A shadow box consists on multiple layers of paper cut designs in a frame that is lighted up by a LED strip placed on the back. The different layers compose a landscape that you can customize and you can add some "special" effects that will make it even more realistic!
I made this shadow box last year for Christmas so I chose a winter/Christmas theme for my scenery. This was my first shadow box and the result was extremely satisfying to me. In fact, I made more shadow boxes after this one and, despite the huge work behind it, I really enjoy the whole process.
Step 1: Supplies
- Printer paper - 3 or 4 sheets, depending on how many layers you want to make
- White card stock - as many sheets as your layers
- X-acto knife and cutter
- White glue
- Printer (optional)
- LED strip with power supply
Step 2: Make Your Design
The first thing you need to prepare is the design of the scenery you want for your shadow box. You can either draw it or design it with a computer and print it. Since I am not that good at drawing, I chose the second option.
After I decided how I wanted my scenery to be, I looked for different silhouette images that suited my theme and composed each one of my layers using Adobe Photoshop. I wanted my scenery to have 4 separate layers, with the last one being a water reflection effect (the upside down one).
One of the most important things in this kind of designs is making sure that there are no "flying" objects: all of your silhouettes must be attached somewhere in the scenery. For example: the last reindeer in my design is linked to the top of the bell tower; the trees, the snowman and the deer are linked to the ground; etc.
Remember to include a frame of the same size around all of your layers so you can attach objects to it as well!
Make sure to try all of your layers together as you make them because they need to perfectly fit with each other and all of their details are supposed to be visible (unless you don't want to) and not hidden somewhere behind another layer. In order to recognize them, I gave each layer a different color while I was working on them.
When you are done with all of your layers, print them separately and transfer each of them on white card stock. To do this, I attached the printed layer on a window and placed the card stock on it so I could easily see and trace the outline of my scenery.
My third layer has a simple geometric shape so I simply drew it by free hand (see next step).
Step 3: Cut Your Layers
When you are done tracing the outline of your layers, start cutting them using a sharp x-acto knife. As you do this, remove the parts that you don't need anymore. Take it slowly and be as accurate as possible.
Be careful when you reach narrow joints in your design because they can easily break or be cut by mistake.
Remember to work on this step on an old surface or something that you don't mind scratching!
As you can see, my third layer is just a rectangle with one half missing (except for the frame) and no design. This is because I wanted the lowest half of my scenery to have a water reflection effect.
This is how it works: this layer will be placed behind the lake layer and in front of the last "upside down" layer. The paper left in the third layer is going to hide the reflection at first but it will appear when the light is on. The effect will be very soft and the outline of the reflection won't be as sharp and evident as it would be otherwise.
The reason why I cut the first half of the layer is because I wanted the moon to be bright, but later I figured that I could actually cut it out on that layer instead of the fourth one!
Step 4: Glue the Layers Together
Now you need to cut some cardboard strips to place between each layer so the light can filter through.
The first option, which is the one I chose, is to cut separate strips as long as the sides of my layers and as large as my frame's wideness. The second option is to actually make the entire cardboard frame for each layer, but you need bigger pieces of cardboard this way.
Either way, I recommend to make the frame's wideness a little thinner than the actual frame of your layers. This way the cardboard will be less visible from the sides when the shadow box will be done.
Start gluing the first pieces around the back of the first layer then glue the second layer on top of it, with the front facing the cardboard frame. Glue another cardboard frame around the back of the second layer and repeat these steps until you finish attaching the fourth layer too.
Step 5: Make the Box
Now you need to protect the whole scenery inside a box. Of course you can get an already made one of the right size, but I don't mind making my own!
To make the cardboard box, cut 4 large strips of cardboard with the same wideness: they must be wider than the tickness of your layers because you need to keep some free space on the back for the LED strip.
2 strips must be as long as the layers' longest side plus the size of your cardboard's thickness and the other 2 strips must be as long as the layer's short side plus your cardboard's thickness.
Measure your cardboard's thickness on one end of each strip and trace a line. Carefully use a cutter to cut out that piece but make sure to leave the lowest layer of the cardboard intact.
When you are done doing this on all of the strips, apply some glue on the cardboard layer at the end of the strip and attach another strip on it, perpendicularly. Do this with all of the 4 strips until you obtain a rectangle.
This is a simple trick to hide the ugly cardboard sides of the box.
Step 6: Make the Back and the Frame
To make the back of the frame simply cut a cardboard rectangle that perfectly fits into the box you made. Paint it with white paint or cover it with a white sheet of paper like I did.
The box was not truly completed without a frame so I finally drew a new frame on a piece of cardboard as big as my box and I cut it. My cardboard was already white but you can paint it if you want.
Step 7: Insert the Scenery in the Box!
Apply some glue all around the inside of the box and carefully insert your scenery in it. Slowly push it down until it reaches the position you want. I kept it a little distant from the top of the box so that there would be some free space between the frame (that you're going to add now) and the first layer.
Finally cut out a small slit on the back of the box for the cable to go through. Try to make it close to one of the angles.
Remember to glue the cardboard frame on top of the box to complete your shadow box!
Step 8: Add the LED Strip
The last thing that's missing is the light!
So measure the inside of your box and cut a piece of LED strip just as long. Attach the strip to the inside of the box, starting close to the spot where you made the slit.
Connect it to the power supply using an adapter or welding it.
Put the back of the box in place with the white side facing the layers, this way you won't see any brown spot through the hand cut layers. The back I made fits perfectly into the box so it stays in place when it's closed and I can remove it whenever I want.
Step 9: Light On!
Turn your shadow box on and admire the amazing result! Thanks to the card stock and the space between each layer the light filters through very nicely.
What do you think?
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