This tutorial is written to help you make near-perfect models with as much ease as possible. I’m not a professional, but I always strive to make my models as perfect as I can.
- Paper – I use 120gsm (gram per square meter) paper. I’ve tried thicker paper and found it too rigid for detailed parts. This thickness produces sturdy models even over 40cm.
- Glue – Liquid glue recommended over paste, it holds better in the long run. Look for a type that says “Quicky Drying” and “Tacky”. Aleene’s Original Tacky Glue and Scotch’s Quick-Drying Tacky Glue both work very well. I’ve used both and I can’t tell which one’s better.
- Blade – I use X-Acto #11 Blades with a X-Acto X2000 knife which is coated in rubber for grip. A pack of 100 replacement blades from ebay cost me 25$ and those blades will last me nearly a lifetime. Blades are good for cutting corners and thin paper.
- Scissors – I’ve used plain kid’s scissors and they work fine for me. Scissors make cleaner cuts than blades, and is easier than blades to cut with on thick paper. However, they are very hard to cut corners with, which is why I use both scissors and blades when cutting, one to cut regular long lines, and the other to cut corners, including the valleys between glue flaps.
- Tweezers - I rely on blunt tip micro tweezers and bent tip tweezers to get myself out of difficult situations.
- Sharp Object – The sharp end is used to score paper. Some examples of this type of tool is a safety pin, needle, and dull blades (which is my preference).
- Paper Clip – I unravel it and use it whenever there is a glue flap out of my tweezer’s reach. I use this only very occasionally because with experience, you can start anticipating and avoiding these difficult situations by changing your build order.
Ideal Workspace Setup
With an elevated work surface and proper lighting, your neck and eyes gets less strain. I’ve made lots of mistakes when my neck and eyes are tired, and had to re-print and re-cut the pieces again, which is not worth the time. To hold and organize the model pieces, I made boxes with cardboard and scotch tape. To avoid having small pieces trapped in the corners, I also taped the inside corners.
Choice of Paper
Skip to the bottom if you just want a recommendation.
There are a lot of terms out there describing different types of paper such as index, card, cover, bond, and who knows what other words are used. Ignore all that. Know this instead:
- Never use glossy photo paper. The ink will tear when you try to make folds.
- The heavier the paper, the more difficult it is to manipulate.
- The lighter the paper, the stronger your model holds in the end.
Papercraft models range from 5 cm to 5 foot tall. Now, here’s the problem. If your paper is too light, the model will be flimsy and fragile. If your paper is too heavy, you’ll have a hard time with tiny pieces. Not sure which side to lean on? Go with the lighter paper, you can always reinforce the inside with scraps.
Regular white paper is 20# or 75gsm.
Life sized models can be built with 66# or 250gsm paper, so you shouldn’t get anything heavier than that.
500 sheets = 500 pieces of paper
20# = 20 lbs or 20 pounds, a measurement of weight in American units
75g/m2 = 75 grams per squared meter (gsm), a measurement of weight in European units
92 bright = Amount of light reflected off the paper (I don’t pay any attention to this when buying my paper)
American printers use letter paper 8.5″ x 11″ or 216mm x 279
Everyone else in the world uses A4 paper 8.3″ x 11.7″ or 210mm x 297 mm
Recommendations: Regular paper is 20lbs. I never use regular paper. Instead, I use 32lbs paper for everything, including small and large models. The only time I bought heavier paper (65lbs) was for a life sized model.
I prefer using blades over scissors, so this section will include tips for just that.
- Pivot the paper with your left hand, cut with your right hand. See video below for demonstration.
- When cutting with your right hand, the blade must always goes towards the right. Do not cut towards the color surface.
- Instead, turn the paper so you can cut away from the color surface.
Pivot and Cut Demonstration
The left hand pivots the paper so the right hand doesn’t have to move. This allows the right arm to complete the same exact movement repeatedly. Eventually, you will develop muscle memory and a steadiness that allows you to work faster and more accurately.
- Turn the paper around so that your own blade doesn’t block where you can see the cutting line.
- Adjust the lighting so the blade’s shadow doesn’t block your cutting line.
- This is ideally how you want to see where you’re cutting.
- When cutting, don’t worry about glue tabs, they won’t be shown in the finished model. I cut my tabs short all the time.
- Place each piece next to each other like how they originally came from the printer. It’ll be easier to figure out what goes where later.
Cutting Tips Summary
Not much to say other than to show it. I don’t stress too much on this part because when you are about to glue the pieces together, you can always re-fold it if you folded wrong.
- This indicates a valley fold, which means to fold up.
- This indicates a mountain fold, which means to fold down.
- Sometimes you won’t know which direction a piece needs to be folded, so in that case just do a mountain fold. Most papercraft models are built using mainly mountain folds, and it’s easy to fold back the other way. Note: These are the symbols used by Pepakura (.pdo files) which for some reason are the opposite of standard origami instructions.
Some pieces are more awkward, like in this case, I needed to score it and then bend the whole piece at once.
I score only for awkward or difficult pieces that need to be folded accurately and/or sharply, such as tiny detail pieces or mechanical objects like swords and robots. I prefer to use a dull blade to lightly score the places that need folding because the blade is still sharper than any other object you’d find so it won’t damage the color.
- Use a sharp object and a hard surface to dent the paper. If you don’t have a dull blade, you may use a safety pin because it is sharp enough and is easy to safely put away. Unless the folded line is long, I never use a ruler.
- Do not do score at a high angle because it will damage the color and possible tear the paper.
- Go at a lower angle when scoring. Caution: Too much pressure will still tear the paper. With experience, you will find the proper amount of pressure to apply.
- Some parts will be too small for your fingers to fold, so in that case, use tweezers. Hold it at the edge where the fold will be.
- Then use your finger to push.
While cutting, folding, and scoring, I like to listen to an online radio to catch up on my news (http://www.npr.org/) or listen to free music (http://www.pandora.com). Click here for ideas of what other people like to do while papercrafting.
This comes easier with experience, but the basic idea is to anticipate difficult areas and accordingly, find the best scenario to approach it. For example, in building a model of a person, if you build the limbs and body separately then attaching them altogether at once, it is much more difficult than working from one end to the other. Here is a video to hopefully explain it better:
This video demonstrates how you can plan ahead in a smaller scale:
This video shows the results from planning to produce the easiest closing scenario.
Press firmly and press everywhere. Do it one at a time. As you press, you can still adjust the position of the tab before the glue dries. Here’s a video that explains it in much more detail:
“Smooth Papercraft” Technique
The face of the Link model above demonstrates very well what effect this technique achieves. For each piece, there is a line that requires folding other than the glue tab. These folds form the polygons that the model is originally intended to have. However, if you skip that folding step, and just glue the tabs where they need to be, you will instead see a smoother model. This means you can do less work to make your model look better! The trick is to glue your glue tabs firmly and accurately. The two gluing videos above give tips on how to glue firmly and accurately.
Here are some examples of work done by others.
Looks great smooth
Should have done this smooth
Head looks good smooth but neck should’ve been folded
Nearly this whole model was built smooth.