After all of the traveling we did, Lisa and I accumulated a lot of photos! I have long wanted to figure out a way to display some of them and, after iterating on several designs, finally installed a finished a photo wall in my bedroom that is about nine by three feet. Here’s how to do it.
By far the most time-consuming part of this process is deciding which photos to include and what sort of arrangement to use. Initially, I had planned on printing far fewer photos, but larger in size. In the end, there were too many photos I wanted to include, and so I settled on a grid design that allowed for medium and small photos.
Step 1: Design your grid
The first step is to figure out what wall you will use and how large the display will be. The grid I designed had 7×7″ squares as the base unit, separated by a 2″ spacing between photos. I chose this because a single square could easily be broken down into a smaller mix of 3×3″ and 7×3″ photos separated by 1″ spacing, or combined into a larger 16×7″ photo. I really like panoramas. In hindsight, I think a 9×9″ grid system might be nicer (breaking down in 4×4″, 8×4″, and 20×9″), as the 3×3″ photos are quite small.
Step 2: Print your photos
After googling, reading reviews, and a couple test prints, I chose ProDPI to print my photos. Everyone had great things to say about them and they happen to also be located in Denver, which means I get free next-day shipping if my order is over $12! They are primarily designed to support photo studio workflows, but if you sign up as an individual and use their ordering software, they are happy to help. I have been very pleased with them, although they are now being sold to White House Custom Color who also have a great reputation.
You will need to prepare your photo files to be trimmed to size, as most places do not print odd sizes like 7×3″ or 16×7″ standard. Read ProDPI’s Ordering Custom Sizes page to see how you accomplish that.
Next, you will want to select to have the photos mounted on Black Styrene. This is the most expensive part of the process, but still far cheaper than framing photos or having them arrive ready-to-hang. Black Styrene is a bit more expensive than the matboard foam, but I believe more resistant to warping and corner damage.
When printing smaller photos, such as 3×3″ or 4×4″, you will actually need to prepare the photo file to be at least 4×6″ and set trimming marks as described above. ProDPI does not have mounting options for photos smaller than 4×6″, but contrary to what their support desk told me when I asked, they will mount and trim them down to that size.
Unfortunately, you will have to put each image into a separate print. I tried to print four 3×3″ photos on a single 7×7″ print and have them custom trim it into four separate photos but they refused. This would have saved a *lot* of money, but I guess the time it takes them to mount and trim photos requires a minimum of about $6 per photo. This also means that displaying 3×3″ and 7×3″ photos inside a 7×7″ grid location increases the cost of that square by two to four times. Those little photos get expensive! Final costs to have the photos printed and mounted:
- 3×3 photos: $6.09
- 7×3 photos: $6.35
- 7×7 photos: $7.65
- 16×7 photos: $16.15
Optional step: Paint your wall
I turned one side of my room into an accent wall as I thought the photos would pop better on a darker background. Specifically, I painted the wall in Behr’s Cracked Pepper color because it sounds delicious!
Step 3: Attach hanging hardwareMy first attempt on a test photo was using the technique described by Jay Watson at How To Hang Mounted Photos. His supplies were actually quite expensive per-photo and the bumpers did not push the photo far enough off the wall for my liking. He does have good advice to get the photos UV-coated to protect against light damage. I ended up using the following supplies to prepare the photos to be hung on the wall:
- J-B Weld KwikWeld
- 1 x #photos: Heavy Duty Single Hole D Ring / Triangle Strap Hangers
- 4 x #photos: M4x15mm Female Thread Nylon Hex Standoff Spacer Pillar Black
I would have preferred the standoffs to be a bit longer than 15mm, but that would have required longer D-ring triangle hangers to reach the wall. Also, the standoffs came from China, so plan on it taking a while to receive them, or search around on Amazon for similar items.Use a ruler to measure out where your hangers and standoffs will be glued and then mark those locations. This part really needs to be tested in conjunction with placement on a wall so that you make sure you know where everything has to go in relation to the hook on the wall and the hanger on the photo. You can tape these hangers and standoffs on for testing to make sure that when you hang the item on the wall, it is going to line up with the grid. If you are designing it exactly like I did, these were my measurements:
- 3×3″ photos: hanger screw hole 2″ from the top of the photo and horizontally centered; standoffs 5/8″ from all edges
- 7×3″ photos: hanger screw hole 2″ from the top of the photo and horizontally centered; standoffs 5/8″ from top/bottom edges, 1″ from sides
- 7×7″ photos: hanger screw hole 3″ from the top of the photo and horizontally centered; standoffs 1″ from all edges
- 16×7″ photos: hanger screw hole 3″ from the top of the photo and horizontally centered; standoffs 1″ from top/bottom edges, 2″ from sides
Once you have measured everything, just mix up small batches of the KwikWeld and start attaching the hardware. You can probably only get through a handful of photos before the KwikWeld hardens, as it firms up fast.
Step 4: Hang them on the wall!I put up some masking tape to make sure the placement of my hooks would be accurate across the entire photo wall and that it would stay level throughout. You want to make sure you have a good reference point for the top-left of each square, which meant lining up the tape edges every 9″ (7″ photo squares + 2″ padding) across my wall.
I used 3M Command Mini Clear Hooks which should come off without any damage to the wall. In order to place these, I suggest you have measured in Step 3 above to figure out where in the grid square you need to place the hook in combination with the photo hanger to make sure everything lines up. If you’re just using my measurements, I placed the “eye” of the clear hook (there was a little circular cutting on my hooks), at:
- 3×3″ photos: 1.5″ from left, 3/4″ from top
- 7×3″ photos: 3.5″ from left, 3/4″ from top
- 7×7″ photos: 3.5″ from left, 1.75″ from top
- 16×7″ photos: 8″ from left, 1.75″ from top
- I wish I had UV coated my prints. Didn’t see an option at ProDPI; WHCC might have it
- I might attach standoffs near the center of the 16×7″ photos, I think they are starting to bend in towards hook
- Mounted photos come 1/8″ undersized from ProDPI — can’t really notice that small of an error on the wall
- Best if you can print your photos at 300 dpi, but many of mine were around 200dpi and came out great; one of the black and whites even printed well near 100dpi