Greetings cards are always going to be the number one way to express a sentiment to a loved one. Or, we may present a photo in a frame. But, those 2D images may not be enough on their own to express everything you want to say. A 3D shadow box is different because they provide a different space for an array of items and multimedia depictions of events and memories. They also allow for a lot of creativity.
Below, you will find 10 shadow box ideas and themes to inspire you if you have never made one before. You may find one that is perfect for a first project or find that this sparks a completely unique idea. Before that, let’s look at what goes into a shadow box.
Do People Still Make Shadow Boxes?
In a world that is increasingly digital and paperless, there is even more need for items like shadow boxes. It is so much nicer to see physical representations of memories and events than to scroll through a phone. You can always print out a ticket from trips and events, even if you tend to go paperless. The craft is popular as people of all ages find ways to capture moments in 3D and multimedia forms. They make beautiful decorations for personal use or gifts for loved ones.
What Can You Put in a Shadow Box?
The easier question here would be what can’t you put in a shadow box. These creations are only limited by two things. One, the physical space within the box, and two, your imagination. Some people may also say the budget for additional items, but you can handcraft so much.
Photos are always a good starting point as focal points or background elements. There could be one shot or a collage around a theme. Other physical items like tickets, boarding passes, and tags work well too. You can also use found items from nature as long as you are responsible about taking and using dead and empty items.
What Else Can You Use to Decorate a Shadow Box?
The beauty of a shadow box doesn’t just lie with the main pieces on display. You can create a really attractive display by using the right paper as a backing, as well as other tools. Scrapbooking items and other pieces for papercraft are a great place to start. You can get some beautiful stickers and stamps in various themes that could easily suit the theme of your shadow box. These items could provide a more “professional” look. But kids shouldn’t be discouraged from painting and drawing elements in the boxes they make.
10 Shadow Box Ideas for Creative Projects
1) 3D Artwork
A great starting point here is some 3D artwork. There are so many possibilities here as the box acts as a deeper frame for 3D designs. This could be a relief painting or collage that creates some shadow and 3D forms. It could be a piece of fabric work, like some miniature knitting on a washing line with little clothes pegs. It could be a miniature piece of pottery, like a homemade doll-size mug with some coffee-themed pieces and dried beans. This would be great on a coffee bar. The most important thing is to get creative.
2) Holiday Decorations
Shadow boxes don’t have to be permanent pieces of decor for the home. They could instead be temporary items that come out for the holidays. Christmas is a great example, and you can make all kinds of scenes, add some DIY Christmas ornaments, or collages with photos of past holidays with the family. The same is true for Thanksgiving and Easter, which both have strong aesthetic themes and colors to lean into. Get artistic with different elements but also look for embellishments from craft stores. Whatever you celebrate as a family, a holiday shadow box on the mantlepiece or windowsill will look great!
3) Nursery Decor
Shadow boxes are brilliant as nursery decor because they provide something with a different visual appeal than wall art or photos. You can also set them up beside a crib. The options for designs and items are endless here. You can use a papercraft cut-out of the baby’s initial and a cute crochet animal. You could add their hospital bracelet, handprint, or anything else you want to keep safe. As with so many of these themes, there are plenty of craft items like stamps and stickers with nursery themes. Consider high contrast black and white designs to catch the baby’s attention better than pastels.
4) Treasured Items from Family Members
This is another of the more sentimental options and there are different options you can take here. Shadow boxes are a great way of presenting items of those that have passed on, rather than keeping them in a drawer out of sight. It could be a piece of jewelry, like a brooch or wedding band, or anything that that person held dear or used a lot. A common project here is to use the box to display the medals of veterans. You can preserve the pieces and tell their stories more easily.
5) Vacation Memories
This is a popular theme for shadow boxes because it is such a brilliant way to freeze a special moment in time. The shadow boxes offer room for more than just a single photo, unlike photo frames. So, you can make more of a collage of pieces with different items from the trip. Keep this in mind when on vacation as it will help you remember to keep hold of little keepsakes and freebies that could make it into the box. You can also handcraft elements from paper, such as key landmarks from cities or amusement parks.
6) A Map and Tickets
If you were lucky enough to travel far from home to a new destination, you could create a design based on traveling. Print out a copy of a map of the area to size, stain it with coffee to make it look old, and add other pieces like boarding passes and other related items. Travel-themed scrapbooking items are very common so you shouldn’t struggle to add some nice details here. Make a little plane from card and draw out the route across the map. Be creative with it.
7) A Beach Scene
Beach scenes are great for shadow boxes because they could be a representation of a local beach or a trip to the shore with the family. There are different options here. Some people like to arrange items they find – although you need to be sure to source empty shells responsibly and clean them out. You could also create a miniature scene by crafting marine creatures and adding real sand. Or you could create some abstract 3D art with beach glass in different colors. Whatever the design, these beach shadow boxes can look great as bathroom decorations.
8) Dried Flowers and Leaves
For my flower shadow box, I dried the flowers myself by handing them upside down. Then I cut the flowers near the stem. I wrote our wedding date on the front of the glass with acrylic paint pens. To do so, I traced the numbers on from a printout from a font I liked. Then, I arranged the flowers to spread out the color. And it has been keeping nicely ever since.
I would recommend when you buy or make your shadow box that you look at the wall mount. This one has a very small triangle one that set inward some, making it hard to hang. I’m probably going to add an alternate mount in the future for increased ease hanging and added stability.
If you like the idea of a nature-themed shadow box then you don’t have to stay at the beach. There are lots of great items from nature that you can dry at home and arrange in a shadow box. Just make sure they are fully dry to prevent mold and odor. Find some nice paper to put the pieces on and other items from the craft store and create something beautiful. You can also change it out with the seasons with dried summer flowers and bright fall leaves.
9) Memorabilia From An Event
Anyone of any age can enjoy a shadow box and this option is great for teens and young adults. Perhaps you spent all winter saving for a ticket to see your favorite band or to go to a festival. A shadow box is a perfect place to store that ticket, some photos, and other items from the trip. Paint in logos, write lyrics on the frame, and showcase your fandom. It can serve as a fond memory beside a bed or above a desk and spur you to dream big for the next time you get to go.
10) Light-up Shadow Boxes
Finally, there is the option of creating a scene with lights behind it. This could work well with many of the themes above, especially holiday decorations and nursery lighting. You can put battery-powered LED lights behind windows or other gaps in three-dimensional scenes, such as crescent moon or windows at night. You could always add fairy lights for a Christmas theme. Or, you could try some glow-in-the-dark elements. Plan out your 3D diorama and see what sort of effects you get when you turn out the lights.
One great way to use a shadow box is to display your collection of shells. If you have a vacation hing, you can use the shadow box to store all of your shells from different beaches. This will give your home décor a bit of a beachy feel!
If you are looking for something more creative, why not try making a shadow box featuring your collection of postcards? This is perfect for people who love to travel! Not only will it add some personality to your home, but it will also serve as a wonderful conversation starter.
Shadow Boxes Are a Beautiful Way to Capture Memories and Sentiments
The idea of the shadow box may seem old-fashioned in a way, but its purpose is just as important as ever. A good shadow box can open doors for creative expression while preserving memories of loved ones, holidays, and more. Take some time to think about what you want to preserve in a box and how you can use your artistic skills to do so.
I’m a stay at home mom with our two kids. I really enjoy doing crafts with my kids however, that is typically a challenge with how limited their attention span can be and how messy it gets. So, I’m always looking for ways to make crafting an enjoyable experience and creating fond memory for all of us.