Introduction: Picture Frame/Shadow Box

Perhaps you want to frame your lovely artwork or a picture of family members. Maybe you're thinking of sending Grandma a framed picture of her amazing grandson/granddaughter. Any way, you're going to need a picture frame, and here's how you can make your own for next to nothing. 

Note: You could also adapt this method to make a shadow box for dioramas. (Read on to learn more... )

Step 1: Materials

What you'll need: 
  • cardboard -- thick is better but thin will work (Recycle a cereal box!)
  • transparent plastic (You could savage some from many sources such as old binders (the front plastic cover part), binder sheet protectors, and plastic takeout containers. Otherwise, this is the perfect excuse to buy some of those cookies/cakes that come with a transparent plastic container...)
  • scissors
  • glue
  • pencil
  • ruler
  • picture/other object to frame OR stuff for a shadow box

Step 2: Cardboard for the Frame

First you need to decide how big you want the frame to be. Get your picture and add about 1.5 inches, depending on how thick you want the borders (1.5 inches will give you 1.5/2 = 0.75 inch borders), to the width and length to get the final dimensions. I wanted my frame to be 4.75 inch x 5 inch with 0.75 inch borders so I made my final size 5.5 inch x 5.75 inch. 

Grab your cardboard and cut out two rectangles (or triangles, or circles; whatever you want your frame's shape will be).

If you want a shadow box, cut out more rectangles. The height of your shadow box will be the same as the thickness of your total number of rectangles minus two of them (the minus two part is because you need one rectangle to be your backing and one to be the outer part on top of the plastic screen). 

Step 3: Cutting a Window

Take one of your cardboard pieces and determine which side of it you want as the exterior (the outermost part of the frame). Then flip the cardboard so that the exterior is face down and do a rough sketch of what your frame's window will be, keeping in mind the amount of space you left as the "border." I had the 0.75 inch borders in mind so I just drew a smaller rectangle for the window; you might have a different shape so do whatever you think will best fit your frame. 

Once you've sketched out the window, cut it out and set aside the part that you cut out. 

If you're making a shadow box, cut out a couple more of these windows (leave one without a window to be the back). Again, the height of your shadow box will be the same as the thickness of your total number of rectangles minus two of them (the minus two part is because you need one rectangle to be your backing and one to be the outer part on top of the plastic screen). 

Step 4: Transparent Screen

Take your plastic and cut out a piece that fits the window you made in your cardboard. Then glue it to the window, keeping in mind which side of the cardboard you wanted to be the exterior. 

NOTE: if you plan to decorate the frame using decoupage, see next step. 

If you're making a shadow box, you still only need one piece of plastic and need to glue it to only one window. 

Step 5: Decorating

Unless you want a plain frame, it's time for decorating! You can draw shapes on the borders or decoupage decorative paper to the frame.

If you're planning to do decoupage:
For people making picture frames, cover the window cardboard with decorative paper first before gluing the plastic screen. Then glue your picture to the solid, no-window piece of cardboard, making sure that everything is visible through the window piece of cardboard (center the picture accordingly). Finally. glue both parts together BEFORE completing the decoupage. 

For those making shadow boxes, again, cover the window cardboard first before gluing the plastic screen. Then glue ALL undecorated window pieces to the cardboard for the back of the box (no window) and add the things you want inside the shadow box. For mine, I made Kawasaki origami roses and just glued them in. Finally, glue the decoupaged window to that BEFORE completing the decoupage of the whole shadow box.

Step 6: Finishing

If you haven't already done so, glue the picture you want in the frame to the solid, no-window piece of cardboard, making sure that everything is visible through the window piece of cardboard (center the picture accordingly). Then glue the decorated window-with-plastic piece to that. 

For the shadow box, glue everything down inside the box before gluing the decorated window-with-plastic piece. 

Step 7: Hanging, Standing, Etc.

If you want to hang the frame, glue some string to the back and BOOM; you're done.

If this will go on a refrigerator door, glue magnetic strips on the back and BOOM; you're done. 

If you want to make a leg so that the frame can stand, here's how: 
Take the cardboard that you cut out from the window (If this piece is not rectangular because your frame isn't rectangular, you'll need another piece of cardboard.) and draw two diagonal lines as shown in the pictures. Cut along the lines. Take the middle section and position it on the back of your frame, corner to corner, and experiment with where the "bend" (because the leg has to swing out) should be. The bend should be approximately perpendicular to the edges of the shape, but test what works best for your frame. Then glue the top part above the bend to the back of your frame and BOOM; you're done. 

And that's it! Have fun making these, and should you have any further questions about confusing steps, feel free to ask away. 

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