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. 

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    The exterior of a book board box is covered with paper for strength.
    The finished exterior of a dolls house roombox made from Davey board is covered with decorative 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...MORE 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.

    See the list of DIY projects below for links to make things like windows, doors and stairs.

  • 02 of 12
    Open breakaway box for a scale display showing two hinged drop down sides.
    Dollhouse scale breakaway box display box. The box was custom built from bookboard and covered on the outside with decorative paper, showing two hinged sides which are held in place by the box lid when closed. 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. You can use leftover wrapping paper or simple brown paper bags or newspaper to cover your box.

  • 03 of 12
    A flat wall made from foamcore against a backdrop support makes a set for photographing miniatures
    The foam core backdrop support can also hold walls with inserted windows and backdrops in positions that allow a wide range of camera angles 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.

  • 04 of 12
    A doll house doll showing the wire armature wrapped with batting.
    This doll's body has been wrapped with cotton batting. The arm on the right of the photo is finished, the arm on the left of the photo has had one layer applied and needs a final layer. 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...MORE 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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  • 05 of 12
    Simple dolls house door with window and panel trim.
    Finished dolls house door made with a three layer sandwich construction to set glazing and basic panels. Photo © 2011 Lesley Shepherd

    These instructions show you how to make miniature doors which you can use for opening, or fixed doors in a doll 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 instructions show the door made with a half window, but you can modify the design to make paneled doors with simple beveled panels or make french doors with muntins, or full glass panels.

  • 06 of 12
    Opening casement window for a dolls house
    An opening casement window for a dolls house fitting with muntin strips, and using a simple dressmakers pin for a hinge. 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.

  • 07 of 12
    Scale 'fish food' on the water surface makes this simple dollhouse pond extremely realistic.
    To add to the illusion of fish coming to the surface, dry embossing powder 'fish food' has been sprinkled on the surface of the dolls house scale koi pool. Details like this make the pond seem even more realistic. Photo © 2011 Lesley Shepherd

    You can make realistic ponds and water features for model displays using acrylic paints, a sheet of recycled 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.

  • 08 of 12
    Dolls house scale kitchen table ready for final sanding and finishing.
    A simple miniature kitchen table in dolls house scale is 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 include 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 is 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.

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  • 09 of 12
    Dollhouse scale table decorated for a fair with flag themed draping in red, white and blue.
    Decorate for the Fourth of July (or Bastille Day) with this free printable miniature flag draping in dollhouse scales of 1:12, 1:24 and 1:48. These printables are also suitable for decorating cake plates and other serving plates with patriotic designs. 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 of 12
    The wire legs and feet of a miniature seagull are set in place under its body.
    The wire legs and feet of a miniature seagull are set in place under its body and the feet are adjusted to hold a pose. 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, needle felted sheep, dogs, and raccoons, and birds, fish and animals modeled from air dry or polymer clay.

  • 11 of 12
    Quarter scale garden arbor set in a miniature garden scene in a tea cup.
    Printable quarter scale garden arbor set in a landscaped tea cup scene. Photo © 2011 Lesley Shepherd

    Lots of details can be added to your diorama by 'landscaping' it with simple plants. The plants on this list (more than 30)  are made mainly from paper and wire.

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    Free printable dolls house backdrop for a roombox featuring a pasture scene - Left Side
    Free printable dolls house backdrop for a roombox featuring a pasture scene - Left Side. Photo copyright 2010 Lesley Shepherd, Licensed to About.com Inc.

    This list has lots of photos you can print out on letter-sized paper to make outdoor backdrops or indoor wall finishes. There is also a list of printable miniature wallpapers if you prefer to co-ordinate designs for different parts of your diorama project.