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Easy Ways to Make Dioramas or Models for School or Group Projects

Build Your Own Roomboxes, Backdrops and Miniatures for School Model Projects


Dioramas and models can be a fun way to meet course requirements or display a concept for a class project. This list of miniatures and displays can help you create a range of inexpensive parts to fill out your diorama or model scene. You might also find a new way to show "How I spent My Summer Vacation".

1. Build an Easy Roombox or Display Box From Bookboard or Illustration Board

The exterior of a book board box is covered with paper for strength.
Photo ©2008 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Instead of using a shoebox for your model display, build a custom sized display box or roombox from bookboard (Davey board) an inexpensive form of cardboard available from art supply stores. A custom built roombox is easy to make and lets you show your skills while you create a custom sized showcase for your model.

If you need to use roombox building components (windows or doors) decide on the scale you will be working in, based on the main pieces you need for your model. Common scales for school and club projects include:

  • 1:12 scale - common dollhouse figures and accessories are available, as well as common building parts, windows and doors.
  • 1:24 scale - smaller dollhouse figures and building parts are available, or you can use a range of items from toymakers Playmobil or Schleich, or "G" scale railroad items.
  • 1:48 scale - smaller scale dollhouse buildings and parts, "0" scale train buildings and scenery, as well as 28mm gaming figures can be used.

2. Build a Breakaway Box with Hinged Sides

Open breakaway box for a scale display showing two hinged drop down sides.
Photo copyright 2010 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

If your display or model project needs to be stored between displays, a break away box with hinged sides that fold up to fit under the lid is often a good way to display model scenes. This break away box is built from Davey board or Illustration board like the roombox, but has fold down sides which can be used for extra display space.

3. Make Custom Miniature Doors For Roomboxes and Scenes

Simple dolls house door with window and panel trim.
Photo © 2011 Lesley Shepherd

These instructions show you how to make miniature doors which you can use for opening or fixed doors in dolls house or other scale model scenes. If you are working in smaller scales, you can use the same method to make the doors out of lightweight card or illustration board.

The instuctions show the door made with a half window, but you can modify the design to make panelled doors with simple bevelled panels, or make french doors with muntins, or full glass panels.

4. Make Fixed or Opening Windows For Your Diorama and Roomboxes

Opening casement window for a dolls house
Photo © 2011 Lesley Shepherd

Miniature windows are constructed very similar to doors, and the pin hinging system for windows also works well for doors. These instructions show you how to make fixed or opening windows which can be made with regular strip craftwood, lightweight card, and thin plastic. By adjusting your technique you can make the windows in many sizes and scales. You can make modern windows, or add tiny wooden muntin strips to mimic older windows.

5. Build a Simple Backdrop Support for a Miniature or Model Scene

A flat wall made from foamcore against a backdrop support makes a set for photographing miniatures
Photo Copyright 2011 Lesley Shepherd

This basic backdrop support was designed for use in photographing miniatures. You can use it to photograph model scenes, or as a backdrop for indoor or outdoor scenes and dioramas. Made from inexpensive foam core board, it is easy to build in the size you need for your display.

6. Make Simple Water Features From Easy to Find Materials

Scale 'fish food' on the water surface makes this simple dollhouse pond extremely realistic.
Photo © 2011 Lesley Shepherd

You can make realistic ponds and water features for model diplays using acrylic paints, a sheet of recyled plastic packaging, and some dry floral arrangement foam. If you need the effect of water in a model, this is an easy way to build rivers, lakes and pools. As the 'water' isn't solid, you can arrange fish and plants on the bottom of your pond before you finish it off with the upper water layer.

7. Make Simple Miniature Furniture Pieces

Dolls house scale kitchen table ready for final sanding and finishing.
Photo copyright 2010 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

The instructions for this range of simple pieces of miniature furniture includes how to make beds, armoires, tables, chairs, bookcases and fireplaces made from craft wood, as well as tables and chairs made from twigs or craft sticks. The pieces are shown in 1:12 scale but they can be made smaller or larger to fit your model scene. There are also a range of simple painted finishes that can help you turn wood or plastic into faux mahogany, granite or traditional antique finishes for wood.

8. Make Miniature Food

Dollhouse doll holding two ice cream cones.
Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Miniature food can be made from a range of materials including polymer and air dry clays, as well as paper and florist's foam. This list gives you lots of ways to make food, candy and junk food items, as well as food display pieces, like bottles and flasks made from beads.

9. Make Printable Miniatures, Including Shop Boxes and Wallpapers

Dollhouse scale table decorated for a fair with flag themed draping in red, white and blue.
Photo copyright 2009 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

You can print a wide range of miniatures using a printer and fold and glue them into three dimensional models. This list has everything from free wallpapers and photo backdrops to go behind windows, to fabric designs, flag drape bunting, paper plates, photo cakes, kitchen containers, and a popcorn machine. To print the miniatures you need to determine which scale you need, and whether you should print the miniatures out on regular paper or lightweight card or photo paper.

10. Make Miniature Animals and Birds

The wire legs and feet of a miniature seagull are set in place under its body.
Photo copyright 2010 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

Animals can add life to a model scene. This list gives you instructions for small stuffed bears and a hippopotamus, needlefelted sheep, dogs, and raccoons, and birds, fish and animals modelled from air dry or polymer clay.

11. Make Poseable Miniature Dolls and Figures

A doll house doll showing the wire armature wrapped with batting.
Photo ©2008 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

If you need a particular figure for your scene there are several easy ways to model people, or just make heads and hands you can attach to pipe cleaners before you add clothes. You can model figures in several scales from polymer clay, air dry clay or two part epoxy putty to add to your diorama. There are also instructions for how to make a simple witch from printable paper parts, including a paper bead for her head. You can modify the witch instructions to make other figures that wear gowns or clothing that covers their feet. If you need to make a particular person, Shakespeare or Lincoln for example, make sure you have a photograph to look at while you work.

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