There are two types of people during the holidays: People who use gift bags and those who wrap presents. And while there’s certainly nothing wrong with a festive gift bag, carefully wrapped presents under a tree or next to a menorah just look great.
That being said, loving how wrapped presents look and actually wrapping them are two different things. Even for the artsy, present-wrapping can be a frustrating process, especially when supplies are so expensive. There’s nothing worse than spending a bunch of money on ribbon and paper and then struggling to wrap even a few of your presents.
Fortunately, with some practice, anyone can become an expert wrapper. Based on decades of experience, I’ve rounded up the six best tips that will help even novices wrap better presents. Worst case? You can always go back to the bags.
1. Assemble your supplies:
When you’re ready to begin wrapping, choose a large workspace—like a counter or a big dining room table—and prep your supplies. At a minimum, you’ll need your presents, wrapping paper, tape, and scissors. It’s also a good idea to have a black sharpie handy (for blacking out prices on tags), a trash bag so you can keep your space tidy, and some cheerful holiday music playing in the background. Bonus points if you also have a hygge-worthy fire raging in the fireplace.
If you’re worried about remembering the recipient of all your gifts after you box them, write the person’s initials in a small corner on the outside of the box.
2. Don’t skimp on the boxes—or the paper:
The downfall of most presents stems from two causes: Weak boxes or poorly made wrapping paper. A sturdy box gives you something to work on and allows for the best possible presentation. You’ll also want to fill the box so that its contents don’t move around and the box itself won’t collapse when you wrap it. We usually opt for a cheap white or colored tissue paper, but you can also get creative and use other home goods like cute dish towels, wash cloths, or the fun—but messier—shredded paper.
Likewise, it can be tempting to opt for cheap wrapping paper, but beware. Thin paper rips easily and can be challenging to work with for even the most experienced of wrappers. I like buying my boxes and wrapping paper at the Container Store as they provide consistently good quality materials. If you’re looking for deals, Ross, Marshalls, or TJ Maxx often have quality paper at deep discounts.
3. When in doubt, use wire ribbon:
It can be tempting to buy large spools of grosgrain ribbon because it’s cheaper, but for beginners, this type of ribbon can be hard to wrap with. If you want great bows and can afford it, opt for the more expensive—but easier to work with—wire ribbon.
As a rule, try to buy ribbon that is at least 10 yards. If you can find wire ribbon spools that are 25 yards, this will go a long way when you’re wrapping.
4. It’s all about creases and tight bows:
Once your present is in a nice box, measure your paper beforehand to make sure it fits. Use quality, transparent tape—Scotch always works well—and feel free to fold the paper over to make straight lines. As you’re wrapping, remember to pull the paper tight and crease the paper on the edges of the box to create a clean, crisp look.
When you’re ready for ribbon, estimate how much ribbon you’ll need by measuring the length and height of the present twice. You’ll also need about 12 to 24 inches of ribbon for the bow. When you tie your first bow, the key is to get it tight. Loose bows don’t look great on presents and they also have a tendency to fall off.
There are tons of ways to tie bows out there, but we prefer the regular ol’ bow you learned in kindergarten. Don’t let the bow get too big. Then, add an accent bow in a different colored ribbon. This often works best if the accent ribbon is smaller than the original ribbon. Again, keep the bow tight and when you’re done, don’t forget to cut the ends of the ribbon tails into a “V” shape or something similar. Use sharp scissors to avoid fraying.
5. Get creative...recycle:
It can be fun (and expensive!) to buy new wrapping paper, but don’t underestimate the materials you might already have at home. Old calendars can make excellent wrapping paper for small presents, and so can old shopping bags, leftover fabric, magazines, newspaper, or even maps.
Have kiddos in the house? Buy a bulk roll of brown postage paper and let the kids have at it. Give them crayons, markers, stickers, or stamps to create homemade and cheap wrapping paper from scratch.
6. Add a few extras:
Once you’ve mastered the basics, don’t forget the extra embellishments that make your presents special. Feel free to add name tags—sticker name tags are fast and easy and should go on the bottom of presents, while more decorative tags can be tied into the ribbon. For an added bit of fun, use a gold or silver sharpie to write on the tags.
You can also add gift toppers—think a small baby’s rattle, ornament, or even a bracelet. Have old crafting supplies lying around? Shells, string, and buttons can all be included to add a personal touch.