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Making a Custom Display Box

Have something unique that you want to show off? Make a custom display box or shadow box in a fun way!

  1. Organize Your Items
  2. Build the Frame
  3. Add Embellishments

1. Organize Your Items

This project isn’t about replicating the box for this vintage R2-D2. I imagine that not many people (except me) don’t need to hang this one the wall. But I’m sure you have some kind of keepsake, family heirloom, or significant memento that could be displayed brilliantly on the wall. Things like military medals, sports memorabilia, or vintage toys may all need a custom display case. For a Star Wars nerd like me, I wanted to make a display box for my R2 model as if it were something straight out of a galaxy far, far away. But the first step in any display box is to measure the space needed to adequately show off the important items.

In my case, I wanted the model’s instructions to hide in the back of the case. This rectangular form factor was good, because I planned on showcasing the model’s pieces individually as well as a completed R2. To make the display feel like a cool Star Wars relic, I made two rectangular boxes from foam core and would let the face plate divide them in a cool way. After I had the boxes overall dimensions and how I was going to display the items, I could cut the foam core, making sure to leave room for a margin, and glue it together with hot glue.

2. Build the Frames

If you plan on hanging your display box on the wall or want it to last at all, you should use more than foam core and hot glue. These boxes will be slid into more durable outer boxes. You could use really nice hardwoods like walnut or cherry or you could paint the boxes to match a certain look. I used MDF (medium density fiberboard) for my display box because it accepts paint well. I cut the walls and the back panel on the table saw and glued them together using brad nails to hold them in place.

The front of the display box would also be made from 1/2″ MDF, but I wanted to add some decorative elements to it. This piece will act as a face frame, and a divider for the two display areas I mentioned earlier. While you totally could just cut out the spaces for the display items, I wanted to add a little bit of sci-fi flare. Instead of cutting out a boring ole rectangular shape, it is common the space-age panels on ships have 45 degree corners, so that’s what I chose. I have to admit, it did look pretty cool. I also left a space above the full R2 model for a cool panel that we’ll add in the next section.

3. Add Embellishments

Besides a coat of subtle metallic paint, I wanted this display box to look like it came out of the Star Wars universe. A common model-making trick to add spacey flare is to attach random industrial doo-dads or greebles. My Star Wars greebles panel would have some typical red and white square buttons, some benign toggle switches, and a few metal knobs and bushings. I was really happy with this decorative panel and it really set this project off in its Star Wars theme. For your display box, you can add fun things like this to the exterior to highlight the overall project. Many times the items inside the box are the focal point, but don’t be afraid to extend interest to the outside as well.

Look Cool Inside and Out!

I am really happy with this custom display box! Not only was I able to figure out a fun way to display this R2-D2 model kit, I could do it in a cool vessel. Display boxes show respect and reverence for something important to you, but they don’t have to be a bland tomb. Think outside of a shadow box. Ha, see what I did there? But seriously, tell a story with your display in a way that stretches your imagination and uses fun elements that add to a cool theme.