Introduction: Airship Low Poly Papercraft 3D Model

Airships seemed to be on the wave of the future in the 1920s and ‘30s, carrying passengers slowly but in great comfort and style through the clouds. It must have been amazing to see one of these giants floating overhead but sadly only a few little airships exist today. As they are so exciting and different from today's technology, airships have become really popular in steampunk and alternate history stories in the past few years. This papercraft model airship model celebrates these giants of the air in fiction and history. It’s big, at almost 2 feet long and will look spectacular hanging from your ceiling or from a wall. This airship papercraft will really get a lot of positive comments.

You build this eye-catching model using a PDF-format template (or pattern) with an illustrated assembly guide. You can purchase and download this papercraft model flying machinefrom Etsy . This Instructable is for anyone who has never made a 3D papercraft project before but would like to build this airship. It’s not a difficult project and I think it should be OK for papercraft beginners.

Assembling this papercraft airship model will probably take about 10 hours of your time. About half of this time will be spent cutting out the parts and scoring and folding them.

Here is what you will need

  • The low poly airship construction template PDF
  • Computer
  • Printer (nothing fancy, it doesn’t need to be a colour printer)
  • PDF Viewer software such as Adobe Reader
  • 220gsm cardstock (or heavier )
  • High-tack double sided adhesive tape or PVA Glue (like Mod Podge or Elmers). I don’t recommend glue sticks such as Prittstick as they are not strong enough in my opinion.
  • Hobby knife or Exacto knife
  • Bone folder
  • Scissors

These materials and tools can be bought from stationery and craft shops. You can see my bone folder, scissors and craft knife along with the printed out template in the picture.

Step 1: Printing the Template

The PDF template fits US Letter size paper (8.5 x 11 inches) but also works with A4 (210mm x 297mm) paper size.

Put some cardstock into your printer.

The airship will look great built with plain paper but if you want a colourful final result, you can print the template on more than one colour of cardstock. Using different colours for the fins, nosecone and rings around the nosecone will look great. The parts to make these sections are on different pages from most of the hull to make them easier to print on other coloured cardstock. In the photos I am using light grey and dark blue cardstock in pearlescent finish to make my airship.

Whatever you decide about the cardstock colour, you will need to load 20 pages for this template. There are cover sheets at the front and back making 22 pages in total but you do not need to print these. If you don’t have a printer, I recommend you load the template on to a USB memory stick and take it to be printed at your local copy shop.

Open the template PDF with Adobe Reader (or other PDF reader).

Before printing the template confirm you have set up your print options correctly. Go to the top menu bar and select File then Print. Depending on your available software options ensure you have selected to print at Actual Size or 100% or scaling set to None in the Print dialogue box. Make sure you do not have print options such as Scale to fit or Print to fit page selected as these settings will affect the size and assembly of your sculpture. I know this for sure as I printed the template for a prototype model without checking the settings, cut out and built it. Finished, it looked great but as soon as I put it beside another it was obviously about 10% smaller than it was supposed to be.

It’s a good idea select the Print in grayscale and Save ink/toner options as this will save ink.

Check that every page will be printed. When you are happy with your selections, press Print.

Before you go on to the next step make sure that you have every page printed.

Step 2: Cutting Out the Components

You will need a clean and tidy space to work in.

The next stages are a perfect opportunity to enjoy your favourite podcast or even catch up on some TV while you work.

Cut out roughly around the parts first with a clean and sharp pair of scissors. Go around again with your scissors to make the detailed cuts. Sometimes you’ll need to use a craft knife along with a metal ruler to cut out some tabs.

Cut along only along the solid lines (the other types of lines are for folds and will be explained in the next step).

When you have finished cutting you will have a pile of pieces and probably a pile of scrap cardstock. When you are tidying be care not to throw out any components by mistake- it’s easily done! If you do lose a piece you can just print it over again from the template.

Step 3: Scoring and Making the Folds

Start by scoring along all of every fold line with the back of a craft knife (or very lightly with the point) to help create a crisp and neat fold. This might sound tedious but don’t be tempted to skip it, it’s a really important step to give a sharper look to your finished airship. If you don’t want to use a craft knife, a pin or used up ball point pen are viable alternatives.

You need to understand how to use two folding techniques to build this model. These are called mountain folds and valley folds and are really simple to get the hang of.

A dashed line means you make a mountain fold along it. You do this by folding the paper down over the fold line. This means the finished crease looks like a mountain ridge.

A dotted and dashed line means you make a valley fold along it. This is opposite of a mountain fold, you make it by folding the paper around the fold line. This means the finished crease looks like a valley.

For both types of fold I use the bone folder to flatten each fold into a sharp and neat crease by running it along the fold while applying firm pressure. If you don't have a bone folder any hard object will do, like the handle of your scissors for example.

You can see the scoring and folding process being demonstrated in the video. I am making a unicorn head in the video, but the process is the same

If you have cut out all the parts but want a break before moving on store the components in a large ziplock-style bag or a lunch box with a sealable lid. This will keep them clean and there’s less chance of losing any.

Step 4: Sticking the Components Together

Good news! You are probably halfway through the build by now and you're about to start sticking the model together. This is most people’s favorite part of building a papercraft project!

If you glue the model, use a PVA-type glue as it will dry clear and can be cleaned up with water. Pour a little bit of glue into a small bowl or paint palette. As it will take a few hours to build your papercraft airship, only using a little glue at a time will mean you don’t have to worry about your glue starting to dry out.

Use a small paint brush to lightly spread the glue along the tabs on the components. If you apply too much glue it can squeeze out and create ugly globs on the outside of your model or even soak into the card making the model and soggy.

Always clean your glue application brush if you need to stop for a while. Glue can dry faster than you think and will ruin your brush if it dries

An alternative to glue is to use high-tack double-sided adhesive tape instead of glue. Unlike glue, tape bonds instantaneously so you might find that you can assemble your sculpture faster and more neatly by using tape. Tape does adhere immediately so you need to get the fit of the parts exactly right with tape, with glue you have a little bit more "wiggle room" to adjust how the parts go together.

I have built this model airship using both ways and they have worked for me.The pictures with this Instructable were taken when I was using tape to build the blue and grey model. I have built others with glue so I know that both methods work.

Step 5: Assembling the Components

It is best to start to start your at the front by assembling the nosecone. Find a numbered tab and the matching numbered edge, it doesn’t matter which one you start with, but Tab 201 would be a good choice. Apply glue to the tab and press it firmly to the matching edge. The tab should always go on the inside of your sculpture. Sometimes you might need to hold the parts together for a short time until the glue catches.

Find the next numbered tab and the matching numbered mating surface and glue them together. If you cannot find the numbered tab or corresponding edge, you can use the Find function in your PDF reader software to see where it is on the template.

Continue assembling the airship by working back along the hull until you the control cabin (or gondola). Stick the gondola together and attach it to the hull before continuing to put the model together. This is in no way a hard model to build in my opinion but its size can make it tricky to handle as it gets more complete.

If you need to make the joins on your model more rigid, you can paint additional glue over the joins on the inside of the sculpture after the glued folds have dried.

You might want to “stuff” your airship with balls of rolled up newspaper or other lightweight material as you go along, this will make it less easy to dent the airship’s hull. If you want to do this, definitely do it before you start attaching the fins as there isn't much of an opening to push in the stuffing once they are in position.

As your sculpture gets more complete it can be more difficult to get access to tabs on the inside to press them together. The blunt end of your glue brush (or a pencil) can be used to reach areas inaccessible to fingers.

It is easiest to assemble the tailfins individually and then attach each of them to the hull.

The backplate at the tail of the airship should be the last part you glue. There is a hole in the backplate to let you reach inside. Once this backplate is in position, you can glue card stock cut to size over the access hole as it's not usually a good idea for airships to have big holes in them!

Making your model should be a fun and relaxing experience. If you make a really bad mistake, don’t panic. Take a deep breath and simply print the parts again, cut them out and try that bit again.

Step 6: Displaying Your Airship

Congratulations! You have put together your airship paper sculpture. Take a bow!

If you didn't use different colours of cardstock to build your airship, but want to change its colour now it is complete it is possible to use acrylic paint from a spray can. Do this by applying several light coats rather than one heavy one and it will probably come out fine.

If you want to display your finished model in an authentic flying pose you can loop fine thread around the hull at the front and back of the airship. Use these threads to suspend the airship from hooks in the ceiling.

Alternately on a couple of my airships I fixed self-adhesive hooks on the top of the airship and attached the thread to these. As they were on the top of the airship the hooks were not visible from most viewing angles. This pair of airships hovering over my desk is an awesome sight! Right now, I'm planning on building another airship from the same template but going full steampunk with it by making it with a metallic finish cardstock and adding Victorian-style embellishments.

Remember, you can purchase this papercraft airship model template and assembly guide from Etsy.

If you build this model, please post a comment with a picture of it. I’m very interested to see what you have done with this template.

If you building it and need a little help, you can PM me or leave a comment describing the problem and I’ll try to help.