Introduction: Paper Cut Light Box for Sky
I am a designer and a big fan of thatgamecompany's games Flow, Flower and Journey. The art style of the series is so unique, full of clean colors and warm lights, which matches Hari & Deepti's paper cut light box perfectly. Inspired by their masterpieces, I decide to DIY a light box for thatgamecompany's newest title "Sky" in this project.
Step 1: Select a Base Image for the Design
Thatgamecompany's titles are famous for giving emotional experience in their game presented by its unique art style, which is clean, light and beautiful, filled with gradient colors and layered surroundings. The characteristic of the art is very similar to what paper cut light box has.
In this project, the image I select has an obvious foreground, a mid ground and a background. And I will setup a LED strip behind the cloud, when I turn on the light in the dark, the final effect would be very cool.
So, let's start making it.
Step 2: Choose a Design Software for Sketching
As I am using Mac, Sketch is the first and best software for me. It is vector based, powerful and efficient for most designers.
If you are a Windows user, you can choose Adobe Illustrator or other vector based design software.
I do not recommend to use Photoshop to sketch lines, unless you are using it as a concept tool, as a substitute for your pencil.
Step 3: Start to Draw Silhouettes for a Layer
Use Vector tool to draw along the shape of the object. Concerning on the level of your cutting skill, in general the more details you put in the design, the more time it takes you to finish.
One important thing you have to remember is that do not design flowing object. Every part should be connected together in one layer.
Also do not overlap the back layers unless you want it to be.
Step 4: Skills to Draw a Silhouette
There are some tricks to help speed the process.
- Use simple geometry to shape the curve.
Here I am drawing the cloud which contains multiple arcs, I use a primitive circle and copy paste the circle multiple times, move them together along the silhouette of the cloud, then use Boolean tool to attach them into one part. It only takes me minutes to finish the whole drawing.
- Draw start and end point first, then add middle point to control the curvature.
In some cases, I am more comfortable with this work flow.
Step 5: Complete All Layers
Draw some layers, add a black transparent shadow for each layer, and frequently check the overall appearance of the design in no light condition.
I will tell you how to design the lighting in the next section.
Step 6: Use App to Preview
In the lighting section, I use Paper Lightbox iOS on my iPad Pro. It seems to be the exclusive app for making paper cut light box. It says that including layout design, lighting and preview, all works can be done in one place. Now I am only using it to lit and preview my design.
Step 7: Import Layers & Adjust Design
In Sketch, export layers to png images, use AirDrop to transfer all images into Photos in iPad, then import them in Paper Lightbox.
In the app, I can move the layers back and forth, add some decos from the Store and collage them to add more details for my design. In order to polish the shape, I have also cut some parts out using the cutting tools in the editing module.
Step 8: Export PDF for Printing
When I am ready, I export layers into one PDF file for print out. All layers are flipped by default. I think marking them in the back is a good decision, as no one want to see any black guide lines on the front of the paper.
Step 9: Lighting & Preview in 3D
Lighting is the key to the final appearance.When making a paper cut light box in conditional way, I will never know how it will look like until it is made out.
Luckily Paper Lightbox helps a lot. It is a perfect preview tool for my design, I can view both no lighting and lighting states of the light box in 3D space with very high details, both warmer light and cool light look very close to the real product.
And moreover there is a dynamic rainbow lighting effect for the crystal frame, which is super cool.
Step 10: Preview in AR (optional)
Surprisingly Paper Lightbox has embed AR simulation. I can actually use my iPad Pro to see my work on the desk before I start to cut. Having such a powerful functionality, I can not ask for more about this app.
Step 11: Prepare Materials and Tools Before Cutting.
Now, let's do the real work. First, these essential items are required before start.
- 160g wood-free paper (A4 size)
160g-180g wood-free paper is also called "offset paper", which has better flexibility, smoothness, less reflection, and light can pass through. It is the ideal material I need.
- light box frame (A4 size)
I am using a ready-made wood frame which has a depth of 5cm in inner space, enough to hold 10 pieces of paper.
- LED strip, USB power wire, remote control
A two-color LED strip, I picked a green-yellow pair, green for the grass, yellow for the dusk sky.
Use remote control to switch light, setup different light mode and adjust brightness for the light box.
A pen shaped knife is easy to hold and sculpture every detail of my design.
- Knife pad
A PVC pad is useful to protect my desk from scratching.
Use it to crop paper to a proper size.
- Hole puncher
Use it to make 1-2mm tiny holes to let back light pass through.
- Tape or glue
Use it to stick paper to the inner support of the frame.
Step 12: Crop Papers
In printing, there is a thing called "bleeding" which is the area to be trimmed off.
So in the first step, I use a ruler to help cut the bleeding to the proper size of the inner space of the light box.
The cutting should be precise because a 2-3mm oversize will cause the paper to bend in the light box, make sure you have measured the size of the inner space before printing and cut the bleeding correctly.
Step 13: Start to Cut the Foreground Layer
Remember to cut small parts first.
As you can see, I prefer cutting the small holes first. Because if the bigger hole is already cut out, there will be no resistance for the paper nearby, the left paper will probably be torn up when cutting the shape near the hole.
Step 14: Make Holes for the Light to Pass Through
Another tip is to make some holes for the back lights.
In the first picture, I am using a nail as a simple hole puncher to make lots of dot holes.
When cutting the layer behind, in order to let the dot flowers in the foreground to glow, I have to cut out a rectangle area in the cloud layer to let back lights pass through. This skill helps to achieve many special lighting effect.
I think the more I practice making light box, the more experience I will get to pre-design these parts before cutting.
Step 15: Cut the Font Layer
The font layer is relatively the most intricate layer. Stick to the rules introduced above that small parts first. It prevents me from breaking the thin tails of the font apart.
Also, you could notice that the top of the font is connected to the frame and the bottom is connected to the gate, these details keep the paper strong to stand up.
Step 16: Cut the Background Layers
The background layers consist of a cloud ladder and a huge aura. Just like the font layer, I use my left hand to press down the adjacent paper, and slowly cut the circle out.
Step 17: Combining All Layers Together
Finally, all layers are done. The photo shows how the work will look like when I put them together in the final steps. Let's install them now.
Step 18: Prepare the Light Box
I am using a ready-made frame specially designed for paper cut light box.
If you want to make it by yourself, you could use wood, cardboard or any other materials, cut them to 2cm thick, a proper width and height larger than the paper, stick them together with nails or glues, paint a color for a nice look, and add a support or suspension ring.
Step 19: Install All Things
Now, following the sequence of the layers, from front to back, one by one, put one paper in, and add one support frame on it.
The support frame is 5mm thick, so a light box with 10 layers will have a 5cm space in depth.
You can see that the edge of the paper is fully covered by the support frame, in this way, all flaws are hidden.
When the last paper is installed, attach the LED strip to the back panel with a tape. Align the LED strip in a single row, top down rows, or in a circle. The way to align the lights is mostly depending on the layouts of the design.
Know where to let the lights pass through and where to let the lights scatter, play with different lighting skill until the best result emerge.
Step 20: Boxing Up to Finish the Installation
Make a small hole on the bottom side of the back panel to let the LED wire pass through.
Close the panel. Connect the switch. And, it's done !
Super easy, isn't it ? Now it's time to enjoy my original paper craft.
Step 21: Light Up!
With the remote control, I can set a breathing mode for the light box. Looking at the endless loop from sun rise to sun shine and sun set with the golden lights spread on the greenish land, my heart is filled with peace at the moment.
The paper cut light box is just like a diorama of the sacred gate inside under the Sky. It opens a new world, full of beauty and story to everyone!