Introduction: Easy Change Floating Photo Wall

About: I like to take things apart, sometimes they go back together sometimes they end up as something entirely different then where they started.

I'm a part-time professional photographer and I love taking pictures! Sometimes I work really hard to take an idea in my head and turn it into a finished picture. Like everyone else, I share my pictures online with friends and family, but I really want to display some of my images at home. 

Typically when you want to print out an image to display in your home you can do one of two things.

1) Print your photo online or at a local store like Wal-mart for as little money as possible, usually a few cents to a few dollars, and throw it in a cheap frame for another few dollars. Total cost, maybe $5-$10.

2) Visit a local printer, have your image printed professionally, take it to a framer and have it professionally framed. I had this done for a recent wedding photo, the professional printing was reasonable at about $10-$15 for a 11x17 sized print, the framing however was about $300. 

Now of course their are compromises between these two options but the point is that if you want to print and frame something, especially a larger size, 8x10 and larger, it gets expensive quickly, even if you print and frame the picture yourself. On top of that it's not easy to change your pictures without buying new frames. Since the frame is the most expensive piece you can see how the cost might start adding up quickly for someone like me who wants to display new images every few months. 

The solution I came up with was to build a picture frame that I could hang on the wall and easily swap out the images inside. This way I can inexpensively print my images professionally for $5-$10 each, and then slide new images in easily. 

While people do make picture frames that swing open to allow photos to be swapped out they cost hundreds of dollars each. I wanted something simpler and less than $20 each. What I discovered was acrylic sign holders meant to hold 8.5x11" and 11x17" standard paper for display at businesses. You might see these attached to walls holding a menu or information about a promotion. Using these sign holders and a few other items I was able to create a large photo wall with ten images that are each 11"x17". The best part is I can change images in each frame in less than a minute.

Step 1: Materials

Here are the materials I used to build these frames. You can find these from a number of other suppliers but I've listed where I found mine and what I paid. 

Acrylic wall mount sign holders with no holes! $11  3/32" Clear Acrylic (nearly 1/8")

Glue on a Acrylic wall hangers sawtooth $0.45

Acrylic solvent applicator (small) $3

Acrylic solvent 4oz $7

Clear rubber feet 1/2" tall $12/25, need 50, $2/frame

10x screws to mount the pictures on (any will work, or use picture hooks or whatever you want to mount with)

I used a laser to hang my photos. If you are only hanging a few photos and not a wall like mine then you might not need a laser. 

Step 2: Print the Template

I created a template to insert into the frames as a guide for attaching the sawtooth hanger and feet. Since the frames hold standard sized sheets of paper this is very easy to do in illustrator. I have included my 11x17 template. This is helpful to make sure every frame is identical, or close enough. 

Step 3: Glue the Sawtooth Hanger

I've never used acrylic solvent before to glue acrylic together. This youtube video explains the process pretty well.

Basically you should set the hanger in place and apply the solvent  and in a few seconds the pieces are temporarily bonded together. After a few hours the bond will be permanent. I let mine sit overnight just in case. 

Make sure to align the sawtooth hanger with the template as best as you can. Only use one hanger per frame and place the hanger in the correct location. The landscape style frames will use a landscape orientation and the portrait style frames will use the portrait orientation. These really only need to be loosely set in place and a small amount of solvent applied. If you use too much do not wipe it off, just wait for it to evaporate. I ordered a few extra and tried one out on a test piece first. 

Step 4: Stick on the Feet

It took a while but I found 1/2" clear acrylic stick on bumpers or feet. I put one of these in each of the corners of the back of the frame so that it sticks out from the wall by 1/2". This, combined with the borderless and "frame-less" look to the acrylic sign holders makes the images look as if they are floating on the wall. 

I wiped the area on the back with alcohol to clean the acrylic of any residue before sticking the feet on to make sure they stuck well. Again, align the bumpers up with the template as close as you can so the frames are all similar.

If you do not want the floating effect you can use much slimmer bumpers (1/16-1/8") so that the frame does not slide around on the wall. This traditional style would only require two bumpers, one on each bottom corner and are available at most hardware stores. 

Step 5: Hang Your Pictures!

I used a picture hanging tool shown. This, combined with some measuring and a laser level allowed me to perfectly align my pictures into a grid. You can choose any pattern or arrangement you like. 

To do this I projected a level horizontal line where I wanted the bottom of the grid to be. I then traced this line onto the wall in pencil. 

I used a ruler to mark out the 4 center lines for each column of pictures

I then projected a vertical line on the first center line.

I hung the bottom left image first and then hung the next two images above it

I then moved on to the next column and repeated the process until all 4 columns were done. 

I used normal pan head screws and screwed them into the drywall so that the screw stuck out 1/2" from the wall. These can be easily adjusted with a hand screwdriver until the fit is perfect with your frame. 

Step 6: Finishing

Your photo wall should be complete, now its time to put your favorite images up on display. I decided to 3D model my dinning room before deciding which images to use and how to lay out the frames. Here is the digital model and a final shot of the dinning room with the real photos in place. 

- Remember, you can use any size acrylic sign holder you want, use whatever looks good to you or is an easy size to get prints made in.

- Mix and match different size frames for a more complex collage or create a simple row or column design.

- You can also use magnets, double sided tape, or sign holders with pre-drilled holes and mount yours different than I did. 

Have fun and post pictures of your own photo walls here!

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