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I'm trying to design a leather box, I've got the plan penciled out - but now looking to create a scale model out of card.

I'm looking for a tool that will allow me to make my scribbles into a to-scale print out which I can then use to take the project forward. Something similar to:

http://web.archive.org/web/20181205163451/http://imperialbox.net/images/site/custom-box-styles_23.jpg

A free or cheap software tool would be ideal.

Thanks guys

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    Pencil and ruler have always worked for me. – Willeke Nov 2 '18 at 19:13
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    One thing to keep in mind is that working with material that has a thickness is different from working with paper. The inside and outside dimensions will be different. That will affect dimensions for pieces that need to fit inside each other, folds, and the appearance of exposed edges. – fixer1234 Nov 30 '19 at 2:15
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I had to do something similar recently.

Starting with a pencil sketch and a cutout (could be just a sketch in your case), I took a picture of it using my phone: enter image description here

I imported the picture into FreeCad (yes, it is free) and used its Sketcher workbench to trace over the image. That produced a "proper" engineering model (where I could control sizes, placement of elements etc):

enter image description here

I then used Drawing workbench to create a technical drawing which I exported to PDF at scale, printed it out and in my case glued to cardboard to cut the final box out of:

enter image description here

Now, I must warn you that the learning curve of FreeCad is pretty steep, but I think it is a great tool to keep in your toolbox.

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Scan your pencil drawing into a bitmap format (like jpg) and then use the "Trace Bitmap" feature of the Inkscape open source vector drawing program to turn that into a vector drawing (such as an svg or dxf).

This will give you an initial digital representation of your design.

From there you will need to familiarize yourself with inkscape's tools to correct the drawing, scanning and conversion errors which will inevitably occur. For example, you will want to remove the extra vector anchors which faithfully captured the slightest irregularities in what you thought were straight lines. Truly straight lines should be represented in your drawing by two vector anchors only (one at each end). You will also want to fix all of your "nearly 90 degree" hand drawn angles so that they are precisely 90 degrees. This editing will take a long time if you are new to inkscape but will get easier over time.

Once your vector drawing meets your quality standards, you can make future modifications and print out folding diagrams from within inkscape, without further use of manual (pencil & paper) design techniques.

One nice side effect of converting your drawing into a cleaned up vector image is that you can then modify it's scale proportionally, allowing you to produce your box in any size desirable. You can also then import your saved vector image file into the control software of a vinyl cutter (like the Silhouette) or a laser cutter, either of which can cut out fold-ready boxes out of different materials.

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You can design all of the cuts, folds, joining tabs, etc., yourself, and then use tools like what are described in the other answers to create a clean layout. An alternative is to start with the finished shape you want, and then use software that figures out how to create it from 2D stock. There are a number of such applications.

  • If your needs are reasonably basic, there are free online template makers like Template Maker. They have libraries of basic and not-so-basic shapes and objects. You customize the design. Here's a sample object to give you the idea:

    enter image description here

    The "More options" screen:

    enter image description here

  • Silhouette ModelMaker is $50 software from the makers of the Silhouette cutting tools (it doesn't need to be used with those tools). You design a 3D model from basic shapes. The software figures out how to create it from a 2D pattern, including the joining tabs. There's a good overview of it here.

    enter image description here

    enter image description here

  • To get into complex models, there is Pepakura Viewer and Pepakura Designer. The viewer is free; the Designer is $38. With Pepakura Designer, the sky is the limit; you can make virtually any 3D object with as much resolution as you have time and patience to cut out and assemble. People use it to create 3D art, cosplay props, etc. Of course, you can also use it for simple shapes, and it's cheaper than Silhouette ModelMaker.

    It all starts with a 3D model. There are online communities of people who create models, from relatively simple stuff to the most complex things you can imagine (just Google "pepakura"). Very complex models are often created for 3D printing, and Pepakura can use the same model and make it out of paper. Some models are free to download and some are for sale. If you have a model that's already in Pepakura form, you just need the free viewer to print it.

    If you are starting with a 3D model computer file, Pepakura Designer figures out how to make it from 2D pieces. It also labels everything with identifiers of what mates with what, which can be a necessity on extremely complex models. If you can't find an existing 3D model that fits your needs, you can create the model from any of numerous applications, like Metasequoia or Sketchup.

    Build Props and Costume Armor with Paper, Pepakura, and Bondo will give you an idea of what people do with this software, and what's involved in making extremely detailed and complex models. Here's a good tutorial on Pepakura Designer from Black Owl Studio.

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