Your Beginner's Guide to Making Pop-Up Books and Cards
A Roundup of Pop-Up Tutorials & Ideas
A handmade greetings card is always a thoughtful gesture, but a handmade pop-up one is extra impressive! There are many different techniques to use, including kirigami (a mix of paper cutting and origami) and simple strips which hold parts of a 'scene.'
Below, you will find lots of inspiration as well as the best video how-tos and free templates that I have found online. I've also included a list of the different types of pop-up mechanisms you can use.
I hope you like the page and I hope it inspires you to give this craft a go :)
As a beginner to pop-ups, the V-fold and box fold techniques are likely to be the ones you will be using most:
V-Folds are very versatile and are where a V shape pops up when the card is open. They can be cut and folded directly into the main piece of card, or they can be created by adding an additional section of card for the pop-up shape. (It might help if you view an animation of a V-fold.) To create a more advanced effect, you can even add V-folds on top of other V-folds for more layering, and you can also create a V-fold lifter which produces an impressive floating effect. An asymmetrical V-fold pivot is another impressive effect which produces a side-to-side movement.
Box Folds (also called interval stands or layers): By contrast, these are created using parallel horizontal or vertical fold in order to produce 3D box shapes rather than making use of V shaped angles. You can leave these boxes as is, or glue other shapes onto them. They can be created by cutting directly into the folded card first, as explained here and here, or the boxes can be made with additional pop-up card sections onto the folded base card. Of course, if you cut the boxes directly into the folded card, you will be able to see through the gap in the card unless you add a backing.
Combining the Two: For more advanced techniques, you can also build extra boxes onto other boxes to create more and more layers, or you could build boxes onto V-folds and V-folds onto boxes!
Basic Technique: The Box
The box (or step) technique is the first thing to learn as a beginner, as you will see this technique used in many cards, both simple and advanced. It is an important mechanism to know.
The diagram below shows a single sheet of paper which has been cut and folded to create three different box shapes:
- The solid black vertical lines are where you cut through the paper with scissors or a craft knife.
- The red lines are valley folds, which are easier to do if you use something pointy (but not sharp enough to go through paper) such as a bone folder to score a horizontal line where you intend to fold. Scoring the paper makes it easier to achieve a sharp, straight fold.
- The blue lines are hill folds and are created last, along with the 'fold line.' Fold the piece of paper/card along the fold line whilst pulling the three strips of paper you have created inwards (towards you). Squashing the paper strips between the folded paper sheet should result in hill folds, so long as the paper strips remain flat and straight, and the (red) valley folds remain correctly folded.
You will find that the shortest distance between the fold line and a valley fold is equal to the distance between the hill fold and the other valley fold (i.e. x=x, y=y, z=z).
The dashed line represents the fold line where the sheet of paper has been folded in half lengthways, like you would do if you were making a landscape layout greetings card.
The bottom of the diagram shows the side profile of each of the three paper strips, when the paper is folded (along the fold line) to a 90 degree angle. So, changing where you make your cuts and folds changes the heights and sizes of the pop-up boxes.
The idea is usually to then to glue a picture or other card shape onto the front of the box, so that when the card is opened, it is this image that 'pops up.'
Please note: Because the boxes are created within that one sheet of paper/card, there will be gaps behind the boxes which you'll be able to see through. You would therefore need to add another sheet of paper/card as a backing like this. Or, you could make the paper strips from separate pieces of paper and add 'glue flaps' at each end so you can glue them to your card in the correct place without cutting into your base card at all.
For different takes on the regular box fold technique, there is also:
- The open-top box which turns the box shape on its side.
- The floating table-top plane which is where a piece of card seems to float in the air but is in fact supported by boxes.
- Mouth folds: Mostly used to create the effect of an opening and closing mouth.
- Tabs and Slots: This is a slightly more complicated mechanism which you can add onto a card to produce a sliding movement. The tab can be pulled and pushed to produce the movement, or an automatic sliding tab can be made so that opening and closing the card will activate the tab.
- An X Mechanism: Created by cutting slits into two identical shapes so that they can slot together, and then placing this 'X' onto a box mechanism on the base card.
- Rotating spinning discs: Attaching a card disc to the main card using a split pin allows the disc to be spun around. Different images are printed around the edge of the disc so that rotating it allows the displayed image to be changed at will.
- Adding a Rotator produces a rotating movement.
For information on even more techniques, check out Popular Kinetics.
The Mouth Fold
The mouth fold does exactly what it says— it creates a fold that looks like a mouth opening closing when you open the card!
It's very simple to do:
- Fold your card (or paper) in half.
- Measure where the center line is (shown in red on the diagram). You don't need to mark this out unless you want to (in pencil). It doesn't have to be exact.
- Cut horizontally across the card from the folded edge to the center line. Do this wherever you want the pop-up positioned. In the diagram, I have chosen the center. (Cutting to the exact center isn't compulsory; in fact you can make this cut as short as you like (for a small mouth), but you don't want to go much past the center line and make the cut too long as this could result in the pop-up sticking out of your card when folded.)
- Fold the card corners outwards from where you just cut so that they are folded at a 45 degree angle, as shown in the diagram, to form two triangle shapes.
- Do the same on the other side of the card so that the 45 degree folds (shown in green) have been folded both forwards and backwards.
- Put the card flat again and open the card out.
- Push the folds inwards, to the inside of the card and fold the card in half again.
- Press down onto the folds to crease them once once.
- You should now be able open and close the card to open and close the mouth. Finished!
Basic Lessons for Beginners
- Easiest Type of Pop-Up
- Pop-Up Mouth
Easy technique for animal-themed designs.
- Triangle Pop-Up
Another simple way to add 3D detail.
- Beginner's Lesson
Information covering the basics.
- Howcast Video Series
Excellent collection of video lessons covering basic techniques.
- Abstract Pop-Up Strip
More interesting than the normal plain strip.
- Creating any Simple Shape
Just cut out the shape outline, leaving tabs where it attaches to the card.
- Tips & Tricks
A step-by-step walkthrough of kirigami techniques.
Kirigami and Lattice Heart Tutorials
Design Inspiration & More How-Tos
Free Downloads & Templates
- Pop-Up Font
Free font which will make lettering much easier.
- More Challenging 3D Designs
Including a tea set, a paper crane and fighter jets.
- Tiger Pop-Up
Make a card which closes the tigers mouth when opened.
- Haunted House
Spooky Halloween design with a detailed printout available.
- Creative Pop-Up Cards
Amazing resource with templates for every occasion.
Ideas & Inspiration Videos
- Puzzle-Cut Pine Tree
Glittery Christmas tree design which would look fab on a mantelpiece.
- Cheat Halloween Card
Just buy a ready-made pumpkin paper lantern!
- Birthday Balloon Card
Sweet homemade design with pop-up multicoloured balloons.
- Honeycomb Circles
How to make a honeycomb centre for a flower.
- Amazing Paper Tunnel
Fun triangle pop-up made by cutting out strips.
- Sliding Easel Card
Lovely detailed 3D card with a sliding effect.
- Cam Wheel Card
A different pop-up technique using a spinning wheel.
- I Love You Card
Nice idea for using patterned paper or card as the backing.
Inspiration & Photo Galleries
- Flickr Gallery
Pages of photos of pop-cards from Flickr.
- Cornerstonelae Photos
Creative and crafty pop-up designs.
- Patterns for Sale
A fantastic array of designs which are pretty cheap to buy.
- Pop-Up NY City Art
Brilliant 3D design made of lots of paper blocks.
- Hand Gesture Pop-Ups
DIY idea for creating your own fun hand gestures.
- Little Green Box
A blog full of imaginative examples and a few tutorials too.