After working with cardboard to produce lecterns, I was excited by its potential. So I spent time exploring the realm of cardboard frames. Though technology has allowed for us load thousands of photos onto a single frame that changes the display every few seconds, I have found frames to be useful for more than displaying pictures. They help make it possible to incorporate special verses and quotes into the decor of a room, showcase memorabilia, or gracefully indicate a guest’s seat at the dinner table. They are often an art form in and of themselves and make great gifts. But they can also be expensive! I wondered if it were possible to make them inexpensively without them looking cheap. Everyone will probably have his own opinion as to whether I achieved my goal of classy-looking frames, but they fit well enough for my home.

The only things that I required for my method of making cardboard frames were brown paper bags, corrugated cardboard, and a bakery container with large sections of clear plastic. Brown craft paper and clear plastic sheets from office supply stores (like the plastic used for binder or report covers) can stand in for the paper bags and bakery container if those things are not available to you. These supplies together with some scissors, glue, a mat the size of the frame I wanted to make, and a straight edge were all that I needed to add to my basic supplies.

A photo mat seemed to me to be the fastest way to get the proper size for my frame. I had a spare mat on hand, but I could also have borrowed one from a frame that was already being used since it would not be altered in any way and was only needed as a pattern for tracing. I could have made up dimensions for a very personalized frame, but I saved that for a later venture. Because I was working with standard corrugated cardboard, I traced and cut out four pieces: three of my mat shapes with the center portions removed, and one that was the same size as the other rectangles, but a solid rectangle with its center intact. I also used the mat to trace and cut a solid rectangle of clear plastic from the bakery container.

The design I had in mind would separate the plastic from the photo that would be in the frame so that they would not come into contact with one another. I did this because I knew that the plastic would probably not be photo-safe over time. I also planned for the photos to be inserted from the bottom of the frame so that the back would look more professional.

To be able to use the paper bag, I opened it up along its seam lines along the back and bottom and spread it out flat. Then I glued together two of the cardboard pieces with the centers removed that I had already cut out. I then cut a strip of the paper bag long enough to go around the inside opening and wide enough to extend onto either side of the cardboard. The goal here is to cover the “raw edge” of the cardboard so that the corrugation is not seen. Making sure that the printed side of the bag was on the glue side, I glued the strip into place. See the photo for details.

To prepare the back of the frame, I only had to cut and attach a piece of the brown paper bag. This paper would be the last one glued down so that it would cover all the other paper edges and give the frame a neat appearance. This meant that the paper had to be cut to fit just slightly inside the top and two sides with a half-inch of extra length on the bottom. Once it was cut out, I stacked the paper on top of my cardboard so that the paper was even and centered. Then I folded under the excess paper on the bottom to the other side. This small strip of paper that extended to the other side was all that I glued down on this piece.

My next step was to cover the front piece of the frame. I spread an even layer of glue on one side of the remaining cardboard piece that had the center removed. Then, with the printed side of the bag facing up, I placed the cardboard glue-side-down onto the paper allowing for an inch-wide margin of paper on all sides. I let it dry for a minute or two, then I used my scissors to punch a hole in the paper that now covered the center section. Once I had a hole, I inserted the blade of the scissors and cut an “X” shape with the lines going from each of the corners to the one on the opposite side. I trimmed the points off the remaining triangularly-shaped flaps and pushed them to the back side of the frame, where I glued them down. In the picture of this, the back of the cardboard is white to help make it easier to see the difference between it and the paper. The plastic piece was apparently already in place in this shot and is what is causing the shine in the photo.

After the center of the front piece was done, I could begin assembling all the various parts of the frame together. The first sections to be connected were the front and center sections along with the plastic. With the front section face down on the work surface, I stacked the plastic piece and then the center cardboard section on top. I had to decide which side I wanted to be the bottom of my frame. Once I had made up my mind, I folded the brown paper on that side up and over all the pieces in the stack. Making sure that the edges of the stack lined up, I glued the paper down on that side only.

Now for the tricky part! I needed to add the back piece to the stack so that all the bottom sections would line up. The back had a piece of paper glued to it along one edge. The edge with the paper was the bottom of the back piece. Orienting the cardboard with the paper hanging down from the bottom and the glued strip face-down, I added the back to the other two sections and began folding the remaining edges of paper (attached to the front piece) up along the sides and top. I checked again to make sure that all the edges lined up and glued the paper in place. In the photo of this step, the bottom of the frame is on the left (with the paper hanging off). The two sides have been glued together and only the top section (on the right side of the frame) remains to be glued. Once I had glued that final section, I folded the paper that had been hanging down from the bottom of the frame over the back piece to cover the edges I had just glued down.

With all the pieces assembled and glued together, my new frame had an opening at the bottom for inserting the photos and a brown paper “skin”. The clear plastic stood in for the glass on a regular frame. Now it needed a way to stand it up. For some of my frames, I made cardboard easels to display them on, but for others, I wanted the look of a regular frame. This required some sort of stand. I used a frame that I already owned to provide me with a pattern to make a support like those found on purchased frames. I made a cardboard copy (leaving a little extra cardboard at the top for attaching it to the frame), covered it in brown paper, and glued it in place. Other times, I have used a section of cardboard that I glued on vertically down the center back of the frame. I simply trimmed the bottom edge until I got the tilt I desired.

Decorating the frame is always the most fun part of this project! All the frames pictured here are cardboard frames that I have made to fit in different rooms of my home. I have used a variety of materials and methods which I hope to explain further in the coming days. But whether I used paper, glue, paint, fabric, or materials from nature (like the wood circles or mica frames in the photo) the effect has been pleasing to the eyes!

Years ago, my children and I memorized the Shema, the charge to (and doctrinal statement of) ancient Israel which is recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4-9:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates.

The people of God were charged to surround themselves and saturate their thoughts with the Words that He had told them for these Words revealed to them the nature and character of God. They were to talk and think about Him all the time. His commandments were to be taught to each succeeding generation and even to be inscribed onto the walls of the home. One of the reasons that I wanted to make frames was connected to this instruction to keep the commandments of God in the forefront of our thoughts. By scattering these frames around the house and keeping a constant flow of verses and inspirational quotes before our eyes, I hope to prompt all of us to stay focused on the things of the God.

This entry was posted in New Life for Cardboard, New Life for Paper, New Life for Plastic Containers and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Nisha Brinda says:

    All the photo frames are classy! Love them all!

  2. Pingback: 22 DIY Cardboard Picture Frames | Guide Patterns

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