Introduction: Model Complex Solid Shapes With Cardboard.

Picture of Model Complex Solid Shapes With Cardboard.

This is a technique to model complex (or simple) solid shapes.
The idea is to cut your model into slices and cut cardboard with the shape of your model slices. When staking the slices in the correct order you get your model in rough finish to start sanding.

The final model will have really good weight and resistance. A great advantage of this method it's its precision since the model comes out almost exact as the 3d computer model. A disadvantage is the amount of time you may spend cutting and sanding.

This is kind of a replacement for a laser cutter and MDF plaques. For me it was faster and more controlable than laser cutting MDF. Hope it helps!

In dedication to my design classmates with whom I learned this technique. | Dedicado a mis compa�eros de dise�o con quienes aprendi y sigo perfeccionando la tecnica. !

Step 1: Make Your 3d Model

Picture of Make Your 3d Model

Model your object in your favorite 3d modeling software. You don't need it to be exact, round corners can be later sanded so don't bother to do your model highly detailed.
I use Rhinoceros 4.0.

Step 2: Slice Your Model

Picture of Slice Your Model

Try to slice your model in the direction in which you get less slices, this will save you cutting and gluing time. Make the separation of the slices equal to the thiknes of the cardboard you have. Slice the part of the model that you find convenient for this method (non geometric shapes you can't get by folding or curving other materials). Fo the saw I only sliced the body since I needed it to be solid and strong to support the weigh of the blade, base and protection of the blade.
Rhino has a special tool to slice your model in any direction you like. Just type "_Contour" and hit enter to start the tool. Make sure "grouping objects by cutting plane" is on so all the curves of each slice are grouped togheter.
In the second example shown I have chosen to slice the model in a diagonal direction. This tool only creates curves, it doesn't really cut your model so don't worry about your model being cut.

Keep in mind that the thinner your slices are, the thinner and easier to cut your cardboard will be BUT you'll have more slices to cut. You'll also get more exact models with thinner cardboard. It all depends on what you'll do and what results are you looking for.

Step 3: Print Your Slices

Picture of Print Your Slices

Now accomodate your new curves so you can print them out. You can print them directly from Rhino or export them to another software like Adobe Illustrator or Corel.

You can print them on regular paper or on sticky paper so you can forget about adding glue later.

Step 4: Cut Your Slices

Picture of Cut Your Slices

Now you have printed your sliced model you have to cut your cardboard with their shape. The quickest way I found was to glue the printed slices with Pritt or Uhu (glue on a bar) to the cardboard and cut it. This type of glue will let you unglue the paper later when you assemble your model. Remember to number your slices before your loose the correct order.

(The first picture shown is of the handle of the gardening spoon, didn't take pictures of this part of the process for the saw. The second photo is of a handle of a screwdriver a classmate of mine was making.)

Step 5: Glue Your Slices Togheter

Picture of Glue Your Slices Togheter

The glue you use is very important for what you will be doing later (sanding). I always use regular white glue. If you use any other type of glue remember that it has to solidify enough to be sandable later.
Unstick the paper before you glue your cardboard parts together.
Apply the glue with a big brush so it applies evenly. It is important to apply glue evenly in the borders of each slice so you can sand worryless later.
Press and let dry for a few hours.

Step 6: Sand, Add Plastic Putty, Sand, Paint, Finish

Picture of Sand, Add Plastic Putty, Sand, Paint, Finish

Sand corners, add plastic putty, sand some more. I use Zeocar or Tersuave (brands you can find here in Argentina), its the type of putty to fix car scratches. Add a thick layer of putty until you can't see the cardboard anymore, otherwise when you apply the paint it will be absorbed differently on the surface.

I recommend you apply some primer before you paint to even the surface.

Practice a few times because it's a technique that gets better with it. Share your experimentations with others. Thanks for reading and the best of luck!


Seguro de Hogar (author)2015-09-19

Muy buen aporte. Gracias!

Sneyk (author)2012-01-22

Excelente, muy útil para realizar prototipado.

Mike McGill (author)2012-01-19

This is very similar to a method that was once known as 'bread and butter' . It was used as an alternative to plank on frame to build hulls for model yachts. You use the lines of the yacht to produce sliices which are hollowed in the middle, and then when they are glued together you carve and sand the outside. It is possible to produce a very accurate hull using this method, because the bottoms of the notches made by the sandwich provide a guide when carving. Must say I never thought of applying it to circular saws though. Nice one !!

notingkool (author)2011-09-08

hola, te hago una consulta, estoy queriendo hacer algo asi:
como lo que hace ese programa, hay algun plug in, o similar para autodesk o rhinoceros?
porque no busco hacer un sanwich de carton para llegar al modelo, sino que busco hacer aglo como esto:
o esto:
o asi:
yo con el autodesk inventor me manejo bien, pero no llego a ahecr eso.

piaferre (author)notingkool2011-11-14

Podes usar el mismo comando para fetear tu modelo que propongo acá pero darle más espacio y hacerlo dos veces (a lo largo y a lo ancho) para que te quede la rejilla. No se si hay un plug in que te lo haga automaticamente. Conozco de un programa que hace sillas de esta forma pero no de cualqueir modelado.
Si no tenes este comando podes encontrar las intersecciones de tu modelo con varios planos que seria lo mismo. Hay muchas soluciones, espero haberte prendido la lamparita jaja saludos!

notingkool (author)piaferre2011-11-14

claro, yo habia hecho algo asi, pero en realidad busco ahorrarme muchisimo laburo. Porque yo corto las secciones con planos y saco las siluetas, depues tengo que hacerle las ranuras, ponerlos en autocad, y despues en un plano para imprimir. Y la verdad, me lleva muchas horas hacerlo para un modelo. Y se me complica aun mas cuando quiero cortar rejillas a otros angulos o poner uno u otra especial en algun lado.

Skyriam (author)2010-10-17

Does anyone know if SolidWorks allows to slice your model and then print it like Rhinoceros? Thanks.

vinacarv (author)Skyriam2010-12-09

I know i probably am severely late, but yes, it's possible to slice your model in solidworks. Create a sketch in the model with your parting lines, and then use that sketch as a reference to create sections in a drawing. Now you just have to arrange the sections in as many sheets as needed. Last time i did that was for a fiberglass laminating mold, and the model rendered 18 sections, easily printable in the correct scale from the drawing.

halfmumi (author)vinacarv2011-08-29

Can you add any screenshots to help to situation? I am lost a little. :) Thanx a lot btw.

piaferre (author)Skyriam2010-10-17

mm don't know how to slice models in solid, but you can always import your model to rhino if you save it as .igs in solidworks.

jammaconnection (author)2011-07-28

Can yiu explain how you make slicing on rhinos? it should be nice! maybe you use rhinonest? I should know how to did it on rhinos

ononal (author)2011-07-17

thank you for this helpful instruction, layering is a really good technique for creating solid shapes.

i may add something that may helpful for shelling with this technique. wooden sticks may be used on layered cardboard, which will be helpful for having stronger shell and sanding model into precise dimensions.


Skyriam (author)2010-10-17

Hey great instructable! Your method is real simple and awesome, just have one question: The "platic putty" you mention, is it PLASTER? The one used for cars? Thanks!

piaferre (author)Skyriam2010-10-17

yes exactly, didn't know how to translate it ;)

Skyriam (author)piaferre2010-10-17

Ok gracias!! Saludos desde méxico y sigue con el exelente trabajo!

piaferre (author)Skyriam2010-10-17

Muchas gracias e igualmente!

Technophile (author)2010-10-17

Thin white glue with water to keep the glue layer thickness down.

piaferre (author)Technophile2010-10-17

adding water will increase drying time and deform too much the cardboard if you don't apply even preasure (which is very hard to do on complex shapes).

11ericg (author)2010-08-11

Blender is my fav 3d modeling program

mario59 (author)2010-05-21

I was thinking a way to properly align the sheets once separated from the printed paper you used to cu them. since the cut borders are always rough since you've to sand them after, do the glue gives you time to make this alignement?
I tried it, but the tholuol is almost like an INSTANT GLUE!
also after brushing it to the sheet, it gets dry almost instantly!
can you be clearer on this?

piaferre (author)mario592010-05-21

 m yes more or less but remember this: thoulol is the dissolvant of the high impact polystyrene so to have a better "glued" model you can take a piece of the plastic to use as a spatula, dip it into the tholuol and add the dissolving plastic of that tip in the edge you are trying to unite. The plastic will the solidify again leaving your a bit more time to arrange your parts. Hope this helps =)

mario59 (author)2009-07-15

Grat idea!
I think is *the idea* to make modeller's creations, otherwise very hard to get!
In the meantime, maybe would be a good idea, also, to find a way to get "lighter" objects, to "epty the inner parts in some way (personally I dunno how!)
Also I could not find any indication of how, so many "layers" could be glued together without adding a considerable thicknes from the glue itself...
maybe you have to "miss" some of the slices to compensate it?

who knows?
anyway: congratulations!

piaferre (author)mario592009-07-15

When I have to do empty shells for models I use sheets of high impact plastic (its a type of polystyrene). If you apply the glue with a brush almost nothing is added to the total thickness. I forgot to say that on the Instructable, I'll add it. You have to make sure the cardboard is as thick as you think with a caliber or something, so you can slice your model precisely.

bill2009 (author)piaferre2009-07-22

When I have to do empty shells for models I use sheets of high impact plastic (its a type of polystyrene).

I'm not sure I follow you, how do you use the styrene? Instead of the cardboard?

piaferre (author)bill20092009-07-22

At my faculty I can buy sheets of high impact polystyrene, this is the plastic generally used for back light signs. I spend a few hours thinking how to build the model and then print out on paper the surfaces that form my model (you have to take in account the thickness of the polystyrene). You "glue" it with toluol (highly toxic so wear a mask), this dissolves the plastic and welds it. This method is really neat since when you sand off the corners of your model it looks like a whole piece. I will write an Instructable of this method some day.

bill2009 (author)piaferre2009-07-23

Sorry, I'm still not sure I get it. It sounds like that would work best for something with flat surfaces so, for an open sided cube you'd be making 5 surfaces? What about something with rounded corners like a hemisphere?

I realize your comment was made a year ago, and you may already understand what this instructable is about.

Actually, you could make a hemisphere with this process. And a sphere would take just about the same number of slices as a cube (or a box). The problem is your under-thinking it. You don't slice along surfaces, which in the case of an open sided box would be 5, you make dozens (or hundreds or thousands) of parallel slices. Think "Cat Scan". They already have 3D printers that work on this principle. 

piaferre (author)bill20092009-07-23

Exactly, it would be the best solution for an open sided cube. For a hemisphere you would have to termoform it (I'm not sure I spelled that right but the idea is to transform it with heat). Here's a great Instructable about that:,-cheap,-upgradeable-sheet-plastic-vacu/. You can replace the oven with a 1000w lamp like on this video:
You can also try with modeling epoxy, a few strips of plastic for the skeleton and a mold to copy. That's how I did the other part of the spoon. But you can only get to about 2mm thick and the surface will allways have imperfections.

Dentroman765 (author)mario592009-10-17

 How about assembling some slices, then dremeling? That might be a good way to get some material out.

agis68 (author)mario592009-07-23

yeah actually this is what is called Industrial design and a very well paid position or the elite of 3D modelling everywhere in the world

Shagglepuff (author)2009-12-12

 Wait a sec, did you just make a power saw out of cardboard?

Shagglepuff (author)Shagglepuff2010-02-16

 Actually, can you post an instructable on how to make the circular saw?

stephenniall (author)2010-02-13

i thought you were going to use that circular saw to cut the cardboard ! then i realised .. It is cardboard ! Awesome instructable

mj_b90 (author)2009-10-19

 Has anyone tried doing this in CATIA? I can only get it to export one slice at a time, that'd take forever. Any tips?

full_metal (author)2009-07-19

do you have to use 3D modeling software as i only have acces to using 2D software.

piaferre (author)full_metal2009-07-20

I use 3d modeling to make each slice automatically out of my model, I can't imagine how you can do that with a 2d soft. maybe you could but it's just as much work as doing the whole model by eye measurements.

jptrsn (author)piaferre2009-07-28

I use SketchUp to do all my 3d modelling - it's free, and it has a function to slice models. Check it out; it might work for you, full_metal.

coretj (author)jptrsn2009-07-29

I downloaded SketchUp but can not find the feature that adds the slices. pls hlp

Hold_out (author)coretj2009-09-15

use google sketchup free 7 and found a free plugin that slices models. The link is below. Just but the file in your plugin folder of sketchup.

Dentroman765 (author)Hold_out2009-10-17

 Thanks! Works pretty well, although the plugin seems to mess up complicated structures sometimes. Can't complain though, I was planning on manually slicing until I read this.

Hold_out (author)Dentroman7652009-10-18

No Problem, good luck with your model.

Hiroak (author)coretj2009-07-30

The slice feature is only available in Google Pro 6.

Ian01 (author)2009-07-18

I don't speak your language, but my translation of 'epoxy para modelar' is 'epoxy for modeling' or 'modeling epoxy'.

brain_bomb (author)Ian012009-09-17

That's what I got as well.

Hold_out (author)2009-09-15

This technique is the best way to make 3d models that I have seen. It seems much stronger than just a shell model, like paper craft. Just finished cutting out my slices for a halo (1) magnum.

cynical_chemical (author)2009-07-17

anyone know how to slice on blender? preferably for a mac

subdivide in edit mode.

ian bernal (author)2009-08-30

On the first picture the term is "epoxy putty" BTW where did you went to design school?

piaferre (author)ian bernal2009-09-01

Thanks, I've tried to change it but couldn't. I am still an industrial design student at the University of Buenos Aires.

theseventhsage (author)2009-08-30

Please give any suggestion to the "Instructables the Movie" at

About This Instructable




Bio: Industrial Designer from UBA | Diseñadora Industrial UBA
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