New Cardboard Pick-A-Brick Boxes: semi-exhaustive testing.

If you live within coo-ee of a LEGO Branded Store, you will probably be familiar with the standard pick-a-brick cup. Coming in 2 sizes, they provide LEGO builders with a fantastic opportunity to load up on a variety of elements in bulk, with out having to deal with online ordering and delivery times. However, as a stackable truncated cone, they can be difficult to fill to maximum efficiency. Especially if you are looking to stock up on basic bricks.

Sometime between now and the end of March 2024, the Plastic pick-a-brick (PAB) cups are being replaced by cardboard boxes. This is in line with the company’s goal to ditch single-use plastics in packaging by 2025. [the imprecise rollout date is dependent on when regions deplate their supply of plastic cups.)

The LEGO Group sent over a sample of the boxes to evaluate: and so I set out to answer the questions that many people have about these boxes.

And quite a few that they may not!

But before looking too closely at them, let’s remind ourself of the cups that will be replaced:

The Current Pick A Brick (PAB) Cups

We could consider these shapes as a truncated cone, measuring the internal radius at the top; estimating the internal radius at the bottom ( internal radius = 1/2 external diameter- thickness of plastic), and measuring the height and applying the formula V = (1/3) * π * h * (r² + r * R + R²).

This methodology felt too complicated, so I just filled each cup with water and weighed them.

I did not consider the volume of the lids for the purpose of this investigation, but as the lid is an integral part of shipping, I have included it in the weight comparisons.

The small cup weighs 52 grams with the lid, and has a capacity of 488mls. The large cup weighs 82 grams with the lid, and has a capacity of 945 mls.

The cups are made of a translucent plastic, and embossed with a LEGO stud pattern. The base of the cup is indented to enable stacking with the lid designed for the cups. As a cone, with a circular ring, containing strengthening dividers in the base, there will always be redundant space around the base of the cups, even if they are closely opposed. The lid is designed to mimic the stud on top of a cylindrical brick.

The plastic is waterproof, and can hold liquid, serving as an emergency beverage containers in the event of unexpected guests.

The New Boxes

The LEGO Group have sent a few over to trial: there are 3 sizes currently: ostensibly Large, Small and Minifigures sized. In true Rambling Brick Style, we are going to put them to the test.

On first inspection, the boxes are shipped flat and, at their thickest, measure close to 3 mm. Ultimately, a ream of copy paper is about as thick as 20 flat packed boxes, something near impossible with that number of cups.

With a deft flick of the wrist, these flattened constructs become box shaped. The boxes are fixed in their three dimensional form by securing a tab on the floor of the box through a slot at the base of the wall.

The boxes are decorated with various LEGO symbology:

  • The smallest – for Minifigures – is square and has a red/yellow/orange palette and features a minifigure losing his hair at the sight of a spider, while also spilling his coffee cup.
  • The small PAB Box is also square and is decorated with Dark Green, Green, Bright Green with some contrasting red/dar lred elements. There are some simple models displayed on the lid.
  • The larger box is rectangular, with a 2:1 ratio. The artwork is divided into a 4×2 design And features red, dark red, blue and dark blue markings, and includes pictures of a few generic elements as well as a couple of small models.

The decorations on the box are arranged as if they are 2×2 or 2×4 bricks. On the side panel of each box is a an empty speech bubble. Perfect for writing your name in (or anything else that you might wish to write on the side of the such as a birthday greeting, or the name of the element being stored in it.). One of the fold down tabs provides a ‘Danger, small parts !” warning in 22 languages, while the other lists points of manufacture for the elements, as well as internation distribution details for the boxes themselves. One side features a barcode, as well as recycling information.

The inks used on the boxes do NOT fluoresce under UV Light.

I really like the way these boxes look. They clearly look like LEGO products, and I would be feeling pretty excited if presented with one containing a gift.

Let’s take a look at their relative size and function compared with the current cup.

Size Comparison:

On first inspection, you get the feeling that the boxes are smaller than the cups. Let’s compare the volume capacity of each.

TypeInternal Length(cm)Internal Width (cm)Internal HeightVolumeEmpty Weight
Minifig Box993.8cm308 ml16g
Small Box995.5cm445.5ml 18g
Large Box918.15.5cm896 ml
Small Cup48852g (with lid)
Large Cup945ml82g (with Lid)

NOW you will see that there is a reduction of volume in these PAB cups, as well as a reduction in weight:

  • Small box is 35% of the weight and 91%of the volume of a small cup.
  • Large box is 34% of the weight , while it has 95% of the volume of a large cup.

So, the new boxes do not have the same volume as the existing cups. But does this actually matter in a practical sense?

Theoretical maximum capacity

Measurements in millimeters are all very well, but how does this translate into basic LEGO Units?

The internal short length is 11.5 modules wide, while the long side of the large box is 21 modules long. The PAB boxes are 5and2/3 bricks (or 17 plates) deep. Let’s consider this volume as a theoretical maximum number of 1×1 plates that could exist in the space.

Small box: 11.5 x 11.5 x 17 =2248 1x1plates.

Large box: 11.5 x 23 x 17 =4496.5 1x1plates.

Small Box/cup: Studs

I compared a small cup’s capacity for 1×1 transparent studs with the box:

I filled a small cup to the brim and then some with transparent light blue 1×1 studs. In total I could add 230 grams of studs before they started to flow over. I transferred as many of these as I could these into the new small PAB Box, but could only load it up with with 210g. This is 91% of the capacity of the small pickabrick cup, which is in keeping with the volumetric measurements we made earlier. There were approximately 175 studs remaining in the small cup. Presuming 20g=175 studs, I managed to fit around 1840 unstacked, randomly placed studs. I repeated this several times, with similar results.

Large Box:

I tested the large box for capacity of 2×4 bricks, and then strove to optimise them. I aimed to minimise distortion of the box in my stacking. At this stage, the way in which content will be managed is yet to be confirmed. In Australia, the existing PAB cup lids must fit onto the top of the cup, although it can be secured with tape. Elsewhere, it appears to be at the manager’s discretion.

Based on the calculations above, the theoretical maximum number of 2×4 bricks in a large box is

4496.5/24 = 187.25=187 2×4 Bricks

This is a theoretical maximum, presuming no distortion. Due to the dimensions of actual bricks, it is unlikely that we can ever achieve this without distorting the form of the box.

Random Filling

That awkward moment when you take the photo before you completely fill a box.

I threw a large pile of 2×4 bricks into a box, shook it around, threw in some more and then jiggled things around a bit so that I could close the box. Without distorting the lid, I was able to fit around 120 randomly placed 2×4 bricks in the box. I got a similar result over several attempts. (best performance using this test was 123 bricks). Plainly some order would improve things.

Basic Stacks

The internal height of the box is 5 2/3 bricks. Simple stacks of 5 bricks gives us 27 stacks (fitting within the 11×23 grid), that is an easy 135 bricks – already a better yield compared with random filling of the box. This also means there is space for plenty of smaller elements- other bricks, plates and tiles – around those bricks.

Given the layer of 2 plates above these bricks (the equivalent volume of 23 2×4 bricks), there must still be a way to fit more in.

I considered stacks of 6 but this would distort the lid and likely require taping – this would give 162 bricks in the box. Still 17 short of the theoretical maximum.

More complicated stacking: SNOT Funny!

  1. So I thought a little outside the box. The short side of 2×4 brick is as wide as 5 plates are thick. By lying bricks on their side, there is a gap of 12 plates above it: 4 bricks high. I was able to lie two piles of 19 bricks on their long edge, and another on the short edge.
Three stacks of 19 bricks are laid down on the bottom of the box. 2 on the ‘4 long’ side; And one on the ‘2’ side.
Running Total:57

2. I filled up the layers above them with Twenty-two piles of 4 bricks, which reached the top edge of the box.

A further 22 stacks of 4 bricks (=88 added)
Running total:145

3. I filled up above the short edge with 5 stacks of 2 bricks (10 plates+6 plates =16 plates. One plate lower than step 2.

An addition five stacks of 2 bricks = additional 10.
Running total: 155

As you can see, there is a small gap along the long edge, and a less deep gap along the short edge. You could fill this gap with other elements. OR

Technically, the box can accommodate 11 x 23 modules. The next step results in a slight distortion of the box, and we add five columns of 3 bricks on their sides along the long edge (15 bricks) as well as 2 bricks on their side along the short edge.

Add 5 columns of 3 bricks and tuck in 2 along the short side (17 bricks) Running total: 155+17=172

And last, but not least, if you want to take advantage of the maximal space: Tuck one into the top left hand corner on the diagonal:

Add one on a precarious angle in the top corner: Grand total 173 2×4 Bricks in the new large box.

I managed to fit 173 of these iconic bricks in the space. The studs might have impinged on the lid a little, but it was able to close fairly firmly.

This box contains 173 bricks. You can see that. it is bulging slightly at the edges.

Large box versus large cup for 2×4 bricks

I reckon there are two types of PAB customer – those determined to get as many bricks in as possible, as well as those who just want to throw the bits in and get on with their lives. I compared the two containers with random placement of 2×4 bricks.

Random filling.

I placed 120 bricks in a large box and transferred them to a large PAB cup. There were 10 bricks I could not fit in. I repeated it a couple of times – I was not able to get a better result with random filling of the jar.

Diligent Stacking

According to YouTubers Your Creative Friend’ you can fit 169 2×4 bricks into a PAB cup. I followed their instructions several times, and as far as I see, I can fit 167 bricks, with a poorly fitting lid, and the cup is being stressed. Here is my recreation of their stacks:

This is dependent on being able to have the lid secured with tape, and there might be a gap between the cup and the lid. As I mentioned earlier, in Australia, our stores have been enforcing the ‘Lid must fit onto the cup’ rule, so this might be difficult to achieve in real life.

As I demonstrated above, the new box can hold 173 2×4 bricks with slight distortion: the new large box can hold more 2×4 bricks than a cup, without significantly distorting the box or reducing your ability to close it.

2×4 Summary

Whether you are a diligent stacker or a random gatherer of 2×4 bricks, we have seen that, for these larger elements, the new cardboard box has a greater capacity than the existing PAB Cup without trying to stretch the box’s capacity to the limit or requiring tape to close the box.

At this stage, the ongoing rules about just how securely closed or stretched a box must be are unclear, and I suspect most stores will operate at manager’s discretion.

Summary of the Summary: The box will hold more 2×4 bricks than a pick a brick cup packed using a similar technique, whether your style is to diligently pack or just randomly toss the bricks into your box as quickly as possible.

So… I had a few other questions to answer, thanks to a few readers:


Are the boxes resistant to water damage? Early experiments suggest that the boxes are splash proof.

I submerged a minifigure box and found that after 8 hours the glue has essentially separated. The cardboard remains sturdy, although it is soaked through.

The ink did not run, although the water took on a slight yellowish stain. I removed the cardboard after 22 hours: it was soaked through, and the 3 points of adhesive had separated.

This is to be expected. Once dried out, the cardboard has returned to its original shape, albeit with slight bowing. It should be easy enough to repair with a few appropriately located blobs of PVA adhesive.

That said, the box is unlikely to encounter significant damage if you are caught in a heavy downpour. A good soaking will dissolve the glue, but the cardboard was fairly resilient .

Are the new boxes in SYSTEM?

This was certainly a provocative question. For the purpose of the exercise, I took the question to mean ‘Do the boxes occupy an exact number of studs, and are they a multiple of 1 brick high.’ For bonus points, does the printing line up along the lines of studs…

I started with the small box. We know it is just over 11 studs wide ON THE INSIDE. It has the same internal height of 5 bricks and 2 plates on the inside. I placed it on a 16×16 plate and surrounded it with 2×4 bricks. With its lid closed, the box came up to the level of the the 6th brick. I closed over it with a 16×16 plate. The minifigure box has the same 12×12 footprint as the small box, but is 4 bricks high externally. Obviously, the cardboard boxes are not manufactured with the same strict tolerances as the LEGO Bricks, but it is probably close enough for being able to incorporate them in a MOC of some description.

The large box is slightly shorter along its long side than 2 small boxes side by side. As such, the large box had a slightly shorter footprint (12 studs by 23 and a bit.) Two small boxes fit snugly in this space, while there is a little give with the larger box.

However, just in from the sides and one I end, there is a little LEGO logo, poking through!

So: small boxes appear to be approximating system measurements; The Large box: not quite as close, but probably adequate for the purposes of enclosing in bricks! Of course, I am now intrigued to see how these might be incorporated in MOCs in the future.

Other uses:

In the last year or two, I have started to move my collection of bricks and plates (and more) over to being stored in the ALIX drawer system, by IKEA (inspired by Tiago Catarino). I use a variety of dividers in these drawers, but most of them are angled towards the bottom. These boxes do not fit the drawer perfectly, but they can fit some of the gaps that exist between commercial dividers and the edges of the drawers. They can also be easily removed from the drawers for a building project, and replaced when the need is passed.

They would also work well as a tool for collecting moderate numbers of elements as part of your sorting system, so long as it is adequately labelled.

These new boxes are already done up with LEGO livery: I can see a time coming when these boxes might be repurposed as small gift boxes, either containing a small set, loose elements or even a completely unrelated gift.

In conclusion:

The LEGO Group have spent several years developing, testing, tweaking and retreating these boxes, and it shows.

There are so many ways in which they are superior to the existing plastic Pick a Brick Cups:

  • The greater capacity for larger elements, despite feeling being slightly smaller in absolute volume.
  • Lighter and more compact to ship: not nearly as much air being shippped around the world as we see with cups.
  • Easier to stack.
  • Less dead space between boxes, if lined up
  • Look Pretty good! They would be quite suitable as gift boxes.
  • Reasonably resilient water – only the pva glue gave.

There are relatively fewer complaints to be had with them:

  • They are not transparent: with the old cups, the contents could be identified without opening them.
  • They not as robust as plastic for reuse.

There are a few questions that remain to be answered with regard to the new Boxes:

  • Will they become available in different print patterns – eg an annual refresh , or seasonal prints?
  • Will there still be a discount for re-using the boxes (some stores offer a 50c discount for re-using the cup in some stores.
  • Will the plastic cups still be honored for re-use at PAB walls after the rollout?
  • What will their actual longevity be?
  • And… will they cost the same to fill?

These cardboard boxes are due to roll out around the world over the next 9 months or so. It was explained on the LEGO Ambassadors Network that the imprecise rollout dates are related to the time that will be taken for different regions to deplete their existing supply of existing Cups.

I really like the ‘Speech Bubble’ which could be used to denote possession or greetings or even contents! [in the trials held earlier in the year, ther were used for a stamp to indicate a reused box]

Some people will miss the transparent cups, which have become an iconic form, and allow you to see the contents from a distance. Others will miss the challenge of gaming the system with an awkward form such as a cup. Hopefully, this will reduce the overall time people need to spend at the wall to optimise their fill for some, and present a whole new challenge for others.

In spite of the slightly smaller overall volume, I found that the functional capacity of the boxes was not significantly diminished. If you are looking for larger elements, you can probably fit more of them in the new packaging. They are reusable and suitably attractive.

On the whole, I like them, and after spending some time evaluating them, I believe they offer significant advantages over the previous cups for the majority of consumers.

I’d love to know what you think of these boxes – will they be a boon or the bane for AFOLS around the world, as they search for loose elements. Leave your comments below.

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Play Well!

3 thoughts on “New Cardboard Pick-A-Brick Boxes: semi-exhaustive testing.

  1. As always, an in depth, unbiased report. I don’t visit PAB walls all that often, (mostly opportunistic if I just happen to be in the area at the time), so I’m not familiar with the temperament of staff at various LEGO stores if I were to stand there joining bricks together to get the most amount I can into one of these boxes, but, to me, they seem to be a better option than the cup.

  2. One question I have- will small elements leak out of the cardboard boxes? For example the little 1 x 1s or our beloved “Dots”. Will they escape through the corners of the boxes our out the top of the lid?

    • It depends how much you overfill and reuse the boxes them. The floor is reasonably secure, and won’t allow small elements out, likewise the upper flaps should stop any getting out. The cardboard may stretch and distort with repeated opening/collapsing/refilling of the box, but I cannot see small parts escaping if the lid is properly closed.

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