Chibitronics Papercut Hobbit Bookmark




About: I am a multimedia maker and STEAM educator living in Los Angeles. There are few things more satisfying to me than acquiring and exploring a new skillset, so you'll find a wide variety of materials in my proj...

"Hey, Dad, what do you want for Christmas?"

"I don't know. Make me something."

Of course this conversation happened just a few days before Christmas. Fortunately I'd already begun work on the perfect thing, a Hobbit/JRR Tolkien Bookmark, making use of Chibitronics Circuit Stickers from CRASHSpace's December Build Night.

I'm a bit of a Tolkien geek, which stems from my dad, a programmer and poet who raised his kids listening to Lord of the Rings on tape during car trips and telling us that he wanted to retire in Rivendell. This project is shaped like a bookmark, but it's a bit too thick to be functional. It's perfectly possible (especially with the slim size of the Chibitronics circuit stickers) to make it a functional bookmark. In this case, it's more of a decorative wall hanging, but still appropriate since it's based on a book cover and a picture of the author.

Read on to see how I made this, and to get some ideas for making a bookmark of your own design.

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Step 1: Materials


Oh goodness, what a varied material. I could talk for an entire instructable just on paper types. Origami USA has some nice paper reviews. The papers for this specific design came from many sources, including LCI Paper, Paper Source, and Paper Jade.

Craft Knife and Cutting Board, Scissors

I can't emphasize enough the importance of sharp, good quality tools here. X-Acto knives are common and perfectly useable. After a lot of comparison tests, I came to prefer Olfa both for their knife handle and their blades when it comes to cutting paper. (Carving other materials is a whole different kettle of fish) Depending on your design, you might be able to get by just with a pair of fine scissors. I tend to use both.

Chibitronics Circuit Stickers

These are rather fun to play with. They're more often used with copper tape or conductive ink, which work well in the short term. I wanted this to be a bit more durable, so I decided to solder the circuit with wires. I used only LEDs here, but it would also be neat with some of the effects stickers they make, like the flicker one.

Soldering Iron and Solder

Plus all of the accoutrements like a regular or copper sponge, and a third-hand tool.

Electrical Wire, Wire Cutters, Wire Strippers

I used Silicone-Covered Wire, because it's thin, soft, and I'm just in love with the stuff. You might not need wire strippers if you can strip with snips. The silicone goes quite easily.

Copper Tape

For the paper battery case.

Paper Glue

When it comes to paper crafts, I have Opinions about different types of glue. There are ones designed to dry quickly, allowing you to keep working, and which will not wrinkle the paper. My favorite general paper glue is Zip Dry, which meets those criteria and is also archival quality; this means that it will stand up to the test of time. As I tend to make tiny little pieces in my papercuts, I also use a fine-point glue pen called Quickie Glue. The .7mm tip can be a little temperamental, so you have to keep it consistently clean and capped, and I have a couple of them on hand just in case.

Paper or Painter's Tape

To hold the paper and patterns in place while cutting. Other kinds of tape may tear the paper as you peel it off afterwards, paper tape is good at coming off clean.


Optional, but extremely helpful if you do tiny details. Trying to glue pieces that are smaller than your fingers is a challenge at the best of times.

Foam Mounting Tape

For making spacers. You can also get little foam spacer squares at scrapbook stores, though they're more expensive, so I used bits from a roll of Scotch Mounting Tape. To be frank, both work great, but the tape is what popped up first while digging through my supplies. :)

Embroidery Floss

For a tassel and battery tab pull cord.

Step 2: Design

For this, I decided to use a threshold style to illustrate Tolkien, using the most well-known photo of him. I took it into Adobe Illustrator and drew lines over the picture to mark out the shapes I wanted, then printed it and sketched shadows in three different color blocks. This is my personal process, digital, tweak, analog, tweak, lather, rinse, repeat. You can also use your own sketches, or simply print a photo and lay a piece of tracing paper on top, making the shapes you want by hand. Play with what works for you. Just make sure you have multiple copies of the pattern for the cutting process.

I based the background on the original cover of The Hobbit, which really lends itself to papercutting. I moved Benedict Cumberba... I mean, Smaug over so that he'd be in there too.

People may turn their noses up at your patterns at first (mine look ugly as all get out at the beginning), but that doesn't matter. You just need to be able to follow all necessary cuts. It'll look awesome later.

Step 3: Paper Cutting

One of the chief pieces you'll need is a full-size rectangle for the back, on which to mount your circuit. All of the smaller pieces will be attached to form a separate front piece.

Yay for lots of hand-cut pieces of paper. Be aware that a detailed pattern will take a while to cut by hand. There are machines that will do this for you, like Pazzles machines, or laser cutters. I like doing it by hand, because I apparently like monotony. Music, audiobooks, or hockey broadcasts in the background help keep your mind occupied if you're inclined to boredom.

If you haven't used a craft knife before, make sure to practice before you start in on your pattern. Put some paper on top of a cutting mat. Try big cuts, small cuts, tiny pokes and slits to make little details. Shine plenty of light on your work space and pay attention to where your knife is aiming. When it slips, will it poke your finger? Don't put your finger there. Plan for when it will slip, not if. Because it will at some point. There's no need to be afraid of sharp knives; you can absolutely avoid cutting yourself if you're conscious about your tools and materials. In years of papercutting, I've gotten precisely one nick, and that was when I tried picking up a bunch of other things when I had a knife in my hand. (Don't do that.)

When you're ready to get started, use paper tape to secure a piece of your pattern over the paper you want to cut, and use your craft knife to cut out the shape through both sheets. It's easiest to do any central/small details of a shape first, and move on to the outer/larger parts second. Keep a bag or small box around to put the finished pieces in, lest you lose them in the detritus. Peel the tape and pattern off carefully after you've cut each shape so you can reuse the final paper, the tape, and the remaining bits of the pattern.

Keep your blades sharp and cut, cut, cut.

Step 4: Paper Assembly

This part can be a bit complicated, so it helps to lay things out in advance on a piece of paper tape. Start putting together larger parts, then add smaller details. For the larger pieces, I use Zip Dry glue; for the tiny pieces, I use the .7mm glue pen and a pair of tweezers. Refer to your patterns to lay things out properly.

You may want/need to attach your cut pieces to a backing paper. As you can see in the photos, I put Tolkien on a piece of black paper so that I could assemble him separate from the background, then I cut the black paper so that it wasn't visible from the front. I also added a background piece for the bottom of the bookmark, and cut off overhanging pieces to fit the final rectangular shape. If you'd like to make things easier for yourself, unlike me, you can make a second backing sheet on which to glue all of the front pieces. This will live just above your circuit.

For this bookmark, I wanted to have the star, moon, and pipe light up. To accomplish this, I cut holes there, and glued some white vellum over the back. For the pipe, and since I only had white LEDs, I put a piece of orange tape over the back of the pipe hole, which worked well to get the right color.

The pipe hole is the only part I waited to cut until after assembly, as I knew Tolkien might shift a little bit. Little pokes of the knife are best to make small holes like that.

Step 5: Circuit

The circuit is mounted to the back piece of the bookmark, which (double check your pieces) should be the same size as the front piece. The circuit sticker LEDs need to be in very specific locations so as to match your holes, so place them sticky side up over the holes on the wrong side of the front piece, and lay the back piece on top, pressing down to adhere them. The Chibitronics sticker adhesive is forgiving, so you can adjust them.

(My bookmark would have lent itself well to an effect sticker, but I'd already soldered everything before thinking about it and didn't want to tear it apart.)

Cut and strip pieces of wire to fit your circuit. I put the LEDs in parallel; you can try different layouts. Using copper tape to test your circuit before soldering is a good idea.

Soldering a circuit on paper was a new one for me, but it's not too tough, if a little different. Third-hand tools aren't useful here unless you remove the sticker to solder it. I wound up taping the wires to the paper right next to the LED sticker, which held them in place well enough to get the soldering done. Just make sure not to burn the paper. Pull out a battery and test as you go.

For the battery case, I went with paper again. I sketched the shape to fit my 2032 coin cell battery; you can adjust if you use a different size coin cell. In lieu of wires, I went with copper tape to make electrical connections inside the battery case. Check my pictures for diagrams and photos that show where to put the copper tape on the case pattern. I made the battery case so that I could solder my positive and negative wires to the sides of the case and keep the profile to a minimum. (A third hand tool is actually helpful here)

Glue the battery case to the back paper with the flap on the bottom (see picture).

Step 6: Spacers and Sides

You can make your bookmark thinner by putting the battery case on the outside, but if you put it inside and want to have a consistent depth, foam spacers are a good option. I used foam mounting tape and cut it into little rectangles. I wanted the front to be just a bit past the battery case, so I stacked enough mounting tape pieces to get the right height. They can go around the outside and in the center. (Leave the protective covering on the tops until the next step)

Once I put all the spacers in, it looked nice, but then I had open sides. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but one of my LEDs was very close to the edge and the light leaks out the side without containment. To rectify this, I made long strips of paper, twice the depth of the bookmark. This size gives enough space for tabs to glue, but you can do larger if you like.

If you want the tabs to go outside, you don't need to make many adjustments. If you want to have the tabs go inside, lay out U-bent (see pictures) strips along each side, then mark any places that will bump into spacers, and cut little openings for them. This keeps the outside wall intact. For the battery case opening (both inside and outside tab versions), you need to make a hole in that wall, so cut the center out, instead of just the tabs.

Step 7: Top Assembly

It's easiest to glue all the strips to the back of the bookmark first. Press down tightly and make sure they stick well. After the strips are attached securely to the back, bend all sides and flaps so they're all in line with the tops of the mounting tape spacers. Peel the protective covering from the spacers, apply glue to the tabs, and press the front of the bookmark carefully on top (in that order). I find that, though these can be small tabs, the more goopy Zip Dry glue is more reliable for grabbing hold of both parts. The Quickie Glue needs to be firmly pressed from both sides, which isn't so much an option here.

Once the front is in place, use both hands to line everything up and hold it in place while it sets. If you're using quick drying glue, this shouldn't take too long.

There is surely a better way of doing the assembly. If you have ideas, please comment!

Step 8: Tassel

You'll notice that I've made a small hole at the top of the front and back pieces; this is for the tassel. Since it's such a small hole, it can be helpful to use a needle threader or piece of wire bent sharply to pull the thread through both. See pictures for how to do this.

I made some detailed instructions for how to make a tassel in my Flickering Origami Lantern instructable, so I'll go ahead and quote myself and include pictures from the original:

"Cut a piece of cardboard at least 1.5" high and wrap floss around it as shown. Wind your embroidery floss at least 20-30 times around the board. Yarn and thicker string may need fewer. Experiment.

Cut a longer strand (at least 10 inches) and slide it beneath the wrapped threads. Tie a couple knots to join all the threads together at the top. Take another long strand and tie the front threads together about 1/2" from the top using a cow hitch (fold in half, slide the loop under, pull the ends through the loop). Now it's time to free yourself from the cardboard. Bend it a bit so you can slide it out of the tassel. Take that doubled thread you just cow hitched, and start wrapping it around all of the threads together, still about 1/2" from the top. When you're happy with how the top looks, tie the strands off by stringing one through some of the little loops at the top. If you want it to look slick, you can thread the ends down inside all that wrapping you've just done. Cut the loops at the bottom and trim it til it looks even. Tada! Tassel!"

Step 9: Switch

You'll notice that the paper battery holder I made has a tab. The purpose of this, and of the copper tape we added, is not just to hold the battery in place, but to act as a switch. When you tuck the tab inside the battery holder, the switch turns the circuit on. When you tuck it behind the front paper, but outside of the battery holder, it's turned off, but still holds the battery in place. If you need to take the battery out (for changing it when it's dead), gravity will do the trick, so keep the tab tucked in even when it's off.

You can work the tab out with your fingers, but it's difficult, so I made a small hole on the flap and tied a small piece of embroidery floss to make it easier.

You might notice that I didn't tell you which side of the battery case should be hooked up to positive or negative. This is because the way you design your circuit could make it easier to attach them with positive on a different side than I did, and all you have to do is flip the battery over. If your circuit doesn't work when you put in the battery, this is the first thing you should try.

Step 10: Fin

Hang and enjoy! Or give it as a gift. Or, if you made a flat and functional one, stick it in a book and take it out periodically to admire your lovely handiwork. And, of course, if you make one, please share pictures!

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    11 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    It's awesome! I recently started reading Two Towers again and was thinking about some bookmark!


    4 years ago on Introduction

    Nice job on simplifying the Tolkien photo into a papercut-able design! You should do more papercutting. This is lovely.


    4 years ago on Introduction

    This is a beautiful gift. Thank you for sharing such a thorough Instructable!


    4 years ago

    Excelente trabajo, solo falta una foto donde se aprecie mejor la iluminación , gracias

    Mr AbAk

    4 years ago on Introduction


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    If you're interested in earning a full year, or if you know someone else that deserves this compliment as well please feel free to come play with us by clicking the link

    Mr AbAk

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Very excellent instructable...

    It is very good ible considering your "handiwork" and documentation...

    Nice gift for christmas and we also loved how you used chibitronics to light up the star, the moon and the mouth pipe...

    We also loved the picture of the man that you created using paper ....

    It looks like our grandpa...

    Excellent documentation thanks for sharing...

    Mr AbAk

    4 years ago on Introduction

    Very excellent instructable...

    It is very good ible considering your "handiwork" and documentation...

    Nice gift for christmas and we also loved how you used chibitronics to light up the star, the moon and the mouth pipe...

    We also loved the picture of the man that you created using paper ....

    It looks like our grandpa...

    Excellent documentation thanks for sharing...