This tutorial has everything you need to know to start making papercraft projects like mine. The basic idea is:
- Make or get a 3D model.
- Reduce the polygon count. I use the decimate modifier in Blender and heavily edit the mesh afterwards. Aim for less than 1000 faces.
- Import the model into Pepakura and organize the pattern. You'll need to buy a license to use some of the features. (Autodesk's 123D Make is a free alternative but it's not very good.)
- Print the pattern on to cardstock paper. The heavier the stock the nicer the faces will look. I've been using 65lb because Michaels sells jumbo packs in lots of colors but upwards of 110lbs is probably best.
- Pre-crease your folds with a blunt edge. This is very important for heavier paper.
- The trick to not having any printer lines is to assemble your model backwards and inside out. This sounds strange but, essentially, switch your valley and mountain folds and you'll get an inside-out mirror image of the model.
- For adhesive I use an Aleene's tacky glue pen (any craft glue works fine) and a needle to spread a small amount evenly on the tabs. Less is more, too much and the moisture will cause buckling and it'll take longer to dry - probably slipping out of place in the process.
These are really for my sake as I try to improve.
- Design your mesh in strips. When adjusting your 3D model you should think about how it is going to flatten out. It's easier to assemble models in long strips of quads. You don't want to have to glue in weird extra triangles or squirrely spiraling bits.
- Keep aspect ratios low. Long thin faces are harder to assemble.
- The 6 edge rule. Each point in your mesh will form edges with the points around it. Too many edges radiating from a point and your paper model will become weaker and uglier around that point. I also find that these points tend to buckle. Try to keep a maximum of 6 edges per point.
- Direct your tabs pointing opposite to the main viewing direction. When connecting tabs there will be one side with an abrupt paper edge. The thicker your paper stock the more noticeable that edge will be. So, if your making something that will be viewed mainly from one angle you want all those abrupt edges to be hidden in the opposite direction of your view.
- Keep your tabs together. When you're using a knife to cut out tabs it's easier to either do several long flat edges or many tabs next to each other. You don't want to make strips where the tabs alternate from one side to the other. You also want flat tab-less edges to be on the convex side of a panel. This will save you from messing up concave cuts and creating little nips at the corners.
- Allow for tolerance stack up. Tolerance stack up is something we talk about in engineering design, it involves the fact that every part of an assembly has a certain inaccuracy in its dimensions. Usually this inaccuracy is small but when putting together lots of parts the tolerance stacks and can result in major issues. You can avoid stack up by connecting panels starting in the center and radiating out toward the ends (splitting the possible string of stack up in half). Start building at the most vital points and move your way towards less visible spots, where you can hide little edge miss-alignments. To some degree, you can use a fingernail to move your edge creases around and try to fix miss-alignments.
- Have an escape plan. The final tabs are the hardest part of assembly. You should plan ahead and try to place the final seam somewhere hidden. Even if you can't get it to close properly, no one will see it! You should never finish with an intricate or pointy section. For example, my buffalo skull model should start in three places: at the tips of the horns and the nose, and end in a rounded part on the base of the cranium. Even better is to leave your model open - if it will be mounted on a wall you can cut a hole in the back panel.
- Soften your edges. If those edges are really bothering you then you can scrape them with a hard edge in order to soften the hard shadow. Sometimes I'll use a fine grit nail file too.