Crafty: Make blank walls pop with low-cost prints

Engineering prints require a small amount of effort and very little money. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth


  • Large format image
  • Foamcore or balsa wood strips
  • Exacto knife or scissors
  • Spray adhesive
  • Nail, or for no damage to your walls, a removable picture hanger (available at Dick Blick) and damage-free hanging strips (the brand Demand makes nice ones, and they are available at hardware stores.

For many, it happens every year beginning in August: the packing of boxes and the shuffle to a new home or apartment. If you were one of those who moved, chances are that by now most of your boxes have been unpacked, allowing you to focus on the fun stuff, like decorating and enjoying your space. For many renters, painting and nailing into walls is off limits, but that shouldn’t mean that your walls stay a blank slate.

Enter the engineering print: A cheap art project that requires very few tools. Up close, the engineering print looks a bit pixelated—you can pick out dots in shades of gray, black and white. From a distance you’ll get the whole picture as things blend into one another. Engineering prints can be printed up to 36-by-48 inches at most copy shops and will run you about $7. Other sizes are available for less, but since it’s so cheap, you might as well go big.

STEP ONE: Find an image

Start by looking through your own catalogue of digital images. If you don’t have one or can’t find something that you like, take a gander on Flickr Creative Commons, where plenty of images are available. Another option is to find an old printed photo or something pulled from a magazine or book. Scan your image at high resolution, 300 dpi, and size it to 38-by-48 inches. If you’ve got access to Photoshop or another photo-editing software, convert your photo to grayscale. To avoid printing in a lot of gray tones, bump up the contrast in your photos so the blacks and whites pop.

STEP TWO: Bring your image to life

When you are happy with your image, it’s ready to go to the printer. At some printing shops, like Zephyr Printing, you can upload your image file to the copy shop’s website and describe the details of your order. Make sure to specify that you want your image printed on 24-pound bond paper.

Use foamcore or strips of balsa wood to give your print some structure. — photo by Frankie Schneckloth

STEP THREE: Give your photo some structure

Once you have your image, its time to give it some structure so that it hangs nicely and will stay flat.

First, decide how you want the image to look on your wall. I like the idea of a full-bleed (printing to the edge) print without a border, so I trimmed the white margins.

The finished product! — photo by Frankie Schneckloth

Now it’s time to make the structure. I adhered strips of foamcore on the back side to maintain its shape. If you wanted something lightweight but more sturdy, use a solid sheet of foamcore to glue to the back of the print. You can also use strips of balsa wood (available at most hardware stores) for a slightly more substantial framework. Both materials are easy to cut with scissors or an exacto knife.

To create the foamcore frame, measure two strips of foamcore the length of your top and bottom edges and cut them to be two inches wide. Spray the strips with spray adhesive and place along the length of the print at both the top and bottom, making sure the corners line up and the paper lies flat.

STEP FOUR: Hang your photo

Once the glue has set, you can attach a plastic picture hanger on the top length of foamcore. Decide where you want to hang your print; hammer in a nail or adhere a damage-free hanging strip; and place the picture hanger on top of the nail.

The end result is a very casual, inexpensive way to dress up a blank wall.

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