I have a SPECTACULAR project to share with you today! This is one of those rare projects that turned out WAY better than I pictured it in my head. It’s a lantern shadow box with fairy lights I created for a ladies’ craft class recently.
In this post, I showed you some lanterns I picked up on clearance for $4. I suggested you run and get them before they were sold out. I should have paid attention to my own advice — I didn’t get enough. That just means I’ll share with you ways to make something similar with other types of lanterns (stay tuned!). I suggest always looking at stores when they clear out their seasonal products.
What is unique about these lanterns is that they have glass on 2 sides and metal on the other 2. I’ll give you some ideas about how you can do this project with the kind of lantern that has those 4 glass sides. I wanted to make it so that I could set it on a table and view it from either direction. The way I put it together makes it looks like the cardstock pieces are just floating. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen staring at these trying to figure out how they stay in place! I also have an AMAZING tip for cutting foam core board cleanly.
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What you’ll need for your shadow box lantern
This project uses just a few materials:
- Fairy lights
- Cardstock — I used this from Joanns in all white
- Foam core board — make sure you get one that’s good and flat. Use black, white, or whatever will blend in with your lantern and cardstock. If all 3 are the same color, you get more of the floating look. I got mine at Dollar Tree and fit the pieces for 2 lanterns on each board.
These tools came in handy:
- Silhouette Cameo machine — you could cut with scissors, but the designs I chose are REALLY intricate. Pick something simpler if cutting by hand.
- A good mat and blade
- Paring knives from the Dollar Tree — I kid you not, these are a gamechanger
- Ruler — preferably with a metal edge
- Fabric tape measure (if you have an angled top to your lantern)
- Clear glue dots — completely optional, but just in case you’re worried about your foam core slipping around
- Painter’s tape
I used all flat designs on my shadow box, even though the overall effect is 3d. I did create and alter some, but I’ll show you that. Here are the ones from the Silhouette Design Store that I used:
- Winter Tree Set by Miss Kate’s Cuttables
- Snowflake by Pebbles in My Pocket
- Christmas House Border with Layers by Miss Kate’s Cuttables
- Santa Sleigh and Reindeer by Lori Whitlock
- A2 Wedding Chapel Card by Lori Whitlock
- Gothic Window by Jennifer Wambach
- Halloween Haunted House Scene by Lori Whitlock
You can use any design that is all one level. By that I mean one that you don’t have to glue pieces onto a base piece. And it looks best if it has some holes in it that you can see through.
1. Measure your lantern
Measure the following:
- Bottom of the inside of your lantern both in width and length.
- Height of the lantern inside. You want your cut piece to reach all the way to the top. Mine was actually over 12″ — the size of my paper. But I’ll show you how I got around that.
- My lantern has an angled roof line, so I had to figure that out as well. This was actually one of the harder parts, because it’s been quite a while since I took Geometry!
2. Create a frame
Use your measurements to create the shape of the inside of your lantern. You want the outer edges of your cut piece to fit flush all the way around the inside of the lantern.
Now make an internal offset of the piece. I made mine .5″.
Make the original piece and the offset into a single compound path. This is going to give structure to the cut piece by creating a frame all the way around.
To completely sit flush on the sides, the height of my piece was almost 14″ tall. So how does that work with 12 x 12 paper? I did 2 small things:
- I rotated my design 45°. There’s more space on the diagonal that on the horizontal or vertical (Geometry, remember?). Then I centered it to the page.
- I was oh, SO close but not quite there. But here’s the second trick. There’s a rim of metal all the way around the outer edges of my lantern.
So, if the paper didn’t go all the way into the corners, you wouldn’t see that from the outside. Plus, the foam core board covers it. So, I measured the size of that rim, then chopped off just a bit at the corners by drawing small rectangles over the corners and using Subtract in the Modify panel.
3. Test Cut
Trust me, you want to test the piece that you just made. I had to redo mine several times due to silly mistakes. You don’t want to cut an entire piece with all the intricate designs, only to realize you didn’t calculate the outer dimensions or angle correctly. That’s a waste of time and nice cardstock.
Another reason to do this is to make sure that your outer frame is hidden inside the width of the metal rim on the outside. That’s going to make it look like the front and back pieces are just floating inside the glass.
4. Create your design
Once I knew my frame would fit, both on my mat and in my lantern, I rotated it back for the designing portion of the process.
I used 8 panels for my design, separating them by approximately 1″ of foam core board. You may need more or fewer panels depending on the depth of your lantern, or you may need to use skinnier bits of foam core board. You do want to be able to have some distance between the panels so that your design has depth. In other words, you may need to experiment to see how many frames you can use.
The first thing I did was to make copies of the frame. I like to use the keyboard shortcut CTRL/CMD+→ so that they are right beside each other and aligned along their bottoms. Fill each with a different color and raise the transparency to around 35%.
Next, add your designs. Here’s what I used for my town scene:
- Fence and tree
- House and a larger tree
- More trees
- A church and sleigh with 3 reindeer
- A larger house than in #2, same sleigh but with 2 reindeer offset from those in #4, another tree
- More trees
- A different, small house and tree
- Fence and tree
I’m also working on one with a Nativity scene, so will be using these:
- Jesus, Mary, Joseph
- Shepherds, sheep and angel
- Bethlehem buildings and star
- Bethlethem buildings and star
- Wise man 1
- Palm tree and wise man 2
- Wise man 3
–The main idea is to create elements that overlap but don’t hide one another. You can do that by putting them on the left side on one scene, the right on the next, etc. You also vary the height, putting the tallest pieces in the middle of the set. So, in my town scene the tree in panels #1 and #8 were small, and the houses in #2 and #7 were smaller than the buildings in #4 and #5. I added some hills and made the Bethlehem houses tallest in my Nativity scene. The wise men were placed one on the left, one on the right and one in the middle.
–Frequently stack up all the sets so you can see where the overlaps are. Pieces may seem to cover one another, but once you add in the spacing with the foam core board you will be able to see everything. Once you get past designing frame #4, start with frame #8 and work back down to #5. That way you can see how it will look from both front and back.
–It can get pretty confusing pretty quickly. Using layers to name and organize your pieces helps.
–I made a simple fence by drawing 2 long rectangles, then a bunch of shorter ones perpendicular to those. Then I welded them together.
–I scattered snowflakes in the top area right by the frame. This fills up the upper portion. I was careful to not cover the Santa and sleigh.
–Notice that the sleigh, the thinnest piece, connects on both the left and right sides for stability.
It’s a good idea to try to anchor any design that is really tall or wide.
How I altered some designs
Feel free to skip this section. But I thought I should show you since they are different from the originals.
- I removed some reindeer from the sleigh. First, I drew a square covering what I wanted to remove, then I selected both and used Subtract in the Modify panel.
I used Point Editing to elongate the reins to stagger the reindeer.
- On the houses, I wanted to push the doors in. I had it cut on 3 sides. For the 4th, I used a dashed line chosen in the line style panel. Make sure the bottom of the door is above the top of the frame.
- On the Christmas House Border with Layers, I removed the bricks, added a roof line and changed the door.
- On the Haunted House, I removed the background and straightened things up. If you don’t want to do that, this design is similar but with only a house.
- I used the church from the Chapel card, but paired with the Gothic Windows instead and a different door.
- The “snow” pieces are supposed to lay on top of the tree pieces. I put them all inside the outer edge and made some of them smaller. Being able to see through the designs to the next frame adds interest.
- Intricate designs can be hard to cut from thicker cardstock. I simplified them where possible. For example, the trees are made of all corner points. All those sharp turns can cause pulling at the corners, even with Line Segment Overcut on, so I made them smooth points. I altered the curlicues on the sleigh.
You’ll probably need to tweak the design both in this phase and after you do some test cuts. That means that you do NOT want to weld, as that makes the designs permanently into 1 piece. Just group them for now, and I’ll show you in the next section how to cut them as if they are welded when they really aren’t.
5. Test the design
You want to test your design to see if it’s going to fit and work the way you expect it to. You may also want to tweak the designs. So, at this point it’s a good idea to cut them from some inexpensive cardstock.
In the Send area, you can use Cut Edge in Simple mode or AutoWeld in Line, Fill or Layer mode. That means that areas where the designs overlap won’t cut, but you’ll still be able to separate them later if need be.
Before you cut, look closely at your cut preview. You want to avoid any super tiny holes, as those are harder to cut. You can alter your design as needed to avoid that by moving pieces or editing the points.
Once you’ve cut them all, check to see how they will look when stacked. Don’t forget that there will be a little distance between each panel when you add in the foam core board pieces. Check for areas that might be too small to cut cleanly on your heavier cardstock.
Now, on your nicer cardstock test just one design element to figure out the best cut settings. I used the snowflake. After a good amount of testing, I ended up using a blade of 5, force of 24, speed of 5, line segment overcut on at .2, and 2 passes. I don’t usually recommend double cuts on most materials, but with a cardstock this hefty it’s a good idea. If you’re having trouble finding a good cut setting, check out my Cut Doctor series. Once you do find them, be sure to create a custom setting so you can save it.
6. Cut the cardstock pieces
Once you’ve gotten your cut settings down perfectly, cut your frames. Initially, it may seem that some of the pieces will flop over. Putting the foam core board in is going to give it more structure too, so a little flopping is okay. If after you assemble the project you have some floppy pieces, you may need to alter your design.
7. Measure, mark and cut your foam core pieces
Once I had my lovely cardstock pieces, it took me FOREVER to figure out the best way to separate and secure them in the lantern. But in the end I found a simple solution. I used foam core board pieces. The paper side is the one that “shows” (but only if you’re looking for it) and the cut edges lay against the cardstock so are hidden if they aren’t perfect. If the paper color of your foam core board matches your cardstock, it will all blend together and seem to disappear into the sides of the lantern.
Here’s the big tip — a really tight fit is essential. That means the widths of your pieces have to be just perfect. Know that this will take some testing and tweaking. I cut short pieces initially to test my widths, then cut my full pieces. And, hey, for .50 it’s not that big of a deal. Read through this whole section before you begin drawing out your pieces on your foam core board so you know where we’re headed.
Any time you are cutting a piece where the pencil line might show, cut slightly inside the line. I labeled my pieces to keep track of them, so I made sure those labels didn’t show when I put my lantern together.
World’s greatest way to cut foam core board
It’s important to get a really clean cut on the foam core board. If you’ve ever cut it before, you know it’s really hard to do that with a box cutter or scissors. I searched all over for a solution, and found an AMAZING tip on YouTube. You use paring knives from the Dollar Tree. Yes, seriously! Something about the blade makes them ideal. You probably won’t believe me, but here’s proof.
Crazy, right? The great thing is that they come 4 to a pack, so for .25 you have a superb tool.
Put another piece of foam core board or a piece of cardboard under where you will cut to protect your work surface. It works best to have a ruler you can slide the blade beside. Don’t try to cut all the way through on the first cut — just get a good groove, then go over it as many times as necessary. If you struggle with it, try altering your angle a bit. Practice until you get the hang of it.
Identify any gap areas
First, check to see if your lantern has any areas where the back or front panel isn’t level. In my case, there’s a gap between the inside edge of the lantern and the metal rim that holds the glass. It’s only on the sides, not the bottom.
I needed to fill that gap, so I measured out a piece for that. Just draw it on your foam core board with a pencil. One thickness of the foam core board was enough on mine. The raw, cut edge of the foam core board faces the sides, and the finished (paper) edge is up. You’ll see that later as I show you the assembly.
Next, I measured the distance between the bottom and top along the sides, going around the angle. For this, it’s easiest to use a fabric tape measure.
If your lantern doesn’t have an angled top, you’ll just measure between the top and bottom in a straight shot.
On my foam core board, I drew out–
- 6 strips that long, and slightly less that 1″ wide. Those go along 1 side, and I made sure to label them (L for left).
- 1 strip the same length, but of slightly less width. Again, I labeled it (LL for left last).
- 6 strips just a touch shorter and the same width as my other 6 (R for right).
- 1 strip the same shorter length and slightly less wide (RL for right last).
If you measure your strips perfectly, you may be able to make them all the same width. That’s just not my superpower. There’s a good chance that after you get everything else in you’ll have to tweak the width of the final piece of foam core board anyway.
I cut just one of each of the long strips in my lantern to double check the sizing before I cut them all. Believe me, this is the trickiest part of the whole thing. They will go in so that the paper side is facing the inside of the lantern.
You want them to stay put. If they don’t quite, or you are uncertain they will, you can put a glue dot on the back to attach them to the lantern. But don’t do that right now — at this point you are just checking the fit.
With the side pieces still in place, measure the distance between your foam core pieces along the bottom of the lantern.
Draw out, label and cut a piece of that length and the same width as you 6 strips (B for bottom). Cut one to check your measurement before cutting them all. Then make a 7th with the smaller width (BL for bottom last). The bottom pieces are the easiest to tweak.
Dealing with angles
The best way to work with angles is to score the foam core board.
First, mark where you need the long side pieces to bend, using a dotted line.
Cut through just the paper on one side and only a tad bit into the foam. Then you can bend it along the score line. The paper on the other side keeps it together.
If you aren’t working with a lantern that has a pitched top like mine, you can just wedge the foam core board pieces between the top and bottom of the lantern and you don’t need a score line.
For different types of lanterns
Let’s say you are following this tutorial and don’t have a lantern like mine, but one that has 4 glass sides. I’m going to show you in another post a completely different way to do those. But if you can’t wait for that one and want to do this one, you can put a piece of cardstock, vellum or vinyl that covers the 2 sides where you place your foam core board. That will look prettier than just the foam core and cardstock edges showing. You could even put cardstock or vellum on the inside of the glass, and a vinyl phrase on the outside. Try to secure the cardstock or vellum in a way that doesn’t show on the glass.
8. Assemble your shadow box lantern
Now it’s time to assemble this beauty. This isn’t hard — just fiddly. Take your time. Lay your lantern down on its side. It’s much easier to work with this way because you’re letting gravity help you.
Fill the gap
Start by putting your filler pieces of foam core board in if needed (the one to fill the gap).
Put frame #1 in, making sure it’s laying flat against that piece of foam core filler.
Insert the lights
Thread your fairy lights in through the hole in the top. Pull them through to where all the lights are inside the lantern, but the battery switch box is still outside.
Use painter’s tape to secure it to the outside temporarily.
Add foam core pieces
Put in your 3 pieces of foam core board — one left, one right, one bottom, in that order. Make sure they are good and snug — this is what holds everything in place. For the bottom piece, I put it in at an angle, butted it up against the end of the foam piece on one side and slid it down into place on the other side. If they aren’t fitting well, you can either adjust their length or use glue dots to secure them to the sides of the lantern. Before you do, make absolutely sure the frame is laying flat and the foam core is right up against it.
Continue adding frames #2-7 and foam pieces
Thread the lights through the open middle of frame #2, then lay it on top of the foam core board strips.
Add the next set of 3 foam strips.
Continue alternating in this way — frame, foam core, frame, foam core — until you have gotten through frame #7 (or your next to last one). You want to weave in the lights as you go. Secure them periodically the top of the lantern by sandwiching the wire between the foam core pieces at the gap in the top. In order for the foam core pieces to lay flat, make sure no bulbs are between it and the side of the lantern. I didn’t use any other method to secure them.
Be sure the foam core board is always sitting flush against the cardstock and vice versa. This maintains a tight fit that makes the cardstock stand up straight. Be careful of any delicate pieces of your design as you go (I kept accidentally bending my snowflakes).
Do not put in the foam core pieces after frame #7.
Add the last frame and foam core pieces
After frame #7 (your next to last frame), put in frame #8 right away without the foam core board separating them. (Trust me). So this will be cardstock frame #8 laying right on #7. Make sure all your lights are in and secured to the top of the lantern in a few places. Bunch them up above and around your design pieces.
Gently lift one side of your frame and slide in the foam core piece. This is where you may need to tweak it and recut, because it has to be just right to fit. Even if your lantern has a flat top, you may need to score this piece to get it in. I had to maneuver mine in by bending it a good deal so that it fit through the opening of the frame piece.
Repeat with the strip on the other side and bottom. Make sure your door will close properly and that all the pieces are snug. If they aren’t you can attach just these last 3 pieces of foam core board with glue dots. You can see from this photo how the foam core board just blends in to the sides of the lantern and “disappears,” as do the outer edges of the frames. That’s why I made everything white.
Remove the piece of painter’s tape from the switchbox end of your lights and tuck it up inside the gap in the top.
Now turn on the lights. You will be amazed at how beautiful this is. I think the all white makes it very peaceful looking. Notice that rims on the door and back hide the edges of the frames, so the “floating pieces” are mesmerizing.
These lights give a different look because they are white rather than gold.
I’d love to hear how you did with this project, so be sure to comment below.