shadow boxes from Christmas cards tutorial

I’ve been spending the past week working on little shadow boxes made from Christmas cards. This is the first one I made.

Shadow box

They are getting better as I work on more of them, learning some hints and helps that make the process easier than it was initially.

Polar bear

2018 update: You can see more of my Christmas card shadow boxes in my Etsy shop.

You can also see many more pictures of the boxes and the process in my flickr album for shadow boxes. flickr/shadowboxes

To make a shadow box, the following items are needed:

    • Christmas cards (Having a good selection to choose from makes it easier to find one that will work well. The picture has to be small enough to fit the bottom of the box with an inch of space all around it for the sides of the box.
    • backing paper (Scrapbook paper works great.)
    • pencil
    • paper cutter
    • Mod Podge or white glue
    • straight edge
    • scoring tool or other dull point for scoring paper
    • scissors
    • 4 clothespins or other small clamps
    • a safety pin is useful for making small holes to hang an embellishment
    • gold or silver thread (Needed if you want to hang a small ornament or embellishment inside the box.)
    • needle nose tweezers are great for small details, and for plucking hot glue “hairs” off the shadow box
    • optional – a crochet hook with a small hook is handy for pulling threads through small holes
    • gold and/or silver glitter glue (I use Sargent Washable Glitter Glue, available on Gold and silver are compatible with most Christmas cards. I also use blue, red and green, though not as often as gold and silver.)
    • embellishments: small ornaments, beads, mini garlands, bottle brush trees, artificial evergreen, floral picks that can be taken apart, snowflakes, stars, jingle bells, mini deer, strands of small beads, pipecleaners, etc. Anything you can think of that can be used to decorate the box. Keep it small and in proportion to the box. If you do much Christmas crafting, you probably have a lot on hand that you can use.
    • hot glue gun (Handy for adding those embellishments.)
    • silver and/or gold cording to make a hanger
    • You may need needle nose pliers for cutting wire or pipecleaners.

The first thing to do is choose a card to use. The card needs to be large enough that there will be one inch of space all around the picture you want to use. Alternately, if a particular picture is chosen and it’s not large enough for the added one inch edge, a box can be made from poster board and the picture glued inside. Other paper will be needed to line the edges inside the box. Scrapbook paper would work well.

This is the card I chose for the box I’m making in this tutorial.

Christmas card shadow box

Cut the front from the back of the Christmas card. Remove the entire spine so the picture is left without ridges or folds.

Christmas card shadow box

Choose a paper for the back of the box. This scrapbook paper coordinated well with the card I want to use.

Christmas card shadow box

Cut the paper to fit the card front.

Christmas card shadow box

Apply Mod Podge to the back of the picture.

Christmas card shadow box

Fit the paper to the back of the card, working quickly to slip it to the edges, making it fit the back of the picture. After the backing is adhered to the front, use a straight edge to lightly “squeegee” the papers together. This removes air bubbles and makes a nice flat finish to the back of the box.

Christmas card shadow box

If the edges do not meet exactly, use the paper cutter to trim the edge. It works best if the paper is allowed to dry before trimming. The glue can make the paper soggy and difficult to cut cleanly.

NOTE: Since writing this tutorial, I have made some shadow boxes by painting the outside of the box instead of using paper. I find it makes a stronger box, that is less likely to warp. The paint seems to strengthen the cardstock. I use a mixture of acrylic paint, one to one, with white glue. I use Elmer’s Glue. I add a little sand to give a nice texture, but that’s optional. While the paint is wet, I sprinkle it with fine glitter and let it dry before proceeding. If painting, instead of using paper on the back of the box, continue through the following steps to construct the box before painting the back.

Christmas card shadow box

Use a straightedge to score the paper one inch from the edge of the card, all the way around. I have a very handy ruler for this, which is one inch wide, making the process very easy. Also, the stylus I am using is a handy scoring tool. It has a pen on one end and a scoring point on the other. Something DH brought home one day. Perfect!

Christmas card shadow box

Christmas card shadow box

Cut along the scoring line to the point where it meets the other scoring line.

Christmas card shadow box

Cut all four corners, then fold along the scoring lines so the picture will be inside the box.

Christmas card shadow box

Cut each corner tab in half.

Edit: After making quite a few boxes, I decided that not cutting the tabs in half was a better idea, making stronger corners.

Christmas card shadow box

Apply glue to the outside of the box and the inside of the tab.

Christmas card shadow box

Use clothespins to clamp the sides together until bonded. Open and replace the clothespins a few times to be sure they are not sticking to the paper.

Edit: When leaving the tabs whole, I use two clothespins on each corner.

Christmas card shadow box

When the glue is dried enough to hold the box together, remove the clothespins.

Christmas card shadow box

As you can see in this picture, this particular card had some glitter on the picture. It was brushed over the snow.

Christmas card shadow box

I like to add glitter to the pictures, so I chose silver for this one. The irridescent glitter that came with the card will show through the silver. Squirt some into the box and brush it over the surface.

Note: I really like Sargents glitter glue for this project. It spreads easily over the picture, but the glitter is fine and spreads thinly so it doesn’t obscure the picture. I have it in six or seven colors. I do find the silver one doesn’t squirt out of the bottle well because it is thicker for some reason, but it does spread well. I take the topper off and squeeze a glob out, then sprend it with my finger or a brush. All the other colors can be dispensed easily through the bottle topper, then spread across the picture.

Christmas card shadow box

Here you see the inside coated with silver glitter glue.

Christmas card shadow box

Wait until the first side is dry before covering the back with glitter glue. Otherwise the box may warp.

Christmas card shadow box

When the box is dry, consider what kinds of embellishments will be added. I decided to put some icicles in this box.

Christmas card shadow boxes

The long one was too long, so I broke it in half and used the bottom part.

Christmas card shadow boxes

I also glued some snowflakes to the picture.

Christmas card shadow box

Christmas card shadow box

To hang an ornament or embellishment in the box, string it onto a thread, and add beads if you like. The needle nose tweezers are very handy for these kinds of jobs with tiny pieces. I added five beads because the box is tall and I wanted the snowflake to hang lower than it would have with only one bead.

Christmas card shadow box

I used a safety pin to punch a hole in the top of the box, making sure the ornament would not hit the side. Using a small crochet hook, I pulled the thread through the hole, chose how far I wanted the snowflake to hang, then used a bit of hot glue to adhere the thread to the top of the box.

Christmas card shadow box

I chose a bottle brush tree for the box, added a red berry to the top, and painted the tree with white paint to mimic the trees in the picture. This link shows you how I add berry pips to bottle brush trees.

Add pips to your bottle brush trees

Christmas card shadow box

Christmas card shadow box

The box needed a bit more embellishment, so I took this little ornament apart and used pieces of it. The ornament was one of several in a sack of ornaments that my sister bought for ten cents at a thrift store.

Christmas card shadow box

I used two pieces of the evergreen from the ornament and the pinecone, glued them to the top of the box, and added some red berries and a snowflake.

Christmas card shadow box

Christmas card shadow box

I cut another piece of evergreen from the ornament into two pieces and glued them around the base of the bottle brush tree, then added a couple of snowflakes to the evergreen.

Christmas card shadow box

I felt the box needed just a bit more bling, so I glued a strand of silver beads around the edge.

Christmas card shadow box

Edit: After making a couple of dozen boxes, I decided they look better with the raw edge of the box covered.  Beads can be harder to adhere, but it’s certainly doable. Other edgings include pipecleaners, wireless chenille, yarn, cording, tinsel garland, etc.

Now it just needs a hanger of some sort. I decided to use a thin silver pipecleaner. I used the safety pin to make a hole, then inserted the pipecleaner. Using the needle nose pliers, I twisted the first end to hold it in place.

Christmas card shadow box

Christmas card shadow box

After cutting the pipe cleaner to the length I wanted, I used the needle nose pliers to twist the end so it wouldn’t go back through the hole.

Christmas card shadow box

Ready to hang for Christmas, on a tree or from a shelf.

Christmas card shadow box

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial. If you have any questions, just ask!



  1. Genny
    Posted September 7, 2014 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    Of course it needed more glitter ! It’s fun for me to see you using the thrift store items. You did a good step by step. These are lovely.

  2. Juanita
    Posted September 28, 2014 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

    So pretty! TY for passing along your expertise.

  3. Muriel Mudge
    Posted January 8, 2015 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    Have never left a comment on any site before, but I just had to this time. This is soooo cute and the tutorial is so informative. I always get inspired to do crafts around Xmas and usually start them but never finish–very baaad of me. This year I’ve discovered shadow boxes and dioramas. I’ve been looking at old Xmas cards for sale on Etsy and wondering what I could do with them (the old ones are so quaint). Now I know what to do. I’m certainly going to try making something like this and your tutorial will be of great help. Thank you so much for posting it.

  4. Posted January 9, 2015 at 5:40 pm | Permalink

    Muriel, thank you so much for your kind comment. I am so glad my blog post about the shadow boxes will be helpful to you. If you care to share, I would love to see some pictures of your finished pieces. Happy crafting! ~~Rhonda

  5. Elizabeth
    Posted January 27, 2015 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    I just found your tutorial…Christmas is over but this was so pretty . Maybe I will do one for next Christmas .TFS …Elizabeth

  6. Marlene Iacuzzi
    Posted June 19, 2015 at 7:54 am | Permalink

    So glad I found your adorable shadow boxes. Your tutorial is perfect. I have so many saved cards that I will go through to try and do one of these. Thanks.

  7. Posted June 20, 2015 at 8:30 pm | Permalink

    Marlene, I’m so glad you like the tutorial. If you have any questions, please ask. Since doing that tutorial, I decided that it’s easier to add the hanger before I embellish the top of the box. Other than that, it’s still the way I do them. Thanks for posting a comment!

  8. Woneta
    Posted August 31, 2015 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    Making 3 boxes with matching theme. Glue to sturdy platform made from layers, glued together, pieces of unused cards, spray painted. Angel hair & glitter for snow around, upside-down painted pinecones for trees, etc,…a church, a house, a skating rink…voila’,a Christmas village…soooo exciting!!

  9. Posted January 15, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    me gusta todo su manualidad
    rosalba borja

  10. Norma S
    Posted March 30, 2016 at 12:33 am | Permalink

    I can’t wait to try this im so impressed

  11. Posted July 12, 2016 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

    This is very pretty. You are very talented with your style.

  12. Posted October 23, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    So the box consists of just the greeting card and the cardstock paper?

  13. Posted October 23, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Yes, the inside of the box is the front of the card with the picture. The outside of the box is paper or cardstock. I like the cardstock better. It makes a nice sturdy box. The glue helps to stiffen it even more. If you have any other questions, please ask. I am happy to help! ~~Rhonda

  14. Nuala mcdaid
    Posted October 24, 2016 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

    This is brilliant i dont leave comments but just had to as your explanation from start to finish was so easy to follow and the finished product is so lovely thankyou for sharing

  15. Posted October 26, 2016 at 12:04 am | Permalink

    Thank you, Nuala. I appreciate that encouragement! ~Rhonda

  16. Frances Connery
    Posted November 8, 2016 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    I have been collecting old xmas cards & ornaments for years but forgot why(short term memory lol). I believe your tutorial is the best to follow. For those of us who need a few ideas to help get started; you have inspired me. hugz

  17. Theo Gibson
    Posted October 13, 2017 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    What an inspirational way to use up old Christmas cards. Thank you for sharing.

  18. Zoey Shields
    Posted December 30, 2017 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Hello I just came across your wonderful idea for recycling cards and I absolutely love it. I have an idea to pass along. Possibly cut a 1/4 inch into the corners and crease/fold out both sides and the top up and leave bottom flat to frame it for a base for applying trims to the outside area.

  19. marisa camillo rocha
    Posted November 11, 2018 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    I love this. Thank you for share….it´s so lovely

  20. Kate
    Posted December 25, 2019 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    Merry Christmas Rhonda – I’m a few years late but just discovered this post a few days ago. You are so talented! Thank you for sharing your projects. I love these boxes and spent the last few days collecting things from the thrift stores to make them for next year. I found some books with wonderful images that I plan to use, as well as cards. I looked at your Flickr account and I’m wondering, what exactly are using around the edges of the box? I like the way it looks. Is it just a chenille pipe cleaner? It looks fluffier! I’d love a link if you have one. Thank you so much!

  21. Posted January 3, 2020 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Kate, I do use chenille stems, as you guessed. Also wireless chenille, which is a roping, but fluffy and thicker than a wired chenille stem. (Does anyone call those pipe cleaners anymore??)  🙂  

    The wireless chenille used in this picture is my favorite. It is white iridescent. So perfect for winter scenes. If you search online for “wireless chenille” and click on IMAGES, you will find sources for similar products. I’m not sure this one is currently available.

    Peace on Earth

    I have used bead strings but they are harder to add in a way that conceals the edge of the box without showing a lot of hot glue.


    After I made a few boxes, I began using the beads as trim inside the box rather than around the outside edge.  

    Have a beary, bunny Christmas... Sorry...couldn't help myself.

    This box has a twisted cord around it. I like the look, but the thinner the trim, the harder it is to glue to the edge and also to conceal where the ends come together. If you want to add an embellishment to the top of the box, the join can be made there and then covered with the embellishment. I usually make the join in the bottom right hand corner. No particular reason!


    After making a lot of boxes, I found that painting and glittering the outside of the box makes a stronger box that is more likely to hold its shape than my first boxes which have printed papers glued to the outside of the boxes. I hope that is helpful. Maybe it’s time I write a new tutorial with the tips I’ve learned along the way! ~~Rhonda 🙂

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