Introduction: Illuminated Photo Wedding Gift

About: Electronics Engineer - interested in anything microcontroller-related...

This gift idea came about whilst attending a family wedding in the Caribbean. There was a significant gap between wedding, and reception back in the UK, so we knew we had time to experiment - and as you will see we didn't get it right first time!

We wanted to create something unique that both matched the colour scheme of the wedding, and that couldn't be bought in a shop.

Step 1: Gather Your Materials

We chose to embed wedding favours in the frame, these were nicely laser-cut acrylic hearts with reflective backing, although we did get a few strange looks scooping them up from the dinner table into my partner's bag! You can choose anything to embed really as long as it fits the frame edges.

Additional materials:

  • Photo frame, courtesy of Ikea but any deep frame will do.
  • Photo to embed - it's a good idea to print a few of these as you'll need one to test in the next step.
  • Backing card - I used 250gsm white card but any will do
  • Laminator & Lamination sheets
  • Clear casting resin I used this
  • Epoxy, mixing container and syringe or dispenser
  • Glue gun
  • LED strips + power supply + drive electronics. I used this along with an old router power supply.
  • Scalpel or craft knife

Step 2: Establish Your Colour Fastness

As we'll be embedding the photo in resin, some inks are dissolved or discoloured by the chemicals. It's a good idea to take a spare photo (or a sacrificial photo printed with the same printer) and expose the top surface to a small quantity of the resin. Let it sit for a few minutes to thoroughly soak, then using a gloved hand or unwanted object try to smear the image. If it runs or discolours, then you'll need to laminate your photo to protect it.

Step 3: Seal Your Frame Front Glass

As we'll be building this with a 'top down' approach, the frame front glass needs to be completely sealed to prevent disaster striking when you pour your casting resin. Before you start this step, give your front glass a clean with some glass cleaner if there is any dust or residue on it, and allow it to dry completely as it will be much harder to do this once it's assembled.

I took a 2 stage approach to the sealing:

First placing the frame with the back facing upward, I mixed up some 5 minute epoxy and using a syringe ran an even bead around the inside edge of the frame (where the glass will make contact). The front-glass should be dropped in quickly and aligned before it sets (5 minutes seems like 3 when mixed!). Inspect the integrity of the sealing - hopefully you'll have a nice even seal around the glass, but if not then don't worry as the next step will make doubly sure there are no leaks.

Secondly using a hot glue gun, I ran another bead of glue around the inside edge where the glass and frame meet.

Step 4: Cut Out and Laminate Your Photo

Using a scalpel and a straight edge, cut out your photo and laminate.

After laminating, cut out the photo leaving plenty of margin to ensure it is still watertight. I left 12mm around each edge though this was probably a little excessive.

Step 5: Pour and Embed

Mix up the resin according to your frame size. I had a 5x7" frame and used 100ml to give a couple of mm depth.

Best results seem to be obtained by pouring the resin first, then dropping in and nudging the objects and photo into position. Be aware that as you drop in the photo, you will need to squeeze all the air bubbles out (much like applying a phone screen protector).

The resin I used took a couple of hours to gel (@22 degrees C - hotter is quicker). In that time, the objects seemed to move a little and had to be repositioned - so it's worth keeping an eye on them. It's worth keeping a few drops of resin left over in your mixing container to poke when you want to know if it's cured.

Step 6: Fix the LEDs in Place

Bear in mind that the resin from the last step may still be tacky, and a stray fingerprint at this stage may cause a lot of swearing!

Remove the self-adhesive backing from your LED strip and gently press it in place around the inside edge of the frame, as close to the cured resin as you can. I used an RGB strip which tends to be a little thicker than the single colour versions. Mine also came pre-wired, so it was a simple task to plug it in to the controller - if yours isn't already wired then you'll want to solder on the wires before you fasten them in place, as the solder flux will spit and damage the casting.

Tack the wires in place with hot glue to prevent them going astray, and to act as strain relief.

Step 7: Test

Connect your controller and power supply, then cycle through the various colour options until you find the one you want. The controller I purchased had many different options (fades, flashing, colour change etc.) but in the end I settled on cyan (the colour theme of the wedding).

Fortunately on removing power, and plugging it back in it retained the last used setting.

Step 8: Add the Backing Card

Using an adhesive of your choice (glue stick, PVA, clear glue etc.) fix the white backing card to the back of the photo frame. White card works well for RGB LEDs, because other colours of card will play havoc with the colour selection (for example blue light on red card looks black!).

If all tested out correctly in the previous step, it's time to glue the back onto the frame using hot glue. If the back fits tightly into the frame, you may find you need to cut a small 'mouse hole' for the wires to pass through. Also using hot glue, tack the LED driver in place on the frame backboard with the buttons facing outward.

Step 9: Project Summary

I was reasonably happy with the finished result. It didn't all go to plan though...

As can be seen on the image above, my first attempt at isolating the resin from the photo went horribly wrong. I used book covering film, which at first glance seemed sensible and all went well during casting. I went to bed feeling happy that everything was going to plan, only to find the next morning that the resin had shrank on curing, causing wrinkles in the covering film!

Additionally, the whole casting had 'bowed' because I had used around 250ml in a single cast to encapsulate the whole thing (including LEDs) - this caused self-heating as the resin cured and distorted the whole frame. When the resin shrank, it also pulled the LEDs away from the edge of the frame.

I hope this serves as a useful guide for anyone attempting to do something similar.

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