The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon
The 100 best digital picture frames on amazon

5 essen­tial tips I learned from build­ing dig­i­tal pic­ture frames


When dig­i­tal pic­ture frames were first intro­duced about 15 years ago, many peo­ple grew tired of them quick­ly. For oth­ers, they have become an indis­pens­able source of dai­ly joy.

Since 2005 I have spent count­less hours research­ing the sub­ject of dig­i­tal pic­ture frames. In this arti­cle, I will share with you five essen­tial tips that will help you to dis­tin­guish between the great and the not so great ones.

#1 Super Size Me!

I remem­ber a com­mer­cial in a Paris movie the­ater many years ago. It start­ed with a grand scene from the epic dra­ma film "The last emper­or" by Bernar­do Bertoluc­ci. The child emper­or was walk­ing around in the For­bid­den City in Bei­jing. The cam­era angle was very wide, and the dra­mat­ic sound­track made the screen even wider.

Then, the screen start­ed shrink­ing, the bass in the sound was reduced, and in the end, you would see the film play­ing on a small tele­vi­sion in the mid­dle of the big screen. The com­mer­cial was to demon­strate how much dif­fer­ence the screen size makes to the emo­tion­al expe­ri­ence of a movie.

The same can be observed when you look at images. Images that you have tak­en your­self with your mobile phone, pro­fes­sion­al pic­tures tak­en by a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, or pieces of art straight from a muse­um.

If you look at them in large, you will dis­cov­er details, feel the emo­tion much more and spend more time look­ing at and enjoy­ing it.

The mar­ket has been flood­ed with small dig­i­tal pic­ture frame units, and I would guess that most of them have been aban­doned after a rel­a­tive­ly short time. Their pic­ture qual­i­ty was lousy, set­ting up dif­fi­cult and peo­ple didn't update their images very often because it was cum­ber­some. Like back­ground noise, the image frame became a back­ground flick­er and was even­tu­al­ly unplugged and put in the draw­er.

So, when you think seri­ous­ly about get­ting a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame, self-made or off-the-shelf, do your­self a favor and don't go below 21 inch­es, or bet­ter get a 24 inch­es dis­play. This is what I con­sid­er to be the min­i­mum size for any decent dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

With a size like this, the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is bound to become a focal point in every home. You will talk about the images with your spouse, kids, and friends. It won't be a back­ground flick­er but an enrich­ing and essen­tial con­trib­u­tor to your social set­ting.

#2 Lost in Tran­si­tion

This is prob­a­bly the best-kept secret in the world of dig­i­tal pic­ture frames. Allow me to intro­duce you to the art of pic­ture frames! I am talk­ing about image tran­si­tions.

Image tran­si­tion refers to the way how the frame switch­es from one image to the oth­er. In the sim­plest case, there is just a hard cut from pic­ture to pic­ture.

This caus­es quite a dis­tur­bance, espe­cial­ly with a larg­er screen. There may be a sud­den change in bright­ness which is uncom­fort­able, some­thing which dis­tracts, some­thing which doesn't feel right espe­cial­ly in a social set­ting. And it is dead bor­ing.

We have test­ed many types of tran­si­tion effects for over 12 years now. For the first sev­en years, we had a ran­dom mix of about 20 tran­si­tion effects includ­ing

  • cross­fad­ing
  • fad­ing to black
  • fad­ing of high­lights
  • pix­el stairs effects
  • image dis­tor­tion
  • wob­bling water fad­ing
  • zoom­ing in and out
  • rota­tion
  • cubes
  • straight lines
  • curved lines
  • decom­pos­ing bricks
  • blurred image tran­si­tions
  • the turn­ing of pages
  • carousel
  • Ken Burns effect

and many many more.

Exam­ple of ran­dom tran­si­tion effects

While each of them is fun to look at, the nov­el­ty wears off quick­ly, and it becomes more dis­tract­ing than enter­tain­ing.

Of course, it's a mat­ter of per­son­al taste but in my 12 years dig­i­tal pic­ture frame expe­ri­ence, there is only one effect which is great to look at every day, and that is soft cross­fad­ing with a tran­si­tion time of 10 sec­onds.

When you set your tran­si­tion time to 10 sec­onds, some­thing sig­nif­i­cant hap­pens. You mul­ti­ply the num­ber of your images on the frame by 100.

That is because slow cross­fade can cre­ate incred­i­bly excit­ing effects. It's like lay­er­ing in Pho­to­shop where you can change an image entire­ly with the right tex­tured back­ground at a low­er opac­i­ty.

The 10 sec­onds make the tran­si­tion long enough that you can active­ly watch a new image being cre­at­ed from a mix of ran­dom pho­tos. If you set the tran­si­tion time faster than 10 sec­onds, you won't be able to expe­ri­ence the new image that the cross­fade may bring about. If the tran­si­tion time is too long, the effect will become bor­ing.

Exam­ple of 10 sec­onds cross­fade tran­si­tion effect

Not every slow cross­fade will cre­ate a new mas­ter­piece. But it does hap­pen sur­pris­ing­ly often.

So when you buy a com­mer­cial pic­ture frame, make sure that you can select the cross­fad­ing tran­si­tion effect and that you can set the time to 10 sec­onds.

Should you choose to build your own, then fol­low the soft­ware instruc­tions here on the blog and use the Pi3D soft­ware for mar­velous­ly ren­dered cross­fades. You will dis­cov­er new images every day.

#3 About Time

The third secret is about the ques­tion of how quick­ly the images should rotate. Are 90 sec­onds long enough? Should it be longer?

Though friends & fam­i­ly agree on the slow cross­fad­ing tran­si­tions effect as being the best long term set­ting, the per­son­al taste seems to be more rel­e­vant when it comes to the delay between images.

This is again impor­tant because a rhythm that it too fast intro­duces ner­vous­ness, where­as a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame should por­trait calm and seren­i­ty.

Our liv­ing room dig­i­tal pic­ture frame is set to a delay of 200 sec­onds. We have found this to be the right time to study an image with­out fear that it goes away quick­ly.

And quite a few times, we would call each oth­er when an image is being dis­played that we hadn't seen yet. And if the image is gone in the 30 sec­onds, it takes the oth­er per­son to come look­ing, and it can be a bit annoy­ing for every­one.

My rec­om­mend­ed set­ting is 200 sec­onds. You can't go wrong with that.

#4 Look Ma, No Cables!

Why is Apple Inc. so suc­cess­ful? Because their design­ers pay atten­tion to details that many peo­ple will nev­er know that they exist. But very often they will feel it. Look at how scrolling on a smart­phone has evolved. There used to be a hard stop to scrolling, but when the iPhone intro­duced the rub­ber band act­ing as an elas­tic end to scrolling, every­body adopt­ed the same feed­back in lat­er soft­ware ver­sions.

In our case, the one hard­ware detail that is of enor­mous impor­tance and makes the dif­fer­ence between a strange object and an inte­grat­ed piece of fur­ni­ture in the liv­ing room is the issue of cables.

Dig­i­tal pic­ture frames require a pow­er out­let, and that means cables.

But noth­ing will look worse than a cable run­ning from your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame to the plug on the ground. It's only a lit­tle cable, but it can make a lot of dif­fer­ence.

Dig­i­tal wall frame ven­dors have rec­og­nized this and are try­ing to come up with all kinds of solu­tions.

I will post an arti­cle in the future on the var­i­ous options that you have.

In short and depend­ing on your liv­ing sit­u­a­tion, you can either try to catch a pow­er out­let designed for a lamp (most nat­ur­al), run the cable inside the wall (didn't you want to ren­o­vate any­way?), drill a hole in the wall (depend­ing on what's behind) or use very flat cables (not cheap and still vis­i­ble) and ide­al­ly paint over them.

Putting the dig­i­tal pic­ture frame (too low) on a cup­board is also pos­si­ble, but it won't have the same effect as a frame on the wall.

No cables make all the dif­fer­ence

Peo­ple notice when a wall frame has no cables, and I have often got­ten the ques­tion "does your frame have a bat­tery?" because there is no vis­i­ble cable.

#5 Update your images often

Cur­rent­ly, there are 1,117 care­ful­ly select­ed images on our liv­ing room pic­ture frame. This means that giv­en our delay between images of 200 sec­onds, and a time of 16 hours a day in which it is turned on, images would only start repeat­ing every four days. As you don't con­stant­ly look at the frame any­way, that gives plen­ty of vari­ety of images and lots of dis­cov­er­ies.

If you start with 200 images, that's just fine. But you should try to update your image repos­i­to­ry when­ev­er you have great pho­tos that are worth look­ing at on a larg­er screen. Also, delete those that you are tired of see­ing quick­ly.

This is why it is very impor­tant to have a process that makes main­tain­ing your image col­lec­tion as sim­ple as pos­si­ble. It gets even more inter­est­ing when oth­er peo­ple (like friends & fam­i­ly) can add images to your frame with­out you hav­ing to do any­thing. Or, you send an email with an image attach­ment to your (grand)parents and the pho­to is auto­mat­i­cal­ly added to their dig­i­tal pic­ture frame.

Adding and remov­ing images must be a process that is dead easy and high­ly auto­mat­ed.

Because, if this is com­pli­cat­ed like you have to take out the SD card from your dig­i­tal frame and load up the images on your com­put­er, you will be less like­ly to update them often.

But if your frame is linked to a Drop­box fold­er or an album of your Google Pho­tos account, then updat­ing is a breeze and you will quick­ly have a nice col­lec­tion of hun­dreds of great images that you can dis­cov­er and redis­cov­er casu­al­ly in your liv­ing room.


Any of these five tips will help great­ly improve your dig­i­tal pic­ture frame expe­ri­ence. You may feel that some are for the die-hard pic­ture lovers only, but once you have expe­ri­enced it your­self, you will imme­di­ate­ly under­stand and won't go back.

We all love great images. Let's use a dig­i­tal pic­ture frame to present them in a way that we for­get that it's just an LCD dis­play on the wall, and indulge in remem­ber­ing the moments when they were tak­en.