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What Is 3D Origami?

By G. Wiesen
Updated Jan 27, 2024
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3D origami is a type of paper craft that starts in a way somewhat similar to standard origami, but instead creates a three-dimensional (3D) model of an object. Origami in general is an art form in which an object or model is created using only paper that is folded into a variety of shapes. 3D origami, on the other hand, uses dozens or hundreds of small paper triangles, interlocking them to create 3D models that are much more elaborate and complex than those forms made through traditional origami.

Also known as Chinese origami or Golden Venture origami, 3D origami basically creates a 3D sculpture of a shape or model through the use of connected paper triangles. The origin of this art form is debatable, though it is typically linked to a Chinese source, rather than standard two-dimensional (2D) origami that has a Japanese background. This type of origami was first noticed in the US and some other areas when Chinese immigrants, illegally smuggled into the US on a ship named the Golden Venture, were detained for a period of time. During their detention in the US, they created numerous origami sculptures and gave them to those who helped them.

3D origami begins with the creation of numerous small paper triangles, which are then used to create the actual sculpture. These triangles are created using a relatively small strip of paper that is folded in a particular way to create a triangular form with two “tabs” and two “pockets” on opposite sides of the triangle. This allows each triangle to be inserted into another triangle, by inserting the tabs into the pockets, allowing them to be joined together. The origami is created by joining these triangles together in a particular way to create a certain shape, allowing for a virtually endless number of possible shapes.

A very simple piece of origami, such as a star or a candy cane, might only take a few dozen of these triangles. Much more elaborate pieces, however, such as animals, cartoon characters, and sculptures of larger objects, can require hundreds or even thousands of individual triangles to be folded and assembled. There are numerous websites and books that can be used by someone interested in learning 3D origami, usually beginning with how to fold the paper triangle and then moving on to patterns that use these triangles. This is a fairly time-consuming art form, but the final pieces are more durable and can be displayed more easily than many 2D origami forms.

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Discussion Comments
By anon297430 — On Oct 15, 2012

I think this origami is a good way to practice being patient and doing things carefully and slowly. I am a young teen and when I found out about origami, I was interested. I was interested not only because I love art in general, but I found it to be a challenge -- something that no one I know has done before.

So, I took the risk of taking time and learning how it works. I did a lot of research and practiced by using scrap paper. After I had gotten used to it, I began to buy all sorts of coloured paper and tried to make models. Learning this taught me many things, besides all the folding and connecting. I learned how to be patient with anything I did and that if I try to do things slowly and carefully. I could achieve the things I thought I couldn’t.

My first ever model was a swan and it was a gift for my mum for her birthday. She loved it and it was one of the best feelings ever to see how she reacted when I gave it to her. I really recommend anyone to try out this origami and see what you can do with you two bare hands. Work hard, everyone.

By summing — On Dec 13, 2011

I love to make origami in my spare time and then give my paper designs away as gifts. This is a simple and thoughtful way to give a gift. It is also cheap and fun to do. Some people will give away cookies of jam when they are looking for a nice, heart felt gift but I have never been much of a cook. For me its better to say thank you by making people an origami sculpture of an animal that they remind me of.

By Ivan83 — On Dec 12, 2011

Origami is a delicate and difficult art. Many people can make their first sculpture in a matter of minutes but it can take a lifetime to truly master the art.

I have a friend that has been practicing for years and she is still trying to refine her designs and master some of the more difficult objects you can make. There are some which are unbelievably complicated. There is one very detailed and lifelike looking dragon that has been frustrating her for years. She always gets it close but never quite perfect.

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