Tribute Boards: A Beginner’s Guide

by Lain Ehmann on February 3, 2011

Ahhh, tribute boards! After all, it is that time of year. Graduations are approaching, and parents of seniors everywhere are wondering how in the heck to encapsulate their child’s first 18 years in a small, 22 x 28″ canvas?

Courtesy of Tammy Parker at

If you have no idea what I am talking about, you obviously don’t have a senior in your house! (I don’t either, but I got a question the other day from a non-scrapper friend about how to go about setting up her board for her son. I promised her I’d come up with some ideas to help her on her way).

There was surprisingly little information on senior collage boards, “photo boards,” or tribute boards online, so most of this info is made up out of my little brain. But a big canvas is the same as a little canvas, right? So here’s my step-by-step approach.

1. Focus on the goal. Do you want your tribute board to include images from your child’s entire life, or just the last year? Different schools have different traditions, so you might want to check with your child to get their preference, or ask another mom if you’re unsure. Once you know what time period you’re covering, you can decide if you want a theme (like all baseball through the years, dance, the color pink, love of animals, etc.) Themes aren’t mandatory, but they can add to the “cuteness” factor and make it easier for you to select photos.

2. Follow the rules. Most schools will tell you the size of the board, suggest materials, and let you know how it will be displayed (hung on a wall or put flat on a table; on easels or taped in a hallway, etc.). If you don’t know the answers to these questions and your school doesn’t give you any guidelines, ask! You don’t want to spend 17 hours creating a beautiful collage on a tri-fold display board, only to find out your collage can be no larger than 20×20 and must sit on an easel. Boo!

3. Choose your supplies. Many of your decisions will be dictated by the “rules” above, but here is a quick list of supplies you’ll want:

-Poster board, foam-core board, tri-fold display, or similar “base.” (I prefer foam-core because it comes in a variety of colors, is sturdy AND light, and is easy to work with).

-Lettering mechanism, whether it’s stickers or stamps or die-cuts

-Adhesive (DON’T use glue sticks or tape! Your photos won’t stay on the board. They’ll peel and flake and you’ll be really grumpy. Do yourself a favor and use a permanent tape-runner like this one: Mono Adhesive (Permanent) Dispenser.

-Cardstock. Even if you just use white or black, creating mats around your photos will help them stand out and look more cohesive.

-Paper trimmer. Don’t rely on scissors. Even if you THINK you can cut a straight line, few people actually can. When you get the board up and look at it from a distance, all the imperfections stand out. Using a trimmer is actually much quicker, too, so you’ll save time. You don’t need to buy one of those huge ones at the office supply store; instead, grab this puppy from the crafts store: Fiskars – 12 inch Portable Rotary Paper Trimmer – Blade Style F. It’s easy to use and fairly inexpensive. I use mine almost every day, and it’s still going strong after three-plus years.

-Stickers, die cuts, and other embellishments. Just as scrapbookers know, you can jazz up your photo boards as much as you want with anything from your baby’s first binkie to die-cuts of football helmets and cheerleader pom-poms. I recommend using a very few, carefully selected embellishments (see below).

4. Select your photos. There’s a tendency to go overboard with the photos, using the senior photo collage as an opportunity to cram every photo you’ve ever taken of your child onto that canvas. Resist! Using too many photos just looks junky. Instead, choose a MAX of about 10-12 photos, perhaps a few more if they’re very small, or a few less if they’re larger.

I know, I know… you’ve got hundreds of cute pictures and you want to use them all. You might want to just accept it right now that you CAN’T use them all. So just go on from there. Instead of picking all the good photos, pick the 10-12 best. Period. If you use more, you just dilute the ones you choose. It becomes a big visual mess instead of a beautiful representation.

One thing that can really help is having a focal photo — one that is larger than the others. Maybe a more current photo that you use in a larger size, or a great photo that you mat on cardstock to draw attention to it. You could also add a little pizzazz with an arrow, stars, stickers — or just put it in the middle of the board. Give your viewers someplace to look first; don’t confuse them!

5. Lay out your design. Go ahead and mat your photos on cardstock, but before you get out the tape runner, lay out your design without adhesive. Use the tips above for starting with a focus photo.

Think about positioning and what the placement means. If you’re using chronological photos, a natural progression is left to right, top to bottom. If you’re using another sort of theme, you can lay them out in a grid fashion, linear, or at angles… whatever looks good to you. Just remember to use plenty of white space, and don’t smother your photos! Space between your pictures is GOOD.

Then add your title with stickers or stamps, or even a stencil (but stickers are so easy — just go buy them, please!).

Once you’ve got it all where you want it, then you can start sticking it down. If you misplace something, peel it up V-E-R-Y carefully, remembering that you can cover up any little tears in the paper with a sticker or another photo. No biggie!

As you can guess, there is more to this whole process than meets the eye. Leave yourself a lot of time to work on this, so you’re not trying to pull it all together the night before (now THAT is a nightmare!).

If you do this, make sure to take photos and send me a copy! :)

P.S. Got other tips? Share them in the comments!

P.S. I found a few other photos of senior collage boards online. You can see them here and here.

  • Amy K

    Thanks for the great tips Lain. I do have a senior, and have been in planning mode since right after Christmas.

  • Carol

    I’m on my second senior and have never heard of this … must depend on the school! We do have a party for our kids and I set out their important stuff (scrap/picture books, scholastic/sports awards, etc) … kind of fun.

  • Anonymous

    We didn’t have it when I graduated… I think it’s fairly recent. Probably an addition due to Helicopter Parents. ;)

  • Angie Pedersen

    This could also be useful for boys who earn their Eagle Scout award – families usually host a sort of reception, and it’s nice to have some sort of display to showcase achievements throughout the years of scouting.

  • Anonymous

    Great idea!!! Thank you!

  • Moejgreer

    Helicopter Parents?

  • Anonymous
  • Kristie Sloan

    LOL I had never heard that term either! Thanks for the link.

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