Broken Remote

December 29, 2008

DIY Light-Up Picture Frame

Filed under: electronics — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Broken Remote @ 4:24 pm

Edit: 1/10/09 – Thanks, MAKE for posting this on your blog! I hope someone is inspired. :) For anyone who is interested in something like this, I apologize for the lack of close pictures of the circuit. I documented it after completion and it was difficult to get any good shots.

Not into the digital photo frame craze but want to add your own electronic touch to your photo frames? Try this approach…this is my first DIY-type project, so I kept things simple. :)


– Shadow box photo frame (I used this one: Kohl’s Frame)
– Two white LEDs (3.6V @20mA)
– 100 ohm resistor
– 9V battery
– 9V battery clip
– Connector wire
– Double-sided tape
– Black card stock or construction paper
– Switch


– Hot glue gun
– Small pliers
– Wire cutter / stripper
– Drill / various bits
– Soldering iron / solder

My fiancee and I are both trying to save money, so we lightened up this Christmas on gifts to each other. We both got a little crafty. I had a neat idea for a breadboard with wires and other components placed carefully to form a message or pattern of sorts. This was fine, but it wasn’t terribly handy to just hand her a pretty-looking breadboard.

Breadboard Art

Breadboard Art

Knowing this, I had to come up with some sort of display. I decided a shadow-box frame would look great…and then I thought: “Well I have all these electronics, why not make the frame electronic, too?” So that’s what I did – it’s nothing fancy, just a frame with a couple LEDs built in, but it’s neat and was a lot of fun to create.

So here’s what you do:

Step 1: Find a frame

There needs to be a place to put the electronics where they are out of sight. There are probably a lot of frames out there, so look around. I chose a frame that had small removable pieces of “wood” along the internal edges. Really they just keep the glass in the frame, but they also serve as a great mounting point for some 5mm LEDs. They are also adequate for running wires along the edges of the frame.

You should also consider how you’re going to power your frame. I was using a 9V battery so I needed a decent amount of space. Certainly you could put it inside the frame, but that doesn’t look so great. You can also put it anywhere on the back of the frame and it would look reasonable. I chose to get a frame with a fold-out stand. It makes a great place to mount some additional electronics that can easily be hidden.


The original frame from Kohl's - I removed the frilly part :P

Step 2: Build a test circuit

Yes, build your lighting circuit in a breadboard and make sure it works! Make sure your LEDs don’t get too hot and that they work! There’s nothing like putting the circuit in the frame and finding out it doesn’t work. Fortunately I didn’t have this problem.

Schematic of LED circuit

Schematic of LED circuit

Step 3: Drill

In order to hide the electronics around the LEDs, you will probably need to do some drilling. I found the best and easiest way to do this is to just remove the upper internal brace of the frame, measure it and calculate hole locations. Now, unless you bought your frame at Expensive Woods R Us, this is probably made of really cheap glue-infested material. Naturally, you could create your own with some real wood, but that would involve saws and cutting. If you’re careful and start with a small drill bit you can probably get reasonable results. You’ll probably have to cut off some excess with an exacto knife later. You may or may not have to worry about the finish, depending on what you want your frame to look like. Remember that we have to fit electronics into the frame, so the brace will be shifted down. I’ll describe what I did about this later on.

So, just drill with successively larger drill bits. You should be able to find a bit size that allows the upper part of the LED to fit through, but not the base, which is really convenient. If you can’t, that’s OK.

Step 4: Solder the LEDs together

Depending on what is easiest for you, you may or may not want to fasten the LEDs into the wood at this point. We need to do some soldering to connect them to power. I found it easier to leave them out for now. Regardless of what you do here, you will probably want to bend the legs of the LED. In my frame, I bent the anode of the left resistor to the left, and the cathode towards the right. Then I bent the anode of the second resistor to the left, and the cathode to the right. Now all connections are closer. You might want to use a sharpie to mark the cathodes – it’s harder to tell which leg is longer when you have them bent. I would have connected one of mine backwards if I hadn’t done this.

How to bend the LED legs

How to bend the LED legs

Just attach the 100 ohm resistor to the anode (long leg) of one resistor, then use a short wire (measure first so it’s not too short or too long!) to connect the two LEDs together. This is the base circuit. Try putting this in the holes you just drilled and make sure it fits. Also test your circuit to make sure you didn’t burn out an LED. Once you are sure your circuit still works, solder on some long wires to the ends of your circuit (18 gauge or 20 gauge is probably fine). Make sure the wires are long enough to go along the edge of the frame to wherever you want your power source! Remember, you can always cut the wire, but it’s not so easy to make it longer.

Step 5: Attach the LEDs and brace

You probably want to fasten your LEDs to the frame to make sure they don’t fall out on you. This is an optional step depending on whether or not the LED sits in the frame well on its own, but probably better to do it. I just used some hot glue on the bottom of the LED to fasten it and keep it from falling out. You also need to re-attach the brace to the frame. Here’s where you should be careful. I used hot glue to attach it, but you can use other means as you see fit. Make sure you have a plan to attach it so you don’t get glue everywhere.

Also keep in mind the fact that this might look sort of ugly when you turn the frame around. Before you glue, hold the brace in the frame and see what it looks like. When I did this, it looked OK, but not very desirable. I corrected this later on by adding some black card stock inside the frame to cover this up. It actually looks very good when done carefully. I made the mistake of not leaving enough room, however. I put the brace back in flush with the surface of the glass. It’s probably wise to place a couple sheets of cardstock or construction paper down temporarily when you glue the brace back in. That way you don’t have to force it underneath later.

So anyways, glue that piece in and let it dry.


The circuit inside the frame

Step 6: Run the Wiring

Now you want to run the wiring along the edge of your frame. There’s probably no really easy way to do this. Avoid using thick glues as this may prevent you from placing the back of the frame on correctly. I used some of this stuff:

Loctite Goof Proof - used to hold the wires in place along the edge of the frame

Loctite Goof Proof - used to hold the wires in place along the edge of the frame

It really worked very well The wood tends to soak it up because it’s so thin, but if you hold the wire in place it fastens on very securely. Just run the wire along the edge of the frame. Glue it right next to corners and as many places as necessary along the way. Be patient so you don’t mess anything up. Be careful to get the wire in the corners very carefully. You don’t want any showing on the other side of the frame. On my frame, I ran the wires to the center of the bottom, where the stand was.

Step 7: Make it look a little better

If you remember from earlier, the front of the frame may look bad because we had to move that brace. You will probably want to cover it up. Recall that you should have left some space between the glass and the brace. This is so you can put some card stock or something underneath it to “house” the lights. You may or may not need to adhere the strip to the brace. For me it fit very tight and didn’t move. It really looks very good as you get a neat shadow effect on the top. Plus, if you look under to see the lights, it’s very difficult to tell that the brace is out of place. Why do we do this now instead of as step 5? If you mess up step 5 and the strip is crooked, you might not be able to fix it. This method ensures you can fix it.

Step 8: Put the back of the frame on and attach a power source

Adding the power source isn’t terribly difficult to understand. It may take some time and patience if you want to get it looking good, though. First consider the size of your power source and where you want to place it. I decided on the back of the stand. After that, you probably want to get a place for the power switch. To avoid stray wires, I put my switch right on the stand. You have to have some thicker frame backing, but most all of them should do OK. I just cut a small hole using an exacto knife for an R13-603 switch I picked up from Radio Shack (I needed it fast). The switch itself is poor quality and I don’t recommend it, but it works.

You’ll want to attach the back of the frame at this point, so make sure you have whatever content in the frame that you want. It will be harder to put something in later on when all the wires are connected.

The On/Off switch all alone

The On/Off switch all alone

The On/Off switch embedded into the back of the frame stand

The On/Off switch embedded into the back of the frame stand - I colored it with a black sharpie to disguise the bright metal a little bit

After you get a hole for the switch, you’re ready to put in the battery. As you can see on mine, I placed the battery in a plastic “housing.” The top of the housing has a 90 degree angle which allowed me to hot glue the battery clip on. I wanted to be able to replace the battery. If you do something like this, make sure you glue it with a battery attached to the clip so you’re sure you have enough room for a battery!. Once you have the clip attached, just hot glue the housing to the frame. This method works quite well.

Step 9: Hook it all up

At this point I have everything connected with two wires coming from my LED circuit, and two wires coming from my battery. For the ground wires, I just wrapped them together and put some solder on. For the power wires, you need to connect them to a switch. If you do things my way, don’t expect to have enough room under the switch. You will have to have the switch removed and run the other two wires through the hole you created. Cut them short enough so that when you put the switch in, they don’t stick out, but long enough to work with.

I had some trouble with my switch. The leads are very close and they shorted together at first due to some stray wires. This of course isn’t a big deal since all that does is turns the light on – no harm done. I had to go back and smooth things out. If you want to be extra cautious, once you have your wires connected, just put some hot glue over them as a protective coating.

Step 10: Admire

That’s it! Now you have everything connected and ready to go. Prop your frame up and admire it. Maybe you’ll use the light, maybe not. Regardless, it’s neat to have a light and you can impress your friends. Alternatively, you could use this as a night light frame, but you would probably want to get a DC power adapter or you’d run through a lot of batteries ;).

Frame with lights off during the day

Frame with lights off during the day

Frame with lights on during the day

Frame with lights on during the day

Frame with lights off during the night - its very dark

Frame with lights off during the night - its very dark

Frame with lights on during the night

Frame with lights on during the night

Admittedly, the lights would work better if there were just a picture or flatter frame content. The breadboard creates some undesirable shadows. Still, it’s neat and it’s not difficult to take out the breadboard and put in something else. Enjoy!

1 Comment »

  1. […] DIY Light-Up Picture Frame […]

    Pingback by DIY DC Power Strip « Broken Remote — April 6, 2009 @ 10:59 am

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