How to Make a DIY Shadow Box

Deer in the diorama

Caylin Harris


Getting Started

Think of this like your favorite grade school assignment but upgraded. Instead of the solar system, you're setting a charming holiday scene that can be used as holiday decor and added to over the years. For the person who has everything, this simple DIY could also make a charming gift. Figure out your theme first so you can buy all of the necessary supplies—do you want to go minimal and Scandinavian or merry and bright? Once you've decided, you're ready to get started on crafting your own.

Gather Your Supplies

Diorama supplies
Caylin Harris

Here's what you'll need to make this project on your own:

  • Shadow box, box, or basket
  • Snow roll
  • Mini fake trees in different sizes
  • Extra tissue paper
  • Mini sleds
  • Mini deer
  • Hot glue gun
  • Extra hot glue sticks

Some shadow boxes feel a little too extra and many aren't deep enough to put several little things inside without it looking overcrowded. If you need to, opt for a non-traditional box that fits your scene better. Also, don't marry yourself to the idea that these scenes need to look hyper realistic. You're not getting graded on accuracy here, it's more important that scene looks good overall.

Create Your Backdrop

Create the backdrop
Caylin Harris

The important thing is to remember with this craft is to work in layers. Start from the back and work your way forward. Here, we're keeping the natural wood tone. Adding in a paper layer with skies or trees tends to cheapen the whole look so we avoided that. Create some rolling hills by crumpling up the extra tissue paper and placing it underneath the snow roll. Glue these pieces in place as needed for extra security.

Add the Trees In

Mini trees in a box
Caylin Harris

Play with the layout by swapping your artificial trees in and out. For a more nuanced look arrange different size trees inside, placing some towards the back of your box or frame and some towards the front. Once you're completely satisfied with the positioning of the trees, use your hot glue gun to affix the bottoms of the trees to the bottom of the container. If needed add some small pieces of snow roll to cover the base of the trees.

Add the Finishing Details

Add in detail pieces
Caylin Harris

Again, feel out placement before you pick up your glue gun. Play with scale as well; think about what would appear smaller because it's in the distance versus what would be larger because it's closer. A few deer with sweet details like a red nose for Rudolph tucked into the back would look especially cute. Then up close could be a larger red wooden sled with a pile of presents on top of it nestled near the trees. When you're satisfied with the overall look and feel of your scene, start hot gluing. Start from the bottom items and work your way up, gluing things together as needed so they hold.

In this case, less is more for these scenes. That and keeping the scale of the objects inside in mind really helps create a magical look. Don't be afraid to think outside the traditional shadowbox shape either. A simple tight weave basket, a tin, or even a jar can create magical little scenes inside. Use your imagination or make this a yearly tradition where you create a new one until you have several to cluster together.