How to make papercraft models

Papercraft Model Making

Papercraft is the art of cutting, folding, and gluing paper to make intricate 3D models of anything from cars to boats, from people and animals, and from video game characters to model weapons. When you look at some of the models people make, it's hard to believe that they're simply made from cut, folded and glued paper. This hobby is inexpensive, extremely enjoyable, and easy for anyone to get into. If you enjoy working with you hands and seeing something that used to be on a flat sheet of paper come to life right in front of you, then papercraft might be for you. The Starcraft Siege Tank shown here is completely made of folded paper, and glue! Here, I've put together a resource for anyone who is looking to get started in papercraft. I'll go over the tools, technique, and resources you need to start making your own papercraft models in no time!

Papercraft Models - Examples of excellent papercraft

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Starcraft 2 BansheeStarcraft 2 BattlecruiserStarcraft 2 ImmortalStar Wars R2 DroidsStar Wars Imperial ShuttleStar Wars AT-ATFinal Fantasy XIII - LightningThe Legend of Zelda - LinkPortal 2 - Weighted Companion CubeHalo - Master Chief
Starcraft 2 Banshee
Starcraft 2 Banshee
Starcraft 2 Battlecruiser
Starcraft 2 Battlecruiser
Starcraft 2 Immortal
Starcraft 2 Immortal
Star Wars R2 Droids
Star Wars R2 Droids
Star Wars Imperial Shuttle
Star Wars Imperial Shuttle
Star Wars AT-AT
Star Wars AT-AT
Final Fantasy XIII - Lightning
Final Fantasy XIII - Lightning
The Legend of Zelda - Link
The Legend of Zelda - Link
Portal 2 - Weighted Companion Cube
Portal 2 - Weighted Companion Cube
Halo - Master Chief
Halo - Master Chief
The tools of papercraft
The tools of papercraft

Materials

The stuff you'll need to get started

The nice thing about papercraft is that it really isn't a very expensive hobby. No expensive model kits to buy, no exotic materials needed. Many of the things you'll need you might already have at home. While not all of the materials below are necessary, if you get into papercraft, I would highly recommend getting a good set of the equipment below:

Hobby Knife - The most important tool in your papercraft arsenal. Get a precise knife with a fine blade.

Scoring Tool - Not always necessary, but makes scoring and folding paper 100 times easier.

Glue - White glue works fine. I prefer wood glue myself.

Paper - You'll need slightly thicker paper than what you might normally use for printing documents.

Cutting Mat - Not necessary, but they make your life much easier. No cutting into your precious wood table or shredding up stacks of newspapers.

Inkjet Printer - You can use any kind of color printer, but inkjets seem to work the best.

I'll first go over each of these pieces of equipment in more detail, and then get to finding papercraft models, printing them, and technique for actually cutting, folding and gluing the parts together.

Hobby Knives - Cut cut cut.

Picking the right hobby knife for papercraft is crucial for getting precise and clean lines, and making the work comfortable for you. The exact brand doesn't matter that much, any hobby knife will do, but you'll want to get the right kind of blades for your knife. You'll want to get blades that have a pointed tip that is at a fairly sharp angle. This lets you cut into the really sharp corners that many papercraft pieces require. The good ol' X-acto knife is what I prefer for all my hobby work, and if you go with X-acto, the type of blades you'll want are the #11 blades. These are made for precision work, and are perfect for cutting paper.

You'll have to find a knife that you're comfortable with using. Should the handle be thick or thin? Should it be metal or rubber? These aspects will depend on what you're most comfortable with, and how much precision you can get from it. When I'm doing long sessions of paper cutting, I like knives with a comfortable rubber coating. When I need to cut very intricate pieces, I like skinnier metal handles to give me the precision I need.

Below are the knives and blades I recommend for getting started with papercraft:

Xacto X3601 N0. 1 Precision Knife With Safety Cap
Xacto X3601 N0. 1 Precision Knife With Safety Cap

This is your standard xacto knife for all types of different find cutting work you'll need to do. I own several of these, and they all work perfectly. You'll want to get the #11 blades which are more precise than the #2 blades and are perfect for papercraft cutting.

 
X-Acto X2000 No-Roll Rubber Barrel Knife with #11 Replaceable Blade and Safety Cap (X3724)
X-Acto X2000 No-Roll Rubber Barrel Knife with #11 Replaceable Blade and Safety Cap (X3724)

If your hands are slightly sensitive, or you think you'll really be getting into papercraft, this Xacto knife has a rubberized grip that makes it that much more comfortable and gives you a little bit more control and precision over your cuts. If you're willing to invest just a little bit more, I highly recommend this knife.

 
X-ACTO Nonrefillable Blade Dispenser, 15 per Pack (X411)
X-ACTO Nonrefillable Blade Dispenser, 15 per Pack (X411)

With your new hobby knife, you'll need extra blades. This is an awesome little blade dispenser that also acts as a receptacle for used blades so that they don't hurt anyone. You'll want the #11 blades (as mentioned earlier) for the precision work you'll be doing.

 
X-Acto Blade Sharp Point #11 100/Pk
X-Acto Blade Sharp Point #11 100/Pk

If you're planning on really getting into papercraft, I would recommend buying a bulk box of the #11 blades. I go through a ton of blades when working on a large project because having sharp blades makes the work so much easier. This pack of 100 blades is great if you're going to do a lot of cutting.

 

Cutting Mats - Protect your table.

The next thing that you might want to invest in is a good cutting mat. While these aren't completely necessary, they're cheap, and make your life much much easier. I've gone without a cutting mat for a few projects, and instead have used a stack of newspapers or a magazine instead, and while that works and is free, you end up chopping the newspaper into tons of little pieces that gets really annoying to clean up. You definitely don't want to cut directly on top any surface you care about, because those hobby knives will completely destroy whatever is underneath. So spare yourself the pain and pick up a cheap self-healing cutting mat.

The main thing you need to think about when getting a cutting mat is what size you're going to want to buy. For most papercraft projects, you'll be printing on letter sized 8.5x11" paper or A4 paper. This means that a 12" x 18" mat will be sufficient surface area to work on. I use this size mat for all my projects and haven't looked back. Below are some suggestions of cutting mats you might want to invest in.

Alvin Professional Self-Healing Cutting Mat, 12" x 18", Green/Black (GBM1218)
Alvin Professional Self-Healing Cutting Mat, 12" x 18", Green/Black (GBM1218)

This is the cutting mat I have and would recommend. It's the perfect size for the paper you'll be using, and has two different colored sides to contrast any color paper you'll be using. I probably wouldn't recommend anything smaller, but if you want to go bigger, there are larger mats to be had.

 
Alvin GBM1824 GBM Series 18 inches x 24 inches Green/Black Professional Self-Healing Cutting Mat
Alvin GBM1824 GBM Series 18 inches x 24 inches Green/Black Professional Self-Healing Cutting Mat

Here's a slightly larger mat in case you need more space. However I haven't found I've lacked room to work with the 12x18" mat I use.

 
EK Success 13-by-13-Inch Cutter Bee Self-Healing Pink Mat, Old Package
EK Success 13-by-13-Inch Cutter Bee Self-Healing Pink Mat, Old Package

Here's a slightly smaller mat that's square-shaped. This mat will also be just the right size for any papercraft you do using letter or A4 sized paper.

 

Scoring Tools - Makes folding easier

This next tool really makes folding much more precise than possible with just your bare hands. A scoring tool allows you to make an indentation in the paper (or score) along the fold line. This makes the fold very sharp and precise. Without it, you will often make sloppy rounded folds which don't look great in the final papercraft model.

You don't actually need a scoring tool that's made expressly for that purpose, since you can use the tip of a mechanical pencil, or even a thumbtack to score your paper. I've used both other methods with moderate success. Mechanical pencils often aren't pointy enough to give you the precise score you want, but if you don't have anything else, they'll work. Thumbtacks are sharp enough, but really hard to hold on to. If you're thinking of doing some serious papercrafting, I would recommend one of the scoring tools below.

Some people also recommend folding tools like bone folders. They're basically straight edges that help you fold straight lines. I've never used one and find that if you score well, you get more precise folds than by using a folding tool. Nonetheless, you might find them useful.

Kemper Ball Stylus Tools double ball
Kemper Ball Stylus Tools double ball

This scoring tool/stylus is just the right sharpness for papercraft. In fact, it has two different sized balls on each end so you can use the right width score for the fold you'll want to make. It's a cheap tool that will make your final result look that much more clean and precise.

 
Fiskars Dual-Tip Stylus Embossing Tool, Regular Tip For Texturing
Fiskars Dual-Tip Stylus Embossing Tool, Regular Tip For Texturing

Here is another stylus/scoring tool that is a little thicker and has a little more grip. In case you have sensitive hands or will be doing a lot of scoring, you might want to spend a little more on this. I personally haven't found it necessary though.

 
Fiskars Traditional Bone Folder
Fiskars Traditional Bone Folder

I don't personally use these, but some people like a straight edge to help them fold straight lines. I find that if you score well, the paper almost folds itself, and the folds are nice and crisp. I've put this here in case anyone was interested.

 

Glue - Sticky Icky

There's really not too much to say about glue. Some people like glue sticks (I don't, they often don't give the amount of adhesion you need), while others like white glue (this works perfectly fine for all types of papercraft), but I personally use wood glue (I've found it's extremely strong when set and is just the right amount of tackiness while still wet to make things set quickly). The most important thing is that it dries clear. Other than that, choose what you will!

Elmer's E7010 Carpenter's Wood Glue, Interior, 8 Ounces
Elmer's E7010 Carpenter's Wood Glue, Interior, 8 Ounces

My preferred glue. Dries strong, and has a little bit more tackiness while wet than white glue.

 
Elmer's All Multipurpose White Glue, 7 .625 fl. oz.oz. (E379)
Elmer's All Multipurpose White Glue, 7 .625 fl. oz.oz. (E379)

A lot of papercraft makers like plain old white glue. I say go for it! You might have some lying around the house.

 

Paper - The backbone of papercraft

Now comes picking your paper. It is important to know that regular printer paper is often too light for papercraft. Paper comes in many different weights and brightnesses. What's important for papercraft is the weight. I would recommend 32lb paper (120gm/m^2) for any papercraft project you do. I have used this weight of paper for big projects and small projects and it has served me well. You can always go lighter if you're doing a very small very intricate piece of work. 28 or 24lb paper will work fine as well.

Hammermill Laser Print, 32 lb, 8 1/2" x 11", 98 Bright, 500 Sheets/1 Ream (104646)
Hammermill Laser Print, 32 lb, 8 1/2" x 11", 98 Bright, 500 Sheets/1 Ream (104646)

This is my go-to paper weight for papercraft projects. It is thick enough to handle the biggest projects I've done, and still works well for my smaller models too.

 
Hammermill Laser Print, 24lb, 8.5 x 11, 98 Bright, 500 Sheets/1 Ream (104604)
Hammermill Laser Print, 24lb, 8.5 x 11, 98 Bright, 500 Sheets/1 Ream (104604)

If you're doing a really fine/intricate/small model, then 24 or 28lb paper might be right for you.

 

Software

In order to print out your papercraft models, you'll need the correct software to be able to open the model files. The best software I've found is called Pepakura Viewer. Pepakura Viewer opens up .pdo files which contain all the information needed for printing and viewing papercraft models. It lets you print out all of the pieces with tons of different configuration options, and also lets you view how the different pieces fit together and what the final model should look like in 3D. The best part of it is that it's free!

Some models are also just PDF files that you can print. These files don't let you see what the finished product should look like, but you can just use Adobe Acrobat Reader to print them out.

Download papercraft model templates

Where can you find papercraft model template files? They're scattered across the internet, and many are hard to find, but I've listed the ones I tend to go to the most below.

Audio printed with a laserjet printer
Audio printed with a laserjet printer

Printing

Okay, so now you've got your tools, you've downloaded Pepakura Viewer, you've downloaded a model you want to make and now you need to print it. You can print on any color printer, but there are a few caveats. For the best results, I would recommend printing on an inkjet printer. Laser printers work too, but often when you get to the folding stage, the color of paper pieces printed from a laser printer will "crack" wherever you fold it. That's because laser printers deposit a layer of toner on top of the paper that cracks when you fold it. It's not a huge deal, since I've used laser printers many times for these projects, and it's often not noticeable. In fact, the papercraft maker you see here used a laserjet printer to make the papercraft Audi you see there. But if you want the best results, use an inkjet printer!

Cutting Technique

The first step in making a papercraft model is to cut out your pieces. You can either cut all your pieces at once, or cut a single module, score, fold and glue it, and then move onto the next module. I prefer to go one module at a time, so that I actually see things being built. It motivates me the best. Some people use a ruler to cut straight lines. I've found that while the lines will be really straight with a ruler, the accuracy is often an issue since it's difficult to line up a ruler exactly with your cutting line. Therefore, I tend to avoid rulers. Here are some tips on cutting out your pieces accurately.

1. Don't begin by cutting the detail. Roughly cut out each part first, then trim away the edges by following the lines.

2. Rotate the paper you're trying to cut, don't try to contort/rotate your hand to get the right angle. Cut towards yourself.

3. Keep the blade not inside or outside the lines, but exactly on the lines.

4. When making cuts of outgoing corners, cut a little bit further than you need to, so that your cuts cross each other and pieces pop out easily.

5. Store all pieces in a bowl or envelope so they don't get lost.

6. Replace blades often to make sure your cuts are clean and your paper doesn't end up tearing.

Folding Technique

The first step before folding is to score all the lines you're going to fold on. Use your scoring tool to trace along all fold lines. Try to keep your scorer moving in a straight line and apply even pressure down on the paper to make a crease. This will help you fold the paper precisely.

When folding, be gentle and let the crease you made dictate how the fold will proceed. If you're using Pepakura Viewer, look at how the piece is supposed to look and fold each crease the appropriate direction. Try not to fold pieces all the way back (180 degrees) if they don't need to be at that angle. Fold to the angle the piece will need to be at for gluing.

Gluing Technique

I know gluing things together doesn't sound hard, and it isn't, but there are some tips and tricks that make gluing a little easier.

1. When starting, place a glob of glue on a sticky note to use. This will make it easier to not overuse glue and get things soggy.

2. Place glue, not on the tab you want to glue, but on the area the tab will contact.

3. Hold the two pieces together for at least 30 seconds to let the glue set before letting go.

4. Glue one tab at a time. Don't try to put glue on all the tabs at once.

5. You can use your finger for larger areas, but I like using a toothpick for the more intricate tabs and glue locations.

6. When gluing box shapes, place glue on the edges of the box and then push in the top with the tabs.

7. When gluing together two parts, place glue on the part which will less likely show excess glue.

Papercraft books

If you're looking for more inspiration of things to make or tips on doing papercraft, check out some of the books below!

Papercraft Video Tutorials

Here are some video tutorials that might help you see how other people approach papercraft. Everyone has their own style, and you'll want to develop your own way of approaching this awesome hobby.

Guestbook - Let me know what you think of this article! 41 comments

SusanDeppner profile image

SusanDeppner 5 years ago from Arkansas USA

Very cool!


vinc18 5 years ago

I like handmade items. See my lens "do it yourself ideas".


anonymous 5 years ago

very cool lens, made me smile while I viewed it, earned a 'thumbs up' from me.


SquidooPower profile image

SquidooPower 5 years ago

Best. Lens. Ever.


SquidooPower profile image

SquidooPower 5 years ago

Best. Lens. Ever.


RetiredRebel 5 years ago

great lens :)


JeremyAce 5 years ago

Some really interesting stuff here, but I cannot see it because your picture gallery rotating images are seriously messing up my browser and causing it to jump all over. On top of that I cannot get any image to sit still long enough to enjoy them. Really a shame.


ViJuvenate profile image

ViJuvenate 5 years ago

What fun! This is a really great way to spend some time with kids... or to pass time when you've got some free to spare. It reminds me of the Pirates games, with the little ships. I love those. Don't like to play the game itself, but the the ships are really neat.


MJsConsignments profile image

MJsConsignments 5 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

Awesome lens...right up my sons alley. He's done some amazing scale things with just basic paper. I have to show him this!


DesignedbyLisa LM profile image

DesignedbyLisa LM 5 years ago

Wow! Some of those models are truly amazing. Thanks for creating this lens!


ernieplotter profile image

ernieplotter 5 years ago

amazing work...


hood30 profile image

hood30 5 years ago

great lens , awesome...


TheZinc LM profile image

TheZinc LM 5 years ago

that's awesome!


PrairieFire profile image

PrairieFire 5 years ago

Awesome lens, looks like a very intrigueing hobby! not gonna lie, the siege tank totally drew me into this lens though, love that game, haha


Ram Ramakrishnan profile image

Ram Ramakrishnan 5 years ago

Some of the models look so real that it is difficult to believe they are made from paper. Wonderful lens.


youthministry profile image

youthministry 5 years ago from Birmingham, Al.

Great lens! I do a lot paper miniatures for gaming.


reflectionhaiku profile image

reflectionhaiku 5 years ago

Outstanding lens - very resourceful, well-researched and well-written. This is new level of papercrafting. Thumbs up!


Rantsand profile image

Rantsand 5 years ago

wow, really awesome artwork. Some of them look so real.


SquidooMBA profile image

SquidooMBA 5 years ago

Well done lens. Keep up the great work!


papermotor profile image

papermotor 5 years ago

It's a fantastic lens! Nice collection of papercraft models and techniques. I used to design paper models and build of course. The military KrAZ is awesome. Thanks for this lens.


yano jl profile image

yano jl 5 years ago

Amazing. Lifelike human heads and faces out of paper. Puts my origami swan to shame.

Cool lens - cool hobby. SquidLike!


chezchazz profile image

chezchazz 5 years ago from New York

Incredible lens. Blessed and featured on "Wing-ing it on Squidoo," our tribute to some of the best lenses we've found since donning our wings.


LabKittyDesign profile image

LabKittyDesign 5 years ago

Way cool! That Starcraft Battlecruiser is amazing.


lasertek lm profile image

lasertek lm 5 years ago

Nice! Thanks for sharing.


NidhiRajat 5 years ago

cooolllllll.....well done


KhairuZiya profile image

KhairuZiya 5 years ago

great lens, very informative. thanks for sharing


manicnymph profile image

manicnymph 5 years ago

I was at a cooperative art gallery yesterday, and for the first time saw a papercraft robot. I asked the lady behind the desk, but she didn't really know much about it. Today I log into Squidoo, and there's your lens, front and centre! I am just amazed at the creativity and talent here. Thank you for sharing!!


Gypzeerose profile image

Gypzeerose 5 years ago

I would like to make some of these models. I think my kids might like them too.


Derchin 5 years ago

I was looking all over the place on how to make these. Thanks for making this.


anonymous 5 years ago

Nice basic article. If your going to have a slideshow than PLEASE constrain the size. Having the page jump every 5 second when your reading REALLY annoying!


Sher Ritchie profile image

Sher Ritchie 4 years ago

I love your lens, this is great information. I've featured it on my lens - http://www.squidoo.com/perfume-and-pen-gift-sets. Thanks for sharing!


anonymous 4 years ago

cool, but please stop the auto cycling on the pictures!


TwistedWiseman profile image

TwistedWiseman 4 years ago

OMG That siege that looks awesome!!! I need to make one now!!!


anonymous 4 years ago

Very informative. I'd even continue reading it if the page didn't change position every few seconds because of the unstoppable slideshow.


anonymous 4 years ago

Please remove the gallery jumping feature or make it possible to stop it. It is impossible to read the text


anonymous 4 years ago

hi all, take a look also on www.papercrafts.it

here you'll find free paper models to download!


papermotor profile image

papermotor 4 years ago

Cool lens, but as others said please stop auto cycling. Very hard to read the text this way. I like paper models so I used to design my own cars. It takes weeks but I think worth it at the end. Building models by using paper is a big challenge. Thanks for this lens


anonymous 4 years ago

I'm reading this and I'm getting really excited can't wait to try if out...


anonymous 4 years ago

Thanks for the tips , its make me feel to some papercraft


Mohammed Ayaz Quadri 16 months ago

I like Papercraft (normal craft with cardboard too) very much. Its my favorite hobby along with making Electric Machines. My models are countable as I am a starter. Last two models of mine, I had glue each piece to a paper, then repeating it, to make up 3-4 layers of paper. This makes my models very stiff. But folding things is very hard; and I end up with imperfect model. I also work with cutters and scissors. After reading your tutorials, I am greatly inspired. I will get the tools required very soon. But tell me, is my method right to make models thick? Thanks for the epic tutorial. My contact-

mohammedayazquadri@gmail.com


Clueless 5 months ago

Thanks for the help. Can't wait to get started.

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