Modular Origami: Sonobe Polyhedra




Modular origami uses many identical modules joined without tape or glue to make a larger shape. It's a great type of origami to practice, because in general the modules are pretty simple and the result is impressive. This Instructable will show you how to make a Sonobe module assemble the modules into some different polyhedra.

A lot of people think that origami is either about folding animals, or only for little kids. One of my aims in creating this Instructable is to introduce other people to the world of origami, and add a popular and well-known origami pattern to the Instructables library.

I'm sorry that the format is a little awkward -- I made the diagrams in Inkscape and then found out that it's fussy to save them as jpegs and that they look better as pdfs anyway. On the other hand, you can print them out easily.

Let me know what you think!

Step 1: Bibliography

These modules were created by Mitsunobu Sonobe, and so we call them Sonobes.These units first appeared in the book Origami for the Connoisseur, by Kunihiko Kasahara and Toshie Takahama.

There are many ways to put them together, which you can find on the web at One of them, using only three units, was created by Toshie Takahama, and so we call this assembly Toshie's Jewels in her honor. Another way to assemble the Sonobes was created by Stephan T. Lavavej, instructions for which you may find on his website,, since they are much clearer with his photographs.

There are also a bunch of ways you can make the modules which add interest to the final product. Some of these may be found on Meenakshi Mukerji's website at The last time I looked, only two of the links worked, but there are some good pictures. Another interesting site is, which focuses on cubes.

Finally, if you want some more pictures of how to assemble the modules and a handy table of some of the things you can make with them, try for another diagram by Meenakshi Mukerji.

Step 2: Origami Basics

The first step is to find some paper. If you're going to fold really small modules, you'll want real origami paper because it's thinner than copy paper. Otherwise, you can choose whatever type of paper you like. I'd recommend starting with squares that are at least 1.5-2", but once you've gotten the module down you can use any size paper you like. Only one side of the paper will be visible in this variation.

The attached pdf file has some basic fold instructions: all origami patterns will use these terms, so learn them well. I've also attached a jpeg version, but it's harder to read.

Step 3: Sonobe Module

In this step, you'll fold your first Sonobe module. How many you fold depends on what shape you'd like to end up with. View the attached pdf for the diagram.

Step 4: Assembly

These pdfs will show you some ways to assemble your Sonobe modules. "Assembly" shows you how to make a cube, and "Octohedron" shows how to assemble a stellated octahedron or icosahedron. And, yes, I do realize that I spelled the file name wrong.



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    35 Discussions


    4 years ago on Introduction

    So, I've made the 3, 12, and 30 unit versions. I understand that giant one is 270 units. My question is what are the amounts for other versions? I know there's a 90 unit one.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    I just recently created one, and thanks to sallymander's article! It helped alot in trying to figure out what to do.

    Now that I've made the 270 unit version, I'm looked to see the next biggest, which is 900 or something. But I realised that the 270-unit ball is commonly misnamed "The Epcot Ball", when in reality, the actual Epcot Ball is 11,000+ panels large.

    So, when I realised that in order to make a scale model of the Epcot Ball, I'd need to make 11K+ of these sonobes.

    Challenge accepted. ;-)


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I've made a video of the assemble of the 90 modules, check out if you like :)
    I took some time to figure out the dodecahedron shape, after that it got easier.
    Thanks for the instructable!


    8 years ago on Introduction

    You beat me to this!
    I was introduced to the sonobe in my 7th grade industreal technology class. We made cubes, and were told we could get more advanced with more than 6 units
    Ever since then, I periodically clean out my folders of papers I don't need anymore, fold and use the crease-and-tear method to cut them into squares, and then cut the larger squares into four smaller squares, and fold the smaller squares into sonobe's. I usually take it one step at a time for the whole lot of 30-40 pieces of paper I get from one clean-out, and can usually finish it all in one class period (if I'm not interrupted).
    It's a great way to cure boredom in school and do something productive, while re-using an item you'd normally get rid of.
    This is a picture of a Menger sponge I made from a recent folder clean-out.

    Photo on 2011-03-08 at 20.09.jpg
    1 reply

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    I used to fold these during school all the time too! I have a friend who likes to use paper from glossy junk-mail magazines. I always liked to use the wrappers from Hershey's Miniatures, because paper-backed foil is kind of expensive. Also then your origami smells like chocolate. :)


    9 years ago on Introduction

    Did you make that thing on the front page? It's awesome. I bet I can make it, i have made a dragon (took 200 paper), Sword (250 post its), 1000 cranes (1000), and a ball (300). I'm not even a teen yet!! Started origami in 1st grade.

    4 replies

    It takes 270 pieces of paper.... and it is excruciatingly hard. try making the one with less rings of hexagons, that one takes 2 rings, and the easy one takes one ring, and only a third (90) of the units!

    Try an origami flower ball, they aren't exactly origami though, they're sew together. Or a sword (my favorite), btw there isn't many instructions for a sword so I made my own in 4th grade! My teacher was amaze because I made it during class for a whole weekwith no instructions. A kid in 3rd grade wanted to buy it for 50$

    well, that's very amazing. if you wanted to, you can also make one similar which is sorta like an icosadodecahedron, but the triangles are stellated and the pentagons have a star in the middle (like a complex dodecahedron), and it takes 120 units. make parts of the stellated icosahedron , in rings of 10 units. push the middle part down to make a star, and connect 12 of those.

    oh yes, i started doing origami in 1st grade too :D it all started with a paper airplane... and then i got to origami... and finally i got bored so i made multi-piece origami things that u can take apart and make into so many other things.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    wow that is an awesome picture of a.... well, what do you call that monster? lol, jk. I LOVE IT!!! wish I had the patience to make so many modules. But how did you make it? it's so cool!


    10 years ago on Introduction

    130 pieces done. I love this design, I've been looking for a good unit origami design!


    three months now and I'm still working on my big one, can't remember the name right now...


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    That looks so cool! When I first saw the pic I thought it was some kind of computer generated thing! = )


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    Not sure if tracing paper comes with color. Did you use regular white tracing paper with a blue LED?


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    That's actually a very good question. :/ Hmm. Well the tracing paper was white or it was normal tracing paper at least. And the LED was one from a light you plug into the side of your laptop and that was white as well. The glow is closer to a very light blue, (more white than blue) but a long shutter speed exaggerates this quite a bit. (I didn't alter the image at all by the way.) It would work very well if you but red or green or even blue LEDs in to it. If you do I would put more than one, each pointing to a different part of the inside because mine glows more at the top than anywhere else.