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Custom Print & Cut Boxes

Custom Print & Cut Boxes main article image
Posted on April 16, 2021 by Natalie Ballard

What you will need:

  • PNG images for decoration along with any logos or branding you want to include
  • A box template or draw your box net (flattened box design) from scratch
  • A concept sketch of how you want your box to look is really useful
  • Design software: Sure Cuts a Lot, Affinity Designer, Adobe Illustrator and Inkscape can all do the following techniques

Creating the box

Your box design can be imported from a template source such as especially if you are new to building custom boxes. You can use either SVG or PDF files in most design software and resources like this takes the thought out of the initial process.

The simplest box you can make is a square lidded box; as fundamentally these are formed of two crosses to which you just add glue tabs. As you get more complex, you could use template sites to help you, or use maths and geometry to create your own net. You could also tailor an insert for your particular use.

So, because we are going to be printing out boxes, you are going to set your canvas to your printer size and 300 dpi as most of use are limited to A4 printing. If you have an A3 or larger printer (or access to one) then you would size your document to your cutting mat size instead but still at 300 dpi. This is so you have a great printed resolution for your design.

Creating your own template

  • Draw a square and duplicate this a further 4 times and arrange to a cross. My initial square measures 5cm x 5cm; I then duplicated this exact square 4 times. Use snapping to help you position the squares if your software has that option.
    Shows the layout of the initial 5 squares
  • Weld these together by selecting all [CTRL/CMD]+[A] and then using your software’s geometry/calculation/pathfinder tools.
  • To one side of each flap, you add a glue tab. Using your pen tool, add two nodes to the side you want to add your glue tab about 1cm inwards from the corners. Move these two new nodes outwards from the path sot it looks like this:

    Close up of the forming of the glue tabGlue tabs applied to all four side panels

  • Next add your scoreline to your box base using the pen/path tool between your points.

    Adding the scoreline with the path tool

    Group everything into one group and rename it Box Base.

  • To create the lid, start with a square a little larger than your base square. So, as I used 5cm square, for my lid I’m going to use 5.2cm square for my lid.

    Sizing the lid

  • The sides of my lid are going to be shorter, now how much is up to you but it should be at least 3mm shorter than the sides of your base and at least 1cm. You could also adapt this depending on the space you have on your paper if needed. You need to allow 6mm between objects. I chose to use a lid depth of 1.5cm for my sample.
  • Apply glue tabs as before but to the opposite sides as well as your scoreline. 

    Completing the lid element

  • Group your lid elements together and rename the group Box Lid.
  • Rename the entire layer CUT. Lock this layer if your software has this option.

Adding the printed elements

  1. Add a new layer and call it PRINT and place this beneath CUT
  2. Copy the outline for your box base and paste it into your PRINT layer. You may need to unlock your CUT layer to do this, be sure to re-lock it if you do.
  3. Remove the pairs of nodes you added for the glue tabs (this is especially important for laser or professional printing).

    Removal of nodes and offsetting

  4. Offset this shape by 3mm and in this offset shape fill it with a base colour of your choosing. You can always tweak this later so don’t get too hung up on this at this point.

    Showing the printable area of the base template

  5. Import your logos and/or images and place them into your print shape. Select all your images and import in one go and don’t worry about scale/placement at this point.
  6. With your base, think of your images radiating outwards from the centre; so the bottom of your image will be towards the centre and the top towards the outside. When positioning your images, pay attention to your folds and joins; with care and attention, you can make these look seamless. Images should always extend up to, or beyond, the edge of your coloured layer.

    We can do this through mirroring as with the beaded border shown here; sometimes known as flip or reflect depending on the software used.

    Aligning the beaded border elements

    Flowers on the other hand we will have to treat a little differently so its wraps around the join. For this you will need to use a duplicate and possibly masking the image depending on positioning (especially at the bottom of joins. You can use 45 degree angled guides to check your spacing (or create your own with the pen tool if your software doesn’t have the option). It helps if you can find a recognisable point in your design and positioning that you can align your guide to.

    Matching a design around a fold and join

  7. Repeat the same process for your lid; try using contrasting colours and images or create a panel design on to the top of your box. This time the top of your images will go towards the centre and the bottom towards the outside.

    Using a guide to help your position the print around the box

  8. You want to make sure all images are clipped to the bleed areas so you don’t get an unexpected surprise when printing.

    Clipping to the printable areas

Adding registration marks

  1. If your machine has a link to your design software to add registration marks for print and cut use that as your first option. These often make the machine align your cutline automatically meaning you don’t have to reposition or twist your print. An example of this is the ScanNCut Link for Adobe Illustrator; this places automatic registration marks into the corner of your page (but be aware of the printable area of your paper as you may need to adjust the size of your document to suit). These are typically added to a new separate layer, so skip ahead to printing and exporting your design.
  2. If you don’t have an automatic registration option, create a new layer and rename it REGISTRATION
  3. You can create a registration mark of your own choosing: a cross hair or L with the path/pen tool, or use a small square.
  4. Duplicate this registration mark so you have one in each corner (avoiding going outside your printable area).

    Document with registration marks placed

Printing and exporting for print and cut

  1. Hide the CUT layer. Print out your document with no change in scale (do not use fit to print). If your printer can’t use thicker card, print it onto paper and mount this onto card post printing.

    Print out placed onto cutting mat

  2. Reveal the CUT layer and hide the PRINT layer.
  3. If you’ve used automatic registration marks, use the same plugin to send your file to your machine. Alternatively, export your design to SVG for uploading to your machine (in either Save As or Export depending on your software). Be sure to change the resolution to match your cutter; for example, the ScanNCut uses a resolution of 96dpi.
  4. Import the SVG into your machine’s software (or directly to your machine if compatible). You can set your scoreline and registration marks to draw instead of cut. To make it easier to position your file, group all of your elements together into one unit.
  5. Load your print onto your cutting mat and use whichever system your machine utilises for knowing where objects are on the mat (Background Scan on a ScanNCut for example).
  6. Align your file to your print using the registration marks and cut
    The cut out box elements

Assemble your box

  1. Score all of your scoring lines and burnish your folds for a crisp finish.

    Scoring and folding

  2. Apply glue and tape to your glue tabs.

    Gluing the tabs

  3. Assemble your box elements.

    Matching the edges

The completed box

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