Introduction: 3D Shadow Prints

About: I've been an artist all my life. Probably nothing I couldn't accomplish according to my grade school teachers who said "I would make a perfect student if I would just stop drawing all the time". I'm …

This is a project I’ve done several times before. Back in the day when my kids were Superhero fans (still are), especially Marvel Comics. We collected the collector cards. I would take some of these art designs and make 3 dimensional prints for them to hang in their rooms. So I thought I’d share the process. Pictured here are a few of the ones I did for them and the Sample I'm demonstrating (Havok).


Laser paper

Xacto knife or similar cutting tool

Foam core or foam sheets

Spraymount or other form of glue or adhesive

Colored pencils or other medium to color with (markers, crayons, pastel pencils)

Paper stomps (if using pastel pencils)

Optional: Duct tape for finishing

Computer with image software to manipulate images

Step 1: Step 1 - Photo Selection

Step 1: Photo Selection
When selecting the image you want to make 3D try to imagine or picture various elements that would be enhanced by cutting out background or allow upper levels to give the impression of raised depth when stacked back on top of each other. Obviously elements or people in the foreground would be on one of the top layers. If multiple people in the image, their layer would be on a deeper layer the farther in the background they are. And if your hero has his arms out stretched or head leaning forward those are elements you’ll want to enhance forward. Using the Havok image I'm going to take advantage of the rings for enhancement.

Step 2: Step 2 - Size and Print

Step 2: Size and Print
After the image has been chosen, I’ll scan image full color or greyscale depending on the contrast in the original image. I’ll adjust the image by dropping out the color and adjusting brightness and contrast in any image manipulation software (photoshop in my case). Then I’ll take the picture and scale to the desired finished size and print out multiple copies to work with. Again depending on the image, sometimes I’ll clean up elements or remove parts I don’t feel necessary, add the heroes name or boarders to dress it up if desired. Case in point on this one I added a big black boarder, and Havoks name.

Step 3: Step 3 - Mount and Cut

Step 3: Mount and Cut
With the prints done, next step is to spray mount or glue to sheets of foam core (NOTE: For a more interesting effect you can just use multiple layers of paper, but thats a different process that maybe I’ll share some other time). Now the great thing about these projects is its a great chance to use up old or scrap materials left over from other projects. For example on this Havok print I’ve sized it to use up some scraps of black foam core I have. Next step is spray mounting the single sheets to the foam core and trim all out to precise similar size.

Step 4: Step 4 - Detail Cutting

Step 4: Detail Cutting
With this done take each layer and start selectively cutting away elements, doing larger areas that’ll be in the front and lesser areas as you go back or down through each subsequent layer. The best thing to do is cut out the most area on the first (or top) layer. Once you have your first layer cut lay it on top of one of the other prints and decide what areas to cut away on that layer. Depending on the thickness of your foam core and sharpness of your knife blade you may have to flip over and finish cuts from the back (see example). Use this method as you work your way down to the last level you intend to cut. (Be sure to save one fully uncut layer for the base).

The last picture there is my faithful apprentice and quality work inspector Belle.

Step 5: Step 5 - Color

Step 5: Color
After the hard part of figuring out the cuts and actually doing them, next take each layer and begin coloring to the desired look using which ever medium you desire (Markers, colored pencils, crayons, etc). I’m using pastel pencils for this print. And I use paper stomps for blending. Complete coloring each layer. I repeatedly lay the layers together to see how the image is working together.

Step 6: Step 6 - Glue Layered Stacks

Step 6: Glue layered stacks
With all the layers colored to your liking, start assembling the layers either using a glue stick, spray mount or adhesive of your choosing. Take special care in positioning each layer. Depending on what type of adhesive your using, be sure to give each time to dry so there is no slippage. The finished product can be hung on the wall or set on a desk or shelf. You can simply use glue dots for hanging. (Just keep in mind with multiple layers of foam core the finished item might be heavier than it actually feels, So glue dots may not cut it depending on the finished size)

Another option is to cut a notch out of the back layer for a nail perch, just make sure you do it in a spot that has top layers to cover the hole.

Step 7: Step 7 - Final Touches

Step 7: Final Touches
Paper being paper when cutting you’ll end up with blemished white edges from your laser prints. I’ll go back over all the edges with a black sharpie to eliminate obvious white spots. Inside and out. Additionally, depending on how clean the outer edges appear I may or may not be concerned with the outer edges of the foam core being visible. But in this case to give it a more even look I used some leftover gold duct tape. Cutting a piece large enough to wrap around the entire width of the print. Keeping the edge of the tape as clean and close to the front edge, burnish it down as you wrap it around the print. Cut a line at the corners and fold in the tape around to the back.

Step 8: Step 8 - Early Finished Examples

Step 8: Earlier finished examples
Her are some more finished example pics of others I’ve done in the past. I’ve always been more of a fan of the lesser known superheroes. So Collosus, Domino were great subjects. I also liked group shots. So the XMen Blue and Yellow teams at the time I combined into one group for that project.

Step 9: Future Project

The Big Battle:

Lastly is my huge fight scene, which is still in the works. Maybe I’ll get it done eventually. If I do, I’ll be sure to post it to this instructable.

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