6 Common Types of Paper to Use for Crafts and Prototyping

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design Paper Crafts

Paper, one of the most familiar, inexpensive, and abundant materials around, is great for arts and crafts.
With the right techniques, however, you can also use it for anything from prototyping small models to constructing furniture or even boats and buildings. Here’s how to push the limits of its potential.


A combination of thickness, stiffness, “tooth” or surface texture, and finish (matte, glossy, or none) can change the way paper holds its shape and how it takes pencil, ink, or glue. Some popular types of paper and their uses include:

Photograph by Hep Svadja
Photograph by Hep Svadja

Copy paper: Medium weight and fairly smooth, it’s good for writing by hand as well as for printing. It’s also stiff enough to stand up if used for small paper models.

Art paper: Pricey, thick, and usually somewhat rough, it’s designed for pencil, ink, and paint. Tear it against the grain for nice frayed edges.

Cardstock: Stiff, smooth, and thin, it straddles the line between paper and cardboard. Good for greeting cards, paper models, and other stand-up building projects.

Construction paper: Soft, rough, and often brightly colored, it’s not as stiff as cardstock but still good for kids’ pop-up cards and other 3D crafts. The best paper for little hands to practice scissor skills.

Tissue paper: Thin and brightly colored, use it to create a faux stained glass effect or dampen it and let the colors run for a watercolor effect.

Origami paper: Lightweight but stiff, it will hold a sharp crease and even spring back if you compress it when folded. Generally colored or printed on one side only.

More choices include ultra absorbent coffee filters (for pseudo tie-dye projects), wax paper (iron two sheets together to “laminate” leaves and other flat objects) and freezer paper (good for stencils, will stick lightly to fabric when ironed).

Manipulating Paper

Glue with toothpick
image courtesy of Sara Cook

Folding and Rolling
For nice sharp creases — V-shaped valley folds or hump-backed mountain folds — score your sheet first along the fold line by indenting it with any kind of dull point. For coils and rounded bends, roll it around a toothpick or pencil.

Make_Paper_Inventions 2
You can find fun paper projects in my book, Make: Paper Inventions.

Cutting Paper
Scissors should have sharp, small, pointy blades. For long straight cuts, use a craft knife or box cutter. Run it lightly along a metal straight edge, making multiple swipes if needed. A desktop programmable vinyl cutter is easy to use for delicate, precise projects, and much less pricey than a laser cutter.

Ordinary white glue is long lasting and secure enough for most needs. Spread it thinly with a flat toothpick, craft stick, or index card, or use a paintbrush or roller. Glue sticks and spray adhesives work instantly but are less permanent. Use binder clips to clamp pieces while you build.

To make models sturdier, glue multiple layers together, alternating grain if possible. You can build with thin paper and card by bending or rolling it tightly into rods. To make models last longer, reinforce them with clear packing tape or by brushing on clear sealant, epoxy resin, thinned glue, or shellac.

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Kathy's latest books for Maker Media include Fabric and Fiber Inventions, Musical Inventions, and Edible Inventions. She is also the author of Paper Inventions, Making Simple Robots, and other books full of STEAM activities for kids and other beginners. When she's not busy writing, Kathy presents workshops for students and educators at schools, museums, libraries, and makerspaces throughout the Northeast. Visit her at Crafts for Learning.

View more articles by Kathy Ceceri


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