Introduction: How to Make a Solo Cup Picture Frame

This creates a unique, fun frame for artwork or photos. It is the epitome of college style--inexpensive but creative, and it fits in with the "upcycling" trend that has taken over many crafting websites. It can also be labeled as "trashy chic" and is great for displaying photos from parties or other upcycled artwork.

Some steps can be a little tricky, so be sure to heed the warnings!

Step 1: Gather Your Materials.

For the frame itself:

  • Foamcore board
    • Available in many sizes in Walmart or any craft store
    • Any thickness will work, but I prefer 1/4 inch thickness.
    • They come mostly in black and white, but if you can find another color that will definitely work.
    • I have a white board, but I will be painting it black before attaching the pieces of Solo cup.
  • A ruler or yardstick
  • A pencil
  • Exacto knife (not pictured)
  • Cutting mat
    • available in the quilting section in Walmart or any craft store
  • A picture that you want to frame
  • Scissors
  • 3-5 Solo cups in the color(s) of your choice.
    • You may also use knockoff cheap plastic cups, like I did.
  • Glue
    • either Superglue, as pictured, or a hot glue gun. If you use Superglue, I recommend buying one advertised as gel formula (as opposed to the more common liquid kinds). I'm a fan of Loc-tite brand.
  • Glue stick
  • String or yarn to hang the artwork

If you would like to paint the foamcore board:

  • Canvas primer, such as Gesso
  • Acrylic paint in the color of your choice
    • I used Apple Barrel paint in Jet Black, but there are literally thousands of options.
  • Two sponge brushes
  • Hairdryer (optional)
  • Newspaper or a plastic bag to protect your painting surface (not pictured)

Step 2: Measure and Draw the Frame.

  1. Determine how large your artwork is, and how wide you want the frame to be.
    • I had a 5"x7" piece of artwork, and I decided that I wanted 3" on either side of the artwork. I wouldn't recommend going much smaller than 3", because then you limit the way you use the Solo cups.
  2. Determine how big this makes your frame.
    • I determined that I had a 11"x13" frame (5+3+3 and 7+3+3)
  3. Lay out your ruler on the foamcore board and use the pencil to lightly trace out the larger rectangle, in my case the 11"x13" rectangle. The move three inches in from all sides and trace out the smaller rectangle, in my case the 5"x7" rectangle.

Step 3: Cut the Frame Out.

WARNING: Exacto blades are very, very sharp. Take note of this as you cut. Your non dominant hand should never be any closer than four inches from the blade, and the hand holding the knife should hold it like a pencil in a way that you are comfortable and familiar with. View the picture for further examples. Also, be sure to use the cutting mat! Exacto knives can slice through carpet, clothing, wooden tabletops, and skin. Protect these surfaces with the mat.

  1. Make sure that the rectangle you are going to cut out is arranged so that it rests completely on the cutting mat.
  2. Hold the foamcore board in place with your non dominant hand and cut along the lines with your dominant hand.
    • Use a sharp Exacto knife with a new or newish blade. This makes the cutting process easier and smoother, which in turn keeps you safer.
    • Go slowly to ensure that you stay along the pencil line. You will probably have to run the knife along the line several times to cut all the way through the foamcore.

Step 4: Prime the Frame (Optional).

If you are not painting your foamcore frame, skip ahead to Step Six.

TIP: It's tempting to skip this step and go straight to painting, but it's important to prime first. Foamcore has a tendency to warp when it gets wet. With the paint and the glue we will later use, the frame may warp inwards and then not lie flat, which not only will look bad but also will make it difficult to attach the Solo cups. If you are going to paint foamcore, you need to prime it first.

TIP: There's not much you can do to avoid getting a little Gesso on your hands as you paint the interior and exterior edges. The best way to keep your hands clean is to hold the frame only with your fingertips (note how I hold it only with the edges of my fingers in the second photo) and then wash your hands with soap and water immediately afterwards. Alternatively, you could wear plastic or latex gloves and dispose them when you are done painting.

  1. Lay down something to protect your working surface from paint--I used a Walmart bag.
  2. Take one of the sponge brushes and dip it into the Gesso pot. Paint a light, even coat over one side of the frame, as well as around the exterior and interior edge of the frame.
  3. If you ever want to use this brush again, wash it as soon as you are done with it. Simply hold it under warm running water, squeezing occasionally, and then lay on a paper towel to dry when the water runs clear. If you want these brushes for a one-time use, skip this step and throw the brush away.

Step 5: Paint Your Frame (Optional).

TIP: Again, it will be difficult to avoid getting a little paint on your hands as you do this step. View the previous step for tips to keep your hands clean during this process.
  1. Gesso dries very quickly, and since we used such a light coat, it should be almost dry by the time we have finished washing the brush. If it is not, you can wait a few minutes or use a hair dryer on the lowest heat and intensity setting, held about a foot away from the frame, to dry the primer. Once it is dry, you can apply the paint.
  2. Squeeze a little bit of paint onto the primed side of the foamcore board and use the other sponge brush to spread the paint around. Make sure to get the interior and exterior edges of the frame.
  3. If you want a more polished, classy look, you will need two or three coats of paint, so do those coats at this point. I was going for an “artistically trashy” look to match the cut-up Solo cups, so I only did one coat. This left the paint slightly unevenly distributed which created a very subtle marble effect. Use your creativity here!
  4. Wash your brush if you ever want to use it again! Repeat the process given in Step Four.
  5. Leave the frame to dry, or blow-dry it if you prefer.

Step 6: Cut and Arrange the Solo Cups

WARNING: Sliced Solo cups are sharper than you might think. Hold the pieces in the middle, not around the edges. Also, when cutting around the rim of the cup (the sturdiest, hardest to cut part) do not have your free hand on the cup. When cutting such a difficult piece, it s hard to predict how exactly the scissors will snap down.

  1. While the frame is drying, gather your scissors and Solo cups.
  2. Cut the cups up.
    • Try to make different sized pieces made of different parts of the cup (like the base, rim, various decorations on the sides, etc).
    • I ended up using 3 cups for a frame of my size (3-inch wide frame around a 5x7 picture space)
  3. Arrange the pieces on the frame in a way that you find aesthetically pleasing. Keep cutting and arranging until you are satisfied.

Step 7: Glue the Solo Cup Pieces to the Frame.

WARNING: If using hot glue, please keep in mind that hot glue is, well, hot. Never touch the metal tip on the glue gun. If you accidentally drip a bit of glue onto the art where you don't want it, move the still-wet glue with a non-plastic utensil such as a popsicle stick or silverware you won't use for eating again--don't touch it with your bare hands. Always glue over a tabletop--do not hold the glue gun over your lap where hot glue could drip down. Set a timer to remind yourself to unplug the glue gun when you are done.
TIP: Superglue is very sticky and dries very quickly. Never put your hands directly on the tip (with Loctite glue, your thumb and fingers need to squeeze opposite sides of the bottle to glue while your free hand holds the piece of Solo cup far away from where the glue drops land. If you do get superglue on your fingertip, wash that finger right away and then make a point to not touch that finger to any other fingertips for at least an hour.
  1. Pick up the first piece that you want to glue from your prearranged frame.
    • If you have a few pieces of cup stacked on top of each other, you should remove all of them and glue from the piece closest to the frame first.
  2. Hold it carefully with your non dominant hand while you use your dominant hand to affix a few dots of glue to the edges of the cup.
    • There are a few reasons to only use a few dots of glue: it saves money, particularly if you use Superglue (which adds up surprisingly quickly!) and it helps keep the frame free from globs of glue in case you make any mistakes.
  3. Place the gluey piece back where you had picked it up from and press down firmly for five to ten seconds to let it set.
  4. Repeat until all your pieces are glued to the frame.

Step 8: Place the Artwork in the Frame.

  1. Wait half an hour for the glue to dry after you have finished gluing the last piece of cup. Even though it may seem dry, this gives the glue time to really set into place before you have to turn the frame upside down.
  2. Decide how the artwork should fit inside the frame. Because my artwork looked pretty much the same through the whole page, it wasn't a huge deal to me which part showed. If you have a specific part of the paper to be centered within the frame, you may need to play around a little to position it perfectly.
  3. Turn the frame Solo-cup-side-down.
  4. Use a glue stick around the the edge of the artwork and position it on top of the undecorated side of the frame.
  5. Smooth the artwork down along the undecorated side of the foamcore.
    • Keep a light touch. While the Solo cups are strong enough to withstand a little bit of pressure as you attach the artwork, you shouldn't press hard enough to crush the cups. You should press about as hard as you would to pet a cat or dog, which will be strong enough to push the glued artwork into the frame but gentle enough to damage the cups.

Step 9: Add a String to Hang the Frame.

  1. Without cutting the string yet, arrange it carefully on the back of your frame.
    1. There should be a glue point on either side of the frame at the halfway mark, and two more at the edge.
    2. Make a decision on how much string you would like to be visible. I didn't want much, so I left only a two inch arc above the edge.
  2. When you are satisfied with the arrangement, cut the string.
  3. Glue at the four points with either Superglue or the hot glue gun.

Step 10: Display Your Work.

  1. Wait thirty minutes for the glue to fully set.
  2. Hang your work with pride!