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What Is Pepakura?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

Pepakura is a Japanese name for a type of paper craft in which flat paper models are cut out, folded, and otherwise constructed into hollow models in three dimensions. The resulting model is typically a representation of an object in which curves are represented by multiple flat panels, giving the finished product the look of an early three-dimensional video game character. As such, pepakura is particularly popular as a way of making models of video game characters, although many other subjects can be depicted. This is a popular craft in part because the designs are inexpensive to make, given that they are made out of printed paper. Artists can create pepakura designs using special software that converts digital 3D models to flat shapes that can then be constructed as 3D models in real life.

In some sense, pepakura has existed as a rudimentary craft for some time. Traditional examples of card modeling were primarily straight edged, so houses, ships, and other figures that could easily be represented were most popular. These early examples were usually printed with designs to suggest the intended subject.

Some pepakura crafts require very precise cuts.
Some pepakura crafts require very precise cuts.

Modeling with paper is currently greatly assisted with the use of easily accessible programs that convert 3D models on a computer to 3D models that can be printed out and assembled. These models retain the patterns used, so the faces of the resulting structures bear the original designs of the digital model. This results in a finished project that is highly detailed and may be extremely complex to assemble.

Generally speaking, once the design has been printed out, the process of assembling pepakura involves folding, gluing, and fitting together the pieces. In some designs, not all the edges connect, creating interesting effects. Assembling these items does require some skill, particularly when the patterns are complex. Even though the paper used is usually heavy duty and thus relatively stable, designs in large sizes may be somewhat difficult to keep supported.

The subjects of pepakura models are far ranging, but video game characters are very popular. Depending on the artist's intentions, the design created can be highly realistic or may be more cartoonish. Even though it is less common, rounded designs can also be used in this type of craft, but these are more susceptible to mistakes when assembled. Diversifying the folds and keeping the edges as close to reality as possible rather than mimicking curves with flat surfaces improves the realism of many designs, resulting in models that do not appear to be made of paper at all.

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    • Some pepakura crafts require very precise cuts.
      By: Theo Malings
      Some pepakura crafts require very precise cuts.