How To: Make Custom Magazine Files

How To: Make Custom Magazine Files

Janel Laban
Jan 5, 2009

(Welcome to Monika, who is trying out for a spot on the AT:SF editorial team. Enjoy her post!)

Since we love design, arts and crafts and collecting things from across the ages, we run into a problem of storage on a daily basis. We have looked for a good solution and have improved our situation with a custom built wall shelf in our loft that is 16 ft wide by 11 ft tall, but we have been looking for a system to organize its contents for awhile now.

Having gone to many different stores in the Bay Area, we decided that to be most efficient we would have to embark on a journey to create our own boxes. This turned out not only to be the most cost and space efficient solution, but also the most flexible since we could decide on the sizes of our boxes as well as the colors and the details.

The Bare Bones

It took some time to figure out what size would work the best for the bookshelf. As an example the magazine files that we ended up with are wider than store-bought. They are also taller and deeper so they can hold magazines that are custom sizes (such as vintage Life Magazine and Metropolis). We also wanted them to fit perfectly on the bookshelf. After the measurements were complete we set out on the box making journey. With this we had some help as a friend of ours designs cardboard boxes for living, but nothing that we ended up with couldn't be done at home. Some sturdy cardboard, as smooth as possible (the least amount of ripple like quality the better) and glue (PVA) is all you need. We glued our boxes and let them dry overnight with the help of some heavy objects from around the house (like wine bottles, heavy books etc.)
If this is a part that you would rather skip, there are ready made cardboard magazine files that you can buy and still make them custom by choosing your own paper/bookcloth to wrap them with. You can find reasonably priced cardboard magazine files at

After that was done, we chose a palette of three solid colors. To simplify the look and feel of the bookshelf, we decided against busy patterns for the covers.

After much research, and few disappointments when it came to the price on some options out there (vintage wallpaper etc), we decided on book cloth.
We ordered book cloth samples from to see if the colors matched what we had in mind. Things look very different on screen than in person. After settling on a few choices, we decided to order in bulk to make it cheaper.


The pattern making was next. We looked at magazine files at various stores (Container Store, West Elm, CB2) and how they were put together. We specifically paid attention to the way the corners and folds were done. Enough overlap seems to be the key, especially around the corners and when connecting two separate pieces.

Face and sides completed.
Bottom Piece

Gluing can be a little messy. We used PVA glue that we found at Arch in San Francisco (99 Missouri St. at 17th St.) A rubber brayer helps to make sure that the book-cloth goes on smoothly and the glue is spread evenly. The other thing that might be worth picking up is a bone folder used for bookbinding. Those are usually around $5–10 at any art supply store and will definitely make the job easier.

All the sides done.
The final touches - label holders.

As the final step, we attached label holders that we ordered from
Those turned out to be pretty inexpensive at $0.56 each.

The more you make, the easier this process will become and less expensive, as you can order larger quantities of wrapping paper or bookcloth. Good luck!

Useful Links:

  • Cardboard Magazine Files: Bags Unlimited
  • Bookcloth Resource: Dover Bookcloth from Talas
  • Label Holders: Paxton Hardware


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