DIY Light-Up Shadow Box

A light-up shadow box frame is a great way to learn how use LED strips, even if you’ve never worked with electronics before. It also makes a nice personalized holiday gift for family or friends. The best part is that this project is super customizable and gives you the chance to really let your creativity shine bright!

Materials

(x1) Shadow box frame

(x1) Adhesive-back white LED strip

(x1) 8 x AA battery holder (with switch and plug)

(x8) AA batteries

(x1) Sheet of white parchment paper

(x1) Glue stick

(x1) Assorted crafts supplies*

(x1) DC power adaptor (optional)

Black construction paper (optional)

Step 1

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Remove the back panel from the frame and take it apart. Set aside the cardboard photo mat that was inside the frame.

Step 2

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Starting from the edge of the roll, measure out enough of the LED strip to wrap once around the inside of the frame. Cut the LED strip along the nearest line on the LED strip marked with a scissor icon.

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The reason that you can cut the LED strip and it will still work is that it is wired in parallel. This means that instead of electricity passing through each LED one after another, they are wired side-by-side and electricity passes through all of them at once. Even if a few are removed from the circuit, electricity will continue to flow through the ones that remain.

Step 3

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Peel the cover off of the back of the LED strip, and stick it around the inside of the shadow box frame about halfway between the front and back of the frame.

Step 4

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Insert the batteries into the battery holder. If your battery holder has a cover, put it back on once the batteries are in.

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The batteries might appear to be smushed into this box randomly, but they are actually wired in series. This means that the batteries are connected electrically front to back. Connecting batteries in series is special, because the voltage of each battery gets is added together to create a new total voltage.

For instance, every AA battery can provide 1-1/2 volts. When you connect four AA batteries in series, they all add together to become 6V.

Can you calculate how many volts our battery pack with 8 AA batteries generate?

Step 5

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Plug the battery holder into the power socket on the LED strip.

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Does your LED strip have wires on the end instead of a power socket? If so, you need to get a DC power adapter jack.

First, insert the black wire into the socket marked with a minus sign and tighten the socket’s set screw with a screwdriver.

Next, insert the red (or sometimes white) wire into the socket marked with a plus sign and tighten its set screw with a screwdriver.

You are now ready to connect together the battery pack and LED strip.

Step 6

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Turn on the switch on the battery holder and make sure that the LEDs light up. If they don’t, double check that you inserted the batteries correctly. Once you are sure it is working, turn the LEDs off and set the frame aside.

Step 7

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Now is time to get crafty! Gather the cardboard photo mat you remove from the frame earlier, cut a piece of parchment paper to the same size as your photo mat, and grab your craft supplies.

Step 8

The background of your picture will be the cardboard photo mat. The LED light will shine through wherever there is a hole in the cardboard. You can leave it as it is, or carefully cut additional shapes into it. I decided to cut stars into mine.

The frame can be a little challenging to cut, so you may need to ask an adult for help here.

Step 9

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In the picture’s middle part we will use parchment paper. This will be our light diffuser and help make the picture glow. Simply stick it to the front of the photo mat using a glue stick.

Step 10

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The front of the image is your chance to get really creative and personalize your display. Almost anything goes here. You can use paper cutouts, markers, paint, or other craft supplies. Just be careful not to cover too much of the surface, or it might block the light that shines through the mat.

Step 11

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Gently insert the completed photo mat into the shadow box frame and place it in front of the LED strip. If the LED strip is now blocking it from being inserted, trim the picture a little smaller so that it fits.

Step 12

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Once the image is inserted in the frame, use some tape to hold it in place.

Step 13 (Optional)

While this is not necessary, it helps to cover the back with a piece of black paper to prevent light from shining out the back of the frame.

Step 14

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Now that you are done, power up the LEDs by turning on the switch and enjoy your creation!

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If you find that your batteries keep dying, you can replace your battery pack with a 12V power supply. This allows you to power the LED strip using a wall socket. If you are not sure the voltage of your power supply, ask for help from a grownup. They can help you find where it is listed on its product label.

Going Further!

If you are interested in going further with this project, here are some ideas:

– Try experimenting with different color LED strips. Other common colors are red, green, and blue.

– Set your mat back slightly from the front of the frame and make a light up diorama with small toys.

– Replace the parchment paper with other kinds of paper and see how it changes the light.

Copyright @smorescience. All rights reserved. Do not copy, cite, publish, or distribute this content without permission.


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Author

  • Randy Sarafan

    I have a BFA from Parsons School of Design and MFA from San Francisco State University. I enjoy writing for Smore Magazine because it engages children in science and engineering by making it relatable and fun.