Introduction: Cardboard Darth Vader Helmet

About: Science Teacher. Maker. True-Believer.

Here's another fun Star Wars project. You can either download the files to laser cut or print, trace and cut your own cardboard or other ~1/4''

Note: Use gloves to avoid paper-cuts from laser cut cardboard (and hot glue). Sand the edges a bit for less risk of injury.


Materials needed:

  • PDF file linked above. 18" x24" (use acrobat to print it to multiple sheets if you are using a smaller printer)
  • Four 18" x 24" cardboard sheets (if using the files linked above) OR cut the pieces from a cereal box or case of beer for a super silly vader.
  • GLOVES! Laser cut edges are sharp! Use gloves especially if working the the laser cut kits and hot glue
  • Sandpaper
  • Hot glue
  • Wood Glue
  • Masking tape or packing tape
  • Metal straight edge ruler
  • Scissors or xacto knife
    • If you want to do these projects with kids, or just don't want to work with a sharp blade, check out Make-do Safe Saw: and other similar tools.

  • Rolling pin or other cylinder for rolling (baseball bat, chair leg, paint roller, etc.)
  • Pepakura Designer is also helpful in looking at the model in 3D and figuring out where each part goes.
  • JFCustom's Darth Vader PDO file. Load this file in the pepakura designer to see the helmet model in 3D.Very helpful in locating where parts go.

Step 1: Some Tips for Folding and Gluing

Let's start with a few tips for gluing as you start on the helmet's main dome. Start by gathering the parts seen in the first image in this step.

Curl each of the prongs of the dome around a rolling pin to loosen them up and begin to help them get into shape. As you curl the parts around your cylinder, mash the corrugation a bit to help shape up the cardboard. The more you loosen the part up, the easier it will be to fold on these very rounded parts. Later on, we'll want a few clean flat sharp edges, but for these curvy parts, I actually rolled them on both sides to really loosen them up. The second image shows the parts after they've been rolled.

When gluing, apply the glue into the corrugation at the edges (image 3) and either hold or tape the edges together as the glue dries/ cools. Gluing into the corrugated edges is my preference, but it also works well to hold the edges together and glue along the back (image 4). In this case, I did both. Personally, I think wood glue gives the cleanest and most sturdy finish, but hot glue is faster. Hot glue can also be more forgiving as you can re-heat and re-glue if you're unsatisfied with your seam.

Step 2: Fold and Assemble the Main Dome of the Helmet.

Fold and tape the seams of the main dome until you have a complete dome. Then, line up the centers of the two pieces that will form the extended brim.

When attaching the brim, I glue one point at the front, one at the back, left and then right to be sure I have everything lined up. Working around the circumference of a large piece like this can throw the alignment off and make your final seam very difficult to glue into place.

Step 3: Fold and Glue the Nose/mouth

Find the parts shown here and fold the part shown in the first picture. Glue this part to the triangular trim/ frame part as seen in the second and third images.

I've included the rear view (image 3) so you can get a better idea of how to fold and glue the trim.

Attach this triangle to the part in image 4 which forms the bridge of the nose.

Step 4: Assemble the Face/ Back of the Head

Start by locating the parts shown in image 1. Roll the prongs outward near their ends and inward near the base to begin developing the shape. Use the next three images as a guide. Notice that the ends of the prongs will become the neck, and flair out a bit while the base of this part will start to form the back of the head and curl inward. Glue the prongs together as shown in image 2. I've included a shot from the inside to help guide your glueing. (image 3)

The sides do not need as much shaping as they will begin to form the more angular features of the front of the face. Notice that the cheecks fold to almost 90 degrees as they wrap around to attach to the nose/mouth.

Attach the nose/mouth as shown in image 5. Use the shape of the nose and the bridge to guide your cheek folds.

Step 5: Build the Skull/ Inner Dome and Attach to the Face

Locate the two parts shown in image 1. Roll or press this against a mixing bowl to loosen it up and begin shaping.

Glue the prongs at a steep angle as shown in image 2 to achieve this inner dome's shape.

The inner dome fits fairly obviously (for once) into the parts you created in the previous step. Use the images to get a better look and take your time to glue a nice seam.

Mine is a little rough here, with the eyebrows not matching up, as I didn't fold the sides outward enough, but they're supposed to be a bit concave. I'm probably bringing out the exacto next (gasp) to make these fit up, and I really want to give it a bit more of the Ralph Mcquarrie look, but well see...

Step 6: FinishING What I Started!

* Update So I loaned the semi-finished helmet to a friend for Halloween, after finishing it with a beautiful fiberglass resin and slick black paint job. She turned it into a super Lady Vader BUT our drunk friend fell on it and crushed it. (It was a great party, though.)

** Update #2 ** October 2019 ** The spirit of Halloween reached out to me and reminded me to fix this. (Thanks, friend from the comments.) Also, I paid back the drunk friend from the update above. I stayed at his place on a recent vacation and accidentally locked him out of the house for a night. So, it's clearly time to bring things back into balance.

I've added a link to Pepakura Designer to the materials list. Download this program to open up a 3D model of the helmet and match the parts to the model. If you're on a mac, like me, its a bit more trouble, as Pepakura is only for windows. I use a program called wine to run it and quickly view the models while I'm building, but it is an enormous hassle on the mac. So, I'm providing screenshots of the model in Papakura to help you finish your builds. As soon as I can get back into the shop, I'll cut another one and take pics as I build and finish it.

The dimensions in the program are probably good estimates, but I make a few changes to the parts in both size and shape to make them more efficient to cut on the machines that I use, so the dimensions you see in the screenshots may not be precise.

The photos are ordered to show each part and where it goes / how it is folded on the model. I have included a red marker in each set to help you orient the part. It's not the easiest build, but the geometry is there, if you let go and follow the will of the pepakura, you will find the fit.

Finishing cardboard can be pretty challenging if you are going for a really slick finished look. I used many coats of fiberglass and a LOT of sanding to finish mine. I have had a lot more fun using these cardboard helmets as a starting model for a more imaginative mashup. Cover it with black feathers to create a Darth Raven. Paint it pink and give it some cool sequined trim. Good luck, and I hope to see your builds in the comments below!