Introduction: Paper People

About: I teach computer science and I do graphic design for printed bags, clothing, housewares, and much more. (, and…
Here is a charming, low tech way to amuse yourself during your next natural disaster, power outage or zombie apocalypse.  It may also work to keep small children quietly entertained during family visits this holiday season.  

Paper people are easy to make and customize.  You can quickly put together a complete family.  You can your child can make monsters and fight them in the arena of your coffee table.  Or you can create a race of enlightened aliens or robots and build a new utopia.  You can make characters to star in your next video production.

Lets go!

Step 1: Level 1 - Make a Blank

To start, make a blank person to see how all of the parts fit together.

  1. Print out, or copy the design sheet onto card stock.  
[ Edit ~  Apparently the design template image lost some detail when I uploaded it.  Here's a link to (hopefully) unaltered template page: ]

  1. Cut out the body first. (it looks like conjoined twins)  Don't cut the notches yet.
  2. Fold the body piece in half.  You can glue, or tape it together to make it more sturdy, if you like.  Its not necessary.
  3. Cut out a set of arms, a set of legs, and a head.  (There are two styles of arms.  Try em both!)
  4. Cut your notches inside the guidelines.  If you are using thicker card stock, cut wider notches.
  5. Assemble the pieces as shown in the pictures
  6. Say hello to your new friend!  "Hello Tabula Rasa"

* Some notes. *

Notice that the "chin" is actually the "nose".  And it starts at the top of the forehead.

Notice that the chest overlaps the hips in front. 

You don't need dark outlines. Unless you really want to. You can print this design sheet very faintly and still have guidelines for cutting and embellishing.  

Heavier stock will make a sturdier person, but it will be harder to cut out.  I tried using corrugated cardboard in one version, but I didn't like the way that the edges looked unfinished.

Make the notches very thin to start.  Cut them very narrow to start and make them wider if you can't get a good fit.  (its easier to cut away more than to put back paper you cut off.)

** Extra Bonus Note! **

"Tabula Rasa" is the idea, developed by Aristotle, that people are born without personality, talent or knowledge.  That their brains are effectively a "blank slate".  Tabula Rasa means blank slate in Latin.

Step 2: Level 2 - Give Your Person a Personality

Now that you have seen how the design works, you can start making the kind of people you would want to have as friends.

Using the design as a guide, you can add features to the head, arms and leg components.  I have made a set of Cthulhu parts and a set of robot parts and an extra calavera skull.  

Its a good idea to sketch out your ideas on the design sheet before you start cutting them out.  These pieces are just the starting point for your imagination.  You can add extra elements. 

Notice that  I added wings to the shoulders of my Cthulhu.  I added flower "hair" to the skull, and tentacles and horns to the face of the monster.  

I did not add anything to the body pieces.  They are still blank for now.  Look at the photograph to see how these characters appear from the sides.   On your friends, you could trim back the nose pieces, or add extra designs to them.

Step 3: Level 4 - Swap Meet

Now you can live out your dream of being an evil-genius/mad-scientist in a secret underground laboratory.  Why not tinker with your creations?

One of the great things about this design is that you can totally mix and match body parts.  You have extra heads and arms and legs.  Use them to make insane cybernetic gods that will trample all of your enemies.

Step 4: Bonus - Extra Ideas for Parents!

These paper dolls take up very little space.  Keep an envelope of cut out body parts in your bag.  Break them out at restaurants for the kids to play with while they are waiting for food to be served.   Have some blanks for the kids to color on, and have some that already have faces, or wings, or tentacles.

Keep some blank design sheets on hand for rainy days and power outages.  Challenge the kids to make creatures for each other.  Tell them to make up stories for the characters they design.  Take pictures of the scenes, and use the pictures to decorate books of their stories.

Step 5: Bonus - Embellishment Ideas

I intentionally left my paper people pretty simple so that you could see how they fit together.  I only used one pen on each piece, and I didn't use any glue or paint or additional material.

But here are some ideas for you to make your people more awesome.

colored stock
googly eyes
tempura paint
cereal / cracker / cookie boxes
playing cards (use the face cards for faces!)
photographs (use real faces for faces!)

Step 6: Bonus! Activities

Here are some ideas for things that you can do with your new friends once you have created them.
  • Make a family 
  • Make an army 
  • Make a (modest) tic-tac-toe set, or (ambitious) chess set
  • Use them as place setting markers
  • Use them as voodoo dolls or burn them in effigy 
  • Give them a cat toys
  • Christmas Cards
  • Valentines
  • Dioramas and historical reenactment
  • Actors in short films and videos
Do you have other ideas?  Post them in the comments!
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