8 Gift-Wrapping Tips that Department Store Pros and Enthusiastic Wrappers Swear By

published Nov 30, 2021
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wrapping presents
Credit: Erika Layne

Gift wrapping is absolutely not my strong suit — but luckily, my mother is a genius at wrapping and creates lovely packages tied up with string year after year, and my husband is the primary wrapper in our home. You can always tell my presents by the imprecise corners and… shall we say inventive folding, but there’s nothing I appreciate more than a beautifully wrapped gift sitting under the tree. 

While I may be a novice, there’s still hope for me — and if you feel the same way, you too can learn to wrap a gorgeous gift. Gift wrapping prowess isn’t something you’re born with; it’s a skill you hone over the years, learning as you go. These pro tips will help you upgrade your gift-wrapping game, even if you don’t count it as part of your skill set… yet.

Do your homework. 

Before you get started, do a practice run or refresh your skills with a quick video how-to. If you’re a visual learner, Effective Spaces on Instagram is a treasure trove of wrapping how-to videos to study as you practice, and YouTube is full of tutorials to help you master different techniques. 

It also pays to think about the recipient of your gift. Can you wrap the present in such a way that it’s specific to them? ​​”We’re all used to wrapping a gift last-minute with what we have on hand,” explains Chris Larson, the creator of subscription-based wrapping paper company Wrapture. “Taking the time to consider the gift’s recipient beyond the gift itself when wrapping — favorite colors, motifs, or a subject matter that will make them smile. Your thoughtfulness can really enhance the impact your gift will have.”

Create a wrapping station with lots of space and the right supplies.

Before you do anything, make sure you’ve set yourself up for success with ample space to measure, cut, and move around. My husband Sam, who worked at a high-end men’s boutique for more than 10 years, says that having an adequate gift-wrapping area is key. “You need a big space,” he says. “It requires a large area to corral everything.” Clear off your dining room table or your desk, or spread out on the floor for optimal space.

The right tools also make all the difference. Cassandra Peña of San Antonio, Texas, who honed her techniques wrapping gifts at Cracker Barrel, recommends sharp paper scissors or a paper cutter and a handy pop-up tape dispenser you can wear on your hand or your wrist. “Having a pop-up tape dispenser on your wrist or a heavy enough tape dispenser that you can pull a piece of tape from single-handedly helps you not lose tension on your box,” she explains. “Having to take both hands off the box sometimes causes people to lose tension on the paper and lose the smoothness.”

Credit: Erika Layne

Choose sustainable materials.

What can you wrap with that will have a second life? “Look around you. You may have some ‘Vogues’ or ‘National Geographics’ that haven’t been recycled yet that would make great makeshift paper,” says Larson. “Don’t hesitate to make use of beautiful, reused materials.” He also recommends using recyclable paper, given that you can’t recycle metallic finishes, glitter papers, or high-gloss finishes. “Think high design with humble material.”

Giving a bottle of wine, bubbles, bubble bath, or fancy olive oil? Creative gift-giver Natasha Tomich of Seattle, Washington, loves wrapping bottles in cloth, reminiscent of Japanese furoshiki. Find a pretty vintage scarf or put that excess fabric you bought for curtains to use and wrap up your gift in a unique, sustainable way.

Stock up on the double-sided tape.

Every pro wrapper recommends buying a few rolls of double-sided tape for a neater wrap job. “Use double-sided tape and pull the paper all the way to the edges so the wrap job looks seamless with zero ugly tape showing,” says Linda Cao of Minneapolis, Minnesota, who loves wrapping gifts so much she once took a job at Papyrus during the holiday season just to wrap presents.

Decide where you splurge.

You don’t need to go splurge on fancy paper to make an impact. “Avoid busy, colorful, cheap paper,” says enthusiastic wrapper Jamie Feldman, who loves using brown craft paper because it’s inexpensive and durable and can be used for all sorts of gift wrap purposes, not just the holidays. Feldman does such a beautiful job that she’s the go-to source for all things wrap for her friends. She also recommends splurging on a ribbon to add a special touch. “Not the plastic curly ribbon used with balloons, but fabric ribbon you get at a fabric store,” she notes. “A red velvet ribbon tied in a bow over craft paper is so chic.”

Jane Daly of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, agrees. (She honed her techniques while wrapping gifts for a fancy department store!) “Use good-quality ribbon,” she says. “It’s worth it because you can reuse it. I have ribbons that have been kicking around for 20 years. My daughters love to see them come out.” If your recipient doesn’t want to keep the ribbon and reuse it, it’s totally OK to ask for it back.

Credit: Erika Layne

Measure before you start.

Something as simple as sharp, crisp edges can make your wrap job look so much better. The key to this is measuring the ratio of box to paper so you’re not stuck with extra paper, which is where things tend to get messy. And once you’ve got the paper sorted out, make those creases and folds super sharp for a precise look. “Take your pointer finger and thumb and pinch and run down the edges to make sharp creases on all edges and corners of the package,” says Tricia Carlsen, who once worked as a seasonal gift wrapper at a department store. “Fold over every edge of paper instead of leaving cut ends and make sure it’s pressed sharp.”

Make upgrades special — and easy.

You don’t need to make a huge splash with your gift wrap; tiny touches can make all the difference. Daly recommends opting for tie tags instead of gift stickers, especially if you’re planning to save paper and reuse it. “It makes a huge difference,” she says.

Feldman is a fan of ribbon stacking for a unique finish that’s super simple to execute. “Add a wider patterned ribbon under the solid colored bow,” she explains. “No need to tie the bottom ribbon, just join the ends with tape on the bottom of the box.”

If you’re using plain paper, Feldman likes using a stamp (or a Sharpie if you’re artistically inclined) to make your own patterns, or using washi tape in place or ribbon to make bespoke patterns on your present. 

Add a beautiful finishing touch.

Sure, stick-on bows are great, but you can create a truly beautiful, personalized gift experience with a little extra pizzazz. “Add an ornament to the bow or incorporate some kind of foliage,” says Katherine Tester, who learned everything she knows about gift wrapping while watching her expert mom at work. “Get crafty, go to Michael’s.” 

Sarah Watson, who perfected her skills while wrapping gifts during many retail holiday seasons, also adds ornaments to her pretty packages — it’s almost like a second gift-within-a-gift. “I buy little ornaments or holiday decor and string it through the ribbon when I’m wrapping it around the gift,” she explains. “It makes it look so good and it’s a tiny bonus gift for people to hang on their tree.”