Illuminated Diorama

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Posted in WorkshopLighting

Introduction: Illuminated Diorama

About: Hello there! I am a Mechanical Engineering student at a University. My passion ranges from designing stuff in CAD, Arduino projects, listening to music to learning programming language and working on cars. A...

I've been looking for instructable on how to make a light box but most of them required specific materials to complete the project. So I decided to create my own paper-cut lightbox with the materials I already have and spending little as possible. I'm a broken engineering student ;)

For the people who don't know what paper-cut light box is, it is a diorama make from layers of paper-cut which is placed in a shadow box, which is light from behind to create a scene or an emotion. The more layers you have, the better effect. Be careful! Too many layers can ruin the effect.

Warning: This instructable involves a cutting knife and a lighter. If you are underage and want to try this project, ask your parents to help you.

You: Can we do it?
Me: Yes We Can!!!

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Step 1: Materials

As I have stated above, I wanted to spend as little as possible. So the majority of the materials listed below can be found in your home. I'll show you tools and materials I used to complete this project.

This is just a guide to show you how to create a paper-cut light box. At any given point, you can improve it by your own imagination and materials you have access to. Don't worry, non-creative and non-imaginative people out there, I will give you some tips on how to get started.

Things you will need

  1. White cardstock paper
  2. X-ACTO knife *
  3. Tracing paper *
  4. LED strip *
  5. Styrofoam *
  6. Pencil, Pen, Ruler, Glue

And the most importantly - your dedication!

*TIP: Alternative tools/materials for can be used.

  • Instead of X-ACTO knife, you can use a paper cutting knife, or cardboard knife (little tough but doable), or laser cutter (the best, no hassle - let the machine do the work for you lol)
  • Instead of Tracing paper, you can use opaque white plastic or a plastic/paper where light passes through but gives a soft blend.
  • Instead of using a LED strip, you can use Christmas lights or some sort of light source which doesn't burn the paper (you don't want your paper to burn by a light source, do you?!)
  • Now I did not have an option to go out and buy fancy foam paper if you do have access to it - great.

Step 2: Drawing

Here comes the hard part for non-creative people out there, like me, sketching the design. You don't have to be next Picasso to design, you are allowed to see other's people art and get inspired by it. My inspiration came from this two design: one & two.

Start off by creating a same width border around the cardstock paper, for spacers. You can start sketching first half of the image you want to draw, then you can use a tracing paper to trace objects that you want a mirror on the other half of the image. Then number the objects you want on your layer, i.e, trees one layer, mountain on second etc.

If you any software like Photoshop, and know how to use it then you can create the image and create layers directly in Photoshop and print them onto the cardstock paper. However, if you do not have Photoshop, you can do it manually, which takes time but you will appreciate your hardwork later.

TIP: Sketch an image which has some depth of field to it (distance). More depth of field equals more layers which
would create a nice effect. Remember, too many layers will ruin the effect. Generally, from my understanding, having between 5-10 layers is recommended, how many layers depends on the type of sketch.

Step 3: Creating Layers

Now that you have created a base sketch and number the layers, trace each individual layer on a new cardstock paper. Remember, each layer will border the base sketch has, in my case 0.25" (0.635 cm).

As you can see from the image, we can take the window and daylight to our advantage by using the dark base sketch to trace each layer onto separate layers. If you did not notice, I change the fifth layer style because I was not happy with the base sketch. If you are not satisfied with any of the layers, change it now before proceeding to next step.

Quick reminder again, do not forget to draw the borders on the layers.

TIP: If you do not have a clear east/west facing window, you can use a lightbox pad (if you have it) or you can use your coffee table if it has clear glass on it. Just put a light source underneath the table.

Step 4: Cutting Layers

This step includes a use of a sharp knife or a tool - underage or inexperience should seek help from an adult.

Using a sharp knife or cutting tool, carefully cut out the layers. Make sure to get clean edges cause rough edges wouldn't look good if you do not mind then ignore it.

Quick reminder again, do NOT cut the border!

I'm no expert in cutting paper, however, from my experience of using x-acto knife constantly can be painful. Try taking a break after cutting one layer. Cut out the detail part first, leave the bigger and easier part for later. There is no race here, so take your time and try your best.

Step 5: Box and Spacers

This step includes a use of a sharp knife or a tool - underage or inexperience should seek help from an adult.

Like I said, I did not have an option to buy foam spacers for layers or buy a pre-made shadowbox, however, if you can buy it, that would be great - or you can be really cheap like me ;)

Now this will vary to each person. The first image shows the dimension of styrofoam I will need to cut to create a shadowbox. I marked the dimension I need to cut onto the styrofoam. Using an old cardboard cutter and a lighter, we can easily cut through styrofoam. Gently heat up the tip of a knife and using a ruler, cut the styrofoam into the desired dimension. Heating the tip of the knife will cut right through the styrofoam like a hot knife through butter and you will get smooth edges. This is all for the shadowbox. If you have any pre-made boxes that is right dimension such as shoe box, those work too - just make sure to design everything accordingly.

I cut out 0.25" width of strips from a regular cardboard box, once again, if you have foam - it will be easier to cut through.

TIP: Cut horizontally (perpendicular) to vertical bars is easier than cutting along the vertical lines.

Step 6: Assembly

Now that we have spacers from a cardboard box, we can glue them around our borders of each layer. I happen to cut down the strip to 3" (7.62 cm). However, you glue it strip which has the same length as the paper. At the end of the fifth layer, glue the tracing paper for the soft light effect.

After gluing all the layers together, let's finish making the shadowbox. On the back side glue the top & bottomside on top and bottom respectively. Then glue the side support on the side of box creating a box with open front.

Glue the led inside of the box and create a small hole at the back side of the box for the wire to pass through. Finally, put the glued layers in the shadowbox and turn on the LED strip!

Step 7: Enjoy the Show

You can buy paper-cut light boxes online for 30 to 50 dollars. By creating one yourself, it can be cheap, fun, and you can create any style/image with your imagination!

Thank you for showing interest in my project, and reading this so far :D

I hope you guys learned something from this project if you do make one for yourself or someone else, please share an image of it. I'd love to see your work!

If you have any question or concern at any step of this project, let me know in the comments below.

Have a wonderful day!

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    6 Comments

    Awesome diorama, I really love how you managed to make contrast between the layers. Good job mate :D

    3 replies

    Thank you for your kind words! I am definitely going to improve the design and structure significantly over the summer :D

    Thank you for much! I appreciate your support mate :)

    Thank You! I tried to explain as much I could so people are well prepare to make one by themselve.