30 Creative Shadow Box Ideas to Turn Keepsakes into Art

Last updated on May 17, 2024

These shadow box ideas will help you turn your keepsakes into works of art. The best part? You can DIY from scratch!

shadow box display case

A shadow box is basically a glorified picture frame. While in a real picture frame you are framing a photo or canvas art or a print, the shadow box allows you to frame any three-dimensional item. This option is great to display anything you feel fond of and that you want to feature in your home decor.

Don’t have anything special to display yet? You can use abstract art to create Holiday scenes, seasonal decor, or just make something pretty. In any case, I will show you how to make a shadow box from scratch (if you want to), and how to fill and decorate it properly.

I’ve just updated this list with some of my own unique designs, so do check it out. I do hope you will appreciate it!

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How to Make a Shadow Box

shadow box draft

A typical shadow box consists of the frame and the display. What you want to display in your shadow box is up to you (and you probably have an idea). Here are some popular ideas for objects to use:

  • Collectibles (coins, medals, stamps, etc.)
  • Memorabilia (souvenirs, stickers, coasters, etc.)
  • T-shirts
  • Natural (Seashells, dried flowers, seeds, pebbles, etc.)
  • And anything worth showing.

Here’s how to put a display together, in a nutshell:

  1. Arrange your preferred objects in some design around some sheet of paper.
  2. You can draw an outline to guide the arrangement of the objects.
  3. Glue everything in the right order around the sheet.
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Shadow Box Frame

You can buy a beautiful shadow box frame in stores. There are lots of pretty designs to choose from and their price varies. But if you want to go DIY all the way, you might as well make one.

In a nutshell, it’s a simple narrow box. So putting it together from wood is very easy.

For the shadow box frame you will need these materials:

  • A picture frame for a beautiful front.
  • Wood boards to make the box. You can use any type of wood that you have available. The only thing to make sure is that you have the required width for the depth of the box.
  • Wood glue.
  • A board for the back. This can be a sheet of plywood or corkboard, or even thick cardboard.
  • Display items.
  • Background paper.
  • Some type of adhesive to attach the items (more on that later).

Here’s how to put it all together:

  1. Measure the picture frame and cut the wood boards. You will need to make sure your wood is not thicker then the picture frame (so the boards don’t stick out in an ugly way).
  2. Put it together with wood glue.
  3. Measure and cut the board for the back. Attach it with wood blue as well.
  4. Line the back inside the box with a background paper of your choice. Attach it with hot glue.
  5. Arrange and attach your display items.
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How to Attach Items in a Shadow Box

While the easiest way to attach items in a shadow box is using hot glue, you may want to use alternatives as well. The thing about glue is that it may cause damage to the display items. If these are valuable, you may want to use other ways to attach them. These include:

  • Silicone adhesive
  • Thin stainless wires
  • Pins
  • Plastic tagging guns
  • Double-stick tape
  • Glue guns and clear glue dots
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How to Fill a Shadow Box

Filling the shadow box is easy once you’ve got it ready. Make sure you are happy with the way it looks, and with the background before attaching items inside.

Follow these simple rules to fill the box with your keepsakes to make it look good:

  • Consider the size of the items. They cannot be too large. Leave enough negative space around them in the box. The frame casts a shadow inside (thus the name), so make sure the items aren’t too close to the edges and overshadowed.
  • Keep the rule of thirds in mind. It says that you should display items in odd numbers. If possible, add items that are of varying height too.
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How to Decorate a Shadow Box

There’s no right or wrong way to decorate a box. It’s just a glorified picture frame anyway. So it’s a decor piece in and of itself. If you’re at a loss, however, you can follow some good-sense guidelines:

  • Choose items which relate to each other and group them in that order.
  • Differentiate the items also in terms of size, shape, and color.
  • Select a box that is spacious enough to hold all your display items.
  • Lay the items neatly on the background to acquire a preferred layout.
  • You can add embellishments to help complement your design.
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Shadow Box Lights

A typical shadow box (especially if it’s deep) can cast a shadow on the display items. Indeed, it is named so for a reason. But that’s not what you want and it can be a problem. You definitely do not want your keepsakes to be overshadowed and barely seen.

The solution is to add lights to the box itself. Basically, there are two ways to do it:

  1. Plan for the lighting from the start and add lighting when building the box.
  2. Simply add battery operated string lights inside the box.

The first solution is of course a more elegant one. But it’s not complicated either. Your best option is to line the inside of the frame with LED strips. For this, you will need to run a wire through the box.

Which way is better? It depends. If you don’t want wires going out of the box, you will want to use the battery-operated string lights. However, LED strips provide much better lighting.

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Types of Shadow Boxes

To understand better, what a good shadow box should look like, we’ll go over some of the most popular types.

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Military Shadow Box

What’s important about it:

  • You can buy military shadow boxes or customize them
  • Choose a color of preference
  • Choose a preferred size
  • You can choose to make it from either cardboard, paper, metal, or wood

Items to put inside the box:

  • Insignia
  • Medals
  • Awards
  • Badges
  • Buckles
  • Uniforms
  • Considerations such as certificates
  • Photographs
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Small Shadow Box

Here’s what makes a small box different:

  • It does not involve much detail.
  • You can decide to put different objects in it.
  • Use frames of a shorter length and width.
  • Plan the pieces in order and set up the box.

What can you display in a small box?

  • Miniature collectibles
  • House keys
  • Baby clothes and shoes
  • Other small memorabilia
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Baby Shadow Box

Things to keep in mind about a baby box:

  • You need a smaller size of shadow box for your baby.
  • Make it as a gift for a baby of your friend.
  • Make a different box for each stage in baby’s life. This can be birth box, baby’s first shoes, foot and hand prints, and so on.
  • Choose bright colors.
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Ticket Shadow Box

This type of a box is ideal for displaying the following:

  • Ticket stubs
  • Journals
  • Letters
  • Snapshots
  • Scraps
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Wood Shadow Box

What can we tell about a wooden shadow box:

  • It’s the most popular DIY project for the shadow box.
  • They can be made of different types of wood in different finishes.
  • It can be customized into various shapes and sizes.
  • You can paint the wooden shadow box a color of your preference.
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Memorial Shadow Box

The memorial shadow box is a tribute to your dear family member or a friend who has passed away. Here’s how you can make this wonderful tribute:

  • Go through the photos of your bereaved family member
  • Select the ones that bring out the best memories of him or her
  • Print them on paper or a canvas
  • Choose other items which you will include in the box for memories
  • Decide the background you want to set up
  • Arrange the layout
  • Assemble the items in the box, and the memorial shadow box will be ready
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Wedding Shadow Box

One of the most popular uses for a shadow box. It’s usually designed as a gift for the people who are getting married. if you’re going to design one yourself, keep in mind that…

  • The background photo should be a picture of one or both of them.
  • Use color themes that resonate with weddings, especially if there’s a specific color for this particular wedding.
  • You can choose to include flowers in the box.
  • One can also include some items one of the newlyweds personally love the most (such as shells).
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Seashell Shadow Boxes

What a great way to keep the memory of that awesome beach you’ve been to last on your last vacation. If you’re the kind of person that love collecting seashells from every beach you’ve been to, here’s how to keep and showcase them:

  • Gather the shells and ensure they fit in the box.
  • Separate the shells according to size.
  • Lay out the special shells first.
  • Fill in the gaps with bigger seashells next.
  • Use the tiny shells to complete the remaining gaps.
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Vintage Shadow Box

Some vintage charm is a great way to add character to your home decor. Here are a few ideas to try:

  • Look for something unique in thrift stores. You can find a lot of gorgeous vintage boxes online too.
  • Hang them on the wall in any room to add instant charm.
  • As a frame, it will work for any type of shadow box.
  • Real vintage boxes are unique, especially if you find them in thrift stores or flea markets. They may even have stories attached to them.
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Black Shadow Box

Here are some things that look good in a black frame:

  • Ribbons
  • Medals
  • Photos
  • Other collectibles
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Round Shadow Box

-They bear circular shapes
-They can be made of wood, metal, or plastic
-They come in a wide variety of colors
-The sizes are also different for people to choose them as they prefer

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Shadow Boxes with Shelves

Shadow boxes bearing shelves are uncommon. They are used to hold items that are difficult to attach. These boxes are usually mounted on a wall (but they can be stand-alone) and function as small display shelves. So when decorating, treat them as such.

Each shelf is a compartment for different items. To create a visually pleasing display, use items of varying size, color, and style. Use the rule of thirds.

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Rustic Shadow Box

Rustic frames have the most appeal if they are made of reclaimed wood. Though, the same effect can be achieved with the right wood stain.

Use this chance to repurpose old items. For example, an old shallow drawer will make an excellent shadow box with little work.

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Dried Flower Shadow Box

Dried flower boxes make a great piece of decor, and they can be made as gifts to someone. Here are some considerations:

  • Choose the flowers you prefer the most.
  • Ensure the flowers are dried properly.
  • Choose a background photo of the person you are gifting.
  • Select a suitable size of box for the flowers.
  • Arrange the flowers in some pattern of your choice
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Travel Shadow Box

A great way to keep and display your travel memorabilia is using a travel shadow box. It’s a much better way to organize all your travels than letting everything sit on shelves and collect dust!

Here’s what you need to consider:

  • Gather the items you need in your travel shadow box.
  • Organize all the items in your preferred order.
  • Choose different boxes for each vacation.
  • You can also make photo boxes for each family member.
  • Ensure the size of box you choose is portable.
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Shadow Box Scene

Making a scene box is a great addition to your seasonal and holiday decor. Take Christmas for example. You can make beautiful 3D art with a simple frame. Check out this video to get an idea of how to make this craft.

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Ideas for a Unique Shadow Box

From my experience, a common shadow box is boring, and way overused. To make it more interesting, try creating something unique and never seen before. Here are some fresh ideas I’ve designed for your inspiration.

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Interactive Shadow Box

interactive shadow box

Create a whimsical world within your shadow box by incorporating interactive elements. Install tiny LED lights, miniature buttons, or even small speakers to bring life to the display. Each button press could illuminate a part of the scene or play a snippet of music, adding a magical ambiance.

Variations: Explore different themes—perhaps a fairy-tale scene, a miniature cityscape, or a serene woodland. The interactive elements can be adjusted to match the theme, ensuring every press or touch unveils a new surprise.

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Aromatic Shadow Box

shadow box with dried flowers

Engage the senses by designing an aromatic shadow box. Use dried flowers, herbs, or essential oils to infuse the box with a calming or invigorating scent. It’s not only visually pleasing but also a delight to the olfactory senses.

Variations: Experiment with seasonal scents. A fall-themed box could have the warm aroma of cinnamon and cloves, while a spring version might boast lavender and mint.

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Living Shadow Box

succulent shadow box

Bring a touch of nature indoors with a living shadow box. Incorporate small potted plants, succulents, or even a bonsai tree. Ensure the plants receive adequate light and are easy to maintain.

Variations: Try different arrangements and plant species. Seasonal flowers or themed plant collections could offer a refreshing change and keep the display lively throughout the year.

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Digital Shadow Box

digital shadow box

Merge tradition with technology by embedding a small digital screen within your shadow box. Load a digital photo album or artwork gallery for a rotating display of cherished memories or favorite art pieces.

Variations: For an added touch of personalization, include digital frames that match the overall aesthetic of the shadow box.

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Shadow Box Calendar

shadow box calendar

Transform a shadow box into a visual representation of the month. Create daily compartments with symbolic items, quotes, or a to-do list. It’s a creative way to stay organized and mindful of the time.

Variations: Theme your calendar for different seasons or important life events. It’s a dynamic piece that can evolve with you.

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Educational Shadow Box

educational shadow box

Craft an educational shadow box as a fun learning tool or a tribute to a favorite subject. Incorporate miniature books, historical artifacts, or educational models to stimulate curiosity and appreciation for learning.

Variations: Choose different themes like science, history, or literature and rotate them periodically to keep the learning experience fresh and engaging.

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Heirloom Seed Shadow Box

garden shadow box

Celebrate the joys of gardening with a shadow box dedicated to heirloom seeds. Include packets of seeds, tiny gardening tools, and labels detailing the plant species.

Variations: As your garden grows, update the shadow box with dried flowers or photographs of your garden.

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Music Theme Shadow Box

music themed shadow box

Pay homage to the rhythm of life with a music-themed shadow box. Incorporate miniature instruments, sheet music, and concert tickets. It’s a beautiful way to reminisce on musical experiences or honor a favorite musician or band.

Variations: Explore different musical genres or significant musical eras and tailor the contents of the shadow box to reflect these themes.

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