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How to Create a Die-Cut Pillow Box in Adobe InDesign

This post is part of a series called Learn Adobe InDesign.
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How to Prepare a Cool 3D Card for Post-Print Effects
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Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Looking to create your own packaging for sharing your business cards in style or for wedding favours? These handheld pillow boxes are simple to create and leave a lasting impression. 

In this tutorial I’ll show you how to set up the template and artwork for the pillow box, and show you how to apply a stylish marbled finish. You can easily customize your pillow box with different backgrounds, typography and text to make it completely unique to you.

final white design with sweets

Once you’ve finished, simply send your artwork off to Smartpress.com to get your pillow boxes digitally printed in no time at all!

1. What You’ll Need for this Tutorial

You’ll need access to Adobe Illustrator and Adobe InDesign for this tutorial. Don’t worry if you’re a relative beginner—I’ll break the process down step by step.

final green design

If you’d like to recreate the designs shown here, you’ll need to download the following images and fonts:

Download high-resolution versions of the images, and install the fonts on your system. Now we’re ready to begin!

2. Create a Die Line for Your Pillow Box

We’ll start first with creating the outline (trim line) of our pillow box. This will show the printer where to cut your artwork once printed.

Step 1

Open up Adobe Illustrator. Create a new document 214 mm in Width and 156 mm in Height. Click OK.

new document

Expand the Layers panel (Window > Layers) and double-click on the current layer to rename it DIE LINE.

die line layer

Create a second new layer above this and rename it PERFORATION.

two layers

Lock the PERFORATION layer and click on the DIE LINE layer to activate it.

layers panel

Step 2

Head up to View > Guides and make sure Lock Guides is switched off. If you can’t see your rulers, go to View  > Rulers > Show Rulers.

Drag out a guide from the left-hand ruler and drop it at X position 3 mm (you can see this from the top Controls panel).

Take the Line Segment tool (\) and, holding Shift, create a vertical line on the page, 97 mm in length. Position it centrally on the page, running it along the guide you’ve created.

line segment

Step 3

Drag out another vertical guide to X position 15 mm.

x position

Take the Line Segment tool (\) again and create a line at a roughly 45-degree angle extending from the bottom edge of the first line to meet the 15 mm guide line.

line segment

Select this short line and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Select the pasted line and Control-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Reflect. Set the Axis to Horizontal and click OK.


Position this line in a mirrored position at the top of the vertical line, as shown below.


Step 4

Drag out another vertical guide to X position 78 mm. 

Take the Arc Tool and create a perfectly smooth curve reaching from the right edge of the short line at the bottom, over to meet the 78 mm guideline. Use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to select the anchor points and arms and adjust their position if you need to.

arc tool

Select the curve and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Control-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Reflect (Horizontal).

Position the pasted curve at the top of the page, in a mirrored position.

reflect horizontal

Select all the lines on the page and Edit > Copy, Edit > PasteControl-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Reflect (Horizontal). Position on the right side of the page to create a reflection.

reflect horizontal

Step 5

Take the Ellipse Tool (L) and, holding Shift, drag to create a circle 14 mm in diameter. Place over the top of the center of the curved line at the top left of the page, allowing the circle to straddle the curve halfway.


Copy and Paste the circle, and position it directly below, sitting over the bottom-left curved line.


Take the Scissors Tool (C) and snip away at the points where the circles meet the curved lines. Delete the halves of the circles that are sitting outside the main outline.

deleted sections

Cut away and delete the parts of the curved lines that are sitting inside the circles too, as shown below.

deleted sections

3. Set Up Perforation Lines for Your Pillow Box

To show the printer how your box should be folded, we can set up perforation lines on the template as well.

Step 1

curved line selected

Select the curved line at the top right of the page, and Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste.

pasted curve

Go to the Layers panel and locate the pasted curve within the DIE LINE layer.

Unlock the PERFORATION layer, then select the correct <Path> on the DIE LINE layer and drag it up to sit on the PERFORATION layer.

expanded layer

Then lock the DIE LINE layer. We’ll just be working on the PERFORATION layer from now on.


Step 2

Select the curved line and Control-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Reflect (Horizontal). Position it in the top-left corner of the template, making a mirror reflection of the top-left flap, as shown.

reflect horizontal

Edit > Paste again to create another copy of the curve. Position it directly below, in a mirrored position.


Then take the Line Segment Tool (\) and, holding Shift, drag down to create a vertical line from the left corner of the curve at the top, down to the left corner of the curve at the bottom.

line segment tool

Step 3

Select all three lines. Open the Stroke panel (Window > Stroke) and check the Dashed Line box.

dashed line

With all three lines selected, Edit > Copy, Edit > Paste. Control-Click (Mac) or Right-Click (Windows) > Transform > Reflect (Vertical) to flip the pasted trio, and position them over on the right side of the page.

reflect vertical

Add a final straight vertical line down the center of the template to complete the perforation lines.

final template

4. Create Your Pillow Box Design

With your die line and perforation lines prepared, we can now move these over into InDesign, and start creating the full artwork for your pillow box.

Step 1

Minimize your Illustrator window for now, but don’t close it. We’ll be coming back to this in a moment.

Open up Adobe InDesign and go to File > New > Document. Set the Intent to Print, deselect Facing Pages, and set the Width to 214 mm and Height to 156 mm (to match your Illustrator artboard dimensions).

new document

Leave everything else in the window at the default values and click OK.

new document

Step 2

Expand the Layers panel and double-click on the default Layer 1 name to rename it Background.

Create a further four new layers on top of this—called Artwork, PERFORATION - DO NOT PRINT, DIE LINE - DO NOT PRINT, and finally NOTES - DO NOT PRINT, at the top of the pile.

layers panel

Lock all the layers except DIE LINE - DO NOT PRINT

die line layer

Step 3 

Hop back over to your Illustrator document. Lock the PERFORATION layer and drag your mouse over everything on the page to select just the die line. Edit > Copy.

Return to your InDesign document and Edit > Paste. Center the die line on the page. Expand the Swatches panel (Window > Color > Swatches) and create a new swatch. Set the Color Type to Spot and up the values to 100% Cyan. 

die line spot color

Apply the new spot color swatch to the Stroke of your pasted die line.

spot color stroke

Step 4

Lock the DIE LINE - DO NOT PRINT layer and unlock the PERFORATION - DO NOT PRINT layer.

perforation layer

Return to your Illustrator document again, and lock the DIE LINE layer. Unlock the PERFORATION layer. Select everything sitting on the PERFORATION layer and Edit > Paste.

Return to your InDesign document and Edit > Paste. Center on the page.

Create a second new Spot color swatch, this time set to 100% Magenta

spot color

Apply this to the Stroke of the perforation lines.

spot color stroke

Step 5

Lock the PERFORATION - DO NOT PRINT layer and unlock the Background layer.

background layer

Now you’re ready to set the background of your pillow box. This can be a solid color or an image of your choice. For this wedding favors design, I’ve used this white marble texture image.

If you or your printer would prefer a bleed around the edge of your pillow box, you can create a frame that extends across the whole page using the Rectangle Frame Tool (F). Go to File > Place, select your chosen image and Open. Arrange the image so that it fills the whole frame.

full image cover

Alternatively, if you’d rather not have a bleed, you can head back to your Illustrator document and Copy the die line outline from the DIE LINE layer. Paste this onto the Background layer of your InDesign document, and center it.

pasted template

Go to File > Place, choose your background image, and Open. Make sure the image fills the frame completely.

placed image

Step 6

Lock the Background layer and unlock the layer above, Artwork.

artwork layer

Create a new CMYK Process swatch, C=0 M=3 Y=2 K=0. 

swatch options

Create a small rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M) and place over on the left side of the pillow box (which will function as the top of your box once folded). Align it centrally on the left-hand section.

Set the Fill Color to your new swatch, C=0 M=3 Y=2 K=0. 


Step 7

Use the Type Tool (T) to create a couple of text frames over the top of the peach rectangle, typing in the text as you like it, and setting the Font to Pompiere.

pompiere font

Add a few new CMYK Process swatches to apply to the text:

  • C=100 M=92 Y=41 K=41
swatch options
  • C=29 M=48 Y=69 K=22
swatch options
  • C=15 M=32 Y=68 K=4
swatch options

You can add some quirky glyphs from the Glyphs panel (Window > Type & Tables > Glyphs). Nexa Rust Extras is a great source for decorative glyphs in a hand-drawn style.

nexa rust glyphs

Step 8

Lock the Artwork layer and unlock the top layer, NOTES - DO NOT PRINT. Here you can put any information that might be useful to the printer.

notes layer

Use the Type Tool (T) to create text frames and write ‘GLUE’. Place on the outer left and right flaps of the pillow box template.

glue notes

And you’re done! Your pillow box design is finished. Awesome work!

final wedding artwork
final white marble design

You can easily customize your pillow box to create a huge range of designs and to suit different purposes. This design uses a green mineral texture for the background, and typography on the Artwork layer is set in Futura.  

final green artwork
final green design

This creates a really cool, modern look that would suit a creative, perhaps for sharing business cards or USB sticks.

You can tweak the design of your pillow box to make it suitable for a huge range of purposes. Why not try adding a retro floral background for packaging sweets or biscuits? Or why not use it to package jewellery, scarves, or other small items for sale?

Once you’ve finalized your design, all that’s left to do is export it to a print-ready format, ready for sending straight off to the printers. Read on to find out how...

5. Export Your Pillow Box for Printing

You have two options for sending your pillow box to print—one is to send the printer the native files, that is the original packaged InDesign artwork. From this the printer can export your design as a press-ready file that will suit their purposes. To do this, go to File > Package. Once the file is packaged, compress it into a ZIP file and send this to the printer over large file transfer.

Alternatively, you can send Smartpress.com a print-ready PDF file that’s good to go! Here’s how...

Step 1

Remaining in your InDesign document, go to File > Export, and choose Adobe PDF (Print) from the Format drop-down menu. 

Give the file a name like ‘Pillowbox_FINAL FOR PRINT’. Click Save.

In the Export Adobe PDF window that opens, choose [PDF/X-1a:2001] from the Adobe PDF Preset drop-down menu at the top.

export adobe pdf

Step 2

Click on the Marks and Bleeds option on the left-hand side of the panel.

Under Marks, check All Printer’s Marks. Then click Export.

all printers marks
final pdf

You’ll end up with a press-ready PDF file, which is ready for sending straight to Smartpress.com. Fantastic work!

design with sweets
green design

Your Finished Pillow Box

In this tutorial we’ve covered a range of skills and techniques for preparing packaging artwork in Illustrator and InDesign, and getting the design ready for professional printing. You now know how to:

  • create die line and perforation line templates in Adobe Illustrator
  • import die line and perforation line templates into InDesign and set them as spot colors
  • prepare a layered packaging design file in Adobe InDesign
  • create a simple yet striking design for your pillow box
  • package your InDesign file or export your pillow box as a press-ready file

Awesome work! I’d love to see your pillow box designs—feel free to share your beautiful packaging designs in the comments below. 

This tutorial has been brought to you compliments of Smartpress.com. Find out how Smartpress.com can be your partner in all your digital printing projects. Select a product and get an instant quote today.

green marble design open
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