Paper Model Building Tips

Basic Tools and Materials

Scissors & Cutting Tools

A good pair of sharp scissors is one of the most important tools you will need. Dull scissors can rip the paper, make uneven cuts, and they can be hard to control when precision cutting is key. You can also invest in scissor sharpeners.

Having a few different scissors for different tasks can also be helpful. Use one pair for cutting thin paper, one pair for hacking and cutting thicker paper and cardboard, and a pair of needle-nose scissors for cutting small details.

For cutting out tiny, delicate cone shapes, you might try a good pair of fingernail clippers. They can quickly cut out the tiny center wedges. The blades typically have a slight curve to them which is not too noticeable.

Knives/Blades

A favored tool for cutting small details and cutting holes is a craft knife (X-acto is a popular brand). It is simply a tiny, VERY sharp blade that comes to a point and has a long, thin handle. In a good knife, the blades are replaceable, and many sizes & shapes are available. These blades are very dangerous; one wrong slip, and they can cut you quickly and deeply. This is the voice of experience.

A craft knife can be your best friend, but it can't live up to its full potential without its partner, a cutting mat. Don't use the plastic/acrylic cutting mats that you find in the fabric department of a craft store; use a mat that has a rubbery look and feel. They help keep paper from sliding, and are far cheaper. I recommend a self-sealing cutting mat. Cuts that you make in the mat "seal" themselves, so that your blade doesn't accidentally slide into an existing groove, suddenly shifting your cutting direction and possibly ruining your project.

Glues and Other Adhesives

DO NOT USE RUBBER CEMENT! Many people have, unfortunately, discovered that rubber cement loses its adhesiveness over time. This means your paper model will eventually fall apart. The glue fumes are also a factor.

Every person has their own glue preference. White glue is typically good—it's strong and permanent. Some people like to use double-sided tape, and some like to use tacky glues. Hermafix allows you to reposition pieces without tearing the paper.

Paper

Paper is also up to each individual. Most like to use a stiffer paper, usually an 80lb cardstock. Some prefer regular printer paper, which is what the models are actually designed for. You should also consider how much you will be handling the model once it's finished.


Building

General

Take your time; paper models are supposed to be fun and enjoyable. You'll also get a better-looking model that you can be proud of.

Keep your hands clean. Sweat, oil, glue, and other miscellaneous liquids can be absorbed by the paper, causing eventual discoloration, erosion, or a poorly constructed model.

Check off the instructions as you complete them so you can always know where you left off. Don't cross or scribble out instructions or images; you may need to refer back to them if something goes wrong.

Printing

Any type of home printer will work, but if you really want a nice model, use a laser color printer. You can have a local printing store, such as FedEx Kinko's, print everything for you. Laser prints have the image literally fused onto the paper, making the images waterproof, a serious benefit if you're using a wet glue; inkjet prints tend to bleed.

The ideal settings for Adobe Reader are . . . Auto-Rotate and Center: ON; Page Scaling: NONE.

When you need to print extra parts, try using the Snapshot tool in Adobe Reader:

  1. Open the file in Adobe Reader.
  2. Select the snapshot tool.
  3. Drag a box around the part(s) that you want to print by holding down the left mouse button. When you release the button, the selected area will be copied to the Clipboard.
  4. Click the Print button, and only your selection will be printed.

Cutting

Cut pieces as you need them. Having multiple pieces can be confusing, and you can make mistakes. Additionally, it will allow the just-glued pieces to set.

For intricate pieces, cut the center areas out first. This will leave the outer areas as a gripping area, and reduce the chances of ripping the piece. Also consider how you cut; cutting tugs on the paper, so you don't want to tug against a delicate area.

Study the instructions carefully. If you're not sure where to cut, don't; study the instructions until you are reasonably sure.

Folding

Scoring is important; scoring helps you make straight folds. You can use the edge of a metal ruler for large pieces and the straight blade edge of a pair of scissors for smaller pieces. You can also use a dried-out fine-point pen or other thin object, provided that you place a cutting board or some other type of cushion underneath. If you're careful, you can even use your craft knife to gently cut a score line.

Cones can be a pain. But, you can reduce your stress levels by lightly making a series of scores from the tip of the cone out to the bottom edges. This will make the cone's tip roll easier. You can also use toothpicks to press and roll cones against your fingers or palm.

Test the paper that you will be using. Some papers will easily and cleanly fold either vertically or horizontally. In these cases, you may be able to fold some pieces without having to score at all, saving you time.

Gluing

Always dry fit (no glue) pieces before you glue them. It helps to know exactly where and how pieces will fit together so you don't run into any surprises.

It's typically better to use less glue than you need; more glue can usually be added with a toothpick or a folded piece of paper (used as a spatula). Using too much glue can be messy.

Spreading glue with your fingers is okay, but be extra careful with all of the extra glue that will be on your hands. Otherwise, you can use a toothpick or a spatula-shaped coffee stir stick (no shortage of these at McDonald's).

If you need an extra set of hands, you can use spring clothes pins. Just be careful; some pins have teeth and can leave unwanted marks. Mini clothes pins are also available.

Embellishments

Inks

Some pieces have simulated metallic surfaces, such as gold. Obviously, printers don't have gold ink, but you can make the pieces gold. Unless you want to go the extra mile and use real gold leaf, ink or paint is suggested.

Opaque inks used in scrap booking are perfect; other inks tend to run and/or fade. They come in several colors, including metallic, and they are available with a few different tip shapes and sizes. Fine tips are good for edges and details, while wide tips are good for quickly filling in areas.

You can also use inks to color the edges of pieces, covering up the exposed white lines that might otherwise plague your model. This applies more to those who use cardstock.

Paints

Paint can be just as handy as ink, but usually more involved and time consuming.

Wood

Wooden dowels make great poles, and can aid in gently bending or rolling paper.

Miscellaneous

To prevent glue from causing bleeding on inkjet prints, spray a couple of coats of a clear, flat or matte fixative. Gloss fixative can be used to simulate shiny metal.

Finishing Touches

Paper models are usually very sturdy, but you can mount them onto poster board, matte board, illustration board, or whatever you like. It also helps you transport the model around when needed.

As a personal touch, date and sign your model. This way, you will always know when it was finished and it can be traced back to you.


Submitting Model Tips

How to Submit

If you have a building tip (general or specific), feel free to submit it.


Model-specific Tips

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea: The Nautilus Paper Model

Spraying the entire model with several coats of a glossy fixative adds to the realism of being made of metal.

Use three empty toilet paper rolls, partially slit in such a way that they can sleeve over each other to provide spacing and support for the main hull. Build the hull around the empty rolls, which will remain inside the model.

A display stand is available. Make that first to have some place to rest you model as you work on it.

Sleeping Beauty Castle Paper Model

Instead of using thread or string to connect the drawbridge to the raising arms, use small chains for more realism. You can usually buy small chains at some hardware stores and arts/crafts/fabric stores.

Dan Howland provides some assembly instructions for a more realistic—and easier to assemble—portcullis:


Click on the image to enlarge.

Jack Sparrow's Compass Paper Model

Add a leather strap to the compass for even more realism! You can purchase several long strands in different colors for only a buck or two at your local Wal-mart or craft store.

Jack Skellington's Coffin Sleigh Paper Model

Instead of using string to connect the bone deer to the coffin, use a thin, sturdy wire. Then, you can pose the bone deer in mid-flight acrobatics. This is best if you are placing the model on a shelf or desk.

To strengthen the coffin sleigh's legs for display on a desk or shelf, try incorporating a stiff wire. You can glue it to the inner sides of the legs for less visible exposure.

Temple of the Forbidden Eye Paper Model

Roman Krizek has an alternative way of assembling the temple's stairway. By gluing the accordion-like stairs to two cardboard templates, they're easier to assemble to the walls. It's an extra step or two, but Roman finds it easier to assemble, and it provides extra support.

Top of Page