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Origami ‒ the art of paper folding

Kawasaki Rose

Kawasaki Rose

Rose, designed by Toshikazu Kawasaki, folded from a single square paper

A brief introduction to origami

Origami is the art of paper folding, originating in Japan. Although paper folding has been done since the invention of paper by 蔡伦 (Cài Lún) in China, Japanese paper folding has been a very influential tradition. The basic idea is to create figures just by folding mostly square sheets of paper. In general, this doesn't require any cuts or glue.

We often try to picture objects from the real world. Due to the properties of the paper, it is possible to make two-dimensional, as well as three-dimensional models. At the same time, you can have a lot of fun for a while, depending on the difficulty level of the model, relax, and improve your fine motor skills and spatial imagination.
One of the difficulties to overcome is the correct execution of folding steps in order to attain the final result. This can be particularly hard if the paper becomes smaller and thicker after folding many layers. Besides, there are numerous folding techniques, whereof some fundamentals are described under the section Folding technique and diagrams, whereas others can be more challenging.
The creation of new models is especially remarkable. This requires not only creativity but also a good understanding of some essential key concepts, like the knowledge of how to work with crease patterns. A first step to exploring crease patterns can be to unfold something you have already folded and examine the visible folds and how they reappear in the finished model.
While it is indeed mostly unnecessary to use scissors and glue, there are quite a few models which are assembled from multiple components. These modules are each made from a single piece of paper, and the particular technique is called modular origami. Famous examples of modular origami are Tomoko Fuse's boxes.

Small self-made items are great for gifting. You can just try this lily flower, which can be done in about five minutes with some practice.


In theory, any paper can be used for folding. Though, it would be best if you consider some aspects: First of all, there is ordinary origami paper, commonly of size 15 x 15 cm. This kind of paper is generally less thick (60-70 g/m2) than printer paper (ca. 80 g/m2).
Thick paper is more robust but makes it harder to fold many layers and may tear faster.
Some kinds of paper are reinforced with other materials. They can be simultaneously very thin and durable.
The paper size is also important. The size of the final model will be only a fraction of the paper, which means some minor details can become challenging if folded with a paper that is too small. However, the common size of 15 x 15 cm is sufficient for most models.
Most of the time, you can just stick to regular origami paper or even cropped printer paper. Apart from this Buddha, most models on this page are folded with 15 x 15 cm origami paper.

Traditional designs

Traditional origami is a perfect introduction to paper folding. These models are quick and easy to fold. Paper folding is an ancient art and some designs have been known for several hundreds of years. You can find a selection below:

Paper airplanes

Paper airplanes are an entire category of paper folding, which enjoys great popularity. They are intended to be played with and thus can mostly be folded within a few minutes. The base of most paper planes is an A4 paper (210 x 297 mm), unlike the square used with many other origami models. An easy paper airplane and an explanation of the symbols used in diagrams can be found further below.

Folding technique and diagrams

Origami is not only an art but also a subject of scientific research. Many geometrical and mathematical applications can be combined with origami, and we can describe the characteristics of paper folding using mathematical theorems.
The foundation of publishing paper folding instructions is a uniform and intuitive notation to document the folding process and each individual step. The most prevalent notation was originally developed by Akira Yoshizawa and is known as the Yoshizawa-Randlett system. These are the most important rules:

  • Dashed lines mark valley folds. They resemble the cross-section of a valley. Arrows indicate the direction of the fold.
  • Lines of dots and dashes are mountain folds.
  • The remaining continuos lines mark where the paper has been creased by previous folds.
  • A two-sided arrow instructs you to execute the fold and then unfold it. Those pre-folds are a preparation for later folds, which may include the pre-fold itself or use it as an orientation. This arrow is also often drawn as a back and forth arrow
  • An arrow with a vertical line through it indicates that you shall repeat one or more steps at the pointed location.
Paper airplane folding instructions

There are many more rules to represent the large number of possible folds, some of which are self-explanatory. However, these few elementary instructions are sufficient to fold a variety of models, including the paper airplane above.

Geometry and math

Example: How to divide a paper into thirds, fifths, or sevenths: Divide paper