Introduction: Comprehensive Design & Construction of Papercraft Anime Wigs

About: See my DeviantArt page for all my free papercraft templates: is where my professional papercraft templates & sewing patterns will soon be available! …

This is my first Instructible, so please bear with me. :-)

Avid cosplayers such as myself, worldwide, have long been frustrated by the seemingly arcane, gravity-defying hairstyles that many anime and video game characters have. We spend substantial money on wigs, hair products, and on occasion even glue, all in pursuit of that lofty dream we all have of looking just like an artistically stylized human being that has come to life right out of a TV screen. Even more frustrating is the fact that a few cosplayers out there on the web actually have an extraordinary talent for it, and deceptively make cosplaying look easy. I am not one of those people.

But, I was determined. Furiously determined. And when I learned the technique of "papercrafting", I felt as if all my troubles would soon be over...

First of all: What is papercrafting?
In 'the real world', papercrafting is an extremely broad term meaning all crafts that are cut from paper and glued together----for many of us, it probably conjures flashbacks of kindergarten. However, on the internet, and increasingly so within the gaming community, papercrafting refers to the process of creating a 3D model or hacking a video game and extracting the 3D files, flattening the polygons in a special program, printing them out on paper, and then constructing the figure in real life. There are some truly jaw-dropping examples of this photographed in artists' galleries on the net. One could conceivably think of papercrafting as a 'poor man's 3D printer'.

....But, boy, was I wrong. Papercrafting is an extremely difficult hobby-----extremely technical, and utterly time consuming. However, the difference that makes it undoubtedly worthwhile is that "screen accuracy" is an objective, mathematical fact rather than a subjective art.

In this Instructible, I will cover how to turn a 3D character file in .obj format (most basic 3D format there is) into a foam hat that one can wear with a costume instead of a fibrous wig.

Beyond this point, I make mention of some of the programs that I use by name, and provide links to the sites where readers can download them from their developers. For the most part, they are freeware. However, some are shareware, and I have only listed them because they are crucial tools in this process, and, so far as I can tell, are the only programs of their kind. I am not in any way affiliated with these companies. Never have been, and don't intend to be. Simply, without these programs, this amazing artistic process could not exist.

Also, I am not affiliated in any way with the developers of the character model that I use in the demonstration. I do, however, legally own a copy of the game he is from, which means that I'm allowed to do this. Furthermore, because a papercraft template is a much altered form of the original file, it is also legal for me to share the template with other people who want to build it but don't have the skill to design one themselves.

Step 1: Preliminary Phase Aka Setup

Due to the vast quantity of individual steps in this process, I will be grouping them by phase.

I will NOT explain the details of this preliminary phase, as I am still extremely new to it, myself. There are forums where one can learn how to do this, but be warned of drowning in a turbulent sea of technobabble! You hear that? A TURBULENT SEA OF TECHNOBABBLE!!!


2)   Unpack the ISO.

3)   Write or download a program that can display and convert (or two separate programs that perform these functions singularly, if necessary) whatever filetype that the character models are in. There are many, many filetypes out there; some yet remain a mystery to the public, therefore not all 3D characters are accessible for papercrafting. One example that has frustrated me personally (and much of the rest of the web, far as I can tell) is the enigmatic .bmd0.

4)   Convert the desired character model to .obj format, and the associated texture file to .png image format if one is present.

5)   If the desired model has multiple texture files, it may be necessary to regroup them into a single texture file. I for one do not know how to make [my papercrafting program] read multiple texture files at once for a single model; I'm not positive it's capable of it.


Step 2: Phase I - Render

For this tutorial I will be using a model of Axel extracted from "Kingdom Hearts II" developed by SquareEnix for the PS2. I've noticed that he is an extremely popular character among cosplayers, and has probably one of the spikiest hairdos that isn't yet absurd. I actually met his English voice actor, Quinton Flynn, at a comic book convention one week ago and tried to ask him what he thought of papercrafting, but he had no idea what it was at all. Which I expected. It's still pretty new and weird. :)

1)   Open your .obj character model in a 3D editing program. Personally, I use MeshLab, which is an extremely powerful, open-source freeware developed by the University of Pisa in Italy. You can get it here: Other freeware 3D programs include: Blender, Metasequoia, Wings3D, Google SketchUp, and 4Dblue. But, MeshLab is the least intimidating if you are completely new at this, like I was. If you have trouble navigating its buttons and extensive menus full of technobabble, there are a lot of helpful tutorials on YouTube for specific functions. Note: Of all seemingly basic features, MeshLab does NOT have an undo function. So, don't mess up this next step!

2)   Delete all unwanted parts of the model. Assuming that it is a human figure, 'unwanted parts' would include everything from the neck down, and his or her neck, face and usually ears. If the ears are pointy, super long, or unnaturally positioned, like cat or bunny ears, feel free to leave them, of course! If the character's hairline is visible, then oftentimes the upper polygons of the forehead will show a little bit of the hair creeping onto them. It is tempting to delete these since they're mostly skin, but DON'T! You will see why, later. Other than that, delete everything that is skin or clothing, but leave hairpieces like bows, beads, feathers, etc. Only delete hats if there are hair polygons underneath them----do NOT delete a hat if doing so would leave a big hole on top of the model.

3)   Export as a new .obj


Step 3: Phase II - Deconstruct

1)   Import the .obj of your character's scalp into a papercrafting program by opening the program and dragging the file in. Reorient it if necessary when the program prompts you, which will make rotating and positioning the model with your mouse easier. I only know of two such programs in existence, and both are shareware with limitations imposed on some features until a passcode is purchased. The one which I use is Pepakura Designer 3 developed by Tamasoft. With Pepakura, it is the save and export functions which are locked in the shareware edition; one can still create and print, but will loose their work if they close the program. There is, however, one way to get around this, and that is to install CutePDF Writer (freeware) as a printer on your computer; it will enable you to "print" to a .pdf file, but you will still not be able to reopen your work in Pepakura for edits once you've closed a project. The second program is Ultimate Papercraft 3D developed by Brad Bolthouse, which I've never actually tried. You're on your own with that one.

2)   Your model will load without its texture. (It will appear plain white.) You must set it separately through the menus bar: Settings \ Texture Settings... \ Specify Texture Image... This is NOT really necessary, however having things in color helps a great deal in grouping pieces together and generally staying sane.

3)   Click the big gray "Unfold" button, and try not to freak out when the formerly blank page on the right side of the screen fills up with pointy shards of tortured character. Blows my mind every time. :D

4)   Every edge has an identification number corresponding to the edge that it mates with. You can turn these numbers on or off with the menus: 2D Menu \ Show Edge ID You may or may not wish to work on designing the template with Edge ID turned on, but they are a blessing later on when you print everything out and assemble it. Downside is that the finished papercraft will have tiny numbers all over it. Though, if you are following this tutorial exactly, then numbers all over it won't matter. You'll see why, later.


Step 4: Phase III - Resize

1)   It is important not to forget to increase the scale, lest it fit a doll's head and not your real head. Go to menus: 2D Menu \ Change Scale \ Scale Factor...  And either:

A.   Estimate the vertical distance between the very top of the highest point and very bottom of the lowest point on the model that you want your wig to have once you have built it in real life. Pepakura only does model heights in millimeters, so if you're unaccustomed to the metric system, whip out the converter in your cellphone or find one online. Hold a yardstick against the back of your head if you can't mentally visualize scale with numerical accuracy.

B.   Open the original character .obj in MeshLab again, and zoom in as much as you can without cutting off any part of the hair at the tops and bottoms of the view field. Make sure that the character is facing you directly, in a 'full front turn', and that its central axis is not tilted toward or away from you. Now, with a small ruler physically placed against your computer screen, measure between the character's temples. Next, go to Windows \ View from \ Back, and zoom in to the exact same percentage. Measure between the tips of the very highest and very lowest points of the character's hair. Divide the second number by the first. Then, look in a mirror and measure between the temples of your own face, and multiply by that. Convert the units to millimeters, and enter them in Pepakura. If you must error, it is best to error in favor of too large over too small, for a number of reasons.

2)   Click on the fifth tool button from the left on the bottom row at the top of the screen; it should look like a green-handled craft knife, and say Edit Flaps when you hover your mouse pointer over it. Alternatively, just hold down Ctrl and strike F on your keyboard. You have to do this after resizing your pattern, because the tabs automatically increased in scale when you resized it. Personally, I recommend the 4mm size tabs. 5mm and higher wastes paper without having much benefit, and 3mm or smaller tabs don't fold over very neatly in the assembly stage. (It could just be me.)

3)   Change the page dimensions. If you don't at least check the page dimensions, then when you go to print your template, the bottom or sides of each page could possibly get cut off and you would never know until you went to cut everything out. To do this, in menus go to: Settings \ Print and Paper Settings... and select your correct paper size in the white drop-down menu. A standard 8.5in. x 11in. page would be 215mm x 279mm, in other words the "Letter" setting. I think the A4 setting is Pepakura's default, which is slightly longer and WILL otherwise catch you off guard if it's wrong.

4)   Lastly, now is your chance to "simplify" the phases ahead-----or go the opposite way grasp for total screen-accuracy even though it means doing a bit more work. Click the fourth tool button from the left in the bottom row at the top of the screen that depicts three crayons or colored pencils. By default, the box that says "Hide Edges Almost Flat" is automatically checked, with angles less than 175-degrees being hidden. You can increase this minimum so that you will have to make fewer creases in the build stage, OR you can uncheck the box completely so that not a single crease, no matter how negligible, will get overlooked in your quest for perfection.


Step 5: Phase IV - Organize

1)   First, merge as many of the tiny, sliver-like pieces with long corresponding edges as you can. Just imagine having to cut those little beasts out later on if you don't! Do whatever you must to keep pieces and corners from overlapping as you merge and dissect the shapes. Sometimes, you just can't help but leave a tiny piece by itself, however in these cases, it is helpful to keep them always adjacent to where they're supposed to go.

2)   Find the symmetry. And don't worry about keeping the pieces smaller than the page limitations just yet; that will be the easy part later on. For now, just focus on making sense of this mess. What I mean is connect as many pieces together as you can, and keep rearranging them until a [mostly] symmetrical pattern emerges with parts that you can start to recognize where they will be in the structure of the finished papercraft. I say 'mostly' symmetrical because hairdos that generally appear to be symmetrical may not actually be so once you take a closer look, thus a perfectly symmetrical flat layout would be impossible. You can still come close, though. It just helps to simplify things in the build stage.

3)   Once you are satisfied with your work in Step 2, select all of your pieces and drag them down to the bottom of the view field into a pile. Select one, and begin dissecting it into pieces that will fit within the page boarders. Organize these smaller pieces into the pages at the top of the view field. Do this systematically for the whole pile.

4)   Now would be a good time to save your work if you have the .pdo export feature. (Pepakura's native file format which is unlocked when you buy a passcode from the developer.) If you still just have the free version, don't forget about CutePDF Writer! At least you'll be able to save your work in some form rather than not at all. Tip: In the later scenario, save multiple versions of your template, i. e. one .pdf with the texture file turned on and Edge ID numbers turned off, and one .pdf with the texture turned off and the Edge ID numbers turned on, etc...


Step 6: Phase V - Print, Test-Build, Try On

It is important to test your creation to make sure that it actually fits well before you progress to the better material. You can use heavyweight paper (cardstock) for this, but regular paper works, too. It just won't store very nicely if you decide to keep it around for a while.

1)   Make sure that the Edge ID numbers are turned ON and that the texture is turned OFF. Since this is just a trial, might as well save ink. Though, I cheated and used a version of the texture modified for ink efficiency, just because it's more satisfying. :)

2)   Print your template out.

3)   Cut everything out with scissors or a craft knife.

4)   Fold along all of the indicated lines.

5)   Assemble with glue. Seriously, go easy on the glue; the less you put, the quicker it dries, the sooner you can let go of it, the less you get on your fingers, and most importantly the less chance it has of soggying your paper! I personally use white glue and apply it with a toothpick, but some hardcore papercrafters out there might recommend fancier stuff.

Helpful Tip: If you had the foresight to organize the pages of your template so that pieces with mating edges are usually on the same page together, then you can cut a single page out and glue several pieces together before cutting out the next page. This is greatly helpful in that you won't cut them all out at once and wind up swimming in a jigsaw puzzle with no idea where to start, and repeatedly have to check every single piece in the whole pattern for every single edge you're trying to find a match for.

6)   Once the trial wig is built, try it on. It may tear if it's too small. Or, if it's too big, then the holes where you deleted the character's ears will hang below where your ears actually are. Granted, many 3D characters are not proportionate at all relative to real live human beings, therefore I can't make any true guarantees about how the wig is supposed to fit. Basically, if you like it, it looks good, it doesn't fall off, and it doesn't explode, then your template is a success, and we can finally begin the hard part! If it is either too small or much too large, then you'll have to backtrack a bit, resize the template, and build a second....or third....test version before you can move on.


Step 7: Phase VI - Reprint, Trace, Build Again

For this phase, you will need:

- A roll, or stack of sheets, of soft craft foam in the color closest to your character's hair color. If you have never worked with this stuff before, you can usually find it in the kids section at general craft stores. Then again, why listen to me? You can use almost any flat, thin, sturdy, lightweight, pliable material that you want; just remember the difficulty of the road ahead when you make your selection.

- Hot glue and a hot glue gun. So long as your material is foam; if cardboard or paper-like, stick with white glue; if rubbery or containing latex, use something else but definitely not hot glue.

- Sharp scissors with good accuracy.

- A nice juicy ballpoint pen. Or a white gel pen if the foam (or material) of your choice is black.

Note: For the purpose of these instructions, I'm assuming you used the soft craft foam.

1)   Make sure that the texture file is turned ON and that the Edge ID numbers are turned ON. To save on ink, I will usually desaturate my texture files in a basic rendering program and then turn up the contrast; this is because one only needs certain lines that are on the texture file to use as indicators, but not actually the vivid color itself. If you don't understand yet, you'll see in a moment.

2)   Change the tab size to 0mm and apply to all.

3)   Print out the template on normal printer paper.

4)   Cut the pieces out. If your character had a visible hairline, now instead of cutting along the edge of the polygons, cut into the polygons and along the edge of the hair as shown when the texture is applied. There may even be bangs or other parts of the hair that are actually flat, and without the texture would not have shown actual hair strands or spikes. In such cases, cut the outline of the shapes within the polygon rather than the polygon itself.

5)   Fold all of the pieces along the indicated fold lines.

6)   Lay them out on top of the foam FACE DOWN.

7)   Trace them all onto the foam with your ballpoint or gel pen, including the fold lines. (Having folded the paper pieces makes this way easier.) Don't forget to indicate which folds are meant to be "valley" (concave) or "mountain" (convex) folds. Solid lines for "mountain" and dotted for "valley" is pretty much standard. It is a good idea to also copy Edge ID numbers onto the foam. Between 1/8 and 1/4 of an inch away from the edge itself is recommended. You'll see why in a second. The side of the foam that I'm having you write on will be the inside of the wig in the end.

8)   Cut out all of your foam pieces.

9)   Now, one piece at a time, cut each piece along each of the fold lines so that every single polygon face is an individual foam triangle. Don't get them mixed up with each other!!! Without Edge ID numbers for most of the resulting edges, you'll be in for a world of emo if you do!

10)   Use your original test-build as a guide to the severity of the angles that specific edges meet at, and use your sharp scissors to cut bevels into the foam so as to re-create those angles when the two pieces of foam are put together.

11)   Hot-glue everything together. I highly, supremely recommend that you glue each pair of edges together just as soon as you have beveled them. You know, just in case you or someone over your shoulder sneezes on your workspace. And strive to keep the beads of glue towards the inside of the bevel so that they won't leak through and be seen from the outside of the wig. Not much you can do about it if they do leak, as trying to scrape hot glue off of things usually just makes them look worse. That said, apply glue sparingly!


Step 8: Phase VII - Paint, Polish, and DONE!

For this phase, you will need:

- Acrylic paint for highlights and shading.

- Fine brushes, naturally.

- Whatever else your wild imagination wishes to incorporate. Perhaps a protective sealant? Maybe a loose band of elastic around the inside or small loops through which to hook bobby-pins to help hold the wig in place if it shifts around a lot?

- Perhaps even spirit gum for the wig's hairline! (Spirit gum is an adhesive used in professional costuming, like for sticking latex scars to one's skin.)

1)   Paint in the missing texture details, primarily individual hair strands upon the spikes.

2) Try your new wig on, secure it, and Good Luck!!! :-)

I hope you have enjoyed this tutorial and that you may even find it useful. I'm sorry if I over explained simple things, but I would like if new papercrafters could follow this as well as seasoned ones. Projects like this are what I learned papercraft designing for in the first place, and that took me years without a mentor. And I still feel like a novice at it.

I also apologize for not including pictures with all of the steps. I put over 30 hours into creating this tutorial, and simply ran out of time. If you would like to see this wig finished, I will upload more photos separately within in a day or two. Thank you so much for your patience.

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