Saturday, April 7, 2012

Making a TARDIS Gift Box

As any Doctor Who fan will attest, "air from my lungs" is a perfectly acceptable (and rather intimate) gift to bring to any party. But if the party is a major milestone, for a family friend who is a fellow Whovian, and Doctor-Who-themed, a burst of air won't do. It would have to be a special present, with a special box- a miniature TARDIS built out of cardboard. More on the present later, for now, the box! 

1. Find a cardboard box. 

The short sides should be square and the long sides should be about twice as long as the short sides. My box here is 4 1/4" x 4 1/4" on the short sides and 7 1/2" x 4 1/4" on the long sides. I also used several sheets of card stock, 1 piece of vellum paper, plastic wrap, a black plastic bag, a cap from a miniature hand sanitizer bottle, a sheet of photo paper, 2 pieces of Velcro, and acrylic paint. 

TARDIS Preliminary Sketch

2. Sketch out ideas. 

I do this on most of my projects. I like to have an idea of what I'm doing before I start. A lot of this sketch (to the left) is actually for a wooden TARDIS which I'll be finishing in a few days (I hope).

TARDIS Scaled Drawing

3. Make a drawing to scale. 

 For the drawing to the right, each graph square is 1/4". I then transferred the measurements to my computer drawing. The smaller sketch was me trying to figure out how to change the lid opening.

Each side of the TARDIS box will be covered in 3 layers of card stock to give the impression of the raised woodwork on the original. The windows at the top and the signs will be glued on as well.

Cutting Template


4. Make a template. 

This is the really complicated step. With some patience, it can pay off. My graphics program of choice is GIMP. The interface is not very user-friendly, but I've played with it enough to get around okay. If you're not familiar with GIMP, I might do a tutorial, but that's a huge one that will take quite a bit of time and lots of screenshots. So, skipping the GIMP introduction, I'm basically making a template that I will use to cut out 4 sets of side panels. 

The right side of this drawing is the lower level. The pink rectangles will be cut out, leaving the white part exposed. The left side of this drawing is the upper level, which will be glued on top of the blue part of the right side. 

At this time I made the iconic "Police Public Call Box" sign using GIMP. I scoured the internet for pictures of the "Pull to Open" sign and the "St. John Ambulance", which I found and scaled down. I printed these on photo paper for a glossy finish. I also designed the window mullions and printed 8 windows on card stock. More on those later.
Moving the Lid
Cutting the Panels

5. Prepare the Box. 

This box used to open on the short end. I ripped the seam where the manufacturers had glued the box shut and cut the panel to open on these new lines. I then glued the side pieces down and secured them with paper clips. I made sure to just tear the adhesive and not fully remove the small side panel, since I'll be putting Velcro on it to close the box later.



  6. Cut the panels.

I'm sure my poor rotary cutter and self-healing mat weren't intended for paper. I intend to invest in a proper paper cutter, but for now, this is what I had to work with. From white card stock, I cut 12 - 4 1/4" x 7 3/4"  pieces (3 for each long side) and 2 - 4 1/4" x 4 1/4" pieces (1 for each short side).

Making Side Panels


7. Use the cutting template to make the side panels. 

Using the left side of the cutting template, I cut 4 large upside down "U" shapes out 4 of the 4 1/4" x 7 3/4" pieces of card stock. Using the right side, I cut the 8 rectangles out of 4 of the large pieces of card stock. (See photo on the left).

A Side Panel with Two Layers




 8. Glue the cut panels together. 

The photo on the right shows the pieces I cut from the template assembled. I glued them together using a craft stick, which turned out to be a bad idea as they tried to separate when I painted them. Next time I'll have to use a stronger glue. Repeat with other panels.
Reverse "Wrong" Side of the Windows




9. Install the window "glass." 

Windows Installed
For the windows I simply used a layer of plastic wrap and a layer of black plastic bag. First I cut a rectangle to a size a little bigger than both window openings. I glued the plastic wrap side down to the wrong side of each panel, making sure the plastic wrap and the plastic bag did not extend into the lower opening.

Here's a picture of the correct side. The plastic wrap is reflecting nicely.(Insert maniacal laughter here).

The TARDIS Takes Shape

10. Glue the panels to the box.

 Do as I say and not as I do- don't use a glue stick and don't wait until the day of the party to do this.

First I glued the solid panels to their corresponding sides on the box (the remaining 4 - 4 1/4 " x 7 3/4" uncut panels and the two 4 1/4" square panels). I used rubber bands to help hold down the corners.




Bottom of the TARDIS Before Trimming


11. Trim the excess. 

Since the box was not perfectly true to the measurements, I did end up with some excess on the bottom and on some of the side panels. I also had to trim from the corner where the new lid met the box.

First Coat of Paint

12. Paint the TARDIS blue. 

Since my local craft store didn't have a "Tardis Blue" I used Americana True Blue acrylic paint. In the picture at right you'll see another problem of the glue stick- gunky residue that interfered with the smoothness of the paint coat. On this coat, I tried to make sure all the seams where the panels met were coated. I had to use my finger to press down and smooth out some spots that started to buckle with the paint. I used a wet cotton swab to remove any paint I accidentally put on the windows.

Drying After Touch-Ups

13. Paint a second coat.

On the second coat, I aimed to smooth out the paint as much as possible and mimic a wood grain.

While painting, be sure  to flip open the hand sanitizer cap and paint the outside of the lid blue- at least twice. Flipping it open makes it simple to paint a straight line around the top.

14. Touch up with glue. 

Since I had used the craft stick, some of my panels and corners were peeling away from each other. I used glue to fix it, then wrapped as many rubber bands as I could around it to hold the panels in place. This picture is closer to the actual shade of the Tardis (on my monitor, at least). Also check out my daughter's mad photo bombing skills in the background.

Window Mullions and Casings

15. Cut out window mullions and signage. 

 Using a penknife, I cut the window mullions from card stock. They didn't use much ink and printing them was so much easier than trying to cut from a template or stencil. I needed a total of 8 windows (the extras are for my wooden TARDIS). I also cut out 4 of the "Police Public Call Box" signs, 1 "Pull to Open" sign, and 1 "St. John Ambulance" sign.

Adding the Frosted Panes

16. Install the frosted window panes.

Since this TARDIS is based on the 11th Doctor's TARDIS, I added frosted panes to the windows. I cut pieces of vellum slightly larger than the mullion openings and glued them to the wrong side of the windows. Then I carefully glued the entire window assembly to the black glass openings on the box.

At this point, I had to stop taking pictures and push to get it done.

17. Hot glue the beacon to the top and the Velcro to the opening. 

Remember the hand sanitizer cap from earlier? Now is the time to glue it to the center of the top of the box. You can substitute something else for the beacon, but I happened to have that on hand and it fit well. My wooden TARDIS has a different beacon entirely. I painted a little more blue over the hot glue at the base of the beacon.

I also hot glued the Velcro to the lid and the short panel.
Interior of the TARDIS

18.  Add your present and stuffing. 

For this one, I arranged grocery bags in the box and tucked a piece of white cloth in over it. I'm sure there are more glamorous ways to stuff a box, but this would remain unseen. What does one give a budding time lord? Why a bow tie, of course. Bow ties are cool.

19. Add finishing touches. 

 At this point, my sister had arrived to go to the party with us. Thankfully, she took over TARDIS construction while I scarfed down some dinner. She glued the signs onto their correct places on the box and took some final pictures for me.

All Wrapped Up

20. Wrap it up with a bow. 


Let me know in comments if you have any questions. Feel free to make this project and adapt for your needs, but don't sell my design without permission, please!


  1. this is AWESOME!!
    I want to do it for my friend, but I'm not good with cutting stuff :P
    nice job xD

    1. Thanks! The cutting is probably my least favorite part. It's so easy to mess up!