weekend creative : photo type case


[ project featured in my book Life Artist ]

This project is right up there at the top of my all-time favorite projects list. It has photos + words + re-purposes something old giving it a new life. Lovely.

Here's the really simple how-to:


1. Find an old type case.

I purchased both of mine from antique stores/tag sales
for between $20 and $40 depending on quality and size. This one above
was $30. Both of the cases I have measure right around 32 inches x 16.5 inches. I would also recommend checking ebay or simply google "type drawers" or "type cases" (while looking up some sources I found that they are actually called cases rather than drawers).

I did a renegade cleaning of mine by spraying it with the hose on a hot summer day to loosen the dirt and grime that had accumulated. I am guessing it was probably not the best way to clean old wood, but it worked. After it dried I was ready to play.


2. Fill it with stuff.

The case above was filled with photos and embellishments. I measured the squares (this one had even sized squares vs. the empty one above has a variety of different sized rectangles) and they ended up being pretty much 2 inches x 2 inches. I re-sized a bunch of our favorite photos in Photoshop, printed them here at home, and trimmed them down to fit.

To adhere the photos and embellishments onto the wood I went with 3D foam squares. If you are wondering about the sticking power, this entire thing was wrapped + shipped to Utah to be photographed for the book and made it back in one piece and has been hanging on our wall ever since.

For variety and depth, I added more than one foam square behind some of the photos. This means that some of them stick out farther within the squares than others.


As for additional embellishments I pretty much went through my stash and grabbed elements that had a bit of meaning and were just waiting to be used in something (don't we all have those things that you are just waiting to use on the "perfect" project). I also tended towards circle embellishments for a nice break from all those square photos.

These Scenic Route chipboard circles would work great. As would these Love, Elsie Soft Charms or these stacked layer stickers from K&Company or those classic Making Memories metal charmed quotes.

The compartments are also a nice place to store personal mementos. My Mom has a drawer hanging in the house I grew up in that is filled not with photos but little bits and pieces of things she has collected along her journey. Many of those little things relate to this or that event and are significant to us as a family. It is a treasure.


3. Display.

Our case hangs on a wall in our dining room. I hung it with picture-hanging wire and screws screwed into the sides of the wood. They would also look great on a bureau or dresser.


The prompt for the weekend is this: What can you do to "live with" your photos other than having them inside your computer, in boxes under the bed, hidden away in photo albums, or placed among decorations in your scrapbooks? Maybe a type case or shadow box is in your future...

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  1. Sandra

    2008-06-02 08:55:25 -0400

    OMG!!! This was wonderful!!! I have to do this. Thanks for the great inspiration!!

  2. Nicole (aka nicleblanc)

    2008-06-04 03:56:06 -0400

    Off to find a type drawer!
    Your creativiy never ceases to amaze me!

  3. Sue Farrant

    2008-06-04 16:44:19 -0400

    WooHoo..I have one of these in the attic! I had it for years on the wall with momentos of "life" like your mum..and changed the style of the rooms decor so put it in storage...it is coming back to my studio now..and going on display...thanks for this awesome inspiration.
    Hmm..think I have to go book shopping too

  4. Denise

    2008-06-05 01:37:14 -0400

    What a lovely idea... I've got part of a typedrawer at home, and it has a sheet of glass help over the top with a very small clasp either side, on a hinge, so the inside doesn't get too dusty. It had been specially adapted and so was like that when i bought it. The glass is just a single sheet and the hinges are an antique gold (which I appreciate, sounds terrible, but trust me, it looks fine!) - might be something to consider if you keep little objects in the case and want to avoid a bit of dusting :)
    I was just thinking - the alternative size - with the longer thinner compartments, would it fit MOO MiniCards? www.moo.com/products/minicards
    I do work for MOO - but this isn't spam, I promise! I just thought if they did fit, they'd be perfect. (And save a lot of cutting down bigger photos)

  5. Patricia

    2008-06-05 16:45:06 -0400

    Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful idea! I have two poor typecases just shoved under a bookcase right now, waiting to get a second chance at life. I had always thought of putting little objects in them, but it looks very 1980s when I do that--but *flat* photos or paper is such a great idea to make it modern. Thanks again!

  6. suesue

    2008-06-07 03:20:29 -0400

    i had a case that i had put away when i redecorated and just pulled it out about 4 months ago and put some more favs and photos in it. love it!!! great idea to put foam mounts for depth!

  7. Vera

    2008-06-07 06:57:36 -0400

    Uh oh - My dad was a typesetter by trade and I just know I have one of these somewhere around here! Time to go on a hunting expedition through our "stuff"!
    I just LOVE this idea, Dad is 91 and it would be so cool to display old type, photos and mementos of his life.
    Thanks for sharing your creativity w/us!

  8. Marilyn

    2008-06-07 18:47:44 -0400

    OUCH! I had 2 of the Type Drawers at home filled with little things or miniatures that appealed to me. Not knowing any better, I cleaned up and out went the type drawers- eek! Ali, where were you 5 years ago to tell me not to throw the type drawers away. This is the best project b/c even the challenged can do this well and have it represent anything. Now I'm going to look for another big one. They create curiousity in those admiring your work and creativity. It's fun watching the expression of those looking. Mine would invite people to look and ask questions. Thank you Ali....

  9. debbie

    2008-06-12 17:38:28 -0400

    I was just about to sell mine. This is a great way to revamp this! Thank you!

  10. Tiffani M.

    2008-06-15 05:53:14 -0400

    I finsihed mine a few weeks ago and just love it. Thanks for the idea.

  11. Melanie

    2008-06-15 07:42:31 -0400

    I finally had time to finish mine this weekend! I have a few photos at Flickr:
    So much fun!

  12. Birgit

    2008-06-20 08:54:06 -0400

    I had just ordered a drawer and foam dots for exactly this purpose! I want to hang the finished project in our new dining room! Thank you so much for the additional ideas!

  13. Jennifer

    2008-06-23 06:41:46 -0400

    Thank you for posting this. I had a type case sitting around and needed inspiration. The work-in-progress is posted on my blog, www.jsvh.blogspot.com
    My parents love it and I can't thank you enough!

  14. Michelle

    2008-07-14 15:13:22 -0400

    Prett funny... I've had one of these just like this for years and have had trinkets in it. We just moved and I decided I'm going to change it up and do what you've done here. Thought I'd be the first. Silly me to think Ali wouldn't do it first!

  15. Amy Jane

    2008-07-21 18:17:46 -0400

    Mine is still very much in process...I'm loving it! Thank you for the inspiration!

  16. julie

    2008-07-22 11:53:55 -0400

    I used to have one of those.. off to find it..

  17. Cara

    2008-07-28 02:56:07 -0400

    Nothing like commenting WELL after this is posted - but I'm THRILLED that i found one of these drawers for only $7 at an antique show this weekend - there were lots of vendor with them - and this one was the cheapest and in GREAT shape (and I, too, just hosed it off in the backyard...here's to taking care of antiques!)

  18. Janet Covington

    2008-09-04 05:56:51 -0400

    I LOVE this. Your inspiration and art just makes my day. Thanks.

  19. MaryLea @ Pink and Green Mama

    2009-01-16 13:12:16 -0500

    This is my first time visiting your blog and I am in heaven sifting through your posts on scrapbook and office organization and then I found this lovely project and now I'm over the moon! I was a printmaker in college and love repurposing old stuff. I am now an avid scrap booker and artist. I see one of these in my future. Thank you for the great inspiration!

  20. Greg Zimmerman

    2010-02-05 10:53:27 -0500

    I have at least 50 California Job cases in my basement since 1972. When the craze was on, I was going to clean them up from the shop and type dust. My Father-in law and his Father had a small printing business in Syracuse, N.Y. I worked in the shop, set type, and operated the 8x12, 12x18 letter presses, the kluge, and the little giant. Then came the offset press. Anyway, it's about time to sell them. Anyone interested? I'm Greg Zimmerman at [email protected]

  21. [email protected]

    2010-05-31 19:32:00 -0400

    To think that I gave away all 4 of my printer trays!!! Your project is beautiful.

  22. pressure washer hose

    2010-06-15 18:28:53 -0400

    Nice idea. Wonderful post/entry!
    Angelo H

  23. Kim Shimer

    2011-04-15 11:14:10 -0400

    Do you have a photo of the one with narrower slots finished? I have one like that and am having trouble visualizing all those long and narrow pictures working? thanks

  24. Anthony

    2011-09-05 14:42:24 -0400

    As a time-served indentured apprenticeship Compositor I have to inform you that your picture of a typecase is upside-down.

  25. Bethany

    2012-02-08 05:32:52 -0500

    I am new to your blog and am loving it! I found you because of an article in Scrapbooks etc on your "week" project. I do have a question - do you print from home? Can I ask what printer makes you happy?

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