Giant Party Prop Book

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Every year the Panhellenic Alumnae women of Kansas City host a brunch and auction to raise scholarship funds for collegiate sorority women. This year, the theme of the brunch was Alice in Wonderland. Because I knew the Instructables Party Challenge was coming up, I offered to make a giant book photo prop....what we won't do for an Instructables entry idea...

This is an ultra light and super cheap book that measures about 4 feet (1.2m) tall by 6 feet (1.8m) wide.

A giant book would be a great party prop for book-themed parties (a huge, magical Harry Potter book?!), fairytale-themed proms, or even a children's book baby shower!

Supplies:

  • 4'x8' Foam Insulation Board from Lowe's (It was about $12)
  • Foam Poster Board
  • Optional: Hot Knife (tool to cut foam board - see step 1 for my hot knife hack) & Propane Torch
  • Tape
  • Rulers
  • X-Acto Knife
  • 30 Feet Butcher Paper
  • Poster Board
  • Modge Podge and Applicator Brush (or spray adhesive)
  • Paint and Brushes
  • Optional: Projector
  • Small Nails
  • Packing Tape
  • Gorilla Glue

Step 1: Book Covers Pt. 1

The first thing to decide when making a giant book is... how big do I want it.... or more importantly, do I have a big enough vehicle to tote this thing to its destination? Something to keep in mind is, what will the book be used for? That will help you decide how large you want to make it. This prop was going to be the background for pictures, so after assuming the easel height, we could guess the size of our book. I also knew I couldn't fit the 4'x8' foam board in my SUV, so we had to cut it in half right off the bat. Since we weren't at home, we had to do a quick cut with a utility knife. This isn't ideal as the foam "sheds" everywhere and the cut isn't smoothed and sealed; however, this was fine to do on the straight lines, and it was just a pre-cut anyways. we ended up with two (2) 4'x4' foam board squares.

Book cover sides are usually not square, so we knew we would need to do more trimming. We liked the book 4 feet tall, so we decided each page would be 3 feet wide. I also knew that after we cut off the extra foot, we would have enough foam to build the six (6) 3D page supports. If you make your book bigger, make sure you have enough foam board to make 6+ supports.

To cut the foam board, I measured a foot off one edge in multiple places, laid a long board on the marks, and made my cuts with the hot knife, gliding the knife against the wood for support and making sure to keep the knife as perpendicular to the foam as possible.

Hot Knife: To make the knife, I cut the shape of a knife out of an old sheet of copper (great heat conductor) with a dremmel. I grabbed the end with vice grips (pliers would work as well) and heated the knife up with a propane torch for about 15 seconds. If you use this method, make sure you work in a ventilated area and don't breathe in the foam fumes! Another option is to make a hot knife out of a soldering iron like in this Instructable, but who doesn't like the idea of a giant copper knife? Amirite? Lastly, commercial hot wire styrofoam cutters are also a great, probably safer, option.

Step 2: Open-Page Curved 3D Support Template

The best part of this book is that it looks like the pages are 3D. To create this look, we need curved foam supports underneath the paper pages. I took a 3 foot piece of thick poster board (the width of my book cover) and marked our design constraints. I knew I didn't want the page edges to go to the edge of the cover (width), the top hump shouldn't exceed 3 inches (depth), and the page edges needed a realistic slope. The steeper the slope, the wider our page will; the more gradual (wider) the slope, the skinnier the page will be. Since we wanted big artwork on the page, we want a wider page to work on, meaning the slope had to be decently steep. Another thing to remember is the artwork doesn't go all the way to the center of the book. You have to save a couple inches for the inside spine.

The best tip I have for drawing a template is to open a real book and study the way it lays open.

To explain this with math: I have a 3 foot wide cover - 36 inches. I want 3 inches of cover showing behind the pages, so my page is down to 33 inches. The inner spine area takes up another 4 inches, so we now have 29 inches to work with for the page top and page edges. If I have a 4 inch wide page edge slope, then I am left with 25 inches of page width to put artwork on. Does this look natural? Does there need to be "more pages showing"? If so, I would add in another inch for the slope, so it's more gradual, but I would lose 1 inch on the top. Play around until you find what looks natural to you.

After sketching out a design, we traced the final in sharpie, and cut it out with a utility knife. We then smoothed out the template by lightly sanding with sandpaper.

Something important to note that worked out well for us: I accidentally made my template tip to tip, 36 inches. This doesn't mean it was 36 inches wide, but with all the curves, it measured 36". You can measure the curves by guiding a string along the edges and then measuring the string. This measurement worked out perfectly because the butcher paper used to make the pages is 36" wide, so I didn't have to cut it or piece it together.

Step 3: 3D Foam Supports

So the easy straight foam cuts are over, and it is time for some freehand cutting. The thing to keep in mind is, the very thing you need to cut through the foam is going to be your worst enemy. That big hunk of copper you chose for its thermal properties can easily melt through a part of the foam you don't want to melt through. I recommend until you are comfortable your method of foam cutting, leave a little extra foam around the edges of your cut. Remember, you can always trim something if it is too big. It's a real hassle to add material back.

Start by tracing one of the supports on the foam. Its best to only trace one at a time, as I went a little wild on some of my cuts and would have cut into another support if I had drawn them all out at the beginning. Next heat up your knife with the torch. Again less is more here; it's better to stop cutting and reheat your knife then to melt a hole in your project. I started on the flat bottom of the support, being very careful on the radiused portion where the support connects to the "spine" of the book. Go slow and make numerous small cuts. Reheat your knife as needed, and cut the top of your support. I found the best results was when we made one continuous cut. For the sharp corners I would stab into the material, pull out and pierce again at the other angle to get crisp clean corners.

As I mentioned, for our size book, six supports were needed; if you go bigger you may consider making more. After all six supports were cut, we made two groups of three and lined them up to see how much difference there was in size. If you've been super precise in your cuts they should be very similar. However, if you're like me, some cuts were off by a half inch. I used the smallest support as a pattern, traced along the edges, and trimmed the bigger supports down. Will a half inch of extra make a difference? Yes, always yes. Do your best to get these accurate now, as it'll make the whole book look so much more realistic when its all done, and it will be way easier to glue. Remember, not all six of the supports have to match perfectly, just the three supports on each individual side. Who says the book is opened exactly dead center anyways?

Some tips I learned as I went:

Never stop moving that hot knife. If you're done with a cut, pull your knife out so you don't melt something. If you have some jagged edges, you can heat up your knife and press the flat edge to it to clean it up. Don't be afraid to stop and readjust, especially if you're working by yourself. Lastly, make sure you don't have to twist or hold the knife in a weird angle to make your cuts.

Step 4: Book Covers Pt. 2

To make the book cover, we wanted to use the donated butcher paper we had (thank you teachers!). Since the paper is only 3 feet wide, we had to piece the paper together if we wanted to wrap it around a 3 foot wide page. Because of the amount of blue and white paper I had, I also had to piece different colors together. I figured that hardback books often have two different colors underneath the dust cover (think Harry Potter books), so I went with a large blue strip and a skinny white strip as the inner bind. I cut the paper into the following dimensions:

  • Blue: 3' x 5' (36" x 60")
  • White: 1' x 5' (12" x 60")

We then used packing tape to connect the sheets together. The tape will be on the INSIDE of the cover, closest to the 3D foam supports, so make sure if your paper has uglies on it, you face it up when taping. It is helpful to have someone hold the sheets together while you tape.

Before we wrap the paper around the 3' x 4' foam board, we need to remove the shiny silver paper on the foam. This, now bare, side will be face up when wrapping so the supports have something to glue onto in the next step.

Basically we are wrapping the foam board like a present that didn't have enough paper to cover it. (If you've done this, you know exactly what I'm talking about...). After placing the board, bare side up, on the paper, I folded opposite sides inwards and taped them down (yes, packing tape sticks well on the foam!), and then folded the other edges up as pictured - like a present.

Side Tip: Your cat will want to sit on the book while you work on the floor. Wait, this isn't a tip.... Just a fact.

Step 5: Attach 3D Page Supports

After wrapping your covers it's time to glue on the supports. We did some research on glue, and the easiest/fastest to use was Gorilla Glue. We used the white drying formula so any accidental seepage would be coverable. Gorilla Glue expands as it dries so this is a product that must be clamped into place; if you can't clamp (like in this case), you use weights. We first placed our supports in roughly the right spots and found a bunch of lumber to "clamp" (weigh down) down in place. A dry run with no glue is definitely needed as time is of the essence once glue is applied. We wanted to make sure the supports wouldn't crumple or topple over from the weight of the lumber.

We removed all the weight from our test clamp and started placing the supports in the correct spots. The next step was trimming away small sections of paper so the foam support can glue to the foam cover, rather than to wobbly butcher paper; this also creates better adhesion. When each support was in place, we lightly traced around where the support touched the cover. We removed the supports and drew rectangles about 1/8" to 1/4" smaller than the outline of the supports. We want to cut the paper a little short to insure it stays tucked and flat under the support. On the long strips, we left a little connector piece in the middle to keep the paper connected so everything stays flat.

Whatever glue you choose, follow the recommended instructions needed for application. For Gorilla Glue, this entails applying glue to one side (the cover) and then water to the other side (the supports). Gorilla Glue has a pretty long working time, and that time doesn't start until water comes into contact with the glue, but be deliberate with your actions and don't dally. Once all the supports for one cover are glued and in place, carefully apply your clamping material.

Tips:

Don't run into the table you're gluing on, while you're trying to clean up your work area before being done for the night. After that, definitely don't watch in horror as your heavy weights/lumber topple and your supports get glue on surfaces where glue is not meant to be. And then don't rage about the injustice of it all while scrambling to get it re-set up while yelling to your significant other to come-help-please-quick!! I might've freaked out like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland... But not to worry... The excess glue wipes up with just a little water and didn't leave any residue behind.

Step 6: Pages

The next step is to create the pages/page edges. Instead of having a page top and another strip of paper attached to the slopes to create the page edges, we made it all in one sheet, which is comprised of thick poster paper taped together and covered with a large sheet of butcher paper. The poster board gives the page the stiffness to not bow or fall in between the foam supports, and the butcher paper gives it a smooth - book-page-like - look.

To create this giant sheet, I start by measuring the entire section it needs to cover. This includes the top of the top foam support down to the bottom of the bottom foam support and the the inner edge to the outer page edge slopes.

Our page & edges needed to be 36”x 44”.

We took poster paper and constructed a 36” x 44” area, cutting down poster board or scotch taping together where necessary. I then thinly modge podged (glued) over the poster board in small sections and rolled the butcher paper on top, smoothing along the way. The was not the prettiest way to attach paper to poster board, as the modge podge bubbled in some areas, but I used what I had. If I made another book, I would consider using a spray adhesive.

Now before you fill the pages with artwork, make sure you accommodate for the page edges. Let’s say my slope is 5 inches. While working on the right page, I can’t center my artwork until I’ve marked off 5 inches from the right side. You can actually draw a line to show where the page edges will begin. When adding artwork, it will look super funny and off center, but will look great once page lines are added.

The way you add artwork and/or text is up to you. It’s really helpful to use a projector if you find pictures online that you like or need help tracing a book font. I used a light pencil to draw my art and text.

When filling in text, it’s helpful to trace out the words in a thick sharpie before painting in the letters; the process goes much quicker and looks sharper. If I had a skinny black paint pen, then would’ve been ideal.

The next step is to make the page edges “look like page edges”. Since this prop is for photos, the lines need to be more obvious, farther apart, and more child-like. I took a long clear ruler and drew pencil lines .25” apart all the way up the left and right edges of the book. Afterwards, I folded the paper on the inner most line so the page had definition from the page edges. This also provides structure.

Step 7: Page Braces, Edge Finish, and Page Construction

Before attaching the pages, it's important to add simple poster board cross beam supports on top of the 3D foam supports. While everything is really light, the page still likes to fall in between the 3D foam supports. To combat this, I cut two pieces of poster board (two for each side of the book), gorilla glued them in the middle, and weighed them down while they dried.

Just in case someone saw the top or bottom of the book edges, I used the poster board support template to cut out 4 poster paper blanks that cover the foam supports. After making sure they were flipped in the right direction, I drew .25” lines on them as well. Since they probably wouldn’t be seen, I did not make sure they were perfect....as you can tell.

To adhere the top and bottom covers onto the foam supports, I tried tape, Modge Podge, and rubber cement. For a quick event where no one will touch the book, modge podge or glue might work "good enough", but rubber cement held on the best. I just ran out and had to improvise with other adhesives.

The last step is to attach the page to the supports. (Laying the page on the supports and it fitting perfectly was the most satisfying thing I have ever seen.) The most important thing to have lined up is the page's inner crease to the top support slope corners - in other words, align the outer edges first as opposed to the inside of the book. Since the inner edge is partially hidden, it can be a bit off.

While one of us held down one side of the page in place, the other lifted the opposite half and placed Gorilla Glue down the three supports. To secure the page and make sure it didn’t move while drying, we placed small nails into each of the supports. We then repeated the other side of the page.

Step 8: Book Construction and Setup

Unless your event is on site, you will not want to completely construct the book until you have arrived at your destination (unless you have a big vehicle). This book is 6’ x 4’ all together, so keep that in mind! Our event was at a country club, and the book pages are VERY LIGHT, so it was no problem stacking them on each other in the back of an SUV.

Once at the venue, we white-duct-taped the back seams together. Since the book was against a wall, no one would see the back anyways, but we made sure to use a tape color the same as the paper. The Dollar Store is a good place to get a small amount of colored duct tape.

To ensure the book was tall enough for photos, we placed it on two easels (one easel for each page). You could either leave the base bare or add a table cloth underneath like we did.

Lastly, I felt the left page was a tad bare, so I hot glued on a few 3D foam flowers to fit in with the theme.

This photo prop was a hit and used for hundreds of pictures!

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Second Prize in the
Party Challenge

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    2 Discussions

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    clange60

    5 days ago

    That is a great idea for holidays and party idea. Thank you

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    afraser-kruck

    8 days ago

    Cool idea. Thanks for sharing the build :)