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Picture Framing Magazine - November 2017

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Building A Custom Military Shadow Box Display

When military personnel retire they are often presented with a custom display case to store their national flag, medals, and other marks of honor.

Shadow boxes are used by every branch of the United States military, by armed services and civilian agencies worldwide, but their origin lies in naval tradition.

Over time shadowboxes have evolved to more complex, ornate, and more beautiful designs.

Military Memories and More Custom Picture Framing has developed a unique way of building shadowboxes allowing them to stand out among the rest of the industry. The typical military shadowbox has one large opening for placing your items within. Our shadowboxes are specifically designed around what is going into the display. Separate windows are cut in various shapes allowing the awards or any other special memento to stand out and make its own statement. We believe it makes a display look more defined and classy looking. Each Customer provides us a list of items and awards they want in the design, we then work our magic and turn it into a work of art.

Getting STARTED:

After receiving the items that will be placed in the display, the design process begins. We use a CMC machine and software to lay out our ideas and cut the final mats for our project. The different shaped windows for medals, ribbons and patches add a splash of uniqueness and gives that one of a kind look to the display.

Military honors and medals are displayed in order of precedence and any additional items such as patches, coins, caps, etc. are placed throughout to balance out the display.

Our CMC machine allows us to go a step further in designing a window the same shape as an object being placed in the display. One example would be a patch or a beret.

Building The Shadow Box Display:

The overall thickness of the display depends on the deepest item being placed within. Not all items can be set in that depth such as pictures, ribbons, coins, etc. Various levels must be acquired. The picture below shows how the photos are brought forward while the medals and patches are recessed.

We cut 1/2" foam core strips anywhere from 5/16"- 1 1/2" thick to allow the necessary height for the different items. The various strips are then placed and glued with a tacky glue around each window.

We then attach a 3/16" black foam core behind our mat board giving a nice backdrop to attach our items to. Another popular backdrop is suede mat board. We spray the suede board and attach it to the black foam core and then proceed to attach items through both layers.

We attach medals with multipurpose glue and the various patches with a fabric glue.

The black foam core allows the medals, ribbon rack, and all other items with a prong to be pushed in, giving more stability once glued in. It also provides a marking system when you place them with the glue.

You will want to make sure you have plenty of Q-Tips and tooth pics on hand. We prefer Q-tip brand as off brands do not absorb and wipe as easily. Tooth pics will come in to play when you have a device that is not solid such as military rank.

You will need a tiny point to take off any excess glue that may have spilled over onto the mat board.

When using suede mat board as your backdrop it is very important to get it right the first time. If you get glue on the suede you might as well plan on making a new piece. However, there are some cases where you have to put your thinking cap on and come up with something very creative to fix what you have just messed up. Keeping that in mind, we have done this on more than one occasion and some mistakes turn out to be such great ideas we use the same technique again and again. Some of our mishaps have turned out to be some of the most unique looking displays.

An attaching tool such as the “Attach-EZ or just simple fishing line are what we use to secure our heavier items down with. Jackets, Caps, and military cords stay secured best with fishing line. The Attach-Ez also has a couple different lengths and colors of attach-ez to help blend in with the items being tacked down. You can also color the white attach-ez with a marker to hide the plastic and blend it into the project making it nearly impossible for anyone to see.

Once you have all the items glued, dried and secured in the display it is time to build the frame. Sometimes a display will require a deeper frame than the average size shadowbox molding offers. We match the shadowbox molding with the same style and cut one to fit inside the other and secure them together. The stack framing also gives the side profile yet another dimensional, unique, classy look.

Now you are ready for glass and closing it up. It is a must to have your air hose ready for this part. You should go over the entire display looking for smudges, hairs, lint, etc. This might take you several tries but when all said and done; now you can stand back and admire what a beautiful project you have before you.

There is no limit when it comes to building a military shadow box. You can have as little as two medals and a picture, or as big as a military jacket with 15 additional medals and pictures. No matter, the end result is such a rewarding accomplishment that I can honestly say, creating these displays never gets old. 


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234 E. Main St. Knoxville, IL 61448 | USA | (309) 289-0099 | militarymemoriesandmore@yahoo.com