Square format digital photo frame project
by Graham Jupp - 17th March 2009
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fact that digital photo frames sales have been increasing rapidly
over the last few years there remains several hurdles to overcome
before they are more widely accepted as the preferred method for
displaying our treasured photos.
The first hurdle
lies in the fact that the appearance of most digital frames is downright
tacky and whilst they may receive a few days use when they are first
unwrapped at Christmas, they are quickly relegated to a drawer or
perhaps doomed to be displayed on a mantelpiece sporting a perpetual
black screen. No matter how nice a frame may look, if they are not
ever powered on they may as well be a brick. Hopefully the image
above of my modified digital frame is enough to whet your appetite
to read on.
a digital frame you usually have a choice between a cheap looking
faux timber outer frame or perhaps a glossy futuristic product emblazoned
with the manufacturer's logo and costing an arm and a leg, for some
reason the remote IR sensor also seems to feature prominently on
the majority of frames, something which I find detracts even further
from their appearance.
For my own needs,
I wanted a frame that had a reasonable screen size and resolution
(4:3, 8 inches, and at least 800x600 res). I also wanted it to have
an elegant outer frame that matched the decor of my house and wouldn't
feel too out of place if I decided to wall mount it. The final requirement
was that it needed to be affordable, under AUD$150 if possible.
Eventually I found a frame that met the technical requirements and
price that I was after, unfortunately it lacked a little in the
looks department and so the idea was born that I would modify it
to suit my own needs.
By chance I
happened upon a bargain 8 inch/800x600 frame in 4:3 format at my
local Big W store, the brand was one I hadn't heard of before, "Digital
Decor" and the product itself simply has a product number in
the manual stating FFN503 (There was no product number on the box
itself). The sale price was a very affordable $98 and amongst its
technical specs it had an interesting feature that caught my eye.
The device came with 2 removable frames, one black and one brown.
I had been thinking of modding a digital frame into a traditional
frame of my own choice and this product seemed to tick all the boxes
as the removable frame feature would make it easier when undertaking
frame I had chosen to pair with the digital product was readily
available from IKEA and also had a feature which is not something
you would normally associate with digital frames. The IKEA frame
was SQUARE format. Yes I had decided to insert a 4:3 frame into
a SQUARE frame and document the process for the benefit of square
format image lovers the world over. Square format photos have a
wonderful feel and its often easy to crop photos to this format
without cutting out too much detail.
So set yourself
aside an hour or two and let's get started on the project.
Digital Decor 8" 4:3 frame (Product No: FFN503) 800x600. Try
Big W or Target if within Australia. If you cannot find this particular
frame in your area then look for something of similar size and with
removable frames if possible, ideally it should also have a "step"
around the outer edge of the LCD section if possible, remove any
existing outer frame to check this. This digital frame is 20cm x
16cm when the outer frame is removed, anything larger may cause
problems. Approx retail cost AUD$150 however I picked it up as a
"managers special" for AUD$98.
I'm currently using a 1GB SD card for storing my photos. Once photos
are reduced to 800x600 the card fits around 5000 images. Cost approx
"Ribba", available IKEA stores AUD$12.95
Solid birch, Clear lacquer
Front protection: Glass
Passe-partout (Matteboard): Paper
Back panel: Fibreboard
Width: 25 cm
Height: 25 cm
Picture, width: 23 cm
Picture, height: 23 cm
Passepartout inside meas. W: 12 cm
Passepartout inside meas. H: 12 cm
Depth: 34mm (not mentioned on IKEA website)
I've used a generic brand silicone purchased from a discount store
for around AUD$3. Colour choice is optional but I have used black
in this tutorial.
Use for sealing backboard after cutting to prevent flaking
and fibre dust.
Jigsaw (coping saw or mini hacksaw will suffice).
Drill and bits
Pen or Pencil
2 metre Length of lightweight string/cotton or fishing line with
small weight attached to one end (a screw will do).
starting, be sure to read the entire procedure just in case you
have any problems. It is better to pre-empt problems before they
occur rather than at the final step. Before purchasing the Digital
Decor frame used in this tutorial I suggest you read the "limitations"
topic towards the bottom of this page. In general it is a good product
but does have a few bugbears which may or may not receive an update
Here's how our trusty frame started life. It came with 2 removable
frames made from craftwood, one stained brown and the other black
(note that these removable frames are 4:3 aspect NOT square although
it may appear so in the image above). Notice the IR receiver eye
visible at the bottom of the frame (a pet hate of mine and visible
on most digital frames I've seen). I think we can do better. In
this tutorial we are using a Digital Decor 8" 4:3 frame (Product
No: FFN503) purchased at Big W in NSW Australia (Full retail price
chosen a digital frame with a removable frame surround which is
ideal for this modification. We start simply by removing the existing
frame has a "step" around the outside which will prove
helpful when it comes to fixing it to a new frame. The green dotted
line shows the size of the hole we will need to cut into the backboard
of the new frame in order to slot it in. The lower step will be
the area that is eventually glued to the backboard with silicone.
The step also ensures that we can fit the LCD panel close to the
matteboard so that there is very little gap between the matteboard
and the LCD surface (approx 2mm).
the IR Remote Receiver at the bottom of the screen, this will be
covered by the matteboard but should still work with a reduced range
(but a nicer appearance). Its an interesting side note that the
IR remote will work through 2mm of cardboard.
we see the new frame or "Ribba" as those Swedes prefer
to say, purchased from Ikea and generally available at Ikea stores
worldwide. I've chosen this frame as it has a solid wooden frame
with deep edges (35mm deep) to contain most of the LCD panel without
sticking out too far from the wall when mounted. The matteboard
cutout section is exactly 120mm x 120mm and fits the LCD display
area with only about 1mm to spare so its important that your measurements
are fairly exact when undertaking this modification.
the cutout is square and our LCD panel is rectangular (4:3 aspect)
part of the left and right hand sides of the screen will be covered
by the matteboard and therefore not visible. Using this 800x600
panel as an example, we are left with 600x600 pixels viewable. However,
what we lose in horizontal screen size we make up for in originality
and appearance. When was the last time your saw a square format
digital frame for sale in a store?
the frame over and lift the metal lugs to remove the backboard.
Here I've placed the LCD panel into the frame to test the overall
fit and approximate position. Turn the frame over whilst holding
the LCD in place to get an idea how your LCD looks in relation to
matteboard. If you are using the exact same 8 inch "Digital
Decor" frame as this one it should fit just nicely, however
if you are using another model you may need to have a new matteboard
cut to size if the cutout isn't quite small enough.
you are choosing a different digital frame, ensure that the vertical
height of the LCD screen is no less than 120mm otherwise you will
need a custom matteboard to be cut. Additionally, you don't really
want the height to be much more than 120mm or else you will be wasting
vertical pixels and the unit itself may not fit the new frame. Remember
that you will still need to be able to insert at least some form
of storage card and power cable into the unit so ensure that everything
fits before going to far with this modification.
the matteboard from the frame and place it down directly over the
top of the frame's backboard. Ensure that the backboard is smooth
side up. The matteboard should sit as flush as possible with the
backboard on all sides.
a pen or pencil, mark the location of the 4 corners of the cutout
onto the backboard as indicated by the arrows. Try to be as accurate
as possible but take care not to mark the matteboard itself.
the matteboard and use a ruler and pen to connect the 4 marks you
made in the previous step. You should be left with a square 120mm
x 120mm. If you are using a digital frame other than the one mentioned
here you can then use this square as a starting point for measuring
out the section you will need to cut. Since its not possible for
me to be aware of the exact frame you will be using, you will need
to use your own method for deciding where to cut in this case. You
will however need to measure the edges of the digital frame itself
and decide the distance to extend the cut from the square section
and mark those measurements on the backboard ready for cutting.
those of you using the exact same digital frame as in this tutorial
I have included the measurements required to cut the backboard.
The outer green rectangle denotes the area to be cut and removed.
I strongly suggest you double check these measurements against those
of your own digital frame in the likely event that the sizing is
somewhat different. Keep in mind that there may also be some small
variations in the production of the Ikea frame itself which may
lead to the backboard and/or frame being not quite square. Note
the placement of the small notch to be cut so the IR remote signal
can be detected by the receiver. Whilst the signal will go through
cardboard, it wont go through the backboard itself without the hole.
a pilot hole in each corner of the outer cut guides. The hole should
be large enough to fit the jigsaw or coping saw blade. The backboard
material is fairly flimsy and will flake easily on the opposite
side but this can be removed later with a light sanding. You may
also wish to use a larger drill bit to cut out the hole for the
IR receiver, or you can simply use your saw.
on the edge of a bench, insert your electric jigsaw or coping saw
into the pilot hole and proceed to cut out the marked area. This
image shows only one pilot hole, but its best to have a hole at
each corner to make it easier.
the inner edges of the cutout a sand to remove any rough edges.
The board splinters very easily but only takes a light sand to smooth.
You may wish to give the backboard a vacuum or perhaps even seal
the rough side with varnish as the dust from the board can end up
inside the completed frame quite easily.
the completed backboard ready to be inserted back into the frame.
I suggest giving the smooth side a light sand around the inner perimeter
to ensure a better bond with the silicone when applied in the next
step. Insert the digital frame into the cutout to make sure it lines
up correctly and that the IR hole is correctly positioned. You may
also wish to check that the matteboard lines up correctly with the
digital frame positioned in the backboard. Now is the time to fine
tune the cutout if its not quite right. There is a little room for
adjustment once completed but its best to ensure that you get things
the LCD panel and insert the matteboard and modified backboard back
into the frame and lock the board in place with the metal lugs.
Then run a bead of silicone around the perimeter of the cutout,
leaving a break at the IR remote hole. The digital frame used in
this tutorial has a stepped edged that is about twice as deep as
the thickness of the backboard, so in this case I used a double
height bead of silicone, applying first one layer and then another
layer on top of the first bead (don't let either bead set). This
ensures that the silicone makes a good contact with the digital
frame once it is inserted into the cutout hole. The overhang of
this particular digital frame is less than 10mm so be careful not
to apply the silicone too far from the inner edge.
finished. After applying the silicone beading, insert the digital
frame into the cutout section taking care to line it up carefully
before pushing down with a slight pressure. Be careful not to get
any silicone on the actual LCD panel itself. Remember that you are
pushing onto glass so don't press too hard. You may wish to turn
the frame over at this stage whilst holding the unit in place just
to check that everything has lined up correctly.The silicone beading
should push out a little from the edges of the digital frame if
its making good contact. If this is not the case you may need to
remove the the unit and apply some extra silicone.
place a heavy book onto the back of the digital frame to apply a
little extra pressure whilst the silicone is setting. Remember,
nothing too heavy as you don't want to accidentally crack the glass.
Leave the silicone to set for about 24 hours (check the recommended
curing time on the tube).
your frame is complete you will likely want to mount it on a wall
rather than storing it in a drawer. You can see from the angled
image above that the modified frame does not extend much more from
the wall than it usually would if it had a still image inside. If
you are wall mounting the frame you may also want to hide the unsightly
power cable from view. If you have a timber framed home with a cavity
in the walls the cable can be hidden within in the wall cavity with
the aid of an electrician who should be able to advise you as to
the best and safest method to do this. I would very much like to
describe the technique here as the procedure is quite easy however
due to dangerous voltages being involved I think its best if you
contact an expert rather than have this tutorial subjected to legal
NOT ATTEMPT ELECTRICAL WORK YOURSELF IF NOT QUALIFIED
TOUCHING LIVE WIRES MAY CAUSE INJURY OR DEATH.
hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and I look forward to receiving
your emails regarding your own projects. If you have used the tutorial
to re frame your own Digital photo frame then I would love to hear
from you. I will feature some of the best user submitted creations
on this page. Email email@example.com
Decor frame limitations
I'm generally very pleased with the display quality of the screen
there are a few annoyances with this particular model. There is
a facility to upgrade the firmware/software on the frame which could
potentially fix some of these issues however I'm not holding my
breath for a fix any time soon even though I have made the supplier
aware of the issues. Perhaps if a large number of purchasers contact
the supplier we may see an update.
view images by folder. All images are lumped into one big folder
even if you have separated them on the storage device.
Power on/off feature bug. If you set the screen to power down
during a PM hour and then set it to restart at an AM hour it will
restart immediately upon shutting down. A workaround is to incorrectly
set your clock so that AM is actually PM. Alternatively, set your
screen to auto shutdown just after midnight and then restart when
you wake up.
auto resume of last task upon auto restart. Whilst you can set
your screen to turn off and wake up at a certain hour, it will
default to the main menu upon restarting. It would have been much
handier if it could have started the slideshow automatically once
it restarted, thus making it a "set and forget" appliance.
As it is now I have to manually start the slideshow each morning
with a push of a remote button.
way to turn screen on or off via remote control. Whilst you can
set the timer to do this for you (if it worked properly) I have
no idea why the remote design doesn't include a power button.
lose the remote. Should you misplace the remote or if it should
suddenly die, it is not possible to adjust all setup options via
the buttons on the frame (there are no up and down buttons needed
to navigate the setup screen). So treat that remote nicely.
battery backup for internal clock. Whilst the screen will retain
its settings if you pull the mains plug the clock will actually
stop at the time it loses power and restart again once connected.
This means if you unplug the unit or suffer a power outage for
an hour then the clock will be one hour behind.
To save space and for best image results its usually best to resize
your images to the native resolution of the screen. In this particular
tutorial and product selection that will mean 800x600. At first
I made the mistake of resizing my images to 600x600 as this is roughly
the visible area through the matteboard cutout. However this resulted
in the screen stretching the images horizontally for me which was
not the result I desired. I decided to crop all my images to 620
wide by 600 high and then add some black space to the left and right
of the image as filler taking the actual image size back to 800x600.
I used 620 as I wanted a 10pixel buffer either side under the matteboard.
drive wont fit:
Depending on which screen you decide to use, you may find that your
USB drive or longer memory cards such as Memory Stick may not fit
correctly or may be visible outside the frame area. I suggest using
an SD card as they are both cheap and compact. If you don't have
an SD card reader/writer in your PC remember that you can connect
the screen to your computer using a USB cable and use it to write
directly to the card (this is the case with the Digital Decor frame,
please check to make sure this is possible with the frame you choose).
If you really cant do without the USB facility, perhaps buy a short
USB extension cable and reposition the USB drive somewhere behind
the screen. Miniature USB drives are also available which may fit.
Remote Control range:
Whilst the remote control will likely work straight through the
matteboard of the frame (surprisingly) you may find that the range
decreases substantially particularly if the remote battery has a
low charge. To increase the range, you may wish to carve out a small
depression on the reverse side of the matteboard immediately in
front of the IR receiver. Start by using a very sharp scalpel blade
(hobby knife) to cut a small square into the matteboard about 5mm
x 5mm. However do NOT cut right through the board, the idea is to
not see the hole from the front side. Once you have cut the square,
proceed to peel off the top layer of the cardboard in the area of
the square, if you are careful you should be able to dig out a depression
allowing a better range for the remote control.
LCD viewing angle when mounted high on a wall:
Most LCD panels perform poorly when viewed from an angle
below the level of the screen. Manufacturers assume that you will
more likely to be looking down on a screen rather than looking up
from below. This is particularly noticeable when you are close to
the screen. If you intend to wall mount the frame well above the
height of the average person you may find that the screen appears
very dark. One possible way around this is to rotate the frame 180
degree as the viewing angle will increase. You will need to attach
the supplied wire to the frame in this case, rather than using the
inbuilt hanging notch on the back of the screen itself. YOu will
also need to rotate all your images before uploading to the screen.
Another alternative is to ensure that the frame leans out from the
wall slightly when you mount it. This provides a little more viewing
angle, particularly for people who may be height challenged. :)
inside the frame:
The backboard is prone to shed fibres and dust especially
once cut. Give the board and frame a good vacuum before assembling.
You may also wish to seal the board itself with a varnish as this
will help keep the dust contained.
of digital frame are visible within the matteboard cutout:
This tutorial requires that your measurements are fairly
accurate as there is not much room for error. However if you find
your frame is not correctly centred you have several options. The
easiest option is to move the matteboard and or backboard slightly
until you have a good fit and then lock the board into place with
the lugs, generally you have a few mm to work with if it doesn't
line up initially. If this fails, cut a new backboard and repeat
the process or have a framing shop cut a new matteboard with a slightly
smaller cutout section to cover the error. because you are using
silicone rather than glue, removing the old backboard and silicone
should not be too hard if you don't get it right first time around.
the colour of the outer frame:
Whilst the Birch timber frame may be nice for most uses,
it may not suit the decor of your home. Ikea do sell a similar version
of the frame in several colours including black and white, however
you could easily apply a coat of spraypaint to the wooden frame
yourself if you wanted to add some extra colour such as bright red
or green for instance, keep in mind that neutral colours will likely
work best as the images in your frame will likely be of different
colours and may not match your frame colour choice. A rough whitewash
might also be an interesting idea. If you wish to stain the timber
a darker colour, you would first need to give the frame a light
sanding to remove the coat of varnish before applying a stain of
You may wish
to add some extra life to the outer frame by gluing different materials
or objects to the timber. Stones, shells, sticks, beetles, sand,
cloth, buttons, metal offcuts, fake fur etc will all add to the
individuality of your new digital frame. Alternatively you could
try your hand at decoupage and apply photos and magazine cutouts
to the out frame and then seal with varnish.
Because the outer frame itself is reasonably cheap you could purchase
several and create different frames to suit your moods, simply swap
out the modified digital frame and backboard and place it in the
the frame as a "stage":
all have one thing in common. When turned off and you are left with
a very boring black screen. What if we could create a frame that
will also hold interest in its off state. We can do this by placing
objects in front of the LCD screen itself but behind the matteboard,
perhaps a dried fern leaf, a collection of woolen threads of varying
colours, a paper cutout of a scene (tall birds, trees, snowman,
bull rushes) etc. These will of course obscure the image somewhat
when the screen is turned on but some interesting effects can be
achieved depending on what images you decide to show in the background.
For instance you might show a collection of rainforest images if
you were using a real fern leaf in the foreground.
you wish to add even more effect to the idea of using the frame
as a stage, perhaps consider installing the screen into a deeper
frame whereby the LCD is set back a few cm from the matteboard.
This will allow you to place thicker objects in the space between
the LCD and the matteboard. You could then create a colourful scene
of perhaps a "twig" forest (perhaps painted yellow or
white for contrast against the black LCD when it is off. Your display
images might be a collection of sunset photos or perhaps rainbow
skies thus creating an interesting ever changing backdrop for your
creation. Another interesting idea is to use florist wire to mount
small shells or a starfish in front of the LCD and display beach
or coral reef scenes in the background.
the frame as a light box:
By printing or
painting a design or image onto quality tracing paper and placing
them immediately in front of the LCD panel its possible to create
a light box effect when the screen is turned on, and still have
a nice image displayed when the screen is off. The images you choose
to display on the LCD screen could simply be solid bright white
to backlight the tracing paper image, or you can strategically place
large dots of white behind sections of the paper image that you
wish to light. having several of these images running looping in
quick succession results in a "twinkling" effect which
can be quite useful. Some ideas might be to print a front on photo
of an old hotrod car and place an image of two white dots on the
LCD panel behind where the headlights are. This gives the effect
of the lights turning on and off. Another suggestion which I have
tried is to print a photo of a pinball playfield and place coloured
light spots in the digital image behind. When you play several varying
"backlight" images in succession the effect is very nice
particularly in a darkened room.
ideas for square format images:
There is plenty
of subject matter that looks fantastic when cropped to square format
although of course there are some exceptions. For instance, a photo
of a large group of people standing side by side at a wedding is
not usually a good candidate for cropping unless the photo was originally
taken with this in mind and framed accordingly.You will need to
leave substantial space at the sides of group shots if you want
to include it in a square frame.
personally have a strong interest in Pinball, and the square format
frame is perfect for displaying the backglass art of a pinball table.
The art is usually square to start with and hence lends itself perfectly
to being displayed on a square format digital photo frame.
good subject matter includes close up plant and flower photography,
rocks, sunsets, buildings, textures, faces... with some creative
cropping and some forethought when taking the picture you will come
up with some fantastic candidates for inclusion on your new frame.
Why not purchase
some blank matteboard and cut out your own creative shapes though
which your images will shine through. The images you display on
the screen might be just a series of alternating solid colours (invader
changes from green to blue to red etc), or perhaps colour gradients,
textures or actual photo images. Here's some mockup ideas to get
you started. With the first invader image you will need to stick
the eye squares on to either the inside of the glass or perhaps
to the LCD directly using an easy to remove glue (try a small area
first to make sure it can be easily removed). You could also create
the eyes on the actual digital image itself and have them move around
or blink. Dont forget that you can also display video on most frames
so this could be an interesting project. Two or three of these frames
in a series side by side or vertical would look very cool.
X-Acto Econo Swivel Knife or similar product should make the cutting
of curves somewhat easier.
Hopefully I have encouraged you to try your own frame modification.
I would love to hear how you went with your project, the type and
brand of frame you used etc. This will enable me to build up a list
of suitable frames to use. Send me an image of your completed frame
and I'll post some of the best ones here (keep the images under