How to Frame 3D Art

Written by Mark Rogers

Memories are not just captured in photographs, and artwork encompasses far more than just two-dimensional paintings. Framing 3D objects—sports memorabilia, medals, flower bouquets and even jewelry or pieces of porcelain—opens the doors to decorating your home with what you truly want to display.

The frame package is essentially the same—frame, glazing, backing board and mat board if necessary—but how to frame 3D objects depends on the items you’re planning to display, especially in regard to their depth and weight.

Framing a sports jersey, for example, is fairly similar to framing 2D artwork, since jerseys lie fairly flat and are not particularly heavy. Framing a flower bouquet—a popular way to display wedding mementos—adds much more depth and requires a very deep frame, while heavier collectibles such as coins may require sturdier backing boards.

The Frame

The frame, sometimes called a shadow box, must have a deep rabbet. The rabbet contains the artwork, mat board, mounting board and glazing, and its depth indicates just how much space there is for all the components. Frames for flat artwork and photographs generally have rabbets under one inch—far too small for 3D objects. The Nielsen Profile 100 shadow box has a rabbet with a depth of over one inch, providing ample space for a variety of objects.

The Mount

The backing, either a mat board, foam board or extra-thick mounting board, is used to hold the 3D object in place. You can also cover the foam board in fabric to elevate the appearance and help hide thread or pins. However, fabric may come away from the backing board if the items are heavy and the fabric has not been securely attached.

How to Attach the Items

Unless you’re making a DIY holiday shadow box in which the 3D items are meant to be loose, you need to attach the object to the backing board. How to attach items in a shadow box is one of the trickiest parts of creating one. There are numerous adhesives and fasteners to use, based on the item’s material, weight and monetary or sentimental value.

Stainless steel pins: Ideal for lightweight fabric items, stainless steel pins (also called dressmaker pins) are slender and will not corrode, meaning they will not cause damage to the items. Used with foam board, pins may be visible in the finished frame.

Needle and thread: Transparent nylon thread, also called invisible thread, can be used with fabric as well as heavier items that are the right shape or size. Stitching the items to backing board is one of the most secure ways to attach items in a shadow box, and one of the least damaging. One professional framer, for example, used nylon thread to attach a heavy pocketknife and vintage razor blades in a shadow box display.

Plastic mounts: Specially made mounting hardware is available for frequently displayed items, such as coins, silverware and plates. These mounts are often used with thicker backing boards instead of foam boards, as the items they support are heavy.

Double-sided tape: Used for replaceable, lightweight items, double-sided tape is one of the fastest and easiest ways to create a shadow box.

Hot glue: Already a must-have for DIYers, hot glue can be used for a variety of materials, including paper and plastic. Hot glue is not particularly strong, so it is often reserved for lightweight items, such as plastic toys.

Craft or fabric glue: Often PVA adhesives, these glues are multipurpose and can provide a strong bond for a variety of materials. The glue is permanent and can leave residue or cause damage, however, so valuable items should not be attached with craft glue.

Silicone adhesive: Silicone adhesive is very different from other glues, and it’s often used as a household sealant. But because it can be easily removed without leaving a residue, it is used to mount various items—even stone and glass—securely without damaging them. It is the adhesive of choice for many framers, but it has to be cured for 24 hours outside the framing package, as it will give off certain gases.

There are countless very creative ways to attach items to shadow boxes like a professional, including using tulle: the netting often found in wedding gowns and prom dresses. Some items, especially spherical items such as baseballs or golf balls, can be wrapped in tulle, which is pulled through the back of the foam board to secure in place.

Assembling a Shadow Box

To create a multi-object shadow box—a popular craft for many—it is important to first plan where each item in the shadow box will be secured, and then figure out which method of attachment will work best.

Heavier items can rest on the bottom of the frame, lessening the chance that they will fall and avoiding any unnecessarily difficulty in securing them. The rest is often trial and error—you may find that needle and thread is too difficult or that glue is too messy.

Professional frame shops can create beautiful shadow boxes, and if you are framing delicate or irreplaceable items, it may be the way to go. For a personal touch, homemade shadow boxes may be fun, memory-filled projects.

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1 thoughts on “How to Frame 3D Art”

  • Wendy

    What kind of frame to use to frame a 3-D object on canvas behind glass or Plexi glass

    • Laura W

      It really depends on your aesthetic and the size that you're needing. We recommend plexi for large projects for the weight, but a non-glare plexi won't be clear with the artwork being that far from it.


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