The Ultimate Guide to Laser-cut Box Generators

About: I'm a Kiwi, a maker and a Dad of four kids with a passion for good design, wood craft, technology, and laser cutters.

Intro: The Ultimate Guide to Laser-cut Box Generators

Tabbed, or "finger-jointed" boxes are one of the most versatile things you can make with a laser cutter - the possibilities really are endless. However, getting the right box for your requirements is not always easy and often entails lots of post-generation modification, plus how do you choose which tool to use? Are better ones available?

There are a bunch of commercial tools that can be used to create laser cut box plans, but I'm not going to cover them here. I'm pretty passionate about laser cutters and in this Instructable I'm going to show you some free and (mostly) easy tools to create boxes of all shapes and sizes. Above are photos of some of the useful things I've created with modifications to simple box designs (I'm planning on writing short Instructables for each soon).

Full disclosure: I am the maintainer of a tiny bit of Open Source called Tabbed Box Maker (pretty original, huh?) which is a plugin for Inkscape, forked from the original Tabbed Box Maker by Elliot White - http://www.twot.eu/111000/111000.html. I believe my plugin is the most advanced laser cut box generator for Inkscape, and I'd be absolutely ecstatic if you used it, but I'm also very keen to hear what else is out there and I'd like to keep this Instructable as a master reference for all things box-generator related. So if you know of something I've missed, ping me in the comments below and I'll add it to the list!

Here's a list of all box makers I'm aware of, and a comparison of each:

Inkscape plugins

  • My Tabbed Box Maker - Comprehensive and easy to use box generator with lots of features:
    • Adjustable kerf
    • "Hairline" line thickness adjustment for Epilog lasers
    • Ability to cut 6, 5, 4, 3 and 2-faced "boxes"
    • Ability to quickly configure slotted internal divisions, both X and Y
    • Includes a Schroff case generator (Thanks to John Slee)
    • (new) Internal divisions can now either be keyed into the box sides or removable
  • Original Tabbed Box Maker
    • As above with fewer features, another virtually identical fork is here.
  • Another fork of Elliot White's plugin with neat "living hinges"
  • Box Maker - A good solid box maker featuring:
    • Adjustable kerf
    • The ability to create "press-fit" tabs, either slightly rounded or trapezoidal
    • Configurable number of tabs for each edge
    • Can create a tight 0-kerf plan to use minimal material (but joints will be loose)

Web-based generators (NO additional software installation required)

  • Makercase - basic boxes only
  • ConnectionLab - basic boxes only
  • MakeABox.io - basic boxes only
  • Jerome Leary's box generator - a fairly well-featured box generator that includes some interesting options, including a frame, box dividers (one direction only), and truss style supports for lightweight boxes.
  • Festi Boxes.py web interface - a web interface for the Boxes.py library below. Lots of different parameterised box types available (thanks @ffesti for the tip!)
  • Joinery - (Instructable here) is a very cool looking online tool for taking regular un-jointed SVG designs and applying joints of all kinds to edges - not just straight edges or box panels, and not just finger joints: it can also make suitable joints for laser cut fabric, cardboard and paper! NOTE: This tool is designed for adding joints to existing non-jointed plans and shapes, not for building plans from scratch.

Scripting languages (for the more adventurous)

  • Box-O-Tron, a T-Slot box script for Python
  • Parametric box modeller for OpenSCAD
  • Festi Boxes.py, an amazing set of scripts that allows you to do some very advanced parametric designs for both basic boxes right through to virtually ready-to-use products, including:
    • Boxes in various shapes and with various lids
    • Boxes using flex cuts with rounded corners and living hinges
    • Type trays with and without outer walls and floors
    • Book covers with flex spine
    • Magazine files, and more...

Shortly I'll be posting another Instructable with further instructions and pictures on how to install and use my box plugin, and examples of the sorts of boxes it can create. Follow me to be notified when it's published!

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    29 Discussions

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    DieterK12

    Question 2 months ago

    I wanted to download the tabbed box maker for inkscape, but I don't know how to make the files download from Github. help

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    Kiteman

    4 months ago

    Wait, this project has been on the site for well over a year - how did I not see it??

    Thanks, Spark!

    2 replies
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    SparkItUpKiteman

    Reply 4 months ago

    Thanks Kiteman! I need to update it, I've found even more projects on GitHub since writing this.

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    KitemanSparkItUp

    Reply 4 months ago

    Cool - I'll look for the update!

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    TerryR36

    Question 4 months ago

    Hello!

    I'm trying to utilize the Festi Boxes utility in Inkspace but for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to generate the .inx files! I'm using a Mac running 10.11.6 (El Capitan). I copied the downloaded files into a separate directory and attempted to run setup.py, but all that happens is a Terminal window opens and nothing happens. Any ideas? I've checked the documentation where the Inkscape instructions are detailed, but I'm not understanding them clearly because I do not appear to be running setup.py correctly.

    1 more answer
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    ffesti

    1 year ago

    Boxes.py now also runs as an Inkspace plugin. The code is still pretty fresh. Comments and bug reports welcome.

    3 replies
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    _mpo_ffesti

    Reply 1 year ago

    Thank you for your work. How do I have to install the plugin? I saw your work on GitHub. But I don't understand how i have to install the plugin in inkscape. Does it work with inkscape 0.92?
    thx

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    WillyinAus

    Question 5 months ago

    looks like Jerome Leary's box generator is no longer available :-( I have no idea if its just down or gone for good.
    Not sure how to contact him.

    2 more answers
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    SparkItUpWillyinAus

    Answer 5 months ago

    Must have just been a temporary outage, seems to be ok now, but thanks for the feedback!

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    superkoja

    7 months ago

    Very useful plugin, thanks for sharing! The only thing that seems to be missing for me is the functionality to adjust the position/spacing for the inner walls separately. Not difficult to adjust manually, but it would add a lot in the completeness of the whole thing IMHO. Thanks again, and good luck!

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    SparkItUpsuperkoja

    Reply 7 months ago

    Thanks, yes I've considered that. It's a little difficult to do nicely due to the plugin dialog design but I'll consider it for a future update.

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    _Bergman_

    8 months ago

    This is not working for me. Is there anything else you should to install this other than unpack the files (.py and .inx-files) to the extension directories? Because I did that (I even tried both the folder for program files, and the other one for user files) and Inkscape still does not list this under the extension drop down menu.

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    SparkItUp_Bergman_

    Reply 7 months ago

    Hey, thanks for reaching out. Which plugin are you referring to, my Inkscape plugin or one of the others? Yes, it should just be enough to add the files to the extensions directory and restart Inkscape. If you still have trouble, PM me with which extension you're trying, which directories you've tried and which OS and Inkscape version you're using.

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    KDLaun

    9 months ago

    Thanks for posting this info. Getting an error when I try the elliptical box plugin:

    Traceback (most recent call last):
    File "ell_box.py", line 3, in <module>
    import Inkscape_helper.inkscape_helper as doc
    ImportError: No module named Inkscape_helper.inkscape_helper

    Anyone have some advice?

    2 replies
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    PyM1KDLaun

    Reply 9 months ago

    https://github.com/BvdP/elliptical-box-maker/releases/tag/v1.0 Check it with this one. It solved my problem.

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    KDLaunPyM1

    Reply 9 months ago

    Awesome, thanks! It worked for me as well.