Prop Building with Pepakura and Papercraft

Paper Crafts Workshop
Prop Building with Pepakura and Papercraft

Learn, step-by-step, how to plan, construct, and finish your own amazing props and armor in Make: Props and Costume Armor, available now.

It’s hard to imagine a number of Shawn Thorsson’s amazing props and costume parts, which look so otherworldly and industrial as finished product, start out as papercraft models. The process starts with a 3D model of the prop and the Japanese shareware program Pepakura Designer, which translates 3D data into a 2D printable format. Thorsson details his entire process for making this Warhammer 40K Terminator helmet on his blog.

In a nutshell, Thorsson prints out the 2D version in parts on 110lb cardstock, cuts the pieces out with a sharp hobby knife, then painstakingly (read: super time-consuming) glues them together with cyanoacrylate adhesive. Pictured above is the result “after a couple of long evenings of cutting, gluing, cursing, and peeling [his] fingertips off.”

Then he coats the paper model with fiberglass resin to reinforce it, which makes it strong enough to stand on without crushing.

Next up is smoothing it out so it looks sleek, which he accomplishes with multiple iterations of coating the helmet with Bondo body filler, sanding, coating, and sanding, followed by a coat of primer.

Pinholes and tiny scratches are then filled in using “Glazing and Spot Putty,” an automotive product available at the hardware store. Then details are added on using MDF and bits of plastic.

Next comes another coat of primer and a multi-step painting process that includes yellow mustard. Yes, yellow mustard. He writes:

I use mustard because I was able to determine through a months-long series of clinical trials that it has just the exact right pH balance to counteract the corrosive activity caused by the solvents in the spraypaint.

Actually, no that’s not true. In reality you can get away with anything viscous enough to stay where you put it. Ketchup will probably work. Salsa Verde will probably not. The point is to use something water-based that the oil-based paint can’t stick to.

More paint, eyes formed out of 1/8″ red tinted acrylic sheet, and the end result is quite impressive. Hard to believe it started as paper.

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I'm a word nerd who loves to geek out on how emerging technology affects the lexicon. I was an editor on the first 40 volumes of MAKE, and I love shining light on the incredible makers in our community. In particular, covering art is my passion — after all, art is the first thing most of us ever made. When not fawning over perfect word choices, I can be found on the nearest mountain, looking for untouched powder fields and ideal alpine lakes.

Contact me at or via @snowgoli.

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