Introduction: Origami Lantern: 3D Printing on Paper

About: My name is Eammon Littler and I'm a college student interested in the field of engineering, robotics, and programming. 想像 (souzou) is the Japanese word for imagining, which I find myself constantly doing, and …

This project started as an idea I had from a movie I watched last summer; Between the Folds. It's about origami, and towards the end a professor from MIT, Erik Demaine mentioned that you give memory to paper when you fold it. That got me thinking, what if you retain the memory of the sections of paper that isn't folded?

To do this I 3d printed a layer of plastic directly onto paper. It was a huge success! Usually it takes 30 min to fold a large miura pattern, but it took less than a minute with this printing method. I created a website, which doesn't look the best as it is my first website I have ever coded, that takes a picture of an origami pattern and generates a 3D model from it ( It is free for anyone to use.

Step 1: 3D Printing on Washi

Washi is a soft fibrous paper that originates from Japan. My dad has been using it for his artwork and so he gave me some of the thinner washi sandwiched between the larger pieces of washi. Due to it's soft flexible nature, I knew this would be perfect to work with. Above are some of my earlier tests with different tessellation patterns.

Step 2: Origami Model Generator

Apologies in advance as this is my first website I have ever coded. It is however very simple to work with. There are three working environment tabs; image, svg, and 3D.

The image tab provides some rudimentary photo editing tools. In this tab, anything rendered in black above a certain threshold will be part of the 3D model. In most cases it will be best to invert the image. Follow the steps, turning the image black and white, invert, then brightness/contrast editing. Go to "To SVG" to see what the generator considers will be the 3D model.

In the SVG tab, the source image will show on the left and the svg trace on the right. There are two options given, thickening the white stroke or making it thinner by changing it to a black stroke. It helps to leave enough space between printed parts when folding the origami, since the plastic will still be thick enough to overlap just a tiny bit more than you might be used to. There are no dimensions here, it is all relative. Think in ratios when using the generator.

Clicking "To 3D" will take you to the last tab while simultaneously generating a 3D model of the svg trace from the prior tab. You can rotate the model and view it in the square region provided. Click "Download as STL" for the 3D model.

The default model that appears is a bistable origami fold discovered by researchers at Cornell. I highly recommend checking this out and using this pattern as a test print. It's a lot of fun to snap the shape into place.

For experimenting with more folds, check out Amanda Ghassaei's website. She has developed a fantastic origami fold simulator and has a very nice library of different origami folds. Clicking on the pattern tab will take you to the fold pattern. Do not try to use an svg as the input for the origami generator, it only takes images (png and jpg). I have not yet implemented svg as an inputable filetype. For now take a screenshot of the pattern and go from there.

Step 3: Building the Light

Not having the fund and the correct parts, I took little LEDs from an old 12v led strip I had laying around. Each led runs on about 3v with three joined in series in LED strips. I end up running each led at 5v here. While this works and produces a brighter glow, the led does overheat and lose brightness over extended periods of time (as I found out after running one overnight). I'm also using a li-ion battery charging module as a micro usb power breakout. It's not the best thing to use, but it's what I had available. Avoid the mess I put myself into by purchasing the right parts.

Parts (recommended):

Parts (what I used):

3D Files - print one of each file

Due to the cylinder shape being hexagonal, I made sure there are seven columns in the design so the ends can overlap. Using liquid glue, glue the ends together to create the hexagonal cylinder. Glue the top of the collapsed cylinder to the cap.

Doing things my way, you will have to cut the individual leds from the 12v led strip. Look closely and you will see two slightly darker parts to the led. One is slightly larger than the other. This will be the negative side with the smaller one being positive. I laid two hexagonal rings around the base print. There are two holes in the hexagonal base. I decided to make the inner side be the positive connection and the outer ring be negative. Make sure to solder between where the copper tapes meet since the adhesive below will not let electricity pass through. Carefully position the leds between the conductive rings. The terminal of the led will be floating a bit, so it might be tough to get the solder to stick to the led. Don't worry about melting the led, trust me I have and they still work.

Pass two 30 awg wires through the holes, one per hole, and solder one side of each wire to the conductive rings. Solder the other end to the correct terminals on the tp4056 module, the side closest to the female micro usb port.

Stick the module in, use hot glue if necessary. Stick the arm piece in, also with hot glue if necessary. Making sure the origami cylinder is stuck to the cap, glue the other end to the base with the leds. Tie some string around the top loop of the cap to hang the origami light on the arm. Enjoy!

Step 4: Conclusion

My printer was on the fritz and under extruded good portions of each print, possibly due to clogging in the nozzle, so the origami lights above will have pieces that may be peeling off or see-through. On the topic of peeling, due to washi being fibrous, I don't have much of an issue of the plastic parts peeling off. When working with paper, however, I would recommend using a glue-stick and apply it on the paper before printing on it for better results. While folding the printed parts become more prone to coming off.

This project was a long time in the works. From the origami website generator, to the light design, and experimenting with new formats of showcasing my work. Overall it was a great success and I'm happy with the way these lights turned out. I have plans to improve the origami generator website, but that also depends heavily on the popularity of the tool.

I recently setup a link where anyone can help fund my projects directly. It will help me cover the costs of parts I use and test. I tend to go through several iterations before making the final product, meaning I break electronic components pretty frequently. By helping me financially, I can invest in better electronics and experiment more to bring you even more of my creations (released for free for anyone to use).

Epilog X Contest

Participated in the
Epilog X Contest

Make it Glow Contest 2018

Participated in the
Make it Glow Contest 2018