How To Turn An Old Photo Into A Cheap And Easy Piece Of Art

Thank you so much for all your lovely comments on my home office makeover! I was blown away by how kind you all were about the end result, and now I want to invite everybody over to work with me in there and I'll make us all pumpkin spice lattes* for our 4 o'clock treat. (What, you don't have a 4 o'clock treat? Why, sometimes I have a 4 o'clock treat and elevenses—which is, as you might expect, an 11am treat.)

*My pumpkin spice lattes aren't really pumpkin spice lattes, by the way, they're just the poor man's version: basically, I heat up some milk in the microwave, pour in some of the leftover morning coffee, add a vigorous shaking of cinnamon and allspice, whisk everything up with a fork, and—if I'm being really wacky—add a dollop of that whipped cream in a can, although I tend not to be able to be trusted around that in general, really, because I do awful things like spray it onto the back of my hand and then lick it off. (Why did I just confess that? That's what we should be warning the next generation against sharing on the Internet, you know. Never mind those photos of you doing topless Jagerbombs in Cancun, my dear, just don't confess to eating whipped cream from the can. Google never forgets!)  

Anyway, this is not what I wanted to talk about. What I wanted to talk about is how easy it is to take an old photograph you love of your grandmother and blow it up to become a pretty cool thing you can hang on the wall of your office. This is what I did, of course, and I really like how it turned out. And the best part is: it was so easy! No, wait, the best part is: it was so cheap! Okay, those are both the best parts. Either way, I advise that you do this immediately, and now I would like to show you how. Do you remember what mine looked like? It looked like this. 

And with that visual reminder, we are ready to begin. 

1. Choose Your Photo
So first of all, you need to find a photograph you love. I've had this one of my German grandma (the one we call Omi) on my desk for a few years. Look how glamorous she is! Isn't she just so glamorous? So gorgeous in her cat-eye sunglasses and her white shorts! I think she must have been just around my age when this was taken, or maybe just a few years older (but with three kids!), and I love absolutely everything about it. If you have a photograph like this—one that makes you simultaneously happy and sad when you look at it—this is the one you want to blow up. 

The next step is to measure the space you want to hang your photo in, so you can decide how big you want to make it. Here is the caveat: if you are printing this at Kinko's, which is the way I am about to tell you to do it, the widest you can make it is 36 inches across. The good news, however, is that you can make it as long as you want; mine, for example, is 36 inches wide and 55 inches long. Bear in mind, of course, that you will be paying to print this by the square foot, so the bigger you make it, the more it's going to cost, but also bear in mind that you'll only be paying 75 cents a square foot, so it's pretty unlikely that you're going to be bankrupting yourself if you go a few inches longer. 

2. Scan Your Photo
Once you've chosen your photo and figured out how big you want to make your final print, it's time to scan it—and, if necessary, crop the scan a little to make the shape you want. As you can see, my original photo was a square (with a border), but my final project was going to be a rectangle; this meant that I had to crop the image and get rid of the border to make sure it would print at 36x55. 

3. Print Your Photo
Once you've scanned and cropped your image, save it on a disc and head to your nearest Kinko's (or, if you're not in America or don't have a nearby Kinko's, your nearest equivalent: some sort of office/printing store.) Something amazing that I never knew about Kinko's is that they have these crazy big printers; they're just like your normal home printers but they're totally on steroids. Walk in, take your disc to the counter, and tell the person behind it that you want to print the image on a large-format printer. The person will ask you how big, and you—having already determined this, and knowing in advance that the widest you can print on a Kinko's large format printer is 36 inches—will tell the person your measurements. The person will press a button, walk with you over to the large format printer, and hey presto, there's your crazy-big piece of paper coming out of the printer already, just like magic. 

Word to the wise, by the way: print in black and white. If you print in black and white, your photo will end up being 75 cents a square foot at Kinko's. This meant that my photo—as enormous as it was, at 36x55—cost me just $9.74 with tax. (If you print in color, it's $7.50 a square foot. The caveat here, however, is that you can print as wide as 60 inches across. So on the one hand, you can make a crazy, crazy big print if you print on the color printer. On the other, it will cost you a whole lot more to do it. These are California prices, however, and I am unsure about whether they would be the same across the country. And obviously, if you're not doing this at a Kinko's—though if you have one nearby, I promise it is super easy and painless—your mileage will vary.) 

4. Buy Your MDF
Once you have your blown-up photograph rolled up in your hand and you are feeling very pleased about only paying $9.74 for it, it is time to buy your MDF. You can buy a sheet of MDF at a hardware store—I bought mine at Home Depot for $25—and have them cut it right there to the size of your photo. You will undoubtedly have some MDF left over from this, of course, which you should keep for when you make another one of these after you love the first one so much. (If you're really good at planning ahead, make two at once from the same sheet of MDF!) 

5. Prime Your MDF and Paint the Sides
Once you are home with your MDF—I used MDF, by the way, because it was so smooth and a nice half-inch thick, but plywood would be fine too as long as didn't have lots of bumps and gnarls—you are going to want to prime that bad boy. Your priming can be super messy, because you just want to create a surface for the paper to stick to, but you should also paint the edges of your MDF whatever color you want them to be, because those are the parts you're going to see. I painted mine white. 

6. Drill Your Holes
Once everything is dry, which should only take a few hours, you want to drill a hole in each corner of your MDF. This is because you're going to hang it up just like this before you paste your photo onto it. Just work with me here: this way, you're not going to be drilling through paper and risking ripping the whole thing. Even better, if you decide you hate it in a few months, you can just rip this photo down, print something else, and paste it right over the top with the whole thing still drilled into the wall. So go on: drill your holes now. Make them about an inch in from each corner. 

7. Drill Your MDF Into the Wall
Or just get someone else to do it in their gym clothes while you take unflattering pictures of them. You know, either way. 

8. Paste On Your Photo (Yay, This Is The Fun Part!)
Have you ever put up wallpaper? I haven't, but I imagine it's a fairly similar process to this. Basically, you want to cover your MDF—which is now mounted to the wall—with some kind of glue. We used Mod Podge and a roller, but I'm betting you could use spray adhesive if that's just what you had around. Pay careful attention to the edges, because that's really where you want it to stick the most. 

As soon as you've done that, and not a moment after, unroll your printed photo and line it up with the top of your MDF. Get it as straight as you can, then slowly unroll it down over the MDF, pressing and smoothing all the way. 

9. Trim Your Edges, If There Are Edges To Be Trimmed
Somehow, we had a little extra paper on two sides of the MDF, despite the print and the wood both being 36x55. It was only a teeny-tiny amount, but we—by which I mean I, because I'm the one who'd have to look at it all day and let it annoy me—decided to trim it anyway. You can just use a razorblade for this and slice really, really carefully. 

10. Smooth Out the Bubbles
Look, you're not Martha Stewart: there are going to be some bubbles. It's just science that there would be some bubbles. Smooth them out as best you can with your Safeway club card and make peace with the fact that you're not going to get them all. Some bubbles will remain. They won't bug you half as much as you think they might.

And there you have it: you're done! It's not a complicated process at all, despite me managing to break it down into ten steps: it's just printing a really, really big image and sticking it to a piece of wood that you've drilled into the wall, basically, but it does—if I do say so myself—create a rather large impact and for not a whole lot of cash. This project came to about $35 total for me: just under $10 for the print, plus $25 for the wood (of which I only used about half.) I had the primer, white paint, and Mod Podge already, although even if you had to buy those things from scratch, you're probably looking at no more than $50 tops to make this entire thing (with the bonus of supplies left over for other projects.) And it doesn't take a whole lot of time either: you could do it all in a day. 

Any questions? Any thoughts? Any ideas for which picture you might use if you decide to tackle this project yourself? I'd love to see it if you do. As for me, I'm now entertaining ideas of making a whole room full of these. Can you imagine? One grandparent on each wall! 

Oct 28, 2011

Hi Holly,

that is an amazing photo of Omi, she looks so beautiful and carefree. Thanks for sharing xxx

Staci Magnolia
Oct 28, 2011

This is beyond stellar and I can't wait to get my photo/poster on! Thank ya for sharing!

Oct 28, 2011

I have got to try that, and actually, the photograph I want to use is of my grandmother as well.

Oct 28, 2011

Now I have absolutely no reason not to do this. Thank you so much for sharing -- this was my favorite thing about your office redo (although your turquoise things were a close 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc)...

Oct 28, 2011

I love this! Thanks so much for the tutorial. Now I just need to find some free wall space in my apartment...

Oct 28, 2011

What a neat idea - love that it's also easy to replace if the original picture gets tiring.

(Is it inappropriate to covet Sean's arms in the garden with the drill for my husband? I miss when his arms were like that!)

Oct 28, 2011

Oh my, I remember going back to that picture more than a couple of times when reading the home office makeover post as I was really taken with it. I was wondering where you sourced it from and now I know. Love your gran's style.

Oct 28, 2011

Wow- I'm not really caught up on all the recent posts, so I'm probably a bit belated when I say that I LOVE your office! And the picture, your grandma is hot! And I mean that in a completely non-creepy way. Isn't it crazy looking at pictures of our grandparents of when they were young, and they're so pretty and stylish?

Oct 28, 2011

At least you don't shoot the whipped cream straight into your mouth like we do. My 15 month old son even knows what the can looks like, and signs Please when we open the fridge (he loves it so much, he signs it with his whole body! What have I done?!)

Oct 28, 2011

I'm going to make my parents do this with the dozen giant blank walls they still have in their not-so-new-anymore house. LOVE.

Oct 28, 2011

This is great - I already have easy access to MDF cut to any size I want (comes with having a GC for a husband), I have lots of white paint, I have Modge-Podge, I have a wall that needs some art. Now all I need is the perfect photo...let the search begin!

Oct 28, 2011

first of all - GORGEOUS office - i'm drooling.

and i love this project - one day, when i have more wall space!

one tip from a former graphic design student who inhaled more than her fair share of spray mount - i would not advise using it on the pre-mounted MDF - that stuff gets EVERYWHERE and will leave little speckled sticky spots on your beautifully painted walls.

Angella Dykstra
Oct 28, 2011

I LOVE this (and the whole makeover, too!) and may have to do one myself. Love, love, LOVE.

Oct 28, 2011

Ok I've been waiting all day for someone else to say this but it looks like I'm going to have to throw myself on the sword here: what is MDF? Is that wood? Can I just walk into Lowe's and say "MDF!" and they'll know what I'm talking about? I...I'm clueless.

Oct 28, 2011

Thank you for the clear and specific how-to's, Holly! Non-crafty people like me need people like you to make it all not so scary. Now if I can only actually get myself to do this...

And yes, Sean's arms, ROWR!

Nothing But Bonfires
Oct 28, 2011

Ris: MDF is an engineered wood—I think it stands for "medium density fibreboard" or something equally as exciting. They would definitely know what you meant if you walked into Lowe's and asked for it. It'll be with all the other lumber in a big huge sheet. The reason I chose it over plywood (which is the same price and which I used for my other needs-a-big-piece-of-wood project where I made the DIY sign over my bed) is that it's suuuuper smooth, seeing as it's basically fake wood, so your poster will stick flawlessly to it. You can go with plywood, if you can find a nice smooth piece; the ones in my Home Depot had a few knots and gnarls, so I didn't, but it would be the same difference if you found a smooth piece. It's just one is engineered wood (MDF) and one is real wood (plywood.)

Oct 28, 2011

I have the perfect photo of my gram that I want to do this with AND a large space in the kitchen to hang it. Brilliant. Thanks Holly!

Oct 28, 2011

Excellent photo project, great pictorial instructions, and I love pictures of Sean however we can get them - !

My cats come running when they hear the whipped cream can. If they say they learned how to eat it straight from the nozzle from Mommy, they're just little liars, straight up.

Kate in Ohio
Oct 28, 2011

I used to sell printers and laminators and one trick to get the bubbles out is to poke a hole with a pin and then smooth it out through the hole. It is so small you will never notice.

What about mounting this on some sort of foam board instead of MDF? It wouldn't be so heavy when you hang it on the wall.

I love the idea! My grandparents were not quite so styling so I am going to have to really search for a picture.

Oct 28, 2011

I love how the picture turned out AND that you can come up with these awesome ideas that look fabulous on the cheap. But I was wondering--does the quality of the picture matter? I'm afraid that the picture I'll choose will get all weird and grainy when I print it large--doesn't that happen even with photos taken modern cameras when they're enlarged too big? But yours doesn't look all weird and grainy, so I'm thinking you've gotten around this somehow--please share!

Now you have me wanting to try this...I was so expecting that picture to be a lot more than that! Very cool!

Oct 29, 2011

I think you've started a trend now - navy blue walls and poster sized vintage photos! Love it!

Oct 29, 2011

Gorgeous! (I now want to paint something in my house navy blue.)

I have a similar question to Sarah's (and, coincidentally, my name is Sarah, too.)

About the scanning step. Scanners are scanners, so I'm guessing that any home printer/scanner device will be able to produce similar results. Did consider resizing and resampling (using Photoshop) the scanned image before printing it?

Oct 29, 2011

OOOh, I love this. I've got the perfect photo for a project like this, of my grandfather and his younger brother in their WW I army uniforms (you know, goofy 18 yr. old boys in jodphurs, knee boots, funny bowl haircuts, pith helmets...), but it's an albumin print, so I think I will spring for the color copy so I can capture the sepia tone of the original. That's something to consider for this project -- not all B&W photos are strictly black and white. Some are blueish, some decidedly brown or reddish. Sometimes that's part of their charm, and when it might be wise to go with a color copy.

Amber, TheAmberShow
Oct 29, 2011

I stopped reading for a full five minutes when we got to the part with Sean's bicep.


Allison T
Oct 30, 2011

And I now know what I am going to do with my stairway... Loved your gallery wall on the stairway at your home but I have NOT the patience to do something like that... Now GIANT pictures randomly placed on the wall I can do... :) Thanks for sharing girl!!! Can't wait to see giant faces of my children gracing the stairway!!

Oct 31, 2011

What a great idea! And for the record -- I'd thought that the photo was of Audrey Hepburn, due to the beautiful lady in the sexy pose. Go Omi!

SF Reader
Oct 31, 2011

I'm a commitment-phobe, so if I did this I'd probably use wood frame hangers and hanging wire for an additional $1.16

Nov 01, 2011

Thank you SO much for sharing. This is a lovely gift idea - maybe in a smaller version - for relatives for the holidays. You made it looks so easy, and the print looks lovely in your office!

Nov 02, 2011

I've had a project in the wings for nearly a year to the date using this method, but I can't get over that a color version will be so much more expensive, so I do nothing but wait for someone to tell me about a less expensive way to get a color enlargement. It's silly. I should just go b&w. I know, I know!

Nothing But Bonfires
Nov 02, 2011

Sarah (and Other Sarah!): I don't think the quality of the picture matters much; mine is about 50 years old and is just a little 4x4 polaroid. You scan it first (and yes, a printer/scanner combo is fine; that's what I used at home) and then it just gets printed out really big -- so yes, while you're going to have some pixellation, it's not a big deal, really. Mine went from 4x4 to 36x55, as I said, and it looks okay, right? From a distance, anyway! From closer in, yeah, it is a bit broken up, but I almost kind of like the effect.

Nov 17, 2011

Love this post, thanks! Ps. I didn't notice the arms, my first thought was whats wrong with me? lol I am just too used to my husbands pinner arms and legs! haha

Jan 09, 2012

What a breathtakingly lovely project. But, even more than this beautiful wall installation is your writing. I don't know who you are, but I sure wish you lived right next door. Talented, witty and absolutely are amazing!

Jan 11, 2012

What an awesome idea. I love big prints. I love the idea that it doesn't cost a lot so you can just put another up when you tire of the first one. I am collecting ideas for "things to do when I retire" and this one is going in the file. Thanks.

Feb 04, 2012

This picture is awesome! I am definately going to use this idea for my old barn pictures. Thanks for sharing. :)

Mar 05, 2012

I'm loving this idea, and now I'm itching to go through old photos to find a cool one of my mom when she was a little girl in the 40's (I can picture it in my mind, just don't know where it is). Then I got to thinking, wouldn't this be a quick easy way to mount ANY photo cheaply, and in any size? (I know the point of this whole blog post is to create your LARGE look...but I keep getting hung up on limited wall space!)
I'm thinking modpodge [many] old b&w's onto 8x10 or 11x14 canvases. I may even do photos of my daughters in b&w and do a mixed generation photo collage wall.
Thanks so much for the inspiration, and I love your writing style too!

Mar 13, 2012

i love this idea!! im going to find a picture right now!

Karen Breen-Bondie
Oct 27, 2012

For those willing to go entirely DIY, there are two free online programs that will print your digital image as a PDF with white borders. Google "Block Posters" and "Rasterbator." You can make the poster as large as you'd like.

Here are samples I've made over the years:

.Dorm Room:
.Dorm Room:

Try them both to see which you like better. Block Posters is the easiest (the file size you upload must be under 1MB). Rasterbator is most flexible, as you can make very large posters, and offers both an online and downloadable version. If you don't like much pixelization, you will have to tweak Rasterbator a little more than Block Poster. They each have their benefits.

The output will be to PDF and it will have white borders on all sides. I trim--as close as possible to the printed edge--the RIGHT and TOP white border on all pages. I line them up, left to right, and tape corners in place with small pieces of Scotch Removable Tape on the front. After doing two rows, I flip over and use Scotch Permanent Tape on all the seams. I flip over and continue with assembling/taping the rest of the rows. Then permanently tape the reverse side. Then I trim the entire outer edges.

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