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

  • A little off-topic: At-home laser cutters do exist, though the one I have fills a garage. :)
    – Anonymous
    Dec 9, 2011 at 16:32

5 Answers 5


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.

  • 2
    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. origami-resource-center.com/folding-bones.html Nov 28, 2011 at 12:18
  • 1
    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, 2011 at 16:40
  • 1
    @Lauren: A bone! How marvelously, um... anthropological! :-D Nov 28, 2011 at 18:24
  • Gives "throwing someone a bone" a whole new meaning. :D Nov 28, 2011 at 22:07

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.


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.


All you need is a cheap Plotter.

enter image description here

You don't need to buy anything crazy expensive.

This is the sillhouette cameo which is ~$200. That's really cheap compared to an inudstrial plotter.

There are other brands out there too just shop around and get whats cheapest that meets your needs. I've never used one personally but I know a few people who have used them sucessfully.

It's used to cut vinyl but you can use it to cut paper, cardstock, etc.

For this brand I know you CAN use Illustrator. However, you have to pay extra to import illustrator documents. There's a way around that though.

Step 1: Create your desired design. Save as an .ai file in case you lose your work.

Step 2: Make sure all of your shapes are with NO FILL, NO STROKE – just paths.

Step 3: Select parts of your design that might be grouped together or have a compound path. Ungroup EVERYTHING – each group must be clicked on to separate individually. Release EVERY compound path.

Step 4: DO NOT HIT SAVE! You will lose your original file. Under file, choose “EXPORT…” Under format, choose: AutoCAD Interchange File (dxf).

Step 5: Open Silhouette Studio. At the top, open your .dxf file. If it opens and some parts are missing, go back to your file to where they are missing and be sure to release compound paths, ungroup, and choose no fill/stroke.

Step 6: Send to Silhouette! That’s right, you’re done! All those dark lines will cut, you just weed out what you don’t need and you’re finished!


And that's it! Really simple. Some companies use them in their R&D department to 3D print models. I believe there was a skateboard and frame designer company that was using them for that reason. So it can be used professionally in the right hands.

  • Why the downvote? Using a plotter intended for die cut vinyl decals was my first thought for something a step above arts n crafts.
    – Krista K
    Jan 5, 2018 at 11:53
  • @ChrisK I was surprised too. I would have liked a comment with a suggestion instead of a downvote. Anyway thanks to whoever tried to balance that with an upvote! Jan 5, 2018 at 14:17

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: http://www.instructables.com/id/Laser-cutter-start-slicing-stuff-for-under-50-dol/. You should be extra careful with that gizmo but it'll better than any knife, especially at "wild" curves.

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