Monday, June 25, 2012

Turn Any Fat Frame Into a Shadowbox Frame!

I recently decided to switch most of my office frames from black to white, for a cleaner, brighter look. Most of the frames I can paint, of course, but my black shadowbox frames have glass that can't be removed, and I couldn't find the same size again in white.

The "before."

So, together John and I figured out how to turn any fat frame into a shadowbox frame, and it's a lot easier than you think. All you need are a few simple tools, some acid-free foam board, and four glazier points. (I'll explain what those are in a minute.)
We used this 5x7 frame from Ikea, which costs a whopping $2.99:

Ikea frames are perfect for this tutorial, but you can use any frame that's nice and fat on the sides - say, an inch or more - and any size frame, as well.

First, open up your frame and use pliers to yank out the metal brads or staples:

Next replace the glass and backer board, and measure the depth from the board to the edge of your frame, like so:

This measurement will tell you how wide to cut your foam core strips.

Our strips were about three quarters of an inch thick. Make sure you use archival quality, acid-free foam core. You should be able to find it at your local craft store.

Don't cut the foam core with scissors; it will crush the edges. Instead, use a craft or utility blade. To keep the blade from wobbling while you cut, brace it against a level or other straight edge with your finger, like John's doing here:

Next mark your foam strip's length against your frame:

Cut the strip, and then glue it to the interior side of your frame. Make sure the nicer edge of your foam strip is facing down towards the glass, and the rougher cut (if there is one) is facing up towards you.

Did I mention you should have your glass in place before gluing the foam strip down? No? Ok, make sure you have your glass in place before gluing the strip down!

Now repeat this process for all four sides of your frame.

Gluing the final piece in place.

Now replace your art, hold the original backer board in place, and take a peek:

Not bad, eh? See how crisp the inside edges look? You'd never know that wasn't part of the original frame! (This is when I realized the paper behind my art has discolored, btw. I'll have to replace it soon.)

We're not done yet, though; we still have to secure our frame's backer board.

You could just duct tape the thing on, of course, but John and I wanted a stronger and more elegant solution, so we eventually decided on glazier's points.

Glazier points are small metal triangular pieces used in installing glass panes. You can find them in any hardware store, and they're crazy cheap. (Maybe a dollar or two for a big pack.)

To place the points, first mark where you want them to be on your frame with the backer board in place. Then remove the backer board and use a utility blade to notch a small slit at each mark:

(If your frame is a soft wood, you can skip this step. Ikea frames have a hard enamel finish, though, so the notches help a lot.)

Once you've made all four slits, replace your art and backer board again and use a large flat head screwdriver to carefully push the glazier points in place:

When you're done, the back of your frame should look like this:

And that's it! If you ever need to change your artwork, you can just pop the points out again with a screwdriver.

My "before" art card still needs new paper, but here's another ACEO in my finished shadowbox frame:

I couldn't be happier with how this turned out - and now I'm off to do the rest of my frames! 

I hope this helps if you ever find yourself in need of a cheap and easy shadowbox. And as always, please send me a picture if you try this out yourself!

Come see ALL of my craft projects on one page, right here!


  1. Thanks for the tip! Now I finally have a project where I can use that "point gun" I just had to have when I took picture framing! It's not so much a "gun" as a stapler thingy that shoots out those points!

  2. This is a great tutorial, but what I'm most excited to discover is
    1) Ikea has white picture frames (I've had a hard time finding them for some reason)
    2) If I need a white frame, I could just paint a regular picture frame white (I know, duh, but sometimes I need the obvious spelled out)

    I have two pictures I've been wanting to hang & I need a large white frame for the unframed one that matches the already-framed one. Now I know how to set about getting this done!

  3. Oh how I wish I'd known this earlier! The kids were making some teacher gifts, but I was too cheap to spring for the shadow boxes. This would be so much more economical! Thanks for the tutorial! :)

  4. I love it! I've wondered how I could do this, and now I know!

    With your other shadow box frames, couldn't you cover the glass with press-n-seal paper, or painters tape and paper and then paint it? Or would you miss some of the frame? It might be more hassle than it's worth, and I suppose you run the risk of getting paint on the glass, if you don't seal it well enough... Just curious.

  5. This post couldn't have come at a better time for me. Just a few minutes ago, I was helping my grandmother with a shadowbox project and wondering how best to do exactly this. Genius! Thank you! KW

  6. Thanks for mentioning the "acid free foam core". On my blog I always mention that if you don't use acid free it will turn yellow (lesson learned the hard way)and you will be sad. Also in framing glass we learned if you want to use a mat, have that be your buffer against the glass, then build up small sections of foam core strips attached to the mat to give it depth (and then hope no one looks at your frame from the extreme side).

  7. That is actually pretty darn close to how we professional framers build shadow boxes, good job! And here's a note you may not have thought of...since you are using such pretty paper as a background, why not paper your shadowbox walls as well? that gives you a very cohesive, professional look., love your float mounts, btw!

  8. (btw) the technical term for your "fat frame" is "rabbet" the rabbet is the lip and depth of the frame, so if you are making a shadowbox, you want a frame with a "deep rabbet." :)

  9. Another tip when cutting foam core: use new blades and change often.

  10. @ Justine - we were tempted to buy one of those ourselves (well, John was) but I couldn't justify the cost for a few frames. Yours will be EXTRA professional, though! :D

    @ Amelia - We could try taping the glass, but the channel it's in is deep enough that there would still be a black line in there - or, as you mentioned, the paint would stick to the glass, too. It might still look passable, but I wanted it a leeetle more perfect. ;)

    @ Julie - Aw, that means a lot, coming from a pro! Thank you! And your idea of papering the sides? GENIUS. I still have more to do, so I might try it! (Thanks too for the vocab lesson: rabbet, you say? Ok, I learned something new!)

  11. I have so much art that is lying around my house looking for a home and this is perfect to fix that problem.

    Thank you!

  12. Love the project, but I adore the artwork! Who is the art from?

  13. This tutorial had perfect timing. I have several of these Ikea frames that Ive changed the art in too many times and the little metal tab bits have broken off. There is nothing wrong with the frames though so I was trying to decide how to salvage them. Thanks!

  14. @ Hayley - The first ACEO with the tattooed girl is by Myka Jelina, but I'm afraid I've forgotten who the artist was on the second one - and there's no signature on the front. Arg! Sorry about that!

  15. Wow...thank you, thank you!!!!
    I've been wondering how to frame some old skelton keys daddy had in his work shop. (I use to play with them while watching him) He had made a frame I wanted to use them in. perfect solution to the problem.

  16. Great idea, Jen. I'll have a look in that box of frames that I have. I was wondering about John's wedding ring. It looks different in one of the pictures and rather cool. What is it?

  17. Thanks so much for this Jen! I'm working on a picture wall with lots of fun things to frame that aren't flat and finding decent and unique shadow boxes has been a challenge - this is genius!

  18. @ Heather - Ha, John and I had a bet going whether or not someone would notice his ring switch between photos! (I like the second one better, so I told him to put it on.) The first ring is a heavy Tungston Carbide, and the second, prettier one is a rainbow hematite with a checkered design imprinted over it. (His first hematite ring that matched mine broke. Pics here.) It cost a whopping $7 at Ross - and you guys should tell John if you like it, so he'll wear it more often! :D

  19. Jen, that explains why it looks different. I thought it was just the light. I love a wedding ring on a man. Since my 'delightful' husband stopped wearing his when he went looking for a girlfriend, it makes me happy when I see a man wearing his ring proudly. And I like the hematite one better.

    So, who won the bet?

  20. no no no, not a FAT frame, Jen! A DEEP frame. I'd much rather be called deep than fat...
    Great tutorial! :^)

  21. @Jen, thanks! Looks like I'll have some fun hunting to do for that second one! ;)

  22. I was going to post that that's just about how it's done at the frame shop I used to work for, but see that Julie beat me to it ^_^ And ditto on the making the sides pretty by adding the paper/fabric to those foam core sides.

    I love your art and boxes, I really need to get mine in shadow boxes instead of just their sleeves.

  23. Ooooh, this is awesome. I'm making one of these (or two!) tomorrow!

  24. This is genius!! Can't wait to get some frames to try this out on. Also I apologize in advance for all the comments I'm about to leave. It's a pain to do on my phone so I have lots of nerd-like and excitement saved up to write, haha.

  25. Wow wow wow THANK YOU! I make paper sculpts and since shadow boxes are so expensive I was hoping to figure out how to turn those same Ribba frames into inexpensive shadow boxes. This is great!

  26. Thank you so much for this tutorial! I've had a sand dollar I wanted to display in a pretty way for 2 or 3 years now, and my first attempt at a homemade shadowbox was a disaster! This is the first project I've done based on your site and it turned out so well :)

  27. Awesome Jen! I'll give a try to these simple yet creative Shadow box frames. Your frames are so adorable

  28. @Kaitlin:

    I fixed my broken tabs by using packing tape to affix a paper clip to the inside of the frame. I then bent the paper clip to act as a tab. Better than ever!

  29. Yay! I did remember a shadowbox tutorial! My class of 12 is making infinity mirrors with battery-powered LED strings, and I'd prefer space between the lights and the mirror film. I think this will work perfectly! Thanks for always having the tutorial I need when I need it!


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