Have you ever seen those little desktop photo cubes that fold and unfold to reveal more and more pictures on each side? If you’re not sure what I mean, check out the video below to see one in action. Pretty cool, right? They fascinate kids and adults alike (myself included), and make wonderful gifts for just about any occasion — birthdays, anniversaries, Mother’s Day, and more — and are especially nice for people who are hard to shop for. Besides that, they’re just plain fun!
If you can’t see the video, try viewing it directly on YouTube.
These photo cubes are not very difficult to make, as long as you know the steps to follow. The instructions I’ve found online are lacking a lot, so I’ve taken some common tips for making these and added a lot of extra hints and instructions to come up with the detailed guide below for making your own. In case you want to work on this project away from your computer, I also created a PDF version of these Magic Folding Cube Instructions that you can download and print.
Gather the supplies
The first thing you’ll need to build this photo cube is 8 wooden cubes that measure 1.5″ on each side. You can often find individual wooden blocks at your local craft store, or visit our Amazon store where we sell sets of 1.5″ blocks perfect for this project.
Before you start, be sure to check the edges of your wood cubes and sand lightly, if needed (we like these flexible sanding sponges) to get rid of any splinters. You may also want to use markers or paint to color the edges of the blocks, because they may end up showing a bit in the finished project. If you choose to do this, use a color that is complementary to your photos or something neutral like white or black.
Now this part is important — you’re also going to need some really strong double-sided adhesive to attach your photos to the blocks. This adhesive will end up serving as hinges between blocks, too, so you need to choose it carefully. I highly recommend using sheets of what’s often called “red liner tape”. We actually sell the perfect double-sided tape sheets in our Amazon store. This stuff is made up of a thin sheet of plastic that’s coated on both sides with a super-sticky adhesive. Besides being the stickiest tape I’ve ever seen, it’s also VERY durable, and thick and flexible enough to make perfect hinges between your blocks that won’t ever tear. You’ll need two 8″ x 11″ sheets of this tape to handle all ten of your photos.
Choosing and printing photos
You will need eight 3″x3″ pictures and two 3″x6″ pictures for this project. These photos can not be printed on typical photo paper, because photo paper is too thick to bend easily and won’t work for this project. Instead, you need to either have color copies made of your photos at the local copy shop, or print the pictures yourself on a thinner paper. We highly recommend you choose a 24-lb, bright white paper that has built-in smudge resistance, such as HP’s Bright White Inkjet Paper.
I have one other tip that will help you with printing. When you print your pictures, if they aren’t coming out as bright or as you’d like, try telling your printer that you are printing on Photo/Glossy paper, rather than ordinary paper. This little lie will cause your printer to push out a lot more ink and your photos will be much bolder, giving you much better results.
Once you’ve selected all your photos and printed them out on proper paper, go ahead and cut them to size, but take note — cut each picture just a bit larger (about 1/16″ to 1/8″ of an inch) than the specified measurement. This extra little bit will help later when your photos have to span the gaps between the blocks. (Trust me, it’ll make sense when you get to that point.) If the pieces end up too big, you can always trim them later with a utility knife or scissors – better safe than sorry!
Preparing the photos
Now that your photos are printed and cut to size, you will need to back them with the double-sided tape. Peel one side of the backing off and arrange your photos on the sticky part you exposed, ensuring that the back of each photo is completely covered in adhesive. Trim the photos again to size. Don’t peel off the other backing layer yet!
Once all of your photos are cut and backed with adhesive, you’ll need to arrange them as indicated in the diagram below. Take note of the numbers in the diagram and assign these numbers to your photos. Then use a paper trimmer or scissors to cut each photo into squares/rectangles as indicated in the picture. For example, cut picture #1 into four squares, #2 into two rectangles, etc. Take care of the photos after you’re cut them, so they don’t get mixed up!
Tip: Since your photos are actually a little larger than the finished size, cut them from the center, rather than just measuring 1.5″ from one side. This will keep the extra paper on all sides, instead of just one or two.
Make a spacer
After trimming your photos, you should have lots of scraps of paper and double-sided tape sheets. You’re going to use some of those scraps to make a spacer that will be used during assembly. Start with three pieces of adhesive that are about 3″ long and 1/2″ wide. Peel the backing off of each piece and stick the three of them together. Then cover the remaining two sticky sides with scraps of your photo paper. Trim the whole thing if needed to get rid of overhanging edges. What you’re created is a spacer that’s just a bit thicker that two layers of photos will be on your cubes. Just hang on to this for now. You’ll need it when we begin assembly.
Assemble the cube
With your photos all cut into the right pieces, you’re finally ready to start assembling the cube!
Start by lining 4 wooden blocks up into a square on the table. Then take the four squares of photo #1 and stick each one to one of the cubes, as seen in the diagram below.
Then take the other four wooden blocks and line them up into a square. You’re going to want to put one rectangle across the top two blocks and then another across the bottom, but wait! We need our spacer! Let’s think about this for a minute… later on, when our blocks are all covered in photos, they’re going to be a little thicker than they are now, right? If we stick a photo across two blocks without accounting for that space first, then later there won’t be room for the photos when we add them. So slide your spacer strip between the blocks, so that it sticks out where the arrows are in the diagram below. Then stick your two rectangles to the blocks as shown.
You’ll also notice, as you try to make your photo reach across the two blocks AND the space, that there’s a reason I had you cut them a tiny bit larger than 3 inches! That extra size will really come in handy for spans like this!
Now turn the set of four blocks with photo #1 on them over, like this:
Take the four blocks with photo #2 on them and place them on top of the four you just flipped, like this:
Ok, time for our first tricky fold. Put your hands on the left and right side of your cube, grabbing 4 blocks with each. Lift the sides up so that the top (photo #2) folds in on itself, as seen below, with the pivot being the red line in the diagram. The result will be all eight blocks laying in a rectangle.
Apply the pieces of photo #3 to the tops of the eight blocks, taking care to use the spacer whenever covering a span of two blocks, as indicated with arrows below:
Now fold the top four blocks down and the bottom four blocks up, with the pivot on the red line in the diagram. Your new photo #3 that you just attached will fold in on itself and become hidden inside. You’ll end up with eight blocks showing in a rectangle.
Apply the pieces of photo #4 to the tops of the eight blocks, taking care to use the spacer whenever covering a span of two blocks, as indicated with arrows below:
Now fold the two leftmost blocks and two rightmost blocks up towards the center, pivoting on the red lines in the diagram. Your new photo #4 that you just attached will become hidden inside. You’ll end up with a cube shape.
Apply the pieces of photo #5 to the tops of the four blocks. You do NOT need the spacer anymore because the blocks underneath already have photos attached to them.
Rotate the entire cube to the left, so that photo #5 moves from the top side to the left side. You will expose a new surface with no photo on it.
Apply the pieces of photo #6 to the tops of the four blocks. Again, you no longer need the spacer strip.
Rotate the entire cube to the left, so that photo #6 moves from the top side to the left side (and #5 is now face-down on the table). You will expose a new surface with no photo on it.
Apply the pieces of photo #7 to the tops of the four blocks. Again, you no longer need the spacer strip.
Rotate the entire cube to the left, so that photo #7 moves from the top side to the left side (and #6 is now face-down on the table and #5 is now on the right). You will expose a new surface with no photo on it.
Apply the pieces of photo #8 to the tops of the four blocks. Again, you no longer need the spacer strip.
Rotate the entire cube to the left, so that photo #8 moves from the top side to the left side. You will now have photo #5 showing on top.
Now rotate again, this time towards you, so that #5 becomes the side closest to you and the top has no photos on it.
Apply the pieces of photo #9 to the tops of the four blocks. Again, you no longer need the spacer strip.
Rotate the entire cube towards you, so that photo #9 moves from the top side to the side closest to you. You will now have photo #7 showing on top. Now rotate again, towards you, so that #7 becomes the side closest to you and the top has no photos on it.
Apply the pieces of photo #10 to the tops of the four blocks. Again, you no longer need the spacer strip.
That’s it! You’re done! To view all the photos, just fold and unfold the cube, revealing a new side with every twist. You can display the cube with any photo showing that you want.
Now you have a custom photo cube that makes a great toy, gift, or even unique commemorative “album”. I made my mother a photo cube last year on Mother’s Day, with pictures of all of her kids and grandkids. Jo made one for her sister-in-law featuring pictures of the family dog. Because they will have 12 sides, you can also make a desk calendar out of them. Now that I think about it, they would even make a lovely, unique bridesmaid gift if made with pictures of the bride and bridesmaid together!
Update! How to achieve a glossy finish
Now that you’ve completed your photo cube, you may be noticing that it has a flat finish and you would like a glossy one. Because the cube needed to fold easily, you had to use a thin paper and couldn’t use glossy photo paper. However, we have developed a technique that will let you give your photo cube the shine it deserves, and also protect it from fingerprints and handling, making it last even longer. Check out our follow-up post titled “New glossy finish for our folding photo cube” for details.