DIY Large Cardboard Letters: Part 1

Sorry for my extended absence! We’ve been having internet problems, not to mention my parents are in town visiting from Australia for the first time since last Christmas, so things are a little hectic! I’m going to do my best to post the posts that were meant for last week and catch up with this week. What that means for you: Lots of new posts this week and maybe next!

Paper mache or 8” premade letters are priced at about $2.50 a piece, even online. Larger 12” inch letters can cost as much as $4.50. For my project consisting of 9 letters, even the 8” letters would have put me out $22.50!

The following tutorial will help you make professional looking cardboard letters from recycled cardboard and hot glue, which can later be painted, wrapped in paper, or yarn wrapped for fabulous display items. The other advantage of making your own cardboard letters is you can determine the exact size, thickness, font, and customize them to your liking.

I ultimately decided to divide this post into two parts. This part will just discuss letter construction and the next will have details about yarn wrapping and other ways to finish your letters.

CardboardLettersCollage

Materials:

» Cardstock
» Printer
» Hot glue and hot glue gun
» Scrap cardboard (preferably the flaps and sides from larger boxes)
» Metal ruler or other metal* straight edge
» Craft knife or box cutter (I recommend an Olfa knife)

Materials Cost: $0.00

1. Print letters of your choice on cardstock. Be sure to minimize the margins to maximize the size of your letters. Also, remember that it is more difficult to make curved letters, letters with very thin connecting pieces, and letters with complicated serifs. For this project, I chose Rockwell Extra Bold due to its inclusion of serifs but overall simplicity. If this is you first time attempting to make cardboard letters yourself, I recommend using a simple font like Arial Black, which has no serifs and limited curves. Another tip in order to save on printer ink is to print the letters in the lightest gray and on draft mode. There’s no reason for the letters to be black, or even remotely dark, and that way you can use your printer ink for more important things!

2. Trace your letters onto flat sheets of cardboard, leaving enough space in between to maneuver with a utility knife or exacto knife. Be sure to trace two copies of each letter for the front and back. Carefully cut out the letters with the tool of your choice, though I recommend the Olfa craft knife from ample experience with cardboard. (Be aware that Olfa knives have a special oil on them to help lubricate cutting. If you cut yourself with this type of knife, the oil makes it easily get infected, so please be careful!). I also use a metal (not plastic!!!) ruler to help make straight cuts, though you have to be sure all your fingers are out of the way while doing this type of work.

3. The next step is to decide on the thickness of your letters. Remember that the total thickness will include the two extra layers of cardboard for the front and back of your letters, and the walls or sides of the letters will fit in between these. I usually go with 1 ½” for my letters, but it varies with the overall size and number of the letters. Once you’ve decided on the thickness, divide sheets of cardboard into strips of that thickness. I usually use one flap of the box long ways and another flap short ways to have varying lengths. For curved letters, I use thinned cardboard such as a cereal box, which is flexible enough to wrap around the curves. “O’s” are obviously the most challenging of the letters and may take a couple tries.

Measuring a side for the letter "N"

Measuring a side for the letter “N”

4. Starting with the first letter, measure one side and cut the proper length from your strips of cardboard made in Step 3. I usually measure one at a time, being sure to include the thickness of the previous piece of cardboard. Sometimes I find it easier to build the letter as I go to ensure a good fit, hot gluing one side on at a time before measuring and cutting the next side. On the other hand, you can try to cut all the sides at once. If you do this, especially with a complicated one like the one pictured, I recommend labeling the sides on the base and the sides you cut with a pencil with numbers or letters so it’s easier to keep track of.

Cut sides for the letter "N" with numbers to keep track of which side goes where.

Cut sides for the letter “N” with numbers to keep track of which side goes where.

5. Because my letters are going to hang on the wall, I went ahead and punched holes in the back base with a hole punch. These holes will be covered later with yarn, and so if I decide to use the letters without hanging them later (on the mantel or another place), the holes shouldn’t be visible.

Base of the letter "N" with holes punched in the back for hanging later.

Base of the letter “N” with holes punched in the back for hanging later.

6. Glue the sides on, making sure to glue one adjacent side at a time to ensure a good fit. Occasionally I glue two sides with one side left as a space in between, then trim the side that’s going to go in between them.

Gluing a two non-adjacent sides and trimming the side in the middle to fit between them.

Gluing a two non-adjacent sides and trimming the side in the middle to fit between them.

All sides glued on. Now to glue on the top.

All sides glued on. Now to glue on the top.

7. You may have to fill some small gaps with hot glue or another filler.  Make sure your filler is paintable if you don’t plan on yarn-wrapping or covering your letters otherwise. Once you’ve completed your letters, decorate them as you see fit! I decided to paint my letters the color of the yarn I will be wrapping them in so that if there are any small gaps in the yarn, it won’t show up terribly. For yarn wrapping, remember to wrap all of the shortest sides first before wrapping the rest of the letter. I tend to cut small pieces of yarn and glue them on the ends to help prevent bulk, but if you prefer not to use hot glue then I recommend just wrapping the other direction (but more on that in part two!)

Finished letter before painting.

Finished letter before painting.

Finished letter after painting.

Finished letter after painting.

These letters, which spell out the phrase LOVED ONES, will become part of my new family photo gallery wall. Because my boyfriend and I share a home, I wanted a phrase that encompassed both our families without being corny. I also didn’t want to exclude the possibility of posting pictures of close friends, who are also loved.

Until next time,

|The Creative Physician|

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4 thoughts on “DIY Large Cardboard Letters: Part 1

  1. Pingback: DIY Wine Cork Word Sign - "I Do" DIYs.com

  2. Pingback: How to Make Cardboard Letters in 24 DIYs | Guide Patterns

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