollers, there's no chance of that.

Edit: Ah well, I guess it was TOO strong - the tab that went in between the rollers pulled off of the plexiglass part, leaving a couple of spots with no more paint. My new suggestion is to just use some strong magnets, or maybe some sort of hinge and lock mechanism. Go visit a hardware store and see what you can find. I personally used some Rare Earth magnets as the new way to attach it. They work great!

Step 6: Putting It All Together...

Picture of Putting It All Together...

Ah, finally. It's time to put on the finishing touches and get this puppy done! Not much to it - hot glue the relocated remote sensor, power switch, and power jack into place and we're done.

One cool thing about all this is that the aluminum is wide enough to hold the frame up at a good angle, thus eliminating the need to attach the prop that was originally on the frame.


ewilhelm (author)2007-12-31

Digital picture frames are a really popular gift project here on Instructables, and lots of people are searching for digital picture frame how-to's. So, in addition to this great project, check out this guide to some of the best digital picture frames we have:
Instructables Digital Picture Frame How-to Building Guide

chr (author)2006-12-05

I made a digital frame some years ago using an old laptop with a 15" monitor. I got this old laptop from my school, for free. It's a PII 233MHz or i think, but it's a quality laptop with a screen that goes all the way to the edge of the laptop. This is especially important when finding a laptop to use as a picture frame, this way you can have a narrow frame on the laptop. First thing I did was to remove the laptop casing. And was left with an LCD monitor and mainboard with the keyboard attached. It wouldn't boot without the keyboard.. otherwise i could just have connected the circuit board from a usb keyboard to the usb port. Once I found a frame that matched the dimensions of the lcd somewhat, i cut it to size and glued the lcd in place. To fasten the mainboard to the back of the frame, i put screws into the back of the frame and glued the mainboard to them. The farme runs Linux. I chose Slackware for this application, since it is light weight and no-nonsense. It has really simple init scripts, so it was an easy task to make X start up with no window manager at boot, and then load a small program that recursively shows images from a directory. Here are some pictures of it. I really like the picture where it boots linux, that's like art to me, a picture frame booting linux with a high resolution console :-) Using it to show some kind of network statistics, log tailing or cmatrix would also be neat.

crazypyro (author)chr2007-12-15

aim sure you could find a screen saver that automatically displays pictures from a flickr count, then give it to someone, and when you upload a new picture, they see it.

junebug69 (author)crazypyro2007-12-16

There is a screen saver app. for that. It's called Slickr, you can link it to all Flickr accounts or just ones you want.

dorian (author)chr2007-01-17

>Using it to show some kind of network statistics, >log tailing or cmatrix would also be neat. Agreed! Long live plain old text! Try hooking up any old atticware to - all you need is a TELNET prompt. You can get news, stock quotes, weather, time/date, UPS package tracking and more. Hook it up, leave it running, and toss the keyboard! I don't have a picture frame built yet, but here are some old machines set up as StarTTY viewers, some using serial-to-TCP/IP devices:

Pocket Universe (author)dorian2007-12-14

Neat stuff, I know what I'll be fiddling with between Christmas and new year :)

trume (author)chr2006-12-14

when you made the picture fram out of a laptop, did you have problems with colors becoming inverted if you look at it from an angle? and how easy is it to load new pictures up there once it's made? thanks man

ROMbler (author)2007-01-09

Great tutorial. I made my digital picture frame using plexi for the box and attached it to a frame I got at Wal-mart. For the matte I decided to go with duct tape at the last minute. I also put duct tape over the plexi instead of painting it. I think it turned out nice. The color of the tape works well with the frame. I have it in my office and everyone stops to check it out.

fionaleigh (author)ROMbler2007-04-21

duct tape rocks my world. i keep a roll in my purse at all time, along with pliers and a pocketknife. you're right, the tape does work with the frame.

Brian Henderson (author)ROMbler2007-01-14

Rock on! That's a sweet frame you found - it looks great.

IBreakHeavyStuff (author)2010-12-07

chr - if you would do an instructable for that would be awesome!

Duckism (author)2010-12-05

I am all for DIY and stuff... but a little under 100 dollars? you can buy digital frames that size for way less than the price of this project.

farmsteader (author)Duckism2010-12-05

yes they are cheaper than dirt now like 39.95 on Geek, but keep'in this trash outta the landfill is a very good thing dontcha think??

Duckism (author)farmsteader2010-12-05

yeah keeping trash out of the land fill is great, but doing it at this scale is seems like such bandage solution and this kind of attitude is what give companies and government to start green washing everything instead of coming up with new and actually pratical solutions. the amount of the stuff that would ended up being rescued from the landfill from DIY projects like this i don't think would even reach 0.01% of stuff that ended up goign to the landfills.

Screwerman (author)2010-11-28


Computothought (author)2010-11-28

Normally I would not have looked at this instructable, but glad I did. Use gui so much I forget about the text mode for older systems. Looking at the comment gave me some great ideas. I feel an instructable coming on.

indian_99 (author)2010-09-03

If you need a light OS for your digital picture frame you can use this one based on openSUSE11.3:

zack247 (author)2009-12-11

is this possible with a lcd screen from a portable dvd player? i have one of those laying around, and i want to do something with it

cliffyd (author)zack2472010-07-16

yes me too! I have had this portable dvd player lcd for months and tried hooking it up, can it be done?

zack247 (author)cliffyd2010-07-18

well, i had thought i had figured it out, but when i dug it out of the box the screen was cracked! all i can do now is use the cold cathode bulb, i really wish it didn't crack... good luck though!

agnivohneb (author)2010-04-09

 I want to do a similar project using a LCD Monitor, and i DON'T want to hook my computer up to it. I seen this project and want to know... Where can I get the SanDisk Digital Photo Viewer and dose it have a VGA out on it?

china wholesale (author)2009-06-09

Wow, isn't is so cool to see the how imagination of some of us can build great thinks?! however isn't much easy just to buy a cheap photo frame instead to destroy the laptops?! :)

rkevans (author)china wholesale2010-02-03

Please note that this was originally posted May of 2006.  Cheap digital photo frames did not exist.

girlteen (author)2009-12-20

Good work, you earned your intstructables patch!

ashleyv (author)2009-03-10

These digital frames are getting more affordable so most can buy one now, but very interesting post on how you built.
<a href="">digital picture frames</a>
I'm sure there's more sense of accomplishment. How did she like it. cheers.

DrThousand (author)2009-01-02

. The problem I have is finding a cheap enuf & large enuf LCD. How do I know if the device I find will take NTSC composite video? I want to make a monitor for a C64, to use for programming the C64 to control the LEDs on next year's 5' Star of Bethlehem at our church. (I hope it's considered in good taste)

Grey_Wolfe (author)DrThousand2009-02-17

In the case of our friend here, he bought lcd brands that are designed to accept composite video. You could purchase any one of the screens he suggested, or one for a PS One, and they would all work just fine. You comment makes me want to pull my C64/128 out of the bowels of storage and start playing with it again. :)

Bigev (author)2009-01-26

I'm a huge fan of the Toggle Switch.

FaqMan (author)2009-01-09

This ible would save me money instead of buying a store bought one.

etechtim (author)2009-01-08

Good Job ! Looking forward to giving it a try. Keep up the good work. By the way, the part where you say "The adapter that comes with the viewer is labeled for 12 volts (but I was measuring 15 with my multimeter... all lies!) " has a basis in reality. Power supplies read higher when its just them and a multimeter. Its called "no-load" reading. Like driving at highway speed and you press in the clutch the engine will go to higher rpm's because it is not under the load of pulling the car.

antennas (author)2007-12-15

A 7" screen now sells for $90 bucks. All that work to get a smaller screen. I think not.

Brian Henderson (author)antennas2007-12-18

You're right - the price has dropped a great deal since originally making this Instructable. Notice the date when I originally posted this? That's right - it was a year and a half ago. If there's a better price somewhere, then by all means go for it. One advantage of making it on your own is that you can choose a frame that, y'know, looks nice and is not made of plastic.

slim_jim (author)Brian Henderson2008-05-21

"One advantage of making it on your own is that you can choose a frame that, y'know, looks nice and is not made of plastic." No, there is no advantage. If you want a nicer frame, take a working factory-built unit and add a frame. Cheaper and better.

mspark400 (author)slim_jim2008-06-18

why are you so against this instructable, regardless of if it can be done cheaper or "better" this project represents something which comes with the pride of success and building something yourself. try to get that in a store now. i see no reason to argue with the quality of this fine instructable. if you don't want to build one then don't but some people might.

matits (author)mspark4002009-01-01

But it doesn't have apple or sony written on it. Ha ha.

mspark400 (author)matits2009-01-01

well that is why the ipods used to come with stickers lol cheers, mspark400

im_tux (author)Brian Henderson2008-02-03

ahh didnt seee da date ty and sry for anything misyook 4 bashin

swcrazy (author)2006-09-03

Hi everyone, I am new to the group and had a question. Is it possible to use an used LCD from a laptop for this project? Or how about a used LCD tv from a minivan? thanks.

iprefermuffins (author)swcrazy2008-12-18

From what I understand, laptop LCDs usually have a proprietary digital connection to the panel, so I doubt you'd have much luck with one.

killerjackalope (author)swcrazy2007-08-01

well if the lcd tv has composite input then yes cos the viewer is for tvs anyway

Jollyrgr (author)2007-12-14

An unregulated 12V DC power supply with no load will read 15V easy. Throw a load on it and I'll bet it will settle down to 12V.

spider36439 (author)Jollyrgr2008-12-16

That is correct. When a power supply is not connected to a load the voltage reading is called OCV (open collector Voltage). The OCV will very with rated voltage and current. if the power supply is rated at say 12 volts and you are reading 15 or more. just put a 12 volt light bulb near the rated power out and the voltage should be close enough to 12 volts for most projects.

gtwest088 (author)2008-10-02

I had an old dell 15" monitor sitting around and decided to make a picture frame out of it. I got on ebay and bought a card reader that hooks up to the tv and sends the signal through either composite or component video output. I had a wire that has component video on one end and VGA on the other. This didn't work. I assume it's because the reader sends out a different format than the monitor accepts. I think the monitor uses analog RGB but not really sure. Its just a standard old dell LCD monitor with only VGA input. Any idea on how to make this work without buying a component to VGA converter box on ebay for $100.00 ???

jak06 (author)2008-08-11

whats the resolution of the screen?

Josh_B (author)2008-08-01

I really like your commentary throughout this instructable. It was amusing. The final product looks great!
Here's what eBay has for Digitial Photo Viewers and smaller LCD screens.

Digital Photo Viewer
PS1 & GameCube LCD Screens

slim_jim (author)2008-05-21

Please think twice about spending $100 bucks based on instructions that several times mention the phrase "dumb luck." Just spend the $100 at Best Buy for a working unit.

awkrin (author)2008-05-17

it's still a bit easier to just buy a photo frame instead of making one, but it's nice diy

Elementix (author)2008-05-16

I'm currently making my dpf using the parts you used. Is there any way you could put a close-up of all the soldering points on the card reader?

enterfarm (author)2008-04-09

Nice Post, if you looking for Cheap Digital Photo Frames in USA.

I Recommend

Cheap Digital Photo Frames

kmodek (author)2008-03-28

Hi. I have 2 old Winbooks that have parts removed, but the screens are good. Is there anything I can do with the screens w/o a hard drive,etc.? I'd love to make some sort of digital photo frame with them! Thanks!

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm entirely self taught in electronics, although I do have a chemistry degree which I currently don't use at all in my day ... More »
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