How to Make Shadowboxes

hands holding a wooden shadowbox
  • 2 hours
  • Beginner
  • 10
What You'll Need
Wood glue
What You'll Need
Wood glue

Shadowboxes are a type of frame that can be used to display more than just a picture. If you are wondering how to make shadowboxes, the process is fairly simple and there are several ways that these hot home decor items can be customized to meet your personal design style.

To build a shadowbox from scratch you'll need some wood glue, plywood, and a picture frame. This is a great way to upcycle an old frame or breathe new life into a lackluster corner of your home.

Step 1 - Measure Twice, Cut Once

To start your shadowbox measure the inside edge of your frame and the outside edge of your frame. If you are working with an eight by ten frame, the inside would be eight by ten, but the outside could be ten by twelve. You will be creating a plywood box that is larger than the inside measurement but smaller than the outside measurement. So, for example, in the scenario of the eight by ten frame, you would want to make an eight and a half by ten and a half-inch plywood box. You can get as elaborate as you like with multiple layers and levels.

hands assembling small shadowbox

The depth of the box will be determined by the depth of the plywood. We recommend making a box that is about three to four inches deep. The deeper your box, the more likely you are to visually lose items in it. Three to four inches is a good middle ground, but you can certainly go smaller for a small frame and larger for a large frame.

Once you've measured, cut your four plywood pieces to the right size, making sure to slant the edges to the pieces can be glued together in a nice box shape.

Wine boxes make a good source of material for this kind of project. In fact, many of them are pretty enough to be display cases all on their own.

wine boxes with wine

Step 2 - Glue, Glue, Glue

Glue your plywood box together with wood glue and let it dry. Then glue the back of your shadow box to one side of the wood structure. You can use the back of the frame or an appropriately sized piece of plywood.

hands gluing wood

Remember that people will be able to see this back piece, so we do recommend painting it to match the frame or a nice neutral color that won't fight for attention with the items you will be placing inside.

You can paint your wood pieces or leave them plywood, but people will also be able to see these side pieces from certain angles.

blue brush painted wooden shelf, shadowbox, or organizer cabinet with multiple compartments

Once you have your box glued together, you need to remove the glass from the frame and glue the frame to the box. Wait for everything to dry before placing any items in the frame.

Step 3 - Touch Up Time

Once your frame is all put together, give it a once over. Make sure everything that you can see is sanded, painted or primed. If you need to repaint or touch anything up, now is the time to do so.

shadowbox on bright teal wall

If you need to install a bracket to hang the shadowbox, install it now. If you don't want to use a hanging bracket to install your shadowbox, you can use a picture frame command strips.

How to Style a Shadowbox

Gather up everything that you may want to put in your shadowbox. If you're making shadowboxes to commemorate trips or special life events, put every item, image, and memento out on the floor so you can see all of your options in one place. Place the tallest and largest items at the back of the frame and layer the smaller, more obscurely shaped items up. You can fill in the boxes or leave them relatively empty—the choice is yours.

A few design rules that may help take your box from blah to ta-dah involve using groups of threes and using items of similar materials in your box. Rules are made to be broken though, so go with your gut when it comes to what looks good.

Add your shadowbox to a collage wall of other homemade frames to complete your home decor on a budget.