Shadow Box Gift Label

Introduction: Shadow Box Gift Label

About: I'm not cool, I just do cool things.

This guide will illustrate how to create a shadow box which uses LED's to illuminate a design. Any design can be used, and as such, the shadow box can make a unique gift label, when the recipients initial is illuminated.
Basic soldering is required for this guide. There are numerous soldering instructables available, which should be read by those with insufficient soldering practice. Additionally, it's assumed that the reader is able to wrap a gift.


Step 1: Tools and Materials

Tools required for box structure and wrapping:
- Ruler
- Pencil
- Utility knife (sharp)
- Precision knife (sharp)
- T - square
- Craft mat

Tools required for wiring assembly
- Soldering iron (15W)
- Wire cutters
- Wire strippers
- needle nose pliers
- Hands free soldering stand

From a stationary/craft store:
- Foam board or cardboard
- Wrapping paper (preferably foil type)
- Decorative letters
- Glue stick
- Double sided tape or hot glue gun
- Adhesive tape

From a hardware/electronic store:
- LED's (2 per letter)
- 24ga wire
- CR2032 coin type battery
- resistors (50 -200 ohm, same amount as LED's)
- Electrical tape
- Solder
- Heat shrink tubing

Step 2: Box Layout

Determine cutout design to be used.

First initials are the simplest design. If a block letter is chosen, the design may remain hand drawn. For more intricate designs, a PC with an image editing program may be used, and the design printed. Once the design is selected, the box size can be determined.

Establish desired dimensions.

The size of the box has to fit your design, but it can also be made to git the gift. Chose any face of your gift, and make the face dimensions of the shadow box the same. If your gift is too large or small, or irregular size, then the shadow box simply needs to be large enough to accommodate your design.

Laying out the shadow box.

Six pieces of foam board will have to be cut. For the face and the back, both pieces will be the same size (Length by Height). For the depth, 1/2in. is ideal, since it makes a 3/4in wide label (accounting for the thickness of the face and back), which can stand up on its own, and is easy to wrap.
Pieces needed:
2 - L by H (face and back)
2 - L by 1/2in. (top and bottom)
2 - H by 1/2in. (sides, may be longer, since these will be trimmed later)
Cut the box pieces, out of the foam board, using a sharp utility knife with a fresh blade, and a ruler. This will reduce ragged edges on the foam board, which makes it more suitable for gluing later. Set aside the back and side sections for the time being.

Cut out the design.

If using an intricate design, use the glue stick and stick it onto the foam board. Since this section will be covered by wrapping paper later, the glue remains won't matter. Otherwise, simply sketch out the letter on the foam board. Allow approximately half an inch of with to be cut out in any line of the design. This ensures that the glow effect will be well visible on the end result. Cut out the design using a sharp precision knife. For any letters, such as "B", set cut out the aside, to use the "holes" later.

Step 3: Assembling the Shadow Box

Attach wrapping paper to the panels.

This step can be performed at the end, however cutting out the design in the wrapping paper from the front may be more challenging. Cutting the wrapping paper from the reverse of the face panel is simpler, and allows you to wrap the paper around the cut design edges (if desired).
Using the face panel as a template, mark the inside back panel location that will be directly behind the cut out design.
Foil type wrapping paper works well, as it is reflective, and enhances the light. Cut the wrapping paper to sufficiently cover the finished shadow box. This should be at least three inches longer than twice the length by an inch wider than the height. Using the glue stick, fully coat the front of the face panel in glue, paying special attention to all the edges (design and outer). Stick the face onto the wrapping paper, as centered as possible.
Cut the wrapping paper to a size larger than the design, and using the glue stick, attach it to the back panel, where marked earlier. Line up the direction of the wrapping paper print if necessary. If using regular wrapping paper, use aluminum foil for this piece.

Alternate method of wrapping the shadow box.

The heart design illustrated in this guide is wrapped in basket wrap cellophane, instead of wrapping paper. This method does not require the design to be cut out of the wrap. However, if using basket wrap, pay particular attention not to stain the foam board, since it will show through the basket wrap.

Cut the design in the wrapping paper

Using a sharp precision knife, slowly trace the edges of the design in the face panel. Wrapping paper, especially foil type is quick to tear. Retain the remains of the wrapping paper for the "holes" in the letters that have them (such as "B"). If wrapping the paper around the edges is desired, only slit the paper between the lines of the design, and towards it's edges. Then, lead the paper through the design cut out and attach it to the reverse of the face panel using the double sided tape.

Assemble the sides

Using the double sided tape, or glue gun, attach the top and bottom panels to the reverse of the front panel. If using the hot glue gun, take care not to melt the foam board. With these panels in place, mark off the distance between them on the side panels and trim to fit. Attach to the front panel. If using wrapping paper, the joints don't need to be aesthetically pleasing, and adhesive tape may be used to attach them to the face panel.

Step 4: Inside the Shadow Box

Determine component location.

The LED's are best located in any section of the design, such as a bend, that will allow the most light to escape through the slit.  The switch can be located on any side, but avoid the bottom and back, since these panels will most likely be obstructed by the gift, or while standing the shadow box up. The battery may be located anywhere where there is enough room for it, and the wire junctions.
Once the locations of all the components are established, determine the lengths of wire required. Be sure to leave enough extra for joints and mistakes, but not so much that it may become visible from outside of the shadow box. Category 5e network cable is ideal, as it is inexpensive, readily available and colour coded in pairs. Prepare the wire by stripping the ends.

The components

The LED's (light emitting diode) used in this guide are 5mm red LED's. These are very common, and reliable, but not too exciting visually. There are RGB (red-green-blue) LED's available, which fade from colour to colour slowly, and ones that quickly blink between colours. These would enhance the aesthetic of the  shadow box light effect.
The resistors used should match the LED and battery for this circuit, (R=(Vs-Vf)/Is), but in this circuit, they're only used to make the battery last longer. As such, a resistance higher than 60ohms (the correct resistance for this circuit) can be used, but it will dim the LED slightly. The resistors used for this guide were 150ohm.
The switch is optional, but as the resistors, it will increase battery life for longer enjoyment.


Warm up the soldering iron. While the iron is heating up, bend the leads on the resistors leaving approximately 1/8in. between the resistor and the bend (the tip of needle nose pliers). Similarly, bend the anode (longer lead) on the diodes. Solder the resistor to the diode where the leads intersect between the bends.
Solder the wire to the cathode (short lead) of the LED, as close as possible to the diode. trim and strip the other wire in the pair at the bottom of the resistor. Solder, and trim leads. Repeat this for all LED's.
Solder a wire to the switch, and make a loop at the other end, where it'll make contact with the battery. Solder the anode ends of all LED's to the other switch contact. Solder the cathode wires to a wire, looped at the other end, to make contact with the battery.

Testing and installing the electronics

Place a piece of electrical tape on the outer edge of the battery. This prevents a short circuit by the negative (cathode) wire. Hold the looped wires to the battery (wire going to the switch on positive side). Test to see if LED's and switch work. If all works, use electrical tape to attach the wires to the battery.

Installing the circuitry into the Shadow box

Glue some foil to the inside of the face panel, to prevent light from being seen through the foam board and wrapping paper. Use electrical tape, or heat shrink tubing, to seal any exposed wires on the circuit. Take care not to create a short circuit in the process. Cut out a notch in the side of the shadow box for the switch. Slide the switch into the notch. Using adhesive tape, affix the LED's in place. run the wires clear of the design cut outs, and also attach to the panel with tape. Tape the battery to the panel, and test the circuit one more time.

Step 5: Final Touches

It's a wrap

When all the electronics work, use the glue gun or double sided tape once more, to attach the back panel to the shadow box. Ensure that the reflective piece of wrapping paper on the back panel is directly behind your design.
Fold the wrapping paper around the edge where the switch is, and mark it's location. Cut a hole for the switch to go through. Wrap the shadow box as you would any other present.

The "B" holes

Retrieve the remaining cut out, which had "hole" sections and trim until only those sections remain. Using double sided tape, cover the front of these pieces in wrapping paper, and trim the excess. From a piece of foam board, make posts for each hole, the same depth as the side pieces. Attach the posts to the wrapped "holes", and into the shadow box, with double sided tape.
Use decorative lettering to spell out the rest of the name of  your recipient.

Gift that keeps giving

These shadow boxes, depending on design and decoration, can be used for any holiday or gift.

Thank you for reading this instructable. Hopefully, you decided to construct one of these shadow boxes, and put a smile on the face of your gift recipient. I look forward to the comments.

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