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Creating Custom Shaped Boxes

Creating Custom Shaped Boxes main article image
Posted on July 20, 2021 by Natalie Ballard

A few important notes before we get into this tutorial…

Beginners Note

If you aren’t confident with how to create a box, start by downloading a template to build from – this is a great place to start. By starting with a simple box you can learn most of the layout techniques you will need.

Software Choice

To make this process easier, use software that can measure distance between nodes. Examples of this are Affinity Designer/Adobe Illustrator/SCAL (straight lines only), CorelDRAW (straight and curved lines), Inkscape (can measure whole curves only using [Extension]-[Visualise Path]-[Measure Path…]). If you have access to CAD software, these tend to have better dimensioning tools. With this in mind, if you are using a title that only supports straight dimensions then stick to shapes with straight dimensions. The more dimension tools your software has, the more complicated you can make your boxes.

Building the basics

As you progress your skills, you will be able to add lots of features to your boxes, but for this first project, we will keep it simple.

  1. Create two layers – “base” and “lid” using the new layer icon at the bottom of your layers panel.
  2. Start with a basic shape from your design software. As you get more confident with this approach, you can get more daring using letters and numbers to create boxes. Simple polygons with straight sides are a good place to start. Create this shape in your “base” layer.
  3. Duplicate the shape into the “lid” group, and hide it for now.
  4. Measure the first side of your base shape using the dimension tools in your software. If you don’t have any, create a path between two points that are straight verticals or horizontals and use the dimension of this as a base. If you don’t have a vertical or horizontal version of this measurement, rotate the base shape until you do. Make a note of this figure ready for the next step.
  5. Draw a rectangle measuring the width of your noted dimension, by the desired height of your box.
  6. Add a glue tab to the right-hand side and bottom edge; do this with a trapezium or the pen tool depending on your software. Weld the glue tab to your panel by selecting all three shapes and welding. Add a score line to both tabs; group the scoreline with the panel.
    Box base shape and one side group as an example of what you are aiming for.
  7. Duplicate the group as many sides as you need for that measurement.
  8. If you have another dimension to create a side for, then repeat steps 4-7 for this new side. If you don’t have a vertical or horizontal version of this measurement, rotate the base shape until you do.
  9. This completes your base section. Be sure to save your document before proceeding. Lock the base layer and hide it to prevent any accidental editing.
  10. Moving to your lid layer, select the version of the base shape in this layer. Offset it by 1mm-2mm (depending on the card) and you don’t need the smaller shape of the two.
  11. Repeat the same process as for the side panels of your base, but the height of these will be much smaller; depending on the height of your base your lid should be between 1.5-3cm tall to be substantial enough.
    An example of the extended lid shape and lid side piece

You can use the printed box tutorial to add a print layer for your boxes if you wish before exporting the file. This is also your opportunity to add a window panel (keep it below your lid rim), a hole for slotting through a tassel or other handle, or other decorative feature for application directly onto your box (such as a drawn border).

Exporting the file

Export settings do vary by software, but most cutters will accept SVG files. If you are not used to the software you are working with, include a 1cmx1cm square to check dimensions are accurate.

Import the SVG into your cutting software and cut out your panels. If you have any drawn elements (such as the scorelines if required) make sure you draw these before cutting.

Assembling the box

  1. Place your smaller base shape flat on your work surface. 
  2. Score and fold all glue tabs on your side panels.
  3. Adhere any acetate into windows, apply decorative fixings
  4. Align and adhere the bottom glue panel of your first side piece. Using a little double-sided tape on your tabs can help make this process a little quicker.
  5. Glue the bottom tab of the next panel, align it to the base and adhere.
  6. Glue the tab between these pieces and adhere making sure alignment is perfectly vertical.
    The box base being built
  7. Repeat this process for the remaining base side panels.
  8. Repeat steps 3-7 for your larger lid base and sides.
  9. Peg your box pieces to hold your seams together and leave to set overnight.
  10. You can then apply any mats, layers, or frames you wish to your project.The completed box

Other suggestions

Larger windows 

If you want your window panel to spread over 2 or more panels, weld the required number of panels, aligning each piece slightly to the right of the score line. This gives you enough tolerance for your panel to fit around any bends.

Photo showing box with a larger aperture window

No lid

You can skip the lid, make a shallower base and use it for flat flower arrangements, sweets, or simply as a decoration. An example of this can be seen in our cover image for this blog piece.

Struggling to get accurate measurements/working in curves

We have a video on how to do this process manually using strips of card instead of individual panels. You’ll recognise the N from that process. Score a strip of card at 1cm that is the desired height + 1cm in width. The length of the strip isn’t important as you can join more strips together.

Finished boxes

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