The Autumn 2017 MoMA Design Store catalogue featured many beautiful holiday cards with 3D elements. I was particular taken with a card that looked like a window into a winter wonderland. A few weeks after receiving the catalogue, I attended a Make-Along at the NYC Resistor where I learned a lot about creating different types of pop-up, 3D elements from a wonderful Paper Engineer (that's a real thing!) named Shelby Arnold.
I had ambitions to get super fancy and add an LED sticker that turned on and off with a paper switch. But deadlines!
Step 1: Materials
- Scissors or X-acto knife
- Paper: card stock, watercolor, newsprint, whatever. Keep in mind that the thickness of the paper will affect the ability of your card to fold flat once it's assembled.
- Low-tack tape (e.g., painters)
- Bone folder
Step 2: Sketch Your Design
Sketch your design. It doesn't have to be elaborate, just something to give you an idea of how many layers you want, and which images will appear on which layers.
My card was an inside joke for Valentine's Day. The negative space created by the two guillemots (birds) canoodling is a heart (roughly). My initial idea was that an LED sticker (turned on and off with a paper switch) would illuminate a sunset background of pinks and purples, making the heart shape all that more obvious. But after a bunch of pro-types, I wasn't achieving the results I wanted and the deadline was quickly approaching, so it was time to pare down.
Here you can see that I had the rough idea and then broke it down into the various components.
- Layer 1: background, sky painted in sunset colors
- Layer 2: setting sun and waves
- Layer 3: more waves
- Layer 4: front, border with bird cut-out
Step 3: The Background Layer
Decide how large—and how deep—you want your card to be. The depth will create space between layers that is necessary to create a 3D effect. My card is 5 x 7 inches and 3/4 inch deep to allow for a 1/4 inch space between each layer. (Note: this calculation was made when I had two inner layers.)
With a pencil, lightly mark out a rectangle on your background paper. Be sure to include the necessary addition for the folding tabs in your calculations.
Cut out the rectangle and score the fold lines. If the background has a definite front, make sure to fold the tabs forward.
Step 4: The Inner Layer(s)
This step can be repeated as many times as you like.
Decide where to position the element, create and cut out the shape, and fold the tabs.
For my card I wanted the sun to be positioned on the right-hand side in the lower third of the card. I started by lightly marking out a 2 x 7 inch rectangle and then added 1/4 inch at each short end to create connecting tabs. I then sketch a circle for the sun and some waves. After the paint dried, I cut out the shape and folded the tabs backwards.
Note: My initial design (second photo) had a second inner element, but when I mocked up the card it didn't work. Don't be afraid to edit your work.
Step 5: The Top Layer
With a pencil, lightly mark the outside dimensions of your card, including fold tabs. Decide the shape and size of the "frame" or "window" you want to create. Lightly mark the shape on your card.
My card is 5 x7 inches with a 3/4 inch tab at each side and a half inch border all around.
Cut along the outer lines and the inner section, and score the fold lines. Again, be careful not to cut off your fold lines.
If your paper has a definite front side, fold the tabs to the back.
If you are adding elements to your frame, use low-tack tape to figure out the best position. Which is to say, don't pickup the glue until you have assembled everything with tape.
Note: After finishing the project, it occurred to me that it might be nice to have a larger boarder at the bottom edge. Please do not think that all your borders need to be the same thickness. Or that the frame needs to be a rectangle. A circle, oval, or other shape would make a nice frame (or porthole) for your card.
For my card I decided to paint a pair of guillemots canoodling so that the negative space would create a vaguely heart shaped window from which you could see the sky. I positioned that element so that the bodies would be glued on top of the frame and the rocks they stood on behind the frame. (Oh, so much ambition!)
Step 6: Assemble the Card
Stop! Put down the glue. Take a moment to assemble the layers with a low-tack tape (e.g., painter's tape). Make sure that everything looks and fits as planned before you take that final permanent step of gluing the layers together.
Attach the tabs of the inner layers, in order, to the tabs of the back layer. Take the time to reposition each layer until you like the way it looks. Then attach the tabs of the top layer to the back. It is almost like a box in that the tabs of the front layer are going to be positioned on the outside of the tabs for the bottom lay. You may need to cut off little bits of tabs, or adjust your fold lines to get all the layers exactly where you want.
Seriously, take the time to tape. The first time I assembled my card, the sunset layer was upside down!
If you want to mail your card, keep in mind that the folded card will be longer than the card in the "pop-up" position. Either scale your card to fit the envelope or create your own envelope.