Oct 9, 2012

Showing the Love with Subway Art

You may have seen this project making its way across pinterest and the blogosphere: cheapo engineering prints from Staples + hardware store insulation foam = affordable, one-of-a-kind art.

I read through several tutorials and their comments (thanks Katie Bower, over at Bower Power!), and  gleaned the best advice for making this little project come together smoothly. This is a great project for oversized photo prints, but I wanted to go a different direction and make a piece of subway art for Ben, in honor of our 6th anniversary that we just celebrated. (hooray!)

First I designed my artwork using Adobe's InDesign software (but any program would do for this straightforward layout). I included everywhere Ben and I have lived together, as well as some of our favorite vacation destinations over the years. And I had to work in this line from a song we love by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes: "Home is wherever I'm with you." Aww. After moving around so much and having so much confusion about where we belong, this song is the perfect reminder for me and Ben that home is more about people than a place :)

So I ordered my print, which was 16x24 inches, online via Staples and picked it up the next day after paying a whopping $1.63! (Just be sure to order an engineering print.) Home Depot was right next door, so in the same trip I snagged my insulation board for around $12 for a massive piece. (I went with 1/2" thickness.) I had to get my board cut down a few times to make it fit in the car, but luckily Home Depot's staff is super helpful and sliced it down for me no problem.

Engineering prints are cheap because they're obviously not photo quality. Mine had a few subtle imperfections, but I actually liked that, since subway art is not supposed to be too perfect :) Finally, I picked up black masking tape and a jumbo glue stick at Joann and headed home.

It was awesome to have so much extra foam board, since I needed to do a few practice rounds of cutting it in a straight, smooth line. (And there's still plenty for another project or two.) All I did was lay out my print, line up a yard stick along the edges, then slide it out and slice along the yard stick with a wide utility knife. I only cut about half way through the foam, then folded it in half to snap off the rest.

Cutting my board was the hardest part of the project - I did some adjusting and sanding to get the edges straight and smooth, then wrapped black masking tape around the sides. You can also use craft paint, but the tape did a nice job of making things look smooth and clean, and was mess free!

I laid out the print exactly where I wanted it and held it in place with this odd assortment of paperweights! Then I rolled down the top half, applied gluestick directly to the foam board, pressed down the top half of the print, and repeated for the bottom portion. I very lightly smoothed over the whole thing with the yard stick, but the paper is so thin that I didn't do more than one swipe.

There were a few little bubbles that disappeared quickly as the glue dried, but to be safe I laid it flat overnight with some heavy books holding everything in place. Next morning, I attached twine to the back with masking tape (I love this super high-tech hanging method). It's kind of slippery, so I'll be switching it out with wire as soon as I can track some down.

And voila! The actual portion of time spent putting this together was minimal - maybe an hour once I'd gathered all my supplies? And the cost was under $20, score! I did also buy some mod podge spray sealant to protect the whole thing, but I'm still on the fence about using it. I'm a little worried it could make the ink bleed or the paper bubble, but I'll let you know if I give it a try!

I think Ben was pretty smitten with his anniversary gift, which is what it was all about. I love that after six years we can still find special little ways to surprise each other. I hung it up in a corner of our bedroom.


  1. Thanks so much, Nychole!!

  2. This turned out so great, it looks professionally made :)

  3. You are so sweet, Tamsyn, thanks! There are certainly a few imperfections if you get up close, ha!