How To: Create Gallery Style Shadowbox Frames

We recently went frame shopping for small frames in which to display some of our favorite Polaroid pictures. We wanted to avoid covering the edges of the photograph, as that is one of the appeals of Polaroid pictures to us, but ensure that it had a finished and clean look to it. We ended up finding some raw wood frame moldings that were very on sale, and decided to make a DIY project out of it! What we ended up with are some beautiful displays for a set of our favorite Polaroid pictures. Here's how we did it...

Materials:

  • Frame molding of your choice
  • Glass to fit frame
  • Frame spacers with adhesive backing 1/8" - 1/2" thick (make sure the rabbet, or depth of the ledge in your frame, will accommodate the size of spacer you choose. Also leave about 3/8" for your mat board and foam core)
  • Acid-free 100% cotton rag mat board cut to size of frame
  • Acid-free paper photo mounting tape
  • Acid-free double sided tape
  • Acid-free foam core cut to size of frame
  • Frame point driver with framer's points (if you do not have one of these frame stores will often insert frame points for you that bend to open to remove the contents of the frame and bend back to secure contents. If possible, bring your piece back to the frame store once they're totally finished and have them secure the contents with their point driver.)
  • Hardware to hang piece
  • Box cutter or X-acto
  • Ruler

    1) Choose a frame that you like from a frame supplier. We found 12-5"x7" frames for $3.95 each at Cheap Pete's, where they often have great deals on unassembled frames. The glass was $2 per piece, making each frame just $6. The ones we purchased were natural wood color, with slight variations in each one. We painted ours white for a more uniform and contemporary look. Make sure you buy a frame that allows for a nicely proportioned border around your photograph.

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    2) Clean your glass thoroughly before putting it into the frame. We suggest using an anti-static cleaning and glazing spray, like Brillianize, but just make sure that the glass is clean. Then, lay the glass into the frame.

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    3) Here's where you add the shadowbox element. We used 1/8" spacers for a very subtle depth. We wanted just enough room to let the Polaroid "float" with some natural curve visible in the paper. If you want to go for more depth, just choose appropriately sized spacer. They typically come in black, white, and smoke colors. Make sure to measure the depth of the frame lip (rabbet) to ensure it will accommodate the depth of your spacer plus the thickness of all boards you'll be putting in. Starting on one edge of the inside of the frame, snap a length of spacer that will fit inside the frame. Remove the adhesive and stick the spacer to the rabbet of the wood of the frame, making sure it is snugly on top of the glass. Do not stick the spacer to the glass. Repeat for the remaining three sides of the frame. To snap the spacer, simply score the top with an X-acto or box cutter, and snap with needle-nose pliers or on the edge of a desk.

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    4) Now you'll hinge your photograph to a square of mat board. Do this so that it is attached to the back board of the frame, and has a little bit of elevation to give a bit of depth. If you have a particularly deep shadowbox, you can adjust this for more elevation by sandwiching multiple pieces of mat board or using foam core. For small photos, place one piece of tape from the back of the photo to the back of the small piece of board. Reinforce this strip of tape with a cross piece on both surfaces. For larger images, add one or two locations of tape for security. Make sure you are in the center of the photograph so that the small board is not visible from the sides of the finished piece.

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    5) Once you've hinged your photograph, you will secure the small mat board to a large backing piece that will be your background. Make sure your photograph is centered where you want it. Measure twice, tape once! Once you've lined the image up, use acid-free double-sided tape to secure the photograph in place. (At Cheap Pete's, they sell scrap mat board cut to standard sizes for $.39 per piece. Take a few minutes and grab a set of matching boards in the scrap shelf, or have a piece cut to size.)

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    6) Now, after dusting your photograph thoroughly, lay the image down on top of the spacers. Then, you'll place a piece of foam core or mat-board on top for a backing board. Now, firmly drive framer's points all around the perimeter of the frame to secure your shadowbox contents. If you do not have a frame point driver, often times the frame shop will do it for you. You can also (carefully) hammer in small nails around the perimeter of the frame to keep in the contents, or use acid-free sturdy tape (like Tyvek tape) for smaller pieces. Framer's points are the best option, if that option is available to you.

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    7) Add a piece of hanging hardware if your frame doesn't already have one, and voila! You have yourself a shadowbox!

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