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So, about a year ago, I taught myself Illustrator. I am still bumbling along and experimenting with what it can do. I recently bought a new book that has templates for packaging design and I am going to try to tackle my first project: a simple box that I will use for a gift.

I started to think through the process of actually making a gift box, and it occurred to me that I had overlooked the whole cutting and printing part of the process. Once I have imported the template and created a design, what is the best way to print it? I'm assuming many of the people who buy books like this are students or professionals who have access to large scale printers and laser cutters. Does anyone have any thoughts for doing it at home? I could throw some 11x17 card stock in the printer and grab an exacto, but I'm thinking it may end up looking crappy. Let me know what has worked for you - kinkos? professional printers? at home laser cutters (if there is such thing)...

Thanks! K

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A little off-topic: At-home laser cutters do exist, though the one I have fills a garage. :) – Anonymous Dec 9 '11 at 16:32

You can do it at home. I think a specially made box for a gift is a wonderfully personal touch, increasingly rare and the more welcome because of that.

It doesn't have to look bad, although as Lauren says it will take a little practice. A steel straight edge or ruler is a must, and a steel French curve would be a plus. Plenty of Xacto blades are another must, because the first rule of cutting is: "Always use a sharp knife." (It's a safety thing.) Use the blunt side of a scissor or table knife to score where you will fold, so that the card doesn't break unevenly.

In your Illustrator file, make the dielines .25 point and in a color that's not going to be obvious where it's visible at the folds.

Die cuts like this are generally done with an actual die that's made for that specific product. The die is expensive to make, so it's not worthwhile unless you're doing a few thousand.

I don't think I've ever come across a shop that would do custom cuts on a one-off basis. You'll have more luck checking with a craft store than a printer or an office place.

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For scoring where you fold, the actual tool is called a bone, which you can pick up at a craft shop. Makeshift bones will do the job as well, of course, but sometimes it's nice to have the proper tool on hand. – Lauren Ipsum Nov 28 '11 at 12:18
Alan is correct, there's (traditionally) no such thing as one-off packaging. The cost is for the die. After you pay for the die, the price difference between 1 box and 100 becomes minimal. I think the hand-made way is the best option. (The alternative with modern technology might be to find someone with a CNC machine that does either lazer or knife cutting. It's still cost a few bucks, but likely less than a custom die) – DA01 Nov 28 '11 at 16:40
@Lauren: A bone! How marvelously, um... anthropological! :-D – Alan Gilbertson Nov 28 '11 at 18:24
Gives "throwing someone a bone" a whole new meaning. :D – Lauren Ipsum Nov 28 '11 at 22:07

If it's one box, go for the card stock and the Xacto. Print a bunch (because you will screw up the first one, and maybe the second).

I think you would have to print a few hundred to interest a local printer in all the trimwork.

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Awesome, thanks for your response! – KES Nov 27 '11 at 4:40

I don't know what kind of box you are looking to create, but agree that the hand-made solution is likely the way to go. as for printing, printing on card stock with a color printer is tricky. I'd suggest designing the packaging so that it works with labels or stenciled/stamped graphics.

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How about finding some cutting laser in your neighbourhood? You could take your project and pay for cutting it in selected material. I did so not long ago with one set of stickers. Can't say what exact price was but it was… suprisingly cheap.

However if strictly homemade solutions are taken into account, you could take a look at: You should be extra careful with that gizmo but it'll better than any knife, especially at "wild" curves.

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