Introduction: LED Shadow Box
Here I have a shadow box with chibitronics LEDs in the back that light up when you plug it in. Not the most professional looking, but if you know what you're doing and put the time into it, you guys can make it look much nicer. And bonus points to you guys who know what city this skyline is based off of ;)
Step 1: Make Your City
First off, I took a large piece of plastic cardboard, since it was laying around, (you can use any material as long as it's stiff and sturdy enough to hold it's shape, like normal cardboard, posterboard, etc...) and I drew the city skyline of my choice. I didn't have an overhead projector or anything to make it easier. I just freehanded it, what wasn't as hard as I first thought. After I drew the city silhouette, I cut it out using a utility nice (X-acto knife would work too if the material you use is thin enough. Unfortunately, these plastic sheets where rather thick and sturdy, so the utility knife seemed like a better choice.)
Step 2: Make the Background
Next, I took another plastic sheet, the same width as the first piece, and proceeded to paint the night sky and the water using acrylic paint. For the sky, I used a gradient painting technique using black on the very top, purple in the middle of the sky, and blue paint on the bottom (the dashes on the bottom of the unfinished sky is to mark where I wanted the water to be. I used black because the reflection of the city would make the very top of the water black, so I didn't have to worry about a painting over a dark color with a lighter one.)
To do a gradient painting technique, you take a three colors, the lightest color you want, a medium color, and the darkest shade you want. Then you start at one end, either with the darkest or lightest shade, and paint the medium color next to it, making sure to leave a white space in between. Then, with a clean sponge brush or make up sponge, pull some of the color into the white space, and mix the other color in too, blending the colors together (making sure to use the other side of the sponge brush or another clean brush when dipping into the other color, as to not mix the colors where you don't want to). Keep blending to get rid of the sharp edges from the brush strokes, and if you want some parts to be lighter, mix more of the lighter side into the blend, and mix more of the darker side if you want part of the blend to be dark, to make the gradient look softer and more fluid. When that's done, and while the medium color is still wet, paint the 3rd, remaining color next to the unblended side of the medium color, again leaving a white space, and repeat the previous steps until everything is blended and looks nice. If you're taking a while and you're afraid the paint will dry before you get to it, put a little more paint where you originally painted the two colors. The paint won't blend if they dry, so be quick. For more details, this blog might help. http://techniquespeak.blogspot.com/2008/10/gradient-paint-technique.html
Step 3: Paint the Water
For the water, I wanted to make a reflection of the city, so I put the city that we previously cut out (hasn't been cut out in these pictures yet, but that doesn't matter), up against the water and roughly painted the city's reflection black, focusing that the taller buildings meant I'd have to paint the black further out into the water. And to blend the reflection with the water, I did the same painting technique as I did with the sky, by leaving a while space around the parts I wanted to blend and blended them with a clean sponge brush.
I did make a small mistake on this part though. Because the sky was still drying, I traced the city reflection by placing the city upside-down, under the water. That meant that if I placed it where it needed to be, rightside-up, the reflection would be backwards. I simply panted the back of the city black, and put up with the fact that my skyline is now backwards. To avoid this mistake, you should either paint the water first, have the city face down if it's cut already (wasn't cut at this point in the picture, so I didn't think to do that), or you should be more patient than me and wait for the paint to dry :P
Step 4: Install Your LEDs
While I waited for the paint to dry on the background, I had help installing the chibitronics LED's to the upper outer edges of the backside of the city, so when it lights up, the light comes from behind the silhouette of the city. There are two strips of copper tape connecting the LED's so the current can travel to all of them. One strip connecting the upper points of the 5 sided LED's, and the other strip connecting the two bottom points of them. If any points are broken on the tape, a small piece of solder should connect it. At one of the ends of the tape, we soldered on a cellphone charger plug with the end stripped onto the tape, so we can feed power the the LED's.
The solder isn't very durable though, so if you bump the plug, the plug might break off. A simple solution to this was to make two holes on the city, where the plug cord would be, and weave the cord between the holes before soldering the wires to the tape. This reinforces the cord, making it much less fragile.
If you plug the LED's in to test if they work, and they don't, then that could mean one of a few things:
One: the tape has a broken spot, most likely where it bends to go around a corner. Fix that by carefully soldering the broken points, making sure not to burn a hole through the tape and making it worse.
Two: The copper tape isn't connecting to the same point of EVERY LED, so the tape is probably connecting the positive end of almost every LED, and the negative end of one or two of another LED or two. Flip the LED's that don't match up so that they do.
Three: The positive wire of phone charger plug could probably be connected to the negatively charged tape, and vice versa. Just unsolder the two wires and resolder them back onto the other piece of copper tape.
Four: The LED's, copper tape, or the phone charger plug don't work and should be replaced.
Step 5: Prepare the Layers
Once the paint dries, cut the water out to separate it from the sky. We want the water in front of the city. Since we need someplace to mount the supports to stick the water out, You'll need to glue something behind the sky, so it extends below the background far enough so the supports have someplace to go. I used a third plastic sheet for this, the same width of the sky, and as long as the sky and water put together, so it extends low enough. You might be able to get away with using the leftovers from the first piece of material when you cut out the city if it's long enough to just glue to the bottom of the sky, or to glue any other material behind that's sturdy enough to hold the supports.
Step 6: Support the First Layer
I grabbed a piece of tough foam as my supports, again since it was laying around, and cut a few small pieces out. I colored them black (in case someone saw them, it wouldn't look as odd as the white would against the black background) and I placed double sided tape to hold them in place. I then set the city lay up to match the bottom of the sky.
As a side note, you'll see me using glue, double sided tape, duct tape, and other methods to hold these supports in place, but this foam doesn't like to hold on to anything with any of this. It will be easier to try a different material to use as supports, such as small rectangular pieces of cardboard or posterboard with tabs at each end.
Step 7: Support Your Second Layer
I measured twice the thickness of the supports for the first layer to make the water layer supports. If you want your second layer to be propped out parallel with the other layers, then just glue or tape the supports on as is. I, however, thought it might be cool to slant the water towards the city, to give a more realistic sense of depth, so I angled one end of the water layer to it met up with the city layer, and the other end to meet up with the far corner of the support. Then I marked it and trimmed the extra off. I then cut the same angle off the other support and trimmed that to size. I, again, colored it black in case it was seen and tried gluing it with wood glue (cuz it was around. Didn't work too well though, so you'll see duct tape holding the supports and assuming it won't be seen instead. :P)
Step 8: Layering of the Shadow Box Are Now Done
This is the the sky, city silhouette, and water when put together. The phone charger cord is hanging on the side, connecting to the LED's behind the city. Now we're ready for the frame.
Step 9: Making the Frame
First thing I did was measure how much each side of the plastic sheet was so I can find out how long of boards I'd need for each side. Since the furthest back support was the length of the sky and the water put together, and the water being at an angle and going partway up into the city, that means you'd have to trim the back support sheet a little so it's even with the bottom of the water layer. If you already knew how much you would've needed to compensate before you glued the back support on a few steps ago, then you couldn't already cut it back then and don't need to worry about it.
When I measured the sides to find out what the lengths of the board will need to be, I also added the thickness of the boards twice, so I can do a milter cut. So, lets say the boards are 3/4" thick, and the side of the plastic sheets you're measuring is 19". That would be 19+3/4+3/4, which equals 20 1/2". I then cut the boards to length, set the saw to cut at 45 degrees, and cut each end. I then tested to make sure the boards fit around the layers, made minor adjustments to the cuts if there were problems (I also cut a little notch near the bottom left corner so the cord had somewhere to go), then glued and clamped the boards together and waited for the frame to dry.
Step 10: Putting on the Frame and the Backing
Once dried, I put the frame around the layers. (unfortunately my measuring wasn't the best, so I still had gaps on the bottom. I covered that part up with cardboard in the end) I cut a piece of cardboard to fit the back of the frame, glued it to the back of the plastic layers and nailed the cardboard to the frame.
Just so I can hang this shadow box up on a wall, I took a piece of twine string (weave a couple pieces together for extra strength if you fear your project is too heavy) and nailed the string to the sides of the back of the frame, so when the shadow box is hung and the string tightens, the string is still behind the box. I tied loops around the nails, and placed two nails on each side so if one loosens up, the other might catch it. It might not do that, but I feel like I can sleep better at nights, so it works for me, but do whatever you think would make string the sturdiest.
Step 11: And There You Have It...
And that's it. You now have a shadow box that you can plug in and have light up. Again, this isn't exactly the most professional looking one, since this was kind of a learn as you go experience for me, but if you measure everything correctly and use the right materials, you can end up with something that looks really amazing ;)
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