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How to Create a Shadow Box

By Elizabeth Stover ; Updated August 31, 2017
Shadow boxes make wonderful memory displays

A shadow box provides a display for three-dimensional items in a glass frame. Shadow boxes date back to the Victorian era. The earliest shadow boxes contained multiple copies of a picture, cut into different sections and glued on top of each other with spacers in between to create an illusion of depth. Today's shadow boxes might be described as three-dimensional scrapbooking. Among the most popular themes for shadow boxes today are those created from souvenirs of a particular event.

Purchase a shadow box frame, essentially a picture frame with deep sides so that three-dimensional items can be placed inside. Keep in mind the size of the objects you want to place in your frame so that you purchase a frame deep enough. Also, purchase strong glue for attaching items to the back of the frame. If you wish to hang items from the top of your frame, purchase small hooks and monofilament for hanging them.

Gather both two- and three-dimensional items that you want to place in the shadow box. Themed items such as a sport or hobby, souvenirs from a trip, or a collection of favorite items all make suitable items to place in a shadow box. Keep in mind the depth of your frame when collecting the objects. They cannot be any wider than the frame is deep.

Cut a piece of foam board to the exact size as the backing of the frame so that you have something on which to attach your items. If desired, cover the foam board with decorative paper or fabric by gluing it to the foam board. Spread glue on the back of the foam board, then insert the foam board snugly into the frame so that the foam board presses against the frame's back.

Before gluing any items, practice arranging them in different ways so that you find the most eye-appealing arrangement. Once you have decided on the arrangement, glue down the items using strong glue, epoxy or hot glue. Create additional depth and interest in your shadow box by gluing spacers made of small pieces of foam board on the back of some of the items you are placing in the shadow box.

Add further detail and interest to your shadow box with embellishments both inside and outside the frame. Add beading, scrapbook embellishments, and other small items that coordinate with your larger objects. Attach items attractively within the arrangement inside the glass, or attach small items outside on the frame itself.

About the Author

Elizabeth Stover, an 18 year veteran teacher and author, has a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Maryland with a minor in sociology/writing. Stover earned a masters degree in education curriculum and instruction from the University of Texas, Arlington and continues to work on a masters in Educational Leadership from University of North Texas. Stover was published by Creative Teaching Press with the books "Science Tub Topics" and "Math Tub Topics."