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Turn an old picture frame into an illuminated message center!

In this Instructable, I'll walk you through how I made a light-up message board to leave notes or artwork on.

For more DIY crafty recycling, check out my blog at Ecoprojecteer.net

If you like this project, please vote for it in the contest!

Step 1: Tools and Materials

For this project, we'll need:

Materials:
  • 8x10" Picture Frame ($1 from the thrift store)
  • Rustoleum brand Frosted Glass specialty spray paint
  • Cardboard Box
  • White Tagboard
  • Tape, clear and electrical
  • Recycled/Repurposed 12V LED Light Bar
  • 12V DC Power Supply
  • 2 half-inch wood screws
Tools:
  • Scissors & Knife
  • Wire Strippers
  • Pen or Marker
  • Tape Measure or Ruler
  • Phillips Screwdriver
  • Awl
This project doesn't require anything unusual for tools. It's a basic project needing only some simple paper and cardboard skills and very basic wiring. I already had all the materials except the picture frame, so it was an extremely frugal project as well.

Step 2: Frosting the Glass

To start with, flip the picture frame over.

Bend back the small metal tabs that hold the backer in place.

Remove the backer, print, and glass.

Save the print and backer to use for other projects. We won't be putting them back in the frame.

Wash the glass. It will most likely be dusty or have finger-prints on it. For the next step, the glass will have to be clean. Wash the glass in a sink, being extra careful, as glass is slippery when wet. Dry thoroughly.

Apply Rustoleum Frosted Glass (or similar product of another brand) spray onto one side of the glass, following the product directions. It applies quickly. One or two coats is plenty for this project.

Allow spray to fully dry.

Once it's dry, put it back in the frame with the sprayed side facing the back. Bend the metal clips to hold the glass in place.

You can now draw on the FRONT (non-sprayed) side of the glass with a dry erase marker.

You can get a sense of the finished project simply by holding the frame up in front of a light.

Step 3: Building the Box

The next step is to build a simple box for the back of the frame.

The light will shine onto curved white tagboard inside that box.

To get a sense of that, just curve a piece of tagboard, and pop it into the back of the frame, letting the spring shape of it hold it in place. If you look through the front, you will see a blurred version of the white tagboard.

Rather than get complicated making a box from scratch, I simply cut off the corner of an existing cardboard box that was going out for recycling anyways. The frame is 8x10", and the box happened to be 10" high. So, I measured an 8" diagonal, and cut that corner from the box.

I set the triangular box inside the frame to make sure everything lined up right, and the placed the LED light bar at one end. I then traced the light, and cut out that part so that the light will shine into the box.

Next, I placed tagboard inside the box and taped it in position so that it made a nice curve. I cut a triangle-shaped piece of tagboard for end of the box, and taped that in place as well, with clear tape.

I then had a triangular box, with a curved white inside, which would fit inside the 8x10 frame.

Step 4: Lighting

The light bar has a metal mounting bracket. I needed to mount the light and wire it up to a power supply.

First, I put the light in position, and marked the screw locations with an awl. I then moved the light, and pushed the awl in firmly to start holes for both screws.  Alternatively, I could have drilled pilot holes with a very small drill-bit.

I put the light back in place and drove the two half-inch wood screws in place with the Phillips screwdriver.

The mounting bracket allows for swiveling the light. It is angled to shine on the white background BEHIND the glass, not on the glass itself. This gives a nice, even backlighting for the written messages.

Wire up the light to the power supply. The red wire goes to the + and the black wire goes to the -. I simply stripped a bit off the end of each wire, twisted the appropriate wires together, and covered with electrical tape. Using shrink wrap could make it look even nicer.

I did not install a switch on this project because I intend to use the light-up frame plugged into a switched outlet.

Step 5: Put It All Together

At this point, the cardboard box simply has to friction fit inside the frame.

The light illuminates the white interior of the box, for an even backlight effect.

This frame did NOT include a backer with a stand. Instead, the cardboard box also acts as a stand for the frame.

Stand the frame up, plug in the power supply, and dim the lights.

Step 6: Write Your Message!

The fun part is leaving messages!

It could be a note to your roommate or a romantic message to your wife, perhaps even a note to yourself!

The frame is bright enough to make a pretty powerful nightlight or to simply attract attention to itself at typical lighting levels.

You can use colored dry erase markers as well. When back-lit, they seem to turn brighter and more pastel-like. For example, red looks more magenta.

One of the best parts of this project is that you can use any frame you would like! Maybe you already have a frame you want to repurpose or have a set of frames so that your message lamp matches!

Easy variations on this project would be to make it battery-powered or to use color-changing LEDs!

Have fun when you make one, and be sure to post photos of yours!
I have one of these message boards that I bought from a thrift shop, seems to be custom made as well. What I love about it is that it's black! I use the neon chalk markers (finally found at hobby lobby) and make the coolest pics and messages. I'm sure yours could work same with black behind the glass?
<p>Looks awesome</p>
cbmoore1, on yours, does the glass still look white/frosted, or is it something else, clear glass for example? Can you post a photo? <br>I might have to try a backlight version.
I believe it's thin plastic with black behind it. Here's a couple pics.
I joined Instructables.com just so that I could vote for this project. =D Very cool. My little boys would love this so much. I'm not handy enough to make it. Maybe one day it will be on the shelves. =) You and Enjoying Electronics could start a business with it.
Wow bennelson this is just what I was trying to do I just didn't know that they sold the frosted glass stuff! You could put UV leds behind it then use neon colors to have it glow! <br> <br>This is what I came up with https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-UV-Erasable-Glow-Poster/ <br> <br>These two projects are perfectly combinable. <br> <br>Voting!
Absolutely!<br>I just used a 12V LED bar because I had it handy, and it's all set to go, no resistors needed, and already had a mounting bracket.<br><br>So many people on Instructables are GREAT with LEDs, and I'm sure somebody will do a variation of my project with color-changing LEDs, or other fancy types.<br><br>The few times I've seen UV LEDs, I've been pretty impressed! I even saw a ping-pong ball launcher where the guy used glow-in-the-dark ping-pong balls, and &quot;charged&quot; them with UV LEDs before launching. They were like tracers! Pretty cool.<br><br>Glad you liked my project. Maybe I will play around with a blacklight version.<br><br>-Ben
Yeah UV leds work wonders with glowing thing! I wish they put one in my watch so that instead of just lighting up the LCD it would 'charge' the glowing parts! <br> <br>Once again I'm super glad I came across your i'ble! That frosting is just what I needed! Good luck in the contest!
Neon markers* <br>
pretty cool I think this was a good idea. Did you think of adding RGB LEDs?
On the last page, step 6, I mention that color-changing LEDs or running this on batteries would both be nice variations. I'd love to see what versions of this project other people make!
ok
I hope I can try it one time
Thats really awesome

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Bio: Ordinary guy with no special skills, just trying to change the world one backyard invention at a time. See more at: http://300mpg.org/ On ... More »
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