Last spring I made a garden-themed shadow box and shared it freely with everyone, and so many of you have made it! (Thank you!) Since then, I’ve seen many more variations on shadow box themes and folks keep asking for MORE. But here’s the awesome thing — you can design your own custom shadow box, with just the imagery you want ! So for Day 2 of The Great Maker 25-Day Gift-Away Challenge, I am showing you how to design a custom shadow box in Cricut Design Space!
See exactly how to design your own shadow box in this tutorial video below (or keep scrolling if you prefer a step-by-step photo tutorial):
In order to design a custom shadow box, it helps to understand how shadow boxes work. Essentially, the way a shadow box works is you stack many layers of cardstock on top of each other, with each layer having different elements cut out from the center of the cardstock. Then when you shine a light from behind the layers of cardstock, the light comes through the layers in varying degrees of brightness, creating a lovely 3D effect with depth and beauty.
The secret to creating a beautiful custom shadow box is to always have three things: a FOCAL POINT, FRAMES, and a BACKGROUND.
A shadow box’s focal point, usually at the center, is the element you want to really stand out. It’s often the silhouette of a person or people, an animal, a character, a building, or something else meaningful and personal. This focal point isn’t likely to be very large, but the eye will be drawn to it. For the best results, your focal point should be clearly defined and without other layers touching it or overlapping it.
A shadow box’s frames are the elements you’ll have at the edges (top, sides, and bottom), often things like trees, flowers, other less-important buildings and animals, or really just anything that goes with the theme and helps you draw the eye to the focal point.
A shadow box’s background is what appears behind the focal point and frames. It can be as simple as a plain and uncut piece of cardstock, or you can add extra layers behind that piece of cardstock to add more depth, such as a sun, moon, stars, or even a reflection.
If we look closely at the shadow box I designed, the focal point is the people on the swing, the frames are the foliage (trees and flowers) around it, and the background is the sun.
Now let’s talk about shadow box layers and their order. Here’s the layer order for a shadow box, from front to back:
- First layers are typically the frames, and there are usually at least two of these layers (more layers will give you more depth).
- The focal point layer comes after the top frame layers.
- The background is at the back of the layers.
The simplest shadow box design, and the one I recommend you begin with if you’re new to this, is simply two layers of frames with a single focal point layer and a solid, uncut background layer. From there, you can introduce more elements and more layers, just be sure to keep that central focal point nice and clear.
You can design shadow boxes in many different ways—I usually design them in Illustrator, and I know others who design them in Inkscape. But both of those programs have a learning curve, so today I’m going to show you how to make them more simply in Cricut Design Space. You can simply use shapes or upload our own images, but what works REALLY well is to use Cricut Access. If you’re not familiar with Cricut Access, this is a subscription program from Cricut that allows you access to over 100,000 images—you can search and use the images in Cricut Design Space, which makes it perfect for designing shadow boxes. You can find pretty much everything you need to design shadow boxes in Cricut Access. I have a Cricut Access subscription and I’ll be using it to create the shadow boxes in this tutorial. I highly recommend it! (Tip: If you just got your Cricut, you get a free month of Cricut Access — this is a great time to experiment with it!)
To help you design your custom shadow box successfully, I’ve created five different template sets in five sizes ranging from 8″ to 9″ to fit most commercial shadow box display frames. Each template set also has a box pattern with so you can make designs without buying wood shadow box display frames, too. You can also use this box pattern to just keep your design nice and neat and tidy inside your display frame.
Key concepts taught in this tutorial include how to use my shadow box template, how to identify Cricut Access images, how to weld, how to slice, how to change linetype, how to add spacers between layers, and how to light up your shadow box.
Ready? Let me show you how to design your own shadow box and enclose it in a display frame with LED lights! This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more)! Read my full disclosure policy.
Materials to Design and Make a Custom Shadow Box
- 65 lb. 12″ x 12″ white or light colored paper (I used this exact brand, type, and color) — note: I think 80 lb. paper is too thick and won’t allow the light to shine through as well
- Clear adhesive 3D Zots (I used these exact ones) or something else to space your layers paper, like weather stripping or strips of foam core or sign board (3D zots are better for lots of layers because they aren’t as thick)
- (Optional) Shadow box display frame (you can get them from Amazon, IKEA, Michaels, and JoAnns)
- (Optional) LED light strip at least 36″ long (I used this one from Lowes and this one from Menards, but you can also get them at Amazon)
- (Optional) A Cricut Access subscription (or the free 1-month trial)
- A way to cut your cardstock (I used the amazing Cricut)
- My free SVG/DXF/PDF cut file/pattern for the shadow box template (available in my free resource library—get the password at the bottom of this post)
How to Design Your Custom Shadow Box
Step 1: Get my free template.
Download the shadow box template from my free resource library (get the password to the library in the form at the bottom of this post).
Step 2: (Optional) Measure your shadow box display frame.
If you’re using a shadow box display frame for this project, turn your display frame over, take off the back, remove the spacer inside (if there is one), and measure the inside of the display frame. This is the size your want your finished shadow box design to be. For example, for the display frame I’m using, its inside dimension is 9″.
Step 3: Upload one of my templates to Cricut Design Space.
You can cut a custom shadow box with a good craft knife, but it’s tedious and it requires you having some drawing skill. So instead, I’m going to show you how to design and cut a custom shadow box design with a Cricut cutting machine. And to do that, we need to use Cricut Design Space, where we’ll design our custom shadow box together, step by step.
Start by uploading the right size shadow box template to Cricut Design Space. Each of the template files has a number in its filename that corresponds to the size in inches. For example, I have a 9″ inside dimension on my frame, so I’ll upload the file named “shadow-box-paper-art-9-jennifermaker-SVG.svg”
If you’re not sure how to upload an SVG cut file to Cricut Design Space, watch this helpful video training series I made. If you’re on an iPhone or iPad, here’s how to download and upload SVG files to the Cricut Design Space app.
Here’s what my shadow box template SVG cut file looks like uploaded to Cricut Design Space:
Step 4: Create your custom shadow box design
I’m going to show you how to design a really simple shadow box with just four layers (two frame layers, one focal point layer, and one background layer). And then I’ll show you how to make a more complicated shadow box design with eight layers (five frame layers, one focal point layer, and two background layers).
A Simple Custom Shadow Box Design
Let’s start with the really simple shadow box design so you understand the basics. From the template, you’ll need the top three frames and one solid square. You can hide the rest of the template for now.
Begin by finding a focal point image. Click “Image” and type in something simple, like dog. Look for a solid (or mostly solid) image — silhouettes are best. For example, I selected this dog (#MA942EFC) and add it to my canvas in Cricut Design Space:
Tip: The dog is from the Animal Silhouettes cartridge which has over 100 different animals. There’s also a Dog Silhouettes cartridge and a Cat Silhouettes cartridge if you prefer felines. All three are included in Cricut Access.
Click, hold, and drag the dog to the center of your smallest frame template. You’ll probably want to resize it so it looks good. I made my dog about 25% of the height of the template.
Tip: Make sure your focal point image is centered perfectly in the frame by selecting both then clicking the Align > Center.
Now we’re not done with this layer — the dog is just floating in space, unconnected to the sides. Anything you put on a layer MUST be connected to the sides of the frame or it will not work properly. So let’s give this dog a floor to sit on. Click on Shapes, choose Square, click the Unlock button on the Square, then resize and reposition the square so it is just touching the bottom of the dog and ALSO overlapping the sides and bottom edges of the frame. Once you do that, select everything for this layer (so the dog, the shape, and the frame) and click Weld.
That’s it! You’ve made your focal point layer!
Now we need to make our two frame layers. First, center one of the frame layers over the dog (the second smallest). For these, we’ll simply use some heart shapes. Click Shapes, then click on Heart. Center the heart over the dog. You’ll notice you now can’t see the dog — you can make the heart transparent for positioning purposes by changing the Linetype to draw, moving it where you want it to be, then changing it back to cut once it is in position.
View the complete design process in my full step-by-step video tutorial.
- Start with the back layer and work your way forward.
- The more layers you have, the more depth and shadow you’ll have in your finished shadow box.
- Use silhouettes and silhouette cartridges. Here’s a list of silhouette cartridges in Design Space to help you find them:
- Tree Silhouettes and Pine Tree Silhouettes and Palm Trees
- Decorative Wreaths
- Disney Frozen II Silhouettes
- Animal Silhouettes
- More Animal Silhouettes
- Ballet Dancer Silhouettes
- Santa Sleigh Silhouettes & Reindeer Silhouettes
- Butterfly Silhouettes
- Female Silhouettes
- Couple and Romantic Silhouettes
- Mythical Creature Silhouettes & Wolf Silhouettes
- USA City Silhouettes
- Thanksgiving Silhouettes (leaves, grapes)
- Gear Silhouettes
Step 5: Cut out your shadow box layers.
Once you have a design ready in Cricut Design Space, click Make It and check your mat previews to make sure everything looks good. If you’re good to go, select Medium Cardstock as your material setting. Load up a blue or green cutting mat with your 12″ x 12″ white 65 lb. card stock, insert it into your Cricut, and cut it with the fine point blade.
Tip: If you have any issues cutting intricate designs, be sure to check out my Cricut Cutting Problems: Tips for Cleaner Cuts guide to learn how to do this.
Step 6: Put spacers between your cut layers.
It’s essential that there be a little bit of space between your layers or you won’t get the shadow effect. You can put space between layers by using something like 3D Zots, adhesive foam squares, weather stripping, or strips of foam core or sign board. If you have many layers, you’ll want to use more shallow spacers like Zots or adhesive foam squares to avoid making your design too deep and unable to fit in a shadow box display frame.
Step 7: Frame your design.
You can frame your custom shadow box design in two ways — either put it in a store-bought frame, or use the box pattern in my template set to make a frame from cardstock.
To use a display frame, just flip it over, take off the back, and set your custom shadow box inside face down.
To use my box pattern, just cut it out, fold up the sides, and glue or tape the sides in place to form a box. There are two parts to the box — just sandwich your design between the two parts!
Step 8: (Optional) Add LED lights.
If you put your custom shadow box design in a display frame, you can add LED lights to the back to light it up and see all of those layers and shadows so much better! I prefer to use LED light strips, but some people just use fairy lights. Either way, they go behind your layers of cardstock. I usually put my LED light strips around the edge of the frame for a nice even glow. You’ll want to position the lights so your cord can hang out one corner — if necessary, cut a small notch in the corner of the frame for the cord. Now just replace the back of your display frame, plug in your light, and enjoy the magic!
Get my free shadow box template SVG cut files and patterns
If you design your own shadow box, we all want to see it! Please share your photo in our Facebook group or tag me on social media with #jennifermaker . You can even earn two bonus entries for my 25-Day Gift-Away giveaway if you upload a photo of your version of this project by December 25th.
See all of the projects, tutorials and free designs in The Great Maker 25-Day Gift-Away Challenge!
Want to remember this? Save the Design Your Own Custom Shadow Box Tutorial to Your Favorite DIY Pinterest Board!