I first made one of these such boxes back when I was in college, and I am still using it today, which is the first great thing about this craft - it is durable! It has survived several moves and being crammed into moving boxes, and it's still around! I keep it in my laundry room and store all the extra buttons and threads that come with new clothing. It's the perfect size and just looking at it makes me happy. These boxes are available at craft stores and are made out of some kind of paper-cardboard combination. Another bonus of this craft - it's cheap! The boxes I used for my mother-in-law's gift were only $1 each. They come in different shapes and sizes, so the cost probably varies, but not a bad base cost for a personalized gift!
So, you get your boxes and you pick out your paint colors. You will notice that the base of my boxes are always painted white - I think the white looks crisp and clean and makes the color on top really pop. Plus, it matches most stuff. Feel free to experiment. I just used regular white acrylic paint from craft stores and applied it with a craft sponge. And yes, I did paint the bottom. If you had some extra time, it might be nice to glue some felt to the bottom, but I didn't have time or felt, so I just painted instead! The technique I found to be most effective is the paint the bottom of the box first, and then arrange your fingers inside the box so you're able to hold it up and paint the sides. Then slide it off your hand, onto your work surface to allow it to dry and move on to your next box.
Next you want to paint your lids. The first time I did this, I used regular acrylic paint I got at the craft stores. This time, however, I had very specific colors in mind and went to Benjamin Moore to pick out my paints. They have little miniature pots of paints that are supposed to be used for painting a swatch of color on your wall to decide if you want to use it to paint an entire room, but they are also good for crafts like these. Bonus: I like all these colors and still have plenty left over to make boxes in the future. Again, craft store paint would be fine and completely acceptable for this project, but I needed more variations of each hue, so I went to a paint store. (I will say, though, the coverage from the BM paint was great and I think I only did one or two coats, whereas the white paint I ended up doing four or five coats.) When you are all done, if you rinse your craft sponges, those are also re-usable, so really your only expense is the boxes, since everything else can be used again.
The nice thing about using a craft sponge for this project is the paint goes on in really thin coats, so it dries quickly. This whole project would have taken only an hour and I would have had it done before dinner, but I couldn't get my Modge Podge open (it had glued itself shut) so I had to wait for my big, strong husband to get home and crack the glue seal. All that to say - if you have a couple hours before a birthday party or shower and need a gift, these do not take long at all!
After all your paint is dry, you move to affixing your picture on top. I have had the most success with catalog or magazines pictures, just because the ink does not run. For the box in the top photo, I cut the picture out from a JCrew catalog. For the boxes in the bottom box, I found all of them in home magazines I had lying around. I cannot guarantee what would happen if you printed a picture from the computer - I'm not sure what would happen with the ink. (If you experiment, please let me know how it turns out.) To affix the pictures, I used Modge Podge. It comes in a big container and you don't need a lot, so it'll keep for awhile - just be sure to wipe the edges down so the lid does not get glued on, like yours truly!
I use a craft sponge on the Modge Podge and dip my sponge directly into the container. I dab a little bit onto where my picture is going to go, put my picture on top and smooth it out, and then cover the entire top and sides with Modge Podge. The stuff dries clear, so don't be shy with it! The reason I cover the entire top with Modge Podge is because when it dries, it leaves a glossy finish, and I think it would look weird for it to be glossy just on top of the picture. I do not put Modge Podge on the bottom part of the box.
Just wait a while for it to dry and you are done! Now, you might be asking, "Did you paint the inside?" The answer is no. You could, but a) I didn't have time and b) I didn't really want to. I think it would be fun to paint the inside a fun, bright color or even the color of the lid or something, but I didn't. The one thing to keep in mind is, these boxes are sturdy and all, but they weren't designed with precision in mind. If you ended up painting the inside, especially the inside of the lid, and then had several coats of paint on the outside of the base, the two pieces might not fit together as well. Just something to consider.
Good luck to you in making this craft. Sorry if this post was confusing at all! About halfway through painting the boxes, it occurred to me that maybe I should have provided a step-by-step tutorial, but...I'm new at this! So please feel free to ask me any questions. These boxes would be darling as a baby shower gift - you could cut pictures from old Dr. Seuss stories or Golden Books and paint the boxes fun, bright colors to coordinate with a nursery. Also, you could make these with different themes, depending on the recipient. A gardner? Think watering can, galoshes, an Adirondack chair, a bird bath. A cook? Boxes with a different vegetable on each, maybe a wooden spoon or colorful mixing bowl. A lover of fashion? Classic trench coat, black dress, high heel shoe. The possibilities are endless!
One last thought - if you have small scissors, like the kind you use with a sewing machine or for embroidery, those would be great for cutting out pictures. I think the pictures look best when all you see is the picture - none of the background color, so small scissors would help ensure precision when you are cutting things out.