When you think about creating a 3D model what kind of material comes to your mind first?
Well, yes. Looking at you 3D printing maniacs
Oui, who hasn’t spent hours of their childhood playing with clay.
But what if I told you there was a better, a more cleaner and relatively cheaper alternative to those materials?
Yes, it’s paper!
No, it’s not just Origami!
Origami is the art of paper folding, while there is a fair bit of paper folding involved in 3D paper modelling too. It is a very different type of craft. 3D paper modeling basically encapsulates all the various techniques such as folding, cutting etc that are used in order to transform a sheet of paper into a 3 dimensional object. You can mess around with your models by combining them to construct more complex structures. Let your imagination run wild until it’s exhausted!
You can create all sorts of objects using this craft such as buildings of all sorts, ships, cars, animals etc. You could create an entire city and populate it with your own ideas!
It can feel a bit overwhelming to newcomers, but that's what we’re here for! Let us guide you to your new hobby.
The wonderful world of Paper
3D paper modeling finds its use in more places than you might believe. Yeah, it is popular among hobbyists and modelers such as railway modelers, architectural buildings and car model collectors etc. But it’s not that niche of an art. It also finds its uses in education for eg. building a solar system model in science class and in tabletop gaming such as dungeons and dragons (DnD) and sometimes even in professional contexts such as making maquettes or planning and designing a city.
There are no limits really, the only limit is your own ingenuity. Oh and water, don’t let it get anywhere near water. Without further ado, let’s start with our project!
Step 1 : Deciding on a model
Let’s start the creation process by making our own project. To make your first project easy we’ve decided it for you. You may let your imagination run wild once you get cosy with the basics. So, it consists of 2 simple 3D objects. A pyramid and a cube big enough to act as the base for the pyramid.
All the 3D printing enthusiasts might be thinking that this process compares a bit to the process of making a 3D printed model, well a bit less sophisticated. If you want to learn more about 3D printing, please check out our other guides.
Step 2 : Assembling the necessary materials and tools
This step includes two major tasks for us:
We have to decide on how we are going to design the 3D sketch of our model whether by hand or via a digital modeling tool.
We’ll go with the latter. Since this option is so much more convenient i.e. using a 3D modeling software. Some people may prefer the former, but that requires considerable talent, especially if you’re still a rookie. We finalized on using Paint 3D which is already installed by default on Windows 10.
We need some common utility tools which will be used later.
Although there’s no restriction on what we can use (obviously not stuff like wrenches and screwdrivers), they are usually
- a pair of scissors
- a tube of glue preferably a glue stick to keep it clean
- adhesive tape
- paperclips or other such stabilizing materials
Step 3 : Designing the 3D Model
Now, on to the fun part:
- Open Paint 3D and go to the menu for 3D shapes.
- Choose the pyramid from the expanding menu on the right hand side and draw one on the canvas.
- Repeat the same for the cube.
- You can see that you can easily customize the shape, size and color of the objects. Just keep in mind that the pyramid is smaller than the cube because we want it’s base to fit on the cube.
Step 4: From 3D to 2D
This step is an important and magical one because here you will witness the actual 3D model “transform” to a series of 2D interconnected patterns.
Our aim here is to design our 2D shapes such that, when they’re put together, they’ll assimilate into our desired 3D model. It is important to be methodical in this step to get good results.
Step 5 : Vector-ing on!
This would have been a very arduous task had we done it manually. But let’s just appreciate the sorcery that is technology and thank the software for doing this tedious and dicey task. Every popular software package is capable of producing the final printable shapes on paper, there are several plug-ins available for this task. There is also specialized software such as Pepakura Designer v4 that can easily break down a 3D model into its 2D shapes for you. We must ask you to pay special attention to file formats here. Although Pepakura usually handles 3D file formats very well, sometimes a converter has to be used beforehand.
For example while using the Paint3D application to design our model. You might notice that the application saves your project in the .FBX format, which unfortunately Pepakura does not recognise. But, you can get around this easily using a special converter from Autodesk (also the creators of the popular software AutoCAD), you can then convert your file to .DXF format, which is compatible with Pepakura.
You’ll also notice the very important flaps are automatically added by the software. These flaps are extremely useful for gluing your 2D shapes together.
Step 6 : It’s time to Color and Print it!
Now that we’re done with the primary design work and laid a great framework. It’s time to finally print the 2D mesh of our 3D model.
Many hobbyists often choose to color it at this phase, simply because :
- It is simpler and allows more freedom
- It is much easier to spot any oddities on the patterns or parts
It’s your choice, when you want to apply the coloring. Before or after printing out of the parts. If before, you have to use a software package to apply all the colors. If you want to make this process more interactive all over, you can use traditional painting by hand. You can create your own unique designs if you choose the latter.
Next we advise you to number your parts. This numbering will be used at the next stages of construction and help is easy identification of each part much easier.
We’re done with the coloring, that was quite fun to be honest. Next please make sure that your printer is properly set up and then proceed with printing the shapes. As for the coloring part, We went with the software. Just to keep it inclusive for the beginners here.
Step 7 : Folding and Assembly
We are done with most of the work using software. In this next step, all parts and their associated surfaces are cut out. After checking for any anomalies, it’s time to fold everything along edges. Usually, these edges are marked by spotted or dashed lines, not always though it depends on your software. So it might be a good idea to manually draw some dotted line beforehand to facilitate the folding process.
For simple figures like this the folded surface is usually kept perpendicular to the main surface. If the numbers of the surfaces are not included on the actual surface, make sure you find some way to remember which surfaces associate with which edge, especially for multi-part objects.
There is a sequence of specific steps to follow in order to create an object from various parts with us. This set of instructions should guide us from the simpler to the more compound structures. If you are in doubt, don’t be afraid to rely on your intuitiveness.
Remember how we repeatedly rambled on about the importance of numbering your parts in the previous steps. This will prove very useful because you have to follow the sequence to get things right.
No matter how good you think you’d be at this task it is never a good idea to apply glue directly to the edges.
- First create a basic model using your parts and the paperclips to make sure you know the correct sequence of joining the parts.
- Then when you feel pretty confident that this would be how you want your model to look and the parts are correctly cut, you can begin the assembly of the parts.
- Carefully remove the paper clips. Be extra careful when applying the glue; usually a drop is enough (this is why we recommended a glue stick).
Step 8 : Marvel at your creation!
Viola! There you have it gaze at the marvelousness of your creation. But, if you think your object looks less than marvelous here are some final checks you can perform :
- Check edges for any glue spilling overs
- Check whether corners are correctly formed, since our shapes have sharp edges makes sure they don’t appear too rounded
- Check if any surface isn’t staying flat and sticking at correct angles, this is usually a sign of incorrect gluing.
- Ensure that the parts that have sturdy support are properly supported by their adjacent piece.
We hope that you really enjoyed this little activity. We surely did. If you found it fascinating, we recommend creating more simpler shapes then moving on to more complex one. Here are some more ideas you might try out :
- A right prism on a cube
- A Cone on a sphere
- Cylinders around a sphere
Once you are comfortable with basic shapes you can move on to more complex shapes. For example try making a cat with cones, cylinders and spheres. Just, let your imagination run wild. We hope your newfound interest develops into a full blown hobby.