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Few things deliver a dose of holiday cheer like a gorgeously wrapped present. But for several reasons—cost, sustainability concerns, the fact that you’re wrapping gifts at midnight and you just ran out of paper and all the stores are closed—many people would love to find simple ways to do so on the cheap, ideally using materials they already have on hand. Paper and cloth gift bags can be reused over and over, of course, but if you’d prefer a paper-wrapped present (or you’ve already used up your gift-bag stash), we have tips from two gift-wrapping pros: Lisa Fu, head of design at NYC Gift Wrapping, and Mary Domo, CEO of Los Angeles Gift Wrapping. The everyday, inexpensive (or even free) materials they recommend will help you wrap your gifts easily and beautifully.
Newsprint may not seem like ideal wrapping material. It can tear easily, it isn’t necessarily festive-looking, and it tends to smudge—but our experts have easy workarounds for those concerns. “I think newspaper is like a fun, blank canvas that you can dress up or keep simple,” Fu said. Here’s how to make the most of it.
Wrap with three layers of paper. If you’re worried about rips, use multiple layers of paper. Fu recommends three sheets to increase your wrap’s overall tensile strength while still allowing for crisply folded edges.
Reduce smudging by using paper with tiny type. In Fu’s experience, the more your paper is filled with small type, rather than large headlines or photos, the less ink will transfer to your fingertips as you wrap. (Don’t worry about your gift recipient’s hands; the time it takes to open a gift is usually too quick for much smudging to occur.) However, don’t forget that “gift wrapping isn’t a clean thing,” she added. “You’re supposed to get a little messy as you get into the materials.”
For color, turn to the funnies, food, and fashion sections. Many of Domo’s clients request gifts wrapped in comics because it brings back childhood memories, but that’s not the only part of the paper that can yield eye-catching imagery. She suggests looking through whichever sections contain the most-vivid photography, graphics, or advertising (think: cooking, travel, and style). To wrap some of the gifts for the photos in this article, we saved NYT Cooking’s recent Thanksgiving dessert spread, which featured more than a few glorious pie pictures.
Trim with twine and twigs. Colorful twine, like the Target red-and-white baker’s twine we used in this article’s photos, is Fu’s favorite way to tie a literal and figurative bow atop a newspaper-wrapped present. She also suggests topping the finished package with a sprig of clipped pine. “Anything you can tuck inside the string or ribbon makes the gift look a little more elevated,” she said. “When you’ve got a whole grouping of gifts wrapped with newspaper and twine, it looks very understated, natural, and pretty all at once.” (Other extras Domo recommends that look great tied into ribbon: candy canes or any ornament that won’t break; consider choosing one from your family’s stash that you can pass down as an heirloom.)
Use newspaper as filler, too. Even if you don’t use newspaper on the outside of a present, it can always be used on the inside to cushion more delicate items.
If you’re looking for a cheap, eco-friendly gift wrap that works for any occasion, kraft paper (sometimes called brown packing paper, craft paper, or sack paper) is a great option. It boasts a minimalist-chic look on its own, but it can also be gussied up a bunch of different ways: Doodle on it, add stickers, let your kids scribble on it, or inscribe your gift recipient’s name across the box in lieu of a gift tag. Even better, Domo estimates that, inch for inch, kraft paper costs about 60% less than gift wrap (and it’s often made from recycled and recyclable materials). Plus, you can buy it in rolls of 100 feet or more, so it’ll last you a long, long time. But keep a few tips in mind so it looks as polished as possible.
Choose the right weight. Kraft paper is often sold in different basis weights. Domo recommends looking for 40-pound paper (frequently labeled as 40 lb. or 40#), a medium weight that’s good for wrapping—not so thin that it will tear, not so thick that it won’t crease neatly. We’ve previously recommended Note Card Café’s Brown Jumbo Kraft Paper Roll because it measures 30 inches wide, the same as most rolls of wrapping paper.
If you can’t find 40-pound paper, we suggest going up in weight, as we did for this article’s photos; due to stock issues, we used the 60-pound Scotch Postal Wrapping Paper and found it easy to work with. We’ve also previously suggested 60-pound Duck Brand Kraft Paper for mailing and moving purposes, and it would work well for gifts, too.
Opt for a heftier adhesive. Because brown paper is thicker and heavier than regular gift wrap, your usual transparent tape may not hold it together. Fu recommends Scotch Double-Sided Tape (look for the yellow plaid pattern), which uses a more glue-like, acrylic-based adhesive compared with other tapes. (The double-sided tape also hides itself, making your finished product look more professional.)
Consider different colors. Kraft paper doesn’t just come in brown; Domo likes black kraft paper for an edgier look, especially when paired with twine. A similar gift-wrap alternative she loves is this pink butcher paper, which actually comes off as “high-end-looking” when used to wrap a gift.
Try yarn instead of ribbon. If you have some lying around, Fu likes the look of a long piece of knitting yarn wrapped around a kraft-covered box as a final touch.
Although brown paper shopping bags may look similar to kraft paper, both Domo and Fu advise against repurposing them into gift wrap because they’re stiffer, thicker, and harder to use—with a couple exceptions.
Stick to smaller gifts. Domo recommends using paper bags as gift wrap if you can cut down the bag so that you’re only using a crease-free piece to wrap your present. For larger gifts, she said, “Paper bags are more aggravating than they’re worth.”
Turn bags into tags. If you have paper bags with holiday-themed designs printed on them (like those at Trader Joe’s), Fu suggests cutting those designs out and turning them into DIY gift tags.
Both Fu and Domo believe that used tissue is better to work with than used wrapping paper because the former, as Domo describes it, “crinkles more evenly.” And don’t be afraid to lean into all that creasing. “People tend to think that you need a really clean, crisp piece of paper to wrap a gift, but you can make a crumpled style appear purposeful,” Fu said. Here’s how to do it.
Use crinkled paper on soft, unboxed gifts. “If I don’t have a box for something like a scarf or pair of gloves, I would just use old tissue paper, folding it around the gift like I’m creating a little envelope,” Fu said.
Go for multiple layers. Same as newspaper, your used tissue paper may be a little weak, so buff it up by using two or three layers at once. (Each sheet can be a different color or pattern for extra pop.)
Repurpose gift-wrap scraps as ribbon. An easy way to add visual interest to a wrapped gift is to take thin strips of gift wrap you’d otherwise discard and tape them vertically and horizontally across the box in the same way you’d wrap a piece of ribbon. You can also add these strips as a layer under a ribbon for even more dimension and depth.
Turn to used tissue for a vintage look. Domo recommends filling gift bags and boxes with crinkled tissue when you want to impart an old-fashioned style to a gift’s presentation (such as when you’re giving a family heirloom or antique find).
This article was edited by Catherine Kast and Annemarie Conte.
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