This is a slightly absurd little project that may appeal to gift wrappers with mild obsessive-compulsive tendencies. You know who you are.
I'm going to quickly talk through how to make your own exquisitely customized gift box for an unusually shaped gift, using the 3D modeling software Blender and a preview version* of 123D Make. No more tape. No more bulges. No more unsightly wrinkles in the wrapping paper. Ugh, just thinking about it makes me shudder.
Ahem. Let's get started, shall we?
*Please note that at the time of writing, the publicly available version of 123D Make does not include the paneling feature that will be used in this Instructable. However, it is scheduled to be included in an update within the next month or two.
Step 1: Convert Your Gift Into a 3D Model
I'm not going to lie to you: this first step is probably going to be the hardest. You're going to have to make a 3D computer model of whatever gift you're planning to wrap.
If you're completely comfortable with using 3D modeling software and you're wrapping a relatively simple shape (a cube, for example), this will be very straightforward. If you've got something a little more complex in mind, you'll have to get out a tape measure and try to design a rough approximation of your gift in 3D. Sorry. I warned you it was going to be hard.
I'm not going to go into much detail for this step because (a) there are far better resources out there for learning how to model in 3D, (b) I don't know what you're planning to wrap and (c) I'm really not that experienced, so you'd probably be better off listening to someone who knows exactly what they're talking about.
However, I can offer two fantastic shortcuts for creating a 3D model of your gift...
Step 2: Two Fantastic Shortcuts for Creating a 3D Model of Your Gift
1) Use 123D Catch. This is a free piece of software that lets you turn a series of photographs into a 3D model, so you could just snap your gift from several different angles and get the computer to make the model for you. You'll have to adjust the scale yourself, but that's a piece of cake compared to modeling a whole sculpture from scratch. I've been playing around with this a lot recently, so expect some more Instructables about how to use 123D Catch in the not-too-distant future.
2) Sidestep the whole problem by choosing a gift that started out as a 3D model. For example, your gift could be something that you've had 3D printed or something that you've sliced and laser-cut using 123D Make. This way, you'll have an exact model of your gift before you even have the gift itself. Clever, no?
Obviously, I went for the easy second option and wrapped a wooden "hand bowl" (click here for more about that project) which started its life as a 3D model in Blender before being converted into plywood slices using 123D Make.
Step 3: Model Your Packaging Around Your Gift
Now that you have the model of your gift, it's time to model a box around it.
How you do this will depend on the shape of the gift, but I recommend starting with a simple cube in Blender.
Re-size the cube so that it becomes a cuboid sitting around the base of your gift, then extrude its upper surface to create another four vertices above the original eight. Re-size and re-position these vertices so that they still contain the gift, then repeat the process of extruding and re-sizing to build up and angular gift box.
Switch regularly between the transparent and opaque object views (default key: Z) to check that the gift is not protruding through the walls of the box at any point.
It's up to you how complex you make your box, but remember that the more convoluted you make it, the longer it will take to assemble.
Once you've modeled your box, export it as an STL file.
Step 4: Convert Into a Net Using 123D Make
Import the model of your gift box into 123D Make and use the "Panel" feature to deconstruct it into a series of, well, panels. You can choose what sort of joinery you want to use at all of the seams, but I recommend using "rivets" or "lace", both of which will leave a series of holes that can be used to tie the panels together.
While you're using this software you can select "View parts layout" at any time to see exactly what your final jigsaw puzzle of a gift box will look like. If it's looking intimidatingly complex, you can go back and simplify your model slightly. If you're happy with the results, then output it as an EPS vector file.
Step 5: Cut Out the Pieces
Select a suitable material for your box. I went with some thick blue art card, which I thought would go nicely with brown parcel string for the seams.
I strongly recommend using a laser cutter to cut out all of the pieces, but if you accidentally left your laser cutter at home then you could always print out templates and use those to cut your card by hand with a craft knife. Please be careful, as hand-cutting elaborate card patterns inevitably leads to sore fingers, tired eyes and irreparable mental instability. As always, there are various services online (e.g.Ponoko) which will laser-cut card and send it to you by mail.
Step 6: Fold As Appropriate
123D Make will tell you the precise angles at which to fold every edge of your box. If you're using a laser cutter, you can choose to have this etched into the pieces themselves for convenience, but I find it makes for a much more attractive gift if you don't. Instead, just have 123D Make running on a nearby computer so that you can consult it for advice as you fold your box using a thin ruler.
Step 7: Lace the Pieces Together
Tie your pieces together using ribbon or string. As you do this, consider how you'll want the box to be opened. For my hand bowl's box, I decided to tie most of the panels together using strong knots inside the box, then tied the final panel from the outside using single bows. This way, it was obvious how to open the box and it provided a natural door through which to insert/extract the gift.
Step 8: Admire Your Box
Within no time (well, after probably less than an hour of knot-tying), you'll have a beautiful box with a door.
Step 9: Entomb Your Gift
Now's the moment of truth! Put your gift inside your box. Hopefully it fits neatly.
If not, I'm dreadfully sorry. Return to Step 1 and try again or just buy gift wrap.
Step 10: Lace Up the Last Seams
Tying the last seams closed is somewhat fiddly. The best way is to lace all of the seams, then pull them all shut at the same time before tying the knots from the outside.
In theory, you could tie the knots from the inside, but this would make the box quite hard to open for anyone except yourself, who would now be trapped inside the box.
Step 11: Present Your Gift
There you have it: a meticulously wrapped gift with only several hours of unnecessary effort!