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 papercraftClick thumbnail to view full-size
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
My preferred glue. Dries strong, and has a little bit more tackiness while wet than white glue.
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.
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.
If you're doing a really fine/intricate/small model, then 24 or 28lb paper might be right for you.
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.
- Pepakura Gallery
From the people that make Pepakura Viewer, these model files have been uploaded by many different users and are some of the best around.
- Papercraft Museum
This site has a tone of cool papercraft models people have uploaded and made. The nice thing is many of the models are rated by other users. The Starcraft Siege Tank shown at the top of this page was found from this site.
- Nintendo Papercraft
This site contains papercraft model designs based on Nintendo characters and games. Very cute models!
- World of Warcraft Papercraft
A blog that archives designs for World of Warcraft (WoW) based papercraft models. Some are very intricate on this site.
- Papercraft Paradise
Some simpler papercraft projects that require a little less work and have larger pieces. These could be good for beginners.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.