Peter G (sinetimore) wrote,
Peter G

Making Your Own Boxes For Atari 2600 Games -- The Definitive Guide

The question everyone asks is, "How do you make your own Atari 2600 boxes for your homebrews?"

For the most part, this is unnecessary.  Most carts just sell as they are, and those who want to get fancy either use a Universal Game Case or a DVD holder that holds multiple discs.  The alternative is a professionally printed box, but those are expensive, between minimum orders and a basic rate of $12 or more per box.  If you just made a homebrew game for fun and are doing it on the cheap, what do you do?

If you're like me, and I know I am, you want at least one box for yourself just so you can LIVE THE DREAM, maybe a few extra for friends.  I have quite a few boxed homebrews, and seeing my FAILboat game among the crown jewels in my collection was something I really really wanted.  So I did some looking, did some experimenting, and now, you can learn from my fail.  I feel I have come up with the best way to papercraft your own boxes for little one-off projects and such.  It is not a substitute for a professionally printed box (you will still see some warping or bubbles in the finished product), but if you're low on cash or just want something appropriately punk, this is the way to go.

NOTE:  my goal is to make this so that anyone can do it.  Rudimentary knowledge of computer programs is all this will take.  I used Paintbox and LibreOffice to do this.  MSPaint and any word processor that can export a .pdf will work just fine.

1)  Make an image of the box you want.  The height of the box can vary a little here and there.  My template was an image for the box for Atari's Krull.  From there, I opened it in Paintbox and made two separate images out of it.  On one was the front of the box, the two spines, and the top and bottom flaps.  The other is the back of the box and two flaps where the spine would be.  IT IS IMPORTANT THAT YOU USE THE ORIGINAL TEMPLATE AND JUST BLANK OUT THE PARTS YOU AREN'T USING, THEN RESIZE THE IMAGE TO BE EXACTLY THE SAME WIDTH.  I will get to why in a minute, but this is why I used the original Krull image to make both halves of the box.  Just take an image of the front, flaps, and sides, bring it in so there is no white space around the outer edges, and do your business.  PROTIP:  Leave a line delineating the edges where the folds go, not just to size your design correctly, but for when you need to cut and fold later.  You'll save yourself a lot of trouble.

2)  Make a .pdf.  Two pages, the box front on one and the box back on the other.  The images will just barely fit on letter sized paper, but it'll be close.  When you open the document, set the margins for 0.25" all the way around (you may get a warning this is outside the print range.  Just go with it).  Import the box front first as an image.  It will be automatically sized to the print area.  Select the image and prepare to adjust its size.  BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE CHECKED "KEEP ASPECT RATIO".  This way, whatever size you select for width, the height will adjust accordingly.  I once checked it AFTER I'd altered the width, and the height of the box was off, so select keep the aspect ratio before you do anything else.

From there, for width, select 7.38".  With a little rounding, this will give you a 15/16" spine on each side and 5.5" for the front image, which will make it fit nicely in a box protector.  The resulting scaling will be tall and just barely fit on the sheet.  Position it as close to the middle as possible.  If the print range is short, it might take a little off the flaps at the top and bottom.  That's where you have the most expendable part of the box, so use it to your advantage.

Make a new page, and repeat with the back of the box, also keeping the aspect ratio and setting the width for 7.38".  As this doesn't have flaps, you have a lot more room to work with for positioning it.  Send it out as a .pdf, and put it on the media of your choice.

3)  Print it.  When you do, just select the .pdf.  MAKE SURE YOU CHECK ACTUAL SIZE FOR PRINTING OPTIONS.  Otherwise, it will scale the image to put it within the print margins and throw off the measurements.  Not by a lot, but enough to bug you depending on how OCD you are (guilty).  Print out on card stock, #65 or higher, or use photo paper if you are so inclined.

Keep in mind, ink jet can smear, so you might want to put some laminate over the resulting pages (I didn't for fear it would make the boxes harder to sign and personalize).  Laser printers have their own problems -- the toner on some can flake off.  If you don't use laminate, you're going to have to put a little more ingenuity into this.

Printing options can be your own machine or hie thyself to OfficeMax, where it is $.66 a sheet in my area for color laser card stock printing.  Keep in mind, places like OfficeMax and Kinko's will not print stuff you don't own the rights to, so if you make, say, a fan game and want a box, you'll either need to self-service print it, make friends with the printer, or find someone who just doesn't give a hoot.  You have to prepare for the future, you know.

4)  Get yourself some poster board.  Between it and the card stock, you will have a perfectly acceptable thickness for your box.  And it's dirt cheap, too.  Get a decent sheet, say 14x22, and mark off the rough areas for putting two of the box halves on it.  Spray the area with spray adhesive that you can easily find in well-stocked hobby stores.  Spray evenly, and keep as much inside the marks as you can.  Put the printed box halves in the areas immediately while the stuff is still wet.  Wiggle it around a little to smooth out the adhesive, then run something over it (even your fist) to get as much contact as possible.  Keep in mind, the adhesive is wet -- if you didn't laminate, it will make the ink wet again whether ink jet or laser and can cause smearing.  Shouldn't take more than a few seconds.

5)  Flatten it.  Possibly the most time consuming part, but also the least effort.  The adhesive will also dampen the poster board, so you want to put this down on something that you don't care if the finish gets ruined (note to self:  get a new lapboard next weekend).  I just used a TV tray with a large piece of matt board.  Place the poster board on top, then cover the poster board with a sheet of parchment paper.  It's awesome stuff -- other papers I've tried have peeled off some of the toner in spots after it got wet.  Then, put something large, flat, and heavy on top of the parchment to press the whole thing as flat as you can while the adhesive sets.  I just used a few of my comic art portfolios, as they can get quite weighty and, at 13X19, are the perfect size.  Set them on there, and go watch cat videos on the Internet for a while.

Note:  each time you do this, use a new sheet of parchment.  You might get some seepage of glue from the sides of the card stock, and some of it will get on the parchment.  That means you will wind up sticking some glue on the next pieces and possibly messing up the images.  Fresh sheet each time will avoid this.

6)  Let it dry.  Keep it on a flat surface and give it some time.

7)  Trim the box.  Pretty self-explanatory.  Use good scissors, this is thick.  I used my nuclear option -- wallpaper sheers.

8)  Fold the box.  This is where EVERY experiment went wrong.  Trying to get something so thick to fold straight is amazingly difficult.  Not only does the fold stagger, but if you used laser, you will definitely lose toner with every bump.  The trick is to minimize the damage so that you can touch up with a similarly colored marker or something.  So how do you make the neatest fold you can?  Well, I have found the answer.

A pizza cutter.

Use a pen to mark the points where the folds are.  Then, placing the box on a hard surface, run the pizza cutter along the lines it folds on.  Don't press down too hard, you don't want to actually cut through, you just want to score it enough to make a weak point.  From there, carefully bend in the box edges.  You will get some flaking, a slight wobbling, but for something handcrafted, it's pretty hard to beat.  For me, a few seconds with a marker fixed all the exposure.

9)  Glue the box together.  Once you've cut out both sides, rubber cement one spine together.  Once it dries, if you want to put in a little piece of cardboard to help harness the game and keep it near the top like a regular Atari box, you can do this while it is still openable.  Whether you do it or skip it, once the one side dries, glue the other side.

Then drop in your game and close the box.

Like I said, it isn't perfect.  But it is a remarkably acceptable job.  Total cost per box for me was less than $1.50 each, not counting the Bothans that died to bring you this news.

So, what are you waiting for?!?  Go live the dream!

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