Today, I am welcoming you to the ultimate guide on how to build a diorama, and my intention is to make it a long one! So if you prefer short blog posts, you can now leave! (kidding, I just like to be complete with my information)
If you’re like us, you’ve probably spent countless hours scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram, admiring all the stunning miniature worlds people have created, I know you do!
So let’s dive straight into things!
But a reminder first: what exactly is a diorama?
Well, it’s a miniature world that you get to create and control. You get to be the god of your own tiny universe, where everything is just the way you want it.
A miniature diorama is actually a three-dimensional scene or model in miniature form, but not quite the same as 3D scale models.
Often a diorama has great attention to detail and gets quite realistic.
They are often used in museums and exhibits to showcase historical events but are also used for cinematography as decor, as well as just a hobby.
What’s the difference between model making and a diorama?
There might be some confusion between the term “model kit” and “diorama”.
A diorama creates an entire scene or environment and a complete “part of the world”, while a model is a representation of just one object, such as a small railway station, military vehicle, or aircraft from WW2.
A diorama can contain landscaping, a river, a waterfall, trees, and basically anything existing on this planet.
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How to build a diorama: Start with collecting the materials and tools you’ll need.
To build miniature (kits) you will need lots of different materials and tools, and this goes as well for building dioramas. A list:
“Copying” an environment and nature can be quite a challenge, but various synthetic materials and products can be bought in model stores or online.
Anything you can think of is available in the diorama world, nothing seems too crazy or you can find it, for every type of plant, tree, or any other form of vegetation. Just a small list:
- 1: Leaves
With ready-made leaves of all types, you can make and build small trees yourself.
These are also suited for fairy gardens or just your regular garden scenery for your dollhouse 😉
- 2: Small plants
How about small sunflowers, little sci-fi plants, and other various mini-model plants?
- 3. Model grass tufts.
Tuft is actually just regular grass, which can be applied easily at the base of your diorama using just a little bit of glue and tweezers.
- 4: Grass mats:
As the word literally says: with a grass mat you can easily and quickly create grassy areas.
- 5: Pastes
Specific types of pastes are used to create textures and terrains, like resin or paper-mache. With these kinds of materials, you can create the most pretty effects, like a pond, a desert, or even icy cliffs or mountains, etc.
- 6: Adding weathering and scenery to your diorama.
Adding the smallest details makes your diorama come to life by adding weathering and scenery materials.
For a lake or sea, for example, you can use a product called Water Gel Atlantic Blue or Still Water from AKI Interactive.
Do you prefer a snowy landscape for a miniature winter landscape
?: add some snow to the terrain.
With the right materials, you could even create an asphalt road!
Take a look at the video below, for example, on how you can create an asphalt road for your diorama!
How to build a diorama: choosing a theme or diorama subject
Before starting to build a diorama, you need to ask yourself in what kind of theme you would like to create one.
Do you want to build a military scene, a movie scene, create a diorama for your model train, a fantasy world, etc..?
Also, think about how large you want it, gather all the materials you will need to accomplish it, and start to design your plan.
To find your interest and what you are looking for to get a general idea, you can do some research and get some inspiration, mostly found on Youtube.
You could also go over to Reddit and share and read other people’s comments on dioramas, like the reaction I found:
Also, consider the scale of your project, like this 1:24 scale FULL BUILD DIORAMA Tamiya Morris Mini Cooper, isn’t it wonderful?
Planning Your Scene: How to Sketch Out Your Diorama?
I could offer you a few tips and hints on how to plan your miniature diorama scene:
- Think about the scale, this means that you need to determine the size of your base and the miniature objects that you will place on it.
Common for dioramas are the scales 1:72, 1:34, and 1:24, but it is totally up to you!
If you have any doll or figurine in mind to place on your diorama, you just need to figure out its scale.
You can figure out any measurements with the help of my scale convertor.
Convert any measurement in a known scale into another known scale.Convert in scale
to in scale
- Draw a sketch for your scene.
Start defining the size of the base and then think about the layout and what objects you will place and where you will place them.
- Which materials will you use?
To create your diorama, you will need to make a list of the things that you will need to accomplish it, like foam board, paint, glue, figurines, terrain materials, and more. And get the materials that are best for the chosen scale.
- Scenery planning.
Decide if you would like to add any terrain to your diorama, what I mean is things like hills, mountains, forests, etc..
These can be made of plaster, foam, or other materials that have texture.
Now that you planned things as a whole, you can draw any details, including figurines, little trees, animals, structures, rocks and other details.
If you want to add some depth and an ambiance and shadows in the dark, consider foreseeing miniature lighting (LED lights).
Overall, take the time to design your miniature scenery to help you create a more visually stunning diorama and have fun during the process!
How to build a miniature diorama base with foam?
Let’s begin to build the basic base with wood, which is the solid base that you can now build up with the first layer of foam.
You can use any kind of model building foam suitable for dioramas.
This type of foam can easily be adjusted to the shape you need,with the help of a crafting knife.
You can easily glue different parts together and finish everything using sandpaper.
Everything attaches easily to a wooden surface, as to create a strong foundation for your diorama.
In general and in short, the steps that you need to take are:
- choose the right type of foam
- Plan your base
- Give your base texture
- Prime your foam
- paint your base
- add details
- finish with ground cover
To get some ideas on different sceneries for the base and dive into details a lot further, let’s head to Youtube where you can get a project done from start to end:
1. How to build a Street Diorama Base from Styrofoam?
In this video “Diorama Devil” will show you step by step how he made this amazing street diorama, in a simple way:
2. Make a HYPER-REALISTIC Airfield Diorama Display base in 1 Day
In the next video, “Modest Modeler” explains to you how he creates this fantastic airfield diorama display in only one day.
3. How to build a bridge and cobblestone road from foam?
In a miniature scene, I just love cobblestone roads or pathways, I think they are so decorative, don’t you agree?
In another video below, “Mattock models” is showing you how he made this type of road and also includes how to create a bridge!
How to add depth to a diorama?
To get an interesting-looking diorama, adding some depth to it is an important step, here are some tips.
1. Add a foreground.
If you add an element like trees, rocks or others to the front of the scenery, can create a sense of depth.
2. Some variety in scales
You can create a sense of depth and distance by using larger elements in the foreground and smaller ones in the back. Don’t use too different scales though and don’t overdo it.
3. Forced perspective.
Forced perspective is a technique that is used in the photography and cinematography world and is a bit similar to what I said in point 2 to create a sense of distance, but also to create “giant” people, for example.
4. Add a layered effect.
Adding multiple layers of vegetation for example, can help to create depth and dimension.
5. Add shadows and highlights.
If you can create shadows/darker colors or/and add lighter colors (highlights) with a good technique, you have now an extra way of adding depth to your diorama.
6. Add miniature lights.
Adding real functioning miniature lights helps to create even more shadows and depth to the scenery and gives a peculiar atmosphere.
7. Create a sense of movement.
You could also add elements to suggest movements, such as miniature animals or other figurines in motion or waterfalls, etc..
So, there are several ways to create depth to your diorama, you can experiment as much as you like with the different techniques.
How to paint and texture your diorama?
To create an exciting diorama, you can go very far in any direction, from a plain gameboard to great pieces of art.
In general, these are the general guidelines:
1. Use a primer.
Before you start any paint job, it is very important to prime your miniature diorama with a base coat like gesso or white acrylic paint.
Now is also the time to choose a paint color and type of paint: acrylic paint is mostly used in the miniature world.
2. Apply a base coat of paint.
Paint the base with a paintbrush or even paintbrush it to create a base color on which you can add layers of paint or a texture.
3. Create highlights, shadows, and texture.
As mentioned before, you can create a sense of depth by using lighter and darker shades to create shadows and highlights.
It gets more visually attractive by adding textures like sand and gravel to your terrain.
4. Apply dry brushing technique or washes.
“Airbrushing is like regular painting, just more dry..” as Black Magic Craft mentions in the video below haha.
It involves applying a small amount of paint to your brush and then removing most of it again with a paper towel.
Washes on the other hand, are thin layers of paint applied over a base coat to create depth.
Creating Miniature Diorama Accessories
Diorama accessories are also created with foam/styrofoam, wood, copper foil, aluminum foil, modeling clay, etc.
Explaining how to create tons of diorama accessories would take me a complete book to write, so I would love to refer you to the next video tutorial on Youtube by Mechbay:
Learn more about how to create diorama accessories with this online tutorial by Oscar Sanmartin Vargas, a modeler from Spain.
How to set up the miniature lights for a diorama?
How to set up the miniature lights for a diorama is also very elaborate, but I will try to summarize it for you.
- You will need a list of these materials: a power source, LED strip lights, electricity wires, and a switch. You can purchase it all online or in model-building stores.
- Measure out how long you want the LED strip lights to be so that they fit your diorama and cut them in the appropriate length.
- Connect the wires to the LED lights (same color of wire to the same color of wire) and connect the other ends to the power source. Follow the instructions from the manual so they are connected properly.
- Add a switch to the wires to be able to turn the lights on and off
- Before installing the LED strip lights to your diorama, test them out to make sure that they function!
- Use tape or glue to attach the lights to your diorama. Make a sketch beforehand to assure the right positions to create depth to your diorama.
More terrific ideas for different diorama themes.
There are several diorama scenes that are created in such a way that they really are eye candy.
In this section, we will look again for fantastic diorama ideas in different themes.
- The first one is an amazing historical scene picturing the Roman Marche.
- The second video represents a visit to the Royal Armouries Museum in the UK, with another historic scene: a massive 4,000-model Agincourt diorama.
- Another historical scene is from WW2 representing a parachutist caught in the ruins of a hotel.
Belisama teaches you step by step how to do this.
- One more diorama that I couldn’t hide from you guys is this river diorama with all different seasons, so it basically shows you how to create all 4 seasons for a diorama in just one video. Handy, no?!
How to take care of your diorama now it’s finished?
Now that you have created your masterpiece, it is important to take good care of it, if you want to enjoy it for a long time.
Here are a few tips:
- Choose a nice display case that has the right size and shape for your diorama. A glass or plexiglass cover is the most popular option.
- Preferable is to keep your diorama out of direct sunlight, because it can cause fading and damage to it.
- Keep your diorama clean by using a soft-bristled brush or with compressed air.
- Store your diorama in a cool, dry place, away from moisture or extreme temperatures.
If you’re still curious about how to build a diorama, but more on a very professional level, please do check out this online tutorial here by Domestika.
My Final Conclusion
I hope that I could inform you enough about how to build a diorama in detail, while of course there is a lot more to it than what I wrote about. Some people spend years and years on creating the perfect diorama 😉
If you have any more questions about this topic or would just like to chat with me, please leave a comment down below in the comment section or join me on my social media channels or my cozy Facebook group.
I wish you happy crafting!
My name is Lizzy, and I am an amateur miniaturist obsessed with everything in the dollhouse and miniature world, ever since I was a teenager.
I love to write as well about all things happening in the miniature world, hence the reason why I created this blog!
I wish you happy reading and crafting!