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    shadow box frame

    Turning Memories into Art: Shadow Box Frames

    Frame Envy Team

    What do a Purple Heart, a scroll, a beer can, and high school sports letters all have in common? We’ve custom framed each of them in shadow box frames.

    What does this mean?

    A shadow box frame is a custom frame built to encapsulate and house an object or 3D piece of art for display and preservation. You can use this type of framing to feature a piece of personal or family history, precious objects, memorabilia, souvenirs, or any type of object that holds personal value to you. It’s a way to share a story–to display a memory.

    It’s easy to get excited about shadow boxes. Once you have you’ve decided to frame your items, you just want to see them on your wall. The frames are filled with items you’ve chosen to embody a moment in your life or a loved one’s life, and you can’t wait to share it with anyone. However, shadow boxes have their own challenges. What will the layout be? Do you need special materials to ensure your items are protected? Where do you even begin?

    These are great questions. If you have a cool idea for a shadow box, here are a few aspects you’ll want to consider when framing:


    shadow box frames

    If you only have one object you want framed, then this is easy. If you have multiple items, then you need to think about your overall design. What story do you want to tell? It’s tempting to want to put every important object into one frame. We’ve all seen the jam packed shadow boxes that seem to be a favorite at chain restaurants, but those can be overwhelming and unwieldy (plus, they can get very expensive, very fast)

    Most of the time, you just need a simple design. You can’t go wrong with an object paired with a photo or plaque. If you do have multiple items, you can work with a pro to find the right balance to make the shadow box visually pleasing while telling the story you want.


    shadow box frames

    The right texture can make or break a shadow box. Objects look so classy on a suede, linen, or silk mat. Fabric mats make a piece pop because they can control how lighting is absorbed or reflected. It adds depth and intrigue to the overall piece. It can also be very forgiving. Objects that are less than perfect–a well loved purse, a vintage christening gown, a baseball glove–should almost always pair with a fabric mat because the texture will help disguise and distract the eye from any damage as well as hide any mounting materials. Paper reveals everything and can look so average in comparison. If you’re creating a one-of-a-kind custom frame, you want to be better than average.


    The face of the frame is important–color, design, texture. It’s one of the first things you see when you look at a frame. However, it’s the side of the frame that matters in shadow boxes. You need to have a deep enough frame to hold both your objects and framing materials (glazing, matting, backing, etc.). Your framer will line the inside edges with your matting to give the frame a finished look and help draw the eye straight to your art.


    Glare is the enemy of a shadow box. When you’re looking at an object, you want to see the object, not a reflection of yourself or the room. There is a time and place for museum glass, and shadow boxes are it. This glazing reduces light glare and looks as though there isn’t any glass at all. This doubles as a fun party trick when you have guests.

    If you have an oversized piece of art or are displaying your shadow box in a public place, you may want to consider acrylic. This also comes with a non-glare option. Glass is fragile and can easily break with the wrong movement. You can ensure your frame is safe for display with acrylic.


    Design, texture, depth, and glazing are all important in shadow box frames, but nothing is as important as how the piece is displayed. You always need to protect your art from humidity and major temperature shifts. Exposure to moisture causes mold and other environmental damage. With shadow boxes, improper storage and display can destroy your framing and your art. 

    In our studio, our museum conservator creates a microenvironment to fit the needs of and protect the object. This fitting is completed using conservation materials, not permanent methods that can damage the piece. Everything can be reversed in order to release the object. You still need to care for your frame by keeping it in a temperature controlled room (stable, no major temperature shifts) with lower humidity. If not, you risk damaging your fitting and art.

    Framing a Memory

    Our client came to us with a special request. He wanted us to custom frame a beer can. This wasn’t an ordinary beer can–it contained a proposal. He specially ordered them from Union Craft Brewing with the message, “Marry Me?” on the bottom. She said, “Yes,” and to celebrate their union (pun intended), he wanted to create a custom shadow box featuring the can.

    This was an exciting project. We trimmed the can to make it easier to mount and fit inside a standard moulding depth. The front of the can was paired with the bottom of the can’s message and a photo of the couple moments after the proposal. We used a purple suede mat that matched the beer’s label colors and a silver moulding to match the can. The end result is sweet, heirloom, and it will be a conversation starter for anyone who sees it.

    With shadow box frames, you are able to turn memories into art in a way photographs alone cannot. The featured objects are tangible reminders of special moments, loved ones, or interests that are unique to you. It’s always fun to work with clients to design creative shadow boxes and watch them delight in seeing their vision come to life.