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How to Make a Shadow Puppet

Updated on February 12, 2014

Hold your Own Shadow Puppet Theatre!

Learn how to make a shadow puppet with these step by step instructions, along with ideas and resources about shadow puppets and shadow puppet theatres!

Shadow puppetry is believed to have originated in China over 2000 years ago. Modern shadow puppetry these days can use computers or film to create impressive shadow plays, but there's nothing like the fun of making your own shadow puppets at home!

This is a fun creative craft project for both children and adults - make different animals or characters with children to act out fairytales and adventures, or have a go at making some intricate shadow puppets yourself, as an interesting new papercraft! You could turn them into amazing cards or papercraft gifts, or give them to your children or grandchildren to play with.

This page shows you how to make your own shadow puppet, as well as looking at the history of shadow puppetry, modern shadow plays and links to some brilliant shadow puppet templates and ideas!

Photo Credit: Cat shadow puppet - image copyright of the author

Courtesy of Jupiter Images Corporation
Courtesy of Jupiter Images Corporation

A History of Shadow Puppets

Of course, making shadows with our hands is a pastime that stretches back a long way...

But when and where did actual shadow puppetry originate? In actual fact, shadow puppetry is the oldest form of puppetry in the world. The story goes that over 2000 years ago, the Emperor of the Han Dynasty, Wu, missed his favourite concubine after she died of illness so much, that he lost the desire to do anything, including reigning over China, the country he loved.

One of his ministers came to the rescue. After seeing some children playing with dolls, he noticed the shadows that the dolls cast, and had an idea. He cut a female shape out of donkey leather, creating eleven separate pieces for her joints, and dressed her in painted clothes. His idea? To bring the emperor's concubine back to life!

Using a lamp to cast shadows on the wall. the minister made the favoured concubine dance again. This story is recorded in the official history books and is thought to be the origin of shadow puppetry!

This new form of entertainment spread throughout China as the Manchu rulers spread. It was a show with no language barrier and also started to be used in religious ceremonies, in a manner that allowed the living to communicate with the dead.

India, Turkey and Greece also enjoyed shadow puppetry throughout the ages. Such plays were important in India in the 16th century, and the puppets used were generally the largest. The plays were performed under the eye of Shiva, patron god of puppets. They were usually religious and based on epic stories. In Java and Bali, such epics are performed all night!

In fact, the Indian folklore surrounding shadow puppets is a wonderful tale in itself. The legend states that the shadow dolls were once basic blocks of wood, but one special toymaker would turn this wood into amazing dolls, giving them separate, moving limbs. Lord Shiva and the goddess Parvati visited the shop of this toymaker, and Parvati was so taken with the dolls that she asked Shiva to allow their souls to enter the dolls and cause them to dance. This inspired the toymaker further, and he created string puppets.

Ancient shadow puppets of the Ottoman and Byzantine empires were the forebears of theatres in Greece. These featured a main character named Karagiozi, a hump-backed man with a large nose and one arm longer than the other .

Shadow plays spread throughout Europe in the 1700's, first through Italy and moving into France. The early 1900s saw the creation of silhouette animation, created by a German named Lotte Reiniger, which saw shadow puppets filmed frame by frame.

Shadow puppet entertainment did not catch on in America, however, until after the American Revolution.

While traditional shadow puppets are flat and made from leather, modern shadow puppetry sees plays manipulated with computers or film, with many involving full orchestras, intricate scenery and more. Some cultures continue the tradition of the ancient shadow puppets, however, and there are still many shadow plays with simple backdrops. It is a theatre art with lasting appeal, as puppets can be projected to enormous, larger than life proportions, or tiny images that could fit in the palm of your hand!

Photo Credit: Images used under a paid license from JupiterImages Corporation

How to Make a Shadow Puppet - Seven Steps to Shadow Puppet Success!

Courtesy of Jupiter Images Corporation
Courtesy of Jupiter Images Corporation

Photo Credit: Image used under a paid license from JupiterImages Corporation

Materials Needed:

* Black, heavyweight paper or cardstock

* A sharp, good quality craft knife and scratch resistant cutting mat

* Glue

* A small wooden stick, such as a kebab stick or lolly stick

1. Decide on the puppet you want to make. In my example, I have made some cat puppets. The shape does not need to be intricate - merely a silhouette. You can cut some detail into the silhouette if required.

2. Practice drawing the shape of your puppet freehand, before drawing it carefully onto card or good quality paper. Alternatively, print out a pattern or trace a template. If you're using a pattern, cut it out and glue it to your paper. Ensure the entire back of the pattern is stuck down well.

3. Start cutting out your puppet. Start with any inner pieces first, as the puppet becomes more fragile the more paper is cut away from the outside.

NB: There are exceptions to this rule. If you are cutting out a basic shape and then making patterns on the inner puppet using a decorative punch, then you can do as I have done and cut out the puppet first, before punching designs into the centre of the puppet. With my face-on cat, I have punched swirls for eyes and a flower motif in the centre to represent a collar

TIP: When cutting lines on your puppet, always start in the corners and hold your craft knife as if holding a pencil. Follow the pattern line until the end, before lifting the knife and starting again from the next corner. To cut circles and curves, slowly cut with the knife while carefully turning the paper with your other hand

4. Once the inner parts of the puppet are cut, you can cut out the puppet's outer lines. Remember to lift the knife when reaching a corner, as dragging it to the next line may damage the paper

5. Once the puppet is fully cut out, place it face down and put your stick down the centre of the puppet, as shown below. Cut two small rectangles from your spare card or paper, place them over the top of the stick and glue them in place

6. Your shadow puppet is now ready to entertain!

7. Experiment with different lighting, distances and angles to bring your shadow puppet to life!

Photo Credit: All tutorial images copyright of the author

How to Make a Shadow Puppet Book

Make an array of puppets and even a stage for them to perform upon, by following the guidelines in a dedicated book. This particular title is THE shadow puppet bible!

Shadow Puppets & Shadow Play
Shadow Puppets & Shadow Play
This clear and wonderful book highlights work from shadow puppet masters, explaining how to make both puppets and a puppet stage. It also covers shadow play techniques, the design of puppets, how to make translucent figures, and even staging and lighting tips too!

Shadow Puppet Template and Instruction Links

Find more help on making shadow puppets and theatres, as well as shadow puppet templates to download and print.

How to Make Shadow Puppets Video Guides - More Tutorials on Making Shadow Puppets!

There are some terrific step-by-step visual guides to making these puppets on youtube - here are some of the best, including simple puppets, shadow art and how to make joints for your shadow puppets.

Best Shadow Puppet Links

Find inspiration from these amazing shadow puppetry websites and theatre groups!

Shadow Puppet Books - More on Shadow Puppetry

Come out of the Shadows... - ...and Leave your Comments and Feedback Here

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      To all concerned, Harold had gone on a brief adnevture to the Preschool Building but made it back safe and in time for his video shoot. Just goes to show that puppets have their own personalities too

    • Melissa Miotke profile image

      Melissa Miotke 

      7 years ago from Arizona

      I've made finger puppets but never shadow puppets. I'll have to try this with my kids.

    • lesliesinclair profile image


      7 years ago

      Since we played around with simplest shadow puppetry as children i haven't even seen any shadow puppet shows, but this is a good tutorial for reinvigorating the craft.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I love shadow puppets, and have done a few shows myself. Perhaps I'll put them up sometime! Thanks for a great lens.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I didn't know these shadow puppets originated from China. Interesting.

    • vkumar05 profile image


      9 years ago

      A very interesting Lens. Great share.

    • KathyMcGraw2 profile image

      Kathy McGraw 

      9 years ago from California

      For 2 days I have been talking about these then found your lens. Very informative and I really like the cat you made. *Blessed*

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 

      9 years ago from Virginia

      Almost makes me wish my kiddies were younger. Great lens.

    • profile image

      Echo Phoenix 

      9 years ago

      I enjoyed this and I especially like the shadow puppet book;)

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Great ideas for good, simple fun! Thanks.

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 

      10 years ago

      Great lens with some cute ideas.

    • Monika Weise profile image

      Monika Weise 

      10 years ago from Indianapolis, IN USA

      I am going to do this with my grandkids!

    • CruiseReady profile image


      10 years ago from East Central Florida

      Very enjoyable lens, and the little history lesson is a nice touch!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      thank you for sharing this artsy lens! enjoyed it! cheers

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hey there ... it's me again, emerging from the shadows of a day job and exclaiming, "I love shadow puppets!" Meow seriously.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      These shadow puppets look like a fun project my kids would love them. Thank's Great lens!!

    • GonnaFly profile image


      10 years ago from Australia

      Fantastic! An informative and fun lens.

    • VladimirCat profile image


      10 years ago from Australia

      That shadow puppet looks like me!

    • OhMe profile image

      Nancy Tate Hellams 

      10 years ago from Pendleton, SC

      What fun! I will be back to this lens to study more on How to Make a Shadow Puppet. Thanks.

    • Virginia Allain profile image

      Virginia Allain 

      10 years ago from Central Florida

      You've explained this very well. I'm featuring this lens and have added you to my Librarians on Squidoo lens.

    • javr profile image


      10 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Very interesting!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      I have a lot of puppet lenses but this is a kind of puppet I've never tried. Thanks for the info!

    • retta719 profile image


      10 years ago from United States

      your kitty puppet is super cute!

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      oh this sounds like lovely fun!

    • imaginemdd lm profile image

      imaginemdd lm 

      10 years ago

      This is a really interesting page on creating shadow puppets. I've added a link on my doll & puppet directory lens.

    • kateloving profile image

      Kate Loving Shenk 

      10 years ago from Lancaster PA

      This was a great game when we were children! Thanks and Happy Purple Star!

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 

      10 years ago from California

      I had a book of hand shadow puppet figures as a kid. Now there's a game that's just about vanished! I can still do a pretty good standing bunny. :)

    • Sensitive Fern profile image

      Sensitive Fern 

      10 years ago

      I was looking for information about how to make shadow puppets on the Web and didn't find what I wanted. Now I've found this serendipitously. I should have known to look on Squidoo first! I saw some amazing shadow puppetry at Puppet-o-Rama in Seattle in August, and I'm involved with the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre here in my town.

    • Mihaela Vrban profile image

      Mihaela Vrban 

      10 years ago from Croatia

      Excellent lens! :) We love puppets of all kinds but haven't tried shadow theater just yet... Maybe it's time to give it a try! :)

    • tandemonimom lm profile image

      tandemonimom lm 

      10 years ago

      I'm going to have to do this one with my kids! Thanks!

    • Sylvestermouse profile image

      Cynthia Sylvestermouse 

      10 years ago from United States

      This looks like a lot of fun and a great summer project that will provide hours of entertainment! What a great craft for children and mom's to make together and then encourage the entertainer in each of us:)


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