One of my great pleasures was making high school senior recognition, prom and graduation party decorations for my sons.

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Breaks my heart thinking of this year’s grads and their families. But, it’s inspiring seeing so many students, parents, teachers and administrators finding unique ways to celebrate and make graduation special.

Today, I’ll  show you how to make a tabletop graduation party decoration using photographs. Although I made mine primarily as centerpieces, they also look great on a mantle, buffet or accent table.

Using pictures of the graduate personalizes the decorations. After the party, they also make wonderful keepsakes for the grad, mom and dad, and grandparents.

Even if you can’t host a big blowout this year, you might be able to have a more modest sized gathering of family and friends later this summer. And, party or no party, the photo stand ups create a festive environment in the home. If you must social distance from your grandchild or other favorite grad, consider making one as a gift. Then drop it at their front door, or send it off in the mail as a special surprise.

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Party Personalization

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I made about a dozen different photo graduation party decorations for each of my sons’ celebrations. That was enough for a centerpiece on each table, plus others scattered across the food buffet, dessert spread, and memories display. The number you make will likely depend on the scale of the celebratory event.

Additionally, I made several of the photo stand ups as gifts for other graduates. When attending a grad party, I’d attach a mylar balloon and include a monetary gift card; placing it on the gift table. They were a huge hit!

I’ve also made other versions for family bridal shower and rehearsal dinner parties, using pictures of the happy couple.

Expensive Option Inspires DIY Craft

Inspiration to create the photo cutouts were based on two professional versions I had splurged on when the boys were little. Here’s one from my oldest son’s cowboy theme birthday party when he was six. We even had a pony rides around the yard — you know me, always the queen of theme lol!

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It’s also one of my favorite pictures of the boys. They are wearing authentic Stetson hats, shirts and cowboy boots that were gifts from my parents who were living in Texas. Don’t you love the expression on my then three-year old?

Well these would have been way too expensive (and small) for graduation party decorations. So, I came up with my own DIY version.

How to Make Photo Graduation Party Decorations

Here’s an example of one of the tabletop decorations made for my youngest son’s graduation party. He was a tenor drummer in his high school band.

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It was one of two centerpieces that I kept intact as a keepsake; storing them on the top shelf in his old bedroom closet. Recently, I took you on a two-part tour in Transition from Kid to Guest Bedroom, and Sophisticated Safari Decor. As you can see, I’m a sentimentalists and it’s hard for me to part with things lol!

To show how to make your own photo stand-up, I deconstructed the drummer centerpiece. It’s the same six-step process whether creating one or a dozen. But, if making multiple graduation party decorations, it’s easiest to work in batches. Or, by completing each step of the process for all the photo centerpieces at the same time.

Materials
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Other than one or more pictures of your grad, everything else is easily found at local craft and party stores. During this time of store closures, Dollar Tree is an excellent, one-stop option for both craft supplies and graduation party decorations.

  • Photo
  • Foam Board
  • Multi-Purpose or Photo Spray Adhesive
  • Dowel Rod or Wooden Stick (about 12 inches tall)
  • Tape
  • Small Plant Pot, Basket, Bowl or Lidded Box
  • Floral Foam
  • Spray Paint
  • Assorted Theme or Graduation Party Decorations, Florals & Embellishments

As far as equipment, you need a computer, sharp Exacto knife, and scissors. You can save time and money if you also have a printer that can accommodate 11 by 17 inch sheets of paper.

Step 1: Choose Photos

Primary photo candidates are those reflecting activities, sports and interests of the grad from their school years. Maybe you also have a good one of them wearing a tee, sweatshirt or coat with their high school or college name, colors and/or mascot?

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If you’re creating a number of cutouts, you can also go back further in time as I did. Both my sons were involved in a number of sports when they were younger, like soccer and baseball. There’s even photo cutouts from their first day of nursery school and kindergarten. I also choose a few pictures of them in costumes from various events, productions and Halloween.

Originally, the Halloween photos were decorated for graduation in blue and gold — like the ones shown earlier. Later, I pulled out the costume photos and “repotted” them in baskets with fall seasonal embellishments. See how in, Decorate with Halloween Costume Photos, Artwork.

Regardless of the topic, choose images where the subject is standing — preferably head to toe, or full-body pictures. Those work best when making a photo stand up.

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My photos average about 14 inches in height once cut out.

Step 2: Crop & Print Photos

Next, pull up each digital image on your computer for a bit of cropping. Back when I created my photo graduation party decorations, nearly all but the most recent images were photo prints. So, first I had to scan those pictures into my computer. Using digital images saves that step.

Crop each picture by eliminating any extra space above and below the head and legs/feet. Then, enlarge the image (maintaining scale ratio) to maximize the photo of your grad on an 11 by 17 inch piece of paper. In other words, you want the image you’ll be cutting out to fill as much of the printable space as possible. Bigger is better for photo cutouts!

Now you’re ready to print each image on it’s own sheet of paper. Photo paper is not necessary, but is nice if you have it. If you can feed 11 by 17 inch sheets of paper into your printer, go ahead and print each image.

Back in the day, my printer could only handle regular 8 by 10 inch sheets. I felt the cutout photos would be too small for tabletop graduation party decorations. So I took the images (on a disk back then lol!) to my local Office Depot for printing on regular 11 by 17 inch paper.

There are probably a lot more options today. Perhaps you could upload the photos to Target, Walmart, Walgreens, or other retailer to print the photos for store pickup? However, photo quality paper and printing might be costly if you are making a dozen or so. On the other hand, if you’re only making one, maybe it’d be worth splurging?

Step 3: Glue & Cutout Photos

Once you have the printed photos, use scissors to trim any excess paper around the central image. There’s no need to cut out precisely, as you’ll be doing that later. Be careful, however, not to crease the photo.

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Arrange the photos on a sheet of foam board to best utilize space. It doesn’t matter if some pictures are sideways or upside down.

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In the picture above, I have already cut out the images. Yours will likely be farther spaced with excess background imagery at this stage.

Be sure your hands are clean and dry before you begin the next part.

Remove the trimmed paper images and spray photo adhesive onto the front side of the foam board. Work quickly to lay the photos back onto the sheet. Now press and smooth the images onto the board so that they are firmly attached.

Finally, use a sharp knife to cut out the central image in each photo. Again, be careful not to apply too much pressure and crease the photos. I found it best to first rough cut each image from the sheet. That allowed me to work on one photo at a time when doing the precise cutting.

And, depending on how many photo cut outs you are making, its worthwhile to change the blade now and then. It’s a lot easier to cut with a sharp blade. Plus, you’ll achieve a cleaner, more refined edge.

Step 4: Attach Photos to Dowel
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So the photo cutout will stand, you need to attach something like a dowel rod to the backside.

First, I laid them out on newspaper in the garage and spray-painted them metallic gold. After they dried, I rolled the dowels over and painted the other side.

Once the rods dried overnight, they were ready to attach to the photo cutouts.

Lay the rod along the backside of each. You want to support about half way up. The rest will be used to insert them into a weighted base.

Simply tape each dowel in three places to the foam board side of the photo. You need to use something stronger than regular Scotch tape. I used white medical or bandage tape.

Step 5: Create a Base
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To add counterweight for the height of the photo cutout, you need a base.

Since the original graduation party I used six-inch high or four and a half inch diameter clay pots. Later, for Halloween, I transferred them into cute little baskets.

Since both parties were held under a large tent outside, I wanted a heavy weight base to allow for strong breezes.

Next, fill the container with floral foam. Finally, insert the dowel rod until the feet or bottom of the picture cutout rests against the top of the foam.

Another idea would be to use a glass bowl as the base, then fill it with colored marbles or stones. Or, take a gift wrapped box — with the lid removed — and fill it with foam. Then lean the decorated package lid against the box.

Now for the fun part!

Step 6: Add Embellishments
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How you choose to embellish the photo cutout is personal preference. You likely want to choose a color scheme that reflects that of the graduate’s high school or college — or some of each. And, you might want to incorporate the school mascot.

You probably realize by now that my sons’ high school were the blue devils, which drove my choice of decorations. I found the mini pitchforks the previous Halloween and simply spray painted them blue.

Blue, white and gold shakers, stars and sprays added to the rah-rah-ree.

But, you could also decide to go off of any theme. Say you were making stand ups for a football or basketball banquet, with one for each senior. Then you might want to incorporate those sport motifs into each. Get the idea?

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For instance, I also made several photo stand ups for my niece’s bridal shower. She liked them so much, they were used at the rehearsal dinner. Wish I could find a photo of them! Anyway, I used her color scheme of Tiffany Blue to decorate the base boxes as packages. Peacock feathers (a nod to a family ancestor) and faux flowers were also incorporated.

Mix High & Low

Three areas of the project will need decoration or embellishments:

  1. Base
  2. Low filler at bottom or feet of photo cutout
  3. Tall filler for backside of photo cutout 

You’ve already chosen either a pot, basket, box or bowl as the base of the graduation party decorations. If you use a clay pot as I did, you can sponge or spray paint them. Mine are simply wrapped in foil paper.

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To hold them in place, I cut out devil shape tails from a length of blue felt. Ribbon also works.

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Finished height of my photo stand ups were around 22 inches. What do you think?

Do you have any high school or college graduates in the family this year? How are you celebrating and marking their big milestone achievement?

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