Cheap DIY Art and Free Image Sources

Thanks for your nice comments on my bedroom makeover! I’m back, as promised, with details on the wall art.

Bedroom Wall Art

As you might have guessed, they’re engineering prints. I first heard of them via Jenny at Little Green Notebook, who used Kinkos/FedEx Office’s large format blueprint printer to blow up a photograph for $4. She mounted it to foam board with snazzy painted edges:

Little Green Notebook(Image from Little Green Notebook)

Zandi over at Radical Possibility also posted about this super cheap giant art: she used Staples for her print and displayed it awesomely with a thumbtack border:

Radical Possibility(Image from Radical Possibility)

Finally, I took a cue from Anna at Door Sixteen for an inexpensive frameless frame:

Door Sixteen Frame(Image from Door Sixteen)

I bought cheap wood trim, which I cut to size (about a half inch wider than the 24” print) and then stained. I used my chop saw but this could be done very easily with a handsaw.

Trim Saw

Wood Trim

I found gold binder clips at OfficeMax – the metal color is cheaper looking than I would like and I thought about spray painting them more of a brass color, but that wave of craziness passed. They’re fine as-is.  Note to self: access your uncrazy side more often.

Gold Binder Clips

I simply clipped the prints to the trim at top and bottom and then used brass tack nails to hang the art.  The prints from Staples were $4 each, the clips were less than $5 with a coupon and the wood trim was also $5: under $25 all totaled for a wall of art.

Engineering Prints

As for the art itself: there are lots of great resources online for images within the public domain. The Library of Congress has a huge (overwhelming, really) collection that is thoroughly indexed: you can search their Prints & Photographs Online Catalog by keyword – “hygiene,” for example:

Library of Congress

My images came from the Charles W. Cushman Photograph Collection, thanks to Indiana University’s Digital Library Program. I upped the contrast of the photographs before submitting to Staples for printing, to help retain some of the details in the black and white conversion.

Cushman Trees

The black border from Cushman’s Kodachrome color slides works well for this display style, creating a natural frame for the image.


I love Cushman’s photographs. They hearken to a simpler time, when girls skipped rope and beer flowed from water towers and babies drank that beer while wearing berets without any fear of judgment.

Cushman Beer

Haters gonna hate, baby: you be you.

Cushman Baby Beer


Update: Pretty readers Erin and Megan report that print shops may be giving some attitude about using engineering prints for photographs. This is somewhat understandable, as photos certainly use substatially more ink than blueprints, but I would hope they simply adjust their pricing rather than banning it outright. I submitted my photos online and did not encounter any sass.

16 thoughts on “Cheap DIY Art and Free Image Sources

  1. Also, did Staples give you a hard time about using photographs for the engineering prints? Their website says “Engineering prints are not suitable for photo images” and I’ve seen some other accounts of resistance from Kinko’s to making these kind of prints from photos. . .

  2. A Staples employee gave me some serious attitude when I did this a few months ago — asking me snidely if I’d gotten the idea from Pinterest (um, yes, obviously!)… But, they printed my photos and only charged me $7, so I plan to ignore that completely.

  3. So did you need to “order the image” and go through all of those steps or how did you get the high resolution version of the image to upload to Staples? Thanks so much this is wonderful! I’m going to do this for a gallery wall in my kitchen!

    1. Good question, Molly: I actually just used the images available for free (via the “view larger image” link). They were approximately 1000×680 – they’re definitely pixelated if you look closely at them, but they’re fine from a couple feet away. I think the subject matter also helps disguise the pixelation. If I had contacted the library for the larger image file (3000 px) the print quality would have been better. Good luck with your kitchen gallery wall!

  4. Love this!
    Question: did you use foam padding as backing, or is this just the print and wood trim only?
    Thanks so much!

  5. Hi I know you provided where you got the pictures but there is over 1200 pictures of trees and I really like the ones you used…how can can find those exact one? :(( thanks

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