How I built a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame with a Rasp­berry Pi


In this arti­cle, I will show you step-by-step how to build a high-qual­i­­ty dig­i­tal pic­ture frame. As a part-time pho­tog­ra­ph­er and self-tutored elec­tron­ics tin­ker­er, I have spent count­less hours research­ing this sub­ject since 2005.

Build­ing a high-qual­i­­ty dig­i­tal pic­ture frame (or dig­i­tal pho­to frame as they are also called) requires the right soft- and hard­ware ingre­di­ents. It is so much more than slap­ping a small com­put­er on an old com­put­er mon­i­tor.

Images have become so impor­tant in our lives and more and more are tak­en every day. Read on to find out how you can make your pic­tures shine at home or in cor­po­rate envi­ron­ments.

You don't buy a Picas­so and put it in an IKEA frame

Well, I am not sug­gest­ing that you or I own a Picas­so. But we all have images that we hold dear and that, for us, are price­less.

If you love great images and you don't want to let them rot in the prover­bial shoe­box (or to put it in a bit more up to date word­ing: hard­disk fold­er), you should get a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame to enjoy them every day.

You can buy dig­i­tal pho­to frames off-the-shelf, but if you are a cre­ative per­son who likes to build things, then you will doubtless­ly be inter­est­ed in this project.

There is no rea­son to be afraid of any hard- or soft­ware issues. In a series of arti­cles on this web­site, I will walk you through every step in minute detail, so that you too, can cre­ate a great dig­i­tal pic­ture frame and dis­play your favorite images in your liv­ing room.

This arti­cle describes the hard­ware part. To learn how to install the soft­ware please read my post "How to con­fig­ure the soft­ware for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame in 60 min­utes".

How it all began

In 2005 I bought my first dig­i­tal pho­to frame from Pho­toVu, a US-based com­pa­ny that pro­duced tai­lor-made dig­i­tal pho­to frames with a high-qual­i­­ty mat­ting and frame.

The largest size at that time was only a 19 inch­es screen, but with the mat­ting, it looked quite big. You insert­ed a USB stick and it beau­ti­ful­ly dis­played the pho­tos with a high num­ber of ran­dom tran­si­tions between them. It turned itself on in the morn­ing and off in the evening. It didn't come cheap at around $ 1,500 (€ 1,350), but it was very well built and worth it.

My first Pho­toVu

Four years lat­er, my Pho­toVu frame died, but since we had got­ten so used to dig­i­tal ani­ma­tion in the liv­ing room, we ordered a sec­ond one, this time their largest mod­el was 22 inch­es. It last­ed until mid-2014 and then it, too, broke.

My sec­ond Pho­toVu

By then, Pho­toVu had gone out of busi­ness, so the choice of order­ing a third one was gone.

I start­ed exten­sive inter­net research on avail­able off-the-shelf alter­na­tives but came up emp­­ty-hand­ed because of my list of cri­te­ria that asked for high dis­play res­o­lu­tion, a high-qual­i­­ty screen with wide view­ing angles and great image tran­si­tions - real­ly impor­tant once you get used to it.

Hav­ing had stopped com­put­er home­brew­ing many years ago, I looked at var­i­ous alter­na­tives like the use of an Apple TV box, but the lack of cus­tomiza­tion options made it a no-go.

In an online pho­tog­ra­phy forum, some­one sug­gest­ed using the Rasp­berry Pi, a mini-com­put­er which had only been released a few years ear­li­er. It didn't quite meet all my cri­te­ria, but it looked like a fea­si­ble home­brewed dig­i­tal pic­ture frame with the option of a future upgrade.

So I went on a long jour­ney to put togeth­er the right soft- and hard­ware mix.

Many peo­ple have made this project pos­si­ble through ideas, instruc­tions and forum advice and in the spir­it of reduc­ing the pain for peo­ple with sim­i­lar ambi­tions, I have out­lined on this blog the crit­i­cal steps for the set­up.

Let's get to work

This arti­cle describes the hard­ware side of how to build a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

Basi­cal­ly, all you need is a suit­able mon­i­tor, a Rasp­berry Pi with acces­sories and a frame.

The mon­i­tor

I spent con­sid­er­able time look­ing for the right screen that is suit­able for DSLR pho­to aspect ratio (3:2). The prob­lem is that you prob­a­bly won't find a mon­i­tor that has 3:2 for­mat.

Most are 16:9 today, but I was lucky to find the ASUS VS24AH in 16:10 for­mat. Only one unit away from 15:10 (which would have been per­fect) but still good enough.

I also com­pared ener­gy con­sump­tion lev­els, but luck­i­ly with LED tech­nol­o­gy, most screens aren't as ener­­gy-hun­­gry as they used to be. The ASUS needs 20 W which means that if the frame runs 16h a day, it boils down to about three $/€ a month in ener­gy costs (obvi­ous­ly depend­ing­ly on the elec­tric­i­ty prices of the coun­try you live in).

The old Pho­toVu frame had a small­er screen, used three times as much and became quite hot in the process.

Also impor­tant are the view­ing angles of the screen because in a typ­i­cal liv­ing room set­ting you will often see the frame from an angle.

There is a lot more to say about find­ing the right screen for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, and I detailed my thoughts in the arti­cle "Select­ing the right dis­play for your Rasp­berry Pi dig­i­tal pic­ture frame". I rec­om­mend read­ing this before you make your choice.

The com­put­er

The Rasp­berry Pi, cre­at­ed in 2012 to get UK stu­dents inter­est­ed in pro­gram­ming and engi­neer­ing, has been a run­away suc­cess and has already sold over 19m units by ear­ly 2018.

It is tiny, low pow­er (3W), ful­ly inte­grat­ed and only costs $35 (€35).

$35 was the com­mu­ni­cat­ed price point of the Rasp­berry Pi foun­da­tion all along, and even for the most recent mod­els, $35 was still stand­ing. Includ­ing the pow­er sup­ply, SD card, and a small case, you are look­ing at around $50 (€50), but this is still very afford­able for a mini com­put­er.

In terms of per­for­mance, it may not com­pare too well with the aver­age lap­top com­put­er, but it has more than enough pow­er to run a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame 24h very reli­ably. By the way, the tiny Rasp­berry Pi has much more pow­er than the onboard com­put­er on the Apol­lo 11 had for the first moon land­ing.

Enough pow­er to land on the moon

It runs on Rasp­bian, a Lin­ux dialect for the Rasp­berry Pi, very sim­i­lar to Debian. This should not deter users who have nev­er used Lin­ux before, as you do not need to know much about it as every­thing is described in this post. As a mat­ter of fact, my own entire Lin­ux "mas­tery" comes from good instruc­tions and tuto­ri­als found on the inter­net.

One of the most sig­nif­i­cant advan­tages of the Rasp­berry Pi is that it comes with an ardent com­mu­ni­ty of home­brew­ers and self­less com­put­er hob­by­ists that pro­vide advice and ideas in many inter­net forums or blog posts.

To under­stand every­thing about the hard­ware com­po­nents that you need and how to install the soft­ware, please have a look at my arti­cle "How to set up your Rasp­berry Pi for your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame".

It is very detailed and has up to date step-by-step instruc­tions.

The frame

Unlike the Pho­toVu frames that I had used before, I decid­ed against mat­ting this time and opt­ed for a more mod­ern look with a sim­ple black anodized met­al frame only.

I would prob­a­bly not rec­om­mend a met­al frame any­more (although they look mar­velous) because it seems to reduce the sig­nal qual­i­ty of the wifi mod­ule slight­ly, but this depends on how much space you have between the frame and the wall. It works fine in my cur­rent set­ting with the Rasp­berry Pi 3+; the old­er Rasp­berry Pi 2 B showed occa­sion­al wifi out­ages.

My next frame will be a wood­en frame, and that is what I would rec­om­mend to you.

Giv­en the met­al bor­der around the naked dis­play of about 0.8 inch­es (2 cm), it wasn't easy to find the right frame mod­el right away. So, if you have a fram­ing shop near­by (unfor­tu­nate­ly quite rare these days), I would encour­age you to take your LCD pan­el and try var­i­ous frames. Or you go to a DIY store and try out the avail­able frame pan­els.

The frame itself had a depth of 1.2 inch­es (3 cm). Not enough to house the screen, cables, and the Rasp­berry Pi but a small dis­tance from the wall is absolute­ly accept­able. The entire depth would be 2 inch­es (5 cm) which still looks nice.

Make sure that your frame con­struc­tion is solid­ly built as it needs to house the screen and the Rasp­berry Pi reli­ably. You don't want your frame com­ing off the wall.

Remov­ing the mon­i­tor bezel

Before you strip down the mon­i­tor, I would rec­om­mend that you get your Rasp­berry Pi work­ing, con­nect it to the mon­i­tor and test your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame appli­ca­tion. Once that works, you can move on to a more tricky bit. But don't fear, the chances are high that you will suc­ceed.


Mon­i­tors do have few or no screws but rather parts that snap togeth­er and that are not always obvi­ous to spot.

For­tu­nate­ly, there a quite a few YouTube videos show­ing how to peel the plas­tic off a brand new screen with­out ruin­ing it and expos­ing just the bare elec­tron­ics. This varies with every mon­i­tor, but my rec­om­men­da­tion is to watch some YouTube videos before you try it with your own mon­i­tor. You may even find a video for your exact type of mon­i­tor.

Once you have care­ful­ly removed the mon­i­tor bezel, this is what you get:

The mon­i­tor has no clothes

Just for the fun of it, here is the emp­ty shell of the mon­i­tor:

The remains of the day

My ASUS mon­i­tor had a met­al piece that was pro­trud­ing and which need­ed to be sawed off with a Dremel.

Before you do that, you should care­ful­ly seal all holes of the back of the dis­play with an adhe­sive plas­tic foil, or else tiny met­al pieces may enter the inner elec­tron­ics of the screen which could cause a short cir­cuit or even worse dam­age.

Be care­ful with that part and clean every­thing neat­ly before pro­ceed­ing!

What sticks out is cut off

Now put your met­al frame togeth­er and care­ful­ly slide in the LCD screen. Be espe­cial­ly care­ful with any cor­ners to not dam­age any cables.

Tight­en every­thing up, and your frame should now look like this:

A work of art

Now, you can start with the wiring. The impor­tant thing is that you get a bent HMDI cable (there are two types, get the one which goes up) and you also need a bent pow­er sup­ply cable for the mon­i­tor.

The pow­er sup­ply cable defines the dis­tance between the frame and the wall, so the flat­ter a mod­el you can find, the bet­ter.

Use tem­per­a­ture resis­tant glue (most gen­er­al pur­pose qual­i­ty glues will do) to attach the Rasp­berry Pi case and its 5V pow­er sup­ply (get one of the very flat ones).

It's prob­a­bly not a bad idea to let the glue hard­en out for 24 hours before pro­ceed­ing. Then care­ful­ly attach the cables and fix them with plas­tic con­nec­tors wher­ev­er pos­si­ble and a bit of glue if nec­es­sary.

Nobody will look behind your frame

It is impor­tant not to mount the Rasp­berry Pi case too high as you need to save some space for the wall mount lat­er.

I also used a fair por­tion of gaffer tape to tight­en up any loose ends. The lit­tle switch­es that come with the mon­i­tor should remain acces­si­ble if you want to adjust the pic­ture qual­i­ty of the mon­i­tor lat­er. In fact, I haven't used them once yet.


Con­nect the pic­ture frame to elec­tric­i­ty and hope that every­thing still works.

How to wire the elec­tric­i­ty cable

An impor­tant issue that real­ly makes a dif­fer­ence in appear­ance is vis­i­ble pow­er cables.

If you want a nice dig­i­tal pic­ture frame in your liv­ing room or an office for that mat­ter, pow­er cables run­ning away from the frame are just plain ugly.

So go the extra mile and either put the frame in a spot on the wall where there is already a pow­er con­nec­tion e.g. a lamp or a pow­er out­let or extend a cable from a mains out­let by care­ful­ly slit­ting up the wall.

A clean cut for a great look & feel

I under­stand that this is not pos­si­ble every­where, but a lit­tle cre­ativ­i­ty can go a long way and will make the pho­to frame a lot more pro­fes­sion­al look­ing. I have been asked many times if my dig­i­tal pic­ture frame was bat­tery pow­ered because peo­ple were almost expect­ing a cable.

Mount­ing it on the wall

For the wall mount, I used three stacked 19 inch­es (47 cm) wide boards with a thick­ness of 1 inch (2.5 cm).

The actu­al thick­ness that is right for you depends on the depth of the com­po­nents that extend beyond the depth of the frame, in my case, that was depen­dent on the mon­i­tor pow­er cable which was the "thick­est" com­po­nent.

I mount­ed two hinges on the board to hold the pic­ture frame and put some black paint on the end­ings of the board to make them vir­tu­al­ly invis­i­ble when look­ing at the frame from the side (which prob­a­bly doesn't hap­pen too often, but any­way).

Hang it up

Turn it on

Jump­ing of joy

Note: If the col­ors on your mon­i­tor look strange­ly exag­ger­at­ed, make sure that you have set the ASUS mon­i­tor to sRGB mode in the pre­sets. This is typ­i­cal­ly best for pho­to view­ing. For oth­er mon­i­tors, there may be a sim­i­lar set­ting.