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Need a small box for gifts, party favors, product packaging, decoration, or any other purpose? It's easy and cheap to build a box in the shape and size of your choosing. I will also show you how to add an image or design to further personalize it.

Step 1: Generate and Download the Template

To start off, you need to generate the template for the box you want, print it out, then edit it to get the image or design you want on it. To do this you will need:

  1. A computer with internet access (The computer I have used Windows, so some computer steps may look different on other operating systems)
  2. A printer
  3. A scanner (if you don't have access to one, check at your local library. They may have one you can use.)
  4. A program that can read .pdf files (Adobe Acrobat Reader is common, and can be downloaded free at https://get.adobe.com/reader/)
  5. A photo editing program (any will work, even MS Paint in a pinch. If you don't have one, GIMP is a free one you can download at www.gimp.org)
  6. Paper or cardstock (the thicker the cardstock, the sturdier the box will be, but make sure that your printer can handle printing on it)

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First you need to get the template for the box. Go to http://www.templatemaker.nl/ and find the style that suits your needs. At the time of writing the site has about 2 dozen different styles, all with customizable dimensions and entirely free.

For this demonstration, I chose to make product packaging for my home business, specifically to hold a set of coasters, which each coaster being 4 inches in diameter and 1/4 inch thick. I chose to use the match box template to make a box with a sliding sleeve that would hold it tightly closed without the need for tape or other fixative. I adjusted the size from the default to 4 inches square by 3/4 inch high, which would fit 3 coasters. My initial test was for a box 1 inch high, but I found that made the template slightly too big for my printer to print at the correct size.

The finished template is generated in a .pdf file, so you will need to have a program that can open that kind of file, usually Adobe Acrobat Reader. Then you can save or print the template. The template I generated is shown above. You can see the solid red lines are where you're meant to cut, while the dotted blue lines are where you're meant to fold in order to assemble this box.

Step 2: Print Template and Scan

To add a custom design to the box, you first need to convert the template into some form of image file. Since Adobe Acrobat can't convert .pdf files to image files (by default, anyway; there may be an optional plugin that can add this function, but I do not know of one), then we have to go a slightly more roundabout way to get an image of the template. To do this, you need to print it out and scan it.

Open up the template in Adobe Acrobat and print it. Make sure you select the option to print at Actual Size, so that it doesn't try to shrink the template. If you're using a color printer, you can set the template to print in black and white using a option at the top right of the Print dialog box. If the template has more than one page, like the example one does, you can chose to print all pages at once, or start with just the one(s) you'll be adding a design to. I started with just the sleeve of the box.

Once the page is printed, scan it. Every scanner's software will look a bit different, but you should be able to adjust the settings to do the following: crop the scan image so it contains just the template, not the rest of the page. You can see from the images that the scanned page looks slightly gray. This is because my scanner's default setting happen to pick up the texture of the paper. To get rid of that, increase the Brightness setting, which lightens the image, and Contrast setting, which makes light parts of the image lighter and and dark parts darker. This results in black lines on a white background. Then save the resulting image.

Step 3: Edit Scanned Template

Open the scanned template in any image editing program. If you don't have one, there are free programs available, such as GIMP. (For this demonstration I used Paint Tool SAI, which is not free, but offers a 30-day free trial.) You may want to zoom in on the image and look it over to make sure there are no errors. In the first image here I found that the edge of the paper was captured in my scan, so I colored over that small line with white.

Then add the image or design you want to put on the box. Since this box was meant as product packaging, I chose to put my business name and logo on the box. On this box, either of the large areas could be used as the top of the box, so I just picked one and centered my images on it. You could also get much more detailed with the decoration if you wish, such as adding images on all sides, or even a design that wraps around the whole box.

If you want the template to be lighter, so that the lines don't show up as clearly on the finished box, then make sure the template is on its own layer and lower the opacity of that layer. The method for doing this will vary for each program, but if you look at the above images, you can see Layers and the Opacity slider along the left side of the screen.

Once you have the design the way, you like, save it.

Step 4: Print Template

Now print your personalized template. As before, make sure that you set it to print at full size, not adjusted to fit the paper. If you haven't printed the templates for any unaltered parts of the box, do so now.

In order to make the box sturdier, it's best to print on cardstock instead of plain printer paper. The thicker the cardstock, the sturdier the box will be. Be aware that on some styles of box, such as this Match Box style and anything with a separate lid, the thickness of the paper may determine how well the separate parts fit together. For this style, if the paper is too thick, the base of the box might not fit into the sleeve. If this happens, adjust the template settings to generate one where the pieces fit together properly. For this template, that would be the Clearance setting; I'd want to increase the Clearance, in order to make more space between the two pieces.

Step 5: Cut Out the Box

Next comes assembling the box. For this part you will need:

  1. All template printouts
  2. Ruler (metal or metal-edged. I have 2, and find the smaller one easier to hold down in order to get straight cuts)
  3. Craft knife (X-acto or similar)
  4. Glue (I prefer Tacky glue, but anything that bonds paper strongly will work)
  5. Self-healing cutting mat (optional, though it's best to have something to cut on so you don't scratch up our work surface. A piece of spare cardboard will do.)
  6. A toothpick (optional, makes spreading glue easier)

To cut the template out, place the printout on the cutting surface and line the ruler against one of the lines of the template. Take care with this to make sure it's lined up as accurately as possible. Then use the craft knife to cut along the lines, pressing firmly against both the paper and the ruler. You will need to hold down the ruler with your other hand to make sure it stays in place. If your blade doesn't cut through all the way the first time, just repeat the cut. The partial cut will have left a groove in the paper, so you should be able to just run the blade down that to deepen the cut.

Then continue cutting all the way around the template, making sure to cut only the solid lines. Try to cute each line in one stroke, which helps ensure they will be smooth cuts. When using larger rulers, you may need to be careful holding down the ruler to make sure it doesn't slip. For smaller cuts, like the tabs on this template, you may not even need the ruler at all and can just cut them freehand. If you find it easier, you can cut away the unused part of the paper as you go, but I find this unnecessary.

Alternately, if you have a device that can do the cutting for you, you can program it do to that. Some such devices are a lazer cutter, or an electronic cutting machine like a Cricut Explore or a Silhouette Cameo. As I have access to none of these machines, I can't provide instructions on how to set them up to cut out the template.

Step 6: Score and Fold the Bottom of the Box

To make the folding easier, you can score (which means to scratch or press a grove into the paper) along the fold lines. Any narrow, blunt object can be used for this, such as the end of a paper clip, blunt craft blades, blunt sewing needles, etc. Craft stores also sell a tool for this purpose called a bone folder, which looks like a long, thin piece of flat plastic that comes to a dull point. In this example, I'm just using the opposite side of the craft blade.

The method for scoring is pretty much the same as cutting, but with blunt tool instead of a sharp one: line up the ruler along the line, hold down the ruler, press the tool firmly along the ruler and down the paper. You don't need to press down as firmly as when you're cutting, though, since pressing too hard can cut, puncture or tear the paper. It can take a bit of trial and error to get a feel for how much you need to press, so you may want to practice on a bit of scrap paper first, such as the unused part of your printout. Once the lines are scored, you can easily fold them up. If you score accurately along the printed lines, the tabs and sides should all line up neatly.

Step 7: Score and Fold the Top of the Box

For the bottom of the box I could simply fold up on the fold lines, but if I did the same for the sleeve, the printed design would end up on the inside. So I needed to score along the unprinted side of the paper, which meant I needed to mark where the lines should be. One way to do this is to use the extra part of the printout as a guide, if it's still intact. Line the cut piece up against it, then mark along the paper where the fold lines are. Once you flip the cut piece over, you can use the marks to find where to score. Alternately, you can just take a pencil, hold the cut piece up with the printed part facing you, then carefully mark just behind it. Then score along those marks. Either way, once the paper is scored, then fold it.

Step 8: Glue the Box

It's best to fold all pieces of the box and make sure you understand how they fit together before gluing. This box is pretty self-explanatory, but other boxes may take a bit more time to figure out.

Once you know where to glue, apply a thin layer of glue to the tabs. I find using a toothpick to spread it helps get an even coating without applying too much. Then fold the tab into place, pinch it together and hold for a few seconds. If you use Tacky glue like this, it will bond pretty quickly, but other glue may take a little longer. Just keep holding it until it stays in place when you take the pressure off it. Then repeat for all places that need glue.

Step 9: Complete!

Your box is now fully assembled! It's ready for whatever special purpose you had in mind.

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