The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Paper Crafting

In this paper crafting beginner’s guide we cover everything from the materials needed and how to get started. You’ll also learn about the different forms of paper crafting and the benefits of this hobby! Continue reading below…

jenny-hobby-help-2 Written by: Jenny
Estimated reading time:

Paper Crafting for Beginners

What do you think of when you hear the words “paper crafting”? Many people are at least somewhat familiar with crafts such as origami and papier-mâché. But there are so many different ways to use paper to create art. This guide will introduce you to some of the major forms of paper crafting and show you how to get started with your own paper crafts.

family-paper-crafting

What Is Paper Crafting?

“Paper craft” may be defined as the cluster of creative artforms involving paper as the main artistic medium.

Paper can be artistically used and molded in a variety of ways: it can be cut, folded, rolled, layered, shredded, and so on.

Examples of paper crafts include quilling, origami, collage, papier-mâché, and paper cutting. Traditional papermaking may also be considered a paper craft.

Have you ever folded and cut paper to make paper snowflakes? If so, you’ve tried out a form of paper crafting.

paper-craft-snowflakes

Why Try Paper Crafting?

Here are a few reasons to get involved in this hobby:

  1. It’s creative. Paper crafts are an excellent way to use your imagination and create something new with your hands.
  2. It’s as challenging as you want it to be. With just a few simple techniques, you can make some pretty cool items. And if you really want to challenge yourself and improve your skills, you can! Whether you’re interested in complex paper folding patterns or intricate paper models, you are sure to find a craft that you could spend a lifetime honing.
  3. It’s decorative. Many of my paper creations decorate my home. I have a large paper dragon, which I spent multiple hours painstakingly folding into shape. I’ve used paper to create fantastic quilled wall art. Making your own paper crafts is a great way to liven up your home, and these items also make fantastic, personal gifts for family and friends.

Those are my main reasons for paper crafting, and over the years I’ve derived a great deal of enjoyment from it.

Forms of Paper Crafting

  • Folded paper: Paper folding is one of the most popular forms of paper crafting. This is not surprising, since it’s great for beginners! You can start out with simple designs, and, as an added bonus, folding paper doesn’t make a mess. 

origami-paper-craft

      • Origami (Japanese paper folding): Though it’s common to hear “origami” used as a catch-all term for paper folding in general, the word specifically refers to Japanese paper folding. Classic designs include paper cranes and flowers.
      • Zhezhi (Chinese paper folding): Paper folding has a centuries-long history in China; boats and dishes are popular paper designs.
      • Jong-i.e.-jeop-gi (Korean paper folding): Get a sense for Korean paper crafting techniques by checking out JONG IE NARA Paper Art Museum.
      • Western paper folding: As a kid, I made paper hats, airplanes, and boats using simple paper designs that are common throughout the United States and Europe.
    • Cut paper: As with folded paper, there are numerous different aesthetics and techniques involved in paper cutting, and different geographic regions have developed their own distinctive styles over the years. Just a few examples:

chinese-paper-cutting-craft

    • Chinese paper cutting: You’ll often see bright red paper cuttings on display during Chinese festivals. Artists typically use either scissors or knives to create their designs.
    • Papel picado: You’ll find this art form in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America. Artists sometimes stack as many as 50 sheets of paper and use chisels to cut out their designs.
    • Wycinanki (also known as Vytynanky): Paper cutting is traditionally practiced throughout Eastern Europe using a variety of techniques, such as tearing, clipping, and punching the paper. Popular designs include peacocks and other birds, flowers, and medallions.
  • Quilling (or Paper Filigree): This fascinating artform involves rolling and twisting pieces of paper and shaping them into designs. Historically, quilling has been used in monasteries to make beautiful book covers and to adorn religious items. Tools such as tweezers, slotted tools, and crimper tools help artists manipulate the paper into their desired shapes.

paper-quilling-craft

  • Paper models: Making a paper model is so much fun, and I love putting my models on display. This hobby involves cutting and folding paper and gluing it into shape. Depending on the model, each component may come pre-colored, or you may paint or embellish it after completion.
    • Paper pulp craft: Artists such as Chuck Close and Lynn Sures have made a name for themselves with their paper pulp paintings.

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it should give you some idea of how flexible paper is as an artistic medium.

In the following sections, I’ll focus primarily on paper folding and paper cutting, two of the most popular paper crafts, and lay out some guidelines for beginning these hobbies.

Paper Folding

From basic paper airplanes to incredibly intricate and delicate designs, there are endless options for anyone interested in the ancient art of paper folding. Here’s how to get started:

Materials

One major upside to this art? Very few materials are required! You’ll only need:

  • Paper: You can find paper in virtually any color and a wide variety of patterns. Decide what you want to make and choose accordingly.
  • Folding instructions: There are tons of instructions and video tutorials for paper folding available online, not to mention plenty of books.

origami-paper-toys

And that’s it! You can also get simple kits that supply paper and corresponding instructions: for example, this kit with galaxy-patterned paper and instructors for crafting paper stars.

Advice

Clean and dry your hands before folding.

Go slowly and focus on precision. Being a little sloppy here and there may not seem like a big deal, but the effects will add up as you proceed through the instructions. So, aim for crisp, accurate folds.

Many designs call for perfectly square paper as your starting point. Ensure that your paper really is square before starting.

If you’re having trouble following written instructions and diagrams, try finding a video tutorial or asking a more experienced friend for a demonstration.

Here are a few tutorials that are suitable for beginners:

And here are a couple tutorials for more advanced paper folders:

Inspiration

I love to draw inspiration from other artists. As I browse through and admire others’ work, I take note of how they combine colors, experiment with interesting patterns, and invent entirely new folding patterns.

This article discusses 8 cutting-edge origami artists who really show you the incredible possibilities of this art form. There’s Sipho Mabona’s life-sized paper elephant, Robert Lang’s ridiculously lifelike figures, and Jo Nakashima’s moving sculptures. There’s even origami fashion!

You can also follow origami and paper folding artists on Instagram for your daily dose of inspiration. For example: Wenche Lise Fossland, Ross Symons, Meire Hirata, and Robby Kraft.

origami-owl

Paper Cutting

Like paper folding, paper cutting is quite a simple and straightforward concept—but there are a few things to keep in mind as you get started. For instance, what kind of paper should you use? And what sort of cutting tools—a knife of some sort, scissors, scalpels?

My first answer is: There is no answer. This is art. It’s okay to get creative, try new things, experiment, and work with the tools you already have.

That said, I find some materials and tools easier and more fun to work with. In this section, I’ll offer some general recommendations for paper cutting.

paper-cutting-craft

Materials

  • Paper or cardstock: You can buy quality paper in a variety of colors, sizes, weights, thicknesses, and textures at art supply stores or online. What to buy depends on what you’re making: do you want matte, glossy, or metallic finish? Do you want thick and sturdy paper, or something thinner?
  • Self-healing mat or glass cutting mat: A mat will give you a good work surface; after all, you probably don’t just want to cut down on a wooden table and leave knife marks everywhere! A good cutting surface will make your life easier.
  • Cutting tool(s): You can use utility knives, craft knives, or surgical scalpels and blades to cut your paper. I typically use either a good-quality craft knife or a scalpel as I find these tools give me the best control.

More on Paper Selection

Let me take a minute to add some more detail on choosing your paper, since there truly are so many options. You’ll need to make decisions about size, color, thickness, and finish, among other things.

In terms of thickness, I generally work with 120 GSM to 140 GSM paper. However, I started out with 100 GSM paper, since I just had it lying around in my printer at home. I figured I might as well get some practice on cheap paper before investing in anything nicer.

The abbreviation GSM stands for “grams per square meter” and is a measurement of thickness. Higher numbers indicate heavier papers. If you browse through a variety of papers, you’ll soon get a feel for this (and often you can request free samples before buying paper online).

So, for instance, newspapers are often printed on thin (35-55 GSM) paper. Your average printer paper ranges from 80 to 100 GSM. Paper cutters frequently work with papers in the 110-160 GSM range. And at the upper range, you’ll see ~400 GSM paper used to make sturdy wedding invitations or business cards.

Now what about texture and finish? This is an aesthetic choice, so it comes down to your preferences and how you want your finished product to look. Just be aware that there is a wealth of options out there and don’t feel confined to one type of paper.

I’ve used papers with all sorts of finishes: glossy, matte, hammered, grainy, foil, metallic…the list goes on. You can find textured paper finishes such as linen or felt, or you can opt for a smooth paper finish such as wove or vellum.

paper-cutting-3D-greeting-card

Advice

Feel free to create your first paper cuts on whatever paper you have lying around. Practice with cheap and readily available paper, and then look into nicer papers once you’ve got the hang of it.

Make your cuts carefully and precisely. Remember that with any activity involving a knife or blade, you run the risk of cutting yourself by accident, so take care. Dispose of used blades safely—I drop mine off in the sharps container at my pharmacy.

Avoid hand cramps by taking breaks and stretching our your hands, wrists, and forearms as needed. Some cutting tools are more comfortable to grip than others, so consider this factor when choosing tools.

There are some helpful video tutorials that demonstrate common paper cutting tools and basic techniques. I recommend this multi-part series by Eversea Design.

Inspiration

Check out this article from Design Sponge on 25 extraordinary paper cut artists. I’m so impressed by the designs dreamt up by Elsa Mora and Xin Song.

More Paper Crafts

More recently, I’ve gotten into both quilling and paper models.

I absolutely love the look of quilling: for instance, take a look at this quilled wall art in the form of a mandala, the intricate patterns in this colorful quilling lovebird, or the classic design of these flowers, which would look amazing framed on my wall.

I’ve used online videos to learn some quilling techniques. For example:

paper-quilling-heart

I got started with an inexpensive kit, which came with everything I need: a precision glue bottle, slotted tool, tweezers, scissors, and of course, paper.

As for paper models, I’ve been experimenting with my own designs (though you can also buy or download paper model kits). My first model was a basic castle, which looks impressive but was actually very easy to make.

The shapes involved are mostly cylinders, cones, and boxes, arranged in various configurations. Cylinders are simple to make: just roll the paper and glue it into place.

The cones serve as the pointed rooftops of my castle towers. These are similar to cylinders, just with one end tucked and taped in to make the point.

My main advice? As with any paper craft, take it slow. Score your fold lines before folding to get crisper, cleaner folds. Make sure your edges are aligned before you glue anything into place.

Additional Ideas

Many of my favorite artistic hobbies involve paper in some way. Scrapbooking, card making, decoupage, making pop-up books…the list goes on.

Different kinds of paper craft often complement each other. For example, I’ve created some beautiful shapes and designs by cutting and folding paper, which I’ve then pasted into my scrapbooks.

So feel free to combine your paper crafts with other kinds of art: You might add another dimension to a painting by incorporating folded paper elements; combine quilling with embroidery; or add embellishments (stones, sand, wood, glass pieces, enamel) to your paper model.

Conclusion

For such a humble medium, paper is capable of being transformed into breathtaking artistic creations. What I love about paper craft is how accessible it is: You can enjoy paper art forms with a very limited array of tools and materials and fashion beautiful items on a tight budget.

So, whether you’re interested in a fun afternoon activity with your kids, or have ambitions of making a life-size elephant, I hope you’ll give paper crafts a try. Which paper craft are you most drawn to?

Scroll to Top