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From the computer to the bookshelf.

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File Usage

Archives Files

When you first download a model from anywhere on the Internet (although not always the case), chances are you’ll find the files to be in compressed archives with file extensions like ZIP or RAR. There are numerous free applications which can open these. The table below shows a few examples of such programs, along with where you can download them and operating systems they are compatible with.

Program Windows OS X GNU/Linux

PDO Files

Once you’ve opened and extracted the archive, you’ll find several files inside containing the templates themselves and usually some other helpful materials. Now we’ll focus on what to do if you find a PDO file. You’ll need either Pepakura Viewer or Pepakura Designer (download links in the table below). The PDO file provides a 3D reference for what the finished model should look like, and can show which piece on the 3D model corresponds to each 2D part.

This makes building all paper models easier, is extremely useful and highly recommended for every model you build (even if you don’t reference it the whole time, a quick glance will make things a lot clearer). Unfortunately current versions are Windows only, but emulating Windows allows for the possibility of running it on a different Operating System.

It is preferable to use Pepakura Viewer instead of Pepakura Designer, since Pepakura Designer is unable to view locked (read-only) PDO files. Although, you'll need Pepakura Designer if you need to make some edits on the template before printing it.

Program Windows OS X GNU/Linux
Pepakura Viewer ✗ (read below)
Pepakura Designer ✗ (read below)

Installation of Pepakura Viewer on GNU/Linux

The process usually varies from distribution to distribution and from hardware to hardware. However, here is an outline for Ubuntu1).

First of all, install the wine meta-package. You should be able to install this meta-package by searching for “wine” in the Ubuntu Software Center or by using the following command in the terminal:

sudo apt-get install wine

The installation process should automatically install dependencies for a total download of more than 100 MB, so be patient. Once the installation is done, download the EXE file for Pepakura Viewer 3.1.12). Once the download is complete, launch the EXE file with the Wine Windows Program Loader. This action should start the Pepakura Viewer set-up process. Complete the instructions to install Pepakura Viewer. Once the set-up is finished, Pepakura Viewer should automatically be launched, but you may have issues with the textures in the 2D view appearing as black. To solve this issue, download the official OPENGL32.DLL patch and place it at [HOME]/.wine/drive_c/Program Files (x86)/tamasoftware/pepakura3en/viewer/OPENGL32.DLL. Once the DLL file is installed: open Wine Configuration; go to the Libraries tab; type “OPENGL32.DLL” in the New override for library: box; click on Add; click on OK. Once you relaunch Pepakura Viewer, the issue should be gone. You might get a dialog box displaying Error: invalid operation. Just click on OK and everything will be fine.

PDF Files

Most paper model templates include at least one PDF file. These are usually exported versions of the 2D template only, for viewing and printing. They can also be instructions that provide extra help when building.

Program Windows OS X GNU/Linux
Adobe Reader

Other Files

Inside the archive you may also find reference photos, notes, instructions or other extras. These should be in standard file types, and remember to make sure to look at them all before beginning a model.

Choice of Tools

Most of the tools you will need are common household items, or easy to find in shops if you don’t have them.

No matter what you’re building you’ll need these to get started :

  • Printer
  • Thick Paper or Thin Card
  • Glue
  • Scissors or knife
  • Small Ruler (if scoring lines)
  • Self healing cutting mat (if using a knife)

Other nonessential materials that you might find useful include :

  • An empty ballpoint pen or a safety pin (for scoring)
  • Coloured pencils or felt-tip pens (for edge colouring)
  • Tweezers (for small, fiddly parts)
  • Weights (such as rice, coins or small clean stones)
  • Toothpicks (to apply small amounts of glue on little pieces)

What sort of glue should I use?

Standard, fairly thick PVA glue, also known as white glue or school glue is excellent for models and is usually very cheap. There are also other craft glue brands (tacky glue or gels) that are just as effective or even better. But don’t be tempted to use glue sticks! Although cheap and designed for paper, they actually have very weak sticking power. Over time, the glue becomes weaker and eventually loses grip on the paper.

Should I use scissors or knives to cut pieces?

There’s no dominant answer here: ideally both are useful for different situations . Overall the one you use most comes down to personal preference since both have pros and cons. Either way, they should be small dedicated craft tools.


+ High degree of control on a bigger scale
+ Generally cleaner cuts
+ Slightly less deformation along the cut line
− Hard to work with on small or oddly shaped parts
− Higher chance of ripping at acute-angled turns


+ Unbeatable for precision on cutting small details
+ Can begin cutting anywhere
+ Are quicker to use and easier to handle
− Cutting mat essential, risk of self injury!
− Can snap at the tip with too much pressure

What thickness of paper is best?

This depends on both personal preference and the particular model being building. Do not use regular printing paper because it’s weak and gets soaked by glue easily. Paper thickness can be measured in gsm (grams per square metre) or pounds in the US system. The thicker the paper, the more it weighs and the higher the gsm or lbs. The two systems don’t convert perfectly but you can view a list of equivalent thicknesses here.

For paper models, most would recommend choosing paper between the regions of 120-180gsm. For life-sized templates, going over 200gsm could be required to keep the model sturdy. When building a model with minimal folds (such as a Nintendo 64 model) or a model which requires support, using thicker paper than normal is recommended to avoid paper curvature. On the contrary, for very simple and smooth models, slightly thinner paper works better.

Template Printing

With countless brands of printers it’s hard to give specific advice. In general, choose a high quality or even photo quality setting and make sure to have sufficient ink, as changing cartridges mid way through the printing process is bound to cause trouble! Slower print speeds and cleaning the printheads will help avoid any unwanted marks or streaks There is evidence of some laser printers and glossy paper resulting in cracking of the printed surface when it is folded. If in doubt, make sure to test out the printer/paper beforehand. Photo quality inkjet printers with separate cartridges for each colour may give the best results and efficiency. If colours aren’t coming out right, try changing some of the printer settings such as brightness, saturation and colour hues.

Piece Cutting

There are three common ways of cutting out pieces: with scissors, a hobby (X-Acto) knife or a cutting machine.

Scissors are particularly useful when you have a long, straight or curved line that you have to cut. For the rest, particularly if the shape to cut is inside the piece, you should use a hobby knife.

For more details and comparisons, check out “Should I use scissors or knives to cut pieces?” in the Choice of Tools section.

Hobby knives, often known as X-Acto knives, are much smaller than utility knives, hence they are better for precision cutting. Since most lines are usually short, that’s the tool you should use most of the time. Take care not to cut yourself with it! Hobby knifes are extremely sharp. After some use, you may notice the blade takes more effort to produce clean cuts. It’s time to change the blade! For this reason, it is necessary to buy replacement blades.

You can’t simply cut with a hobby knife on a tabletop. You’ll have to buy a cutting mat! A huge one isn’t necessary; a cutting mat that is roughly the size of a sheet of paper will be suitable (bigger is better for comfort nevertheless).

Finally, if you’ve had a bad experience with hobby knives or if you just dislike cutting (it can indeed feel repetitive or long at some times), you may want to search for a cutting machine. Cutting machines look like printers, but in practical reality cut your page instead of printing on it. It’s main advantage over cutting knives is that, well, the machine does the job for you. Pieces will be cut almost perfectly in a much faster time and you won’t have any risk of cutting yourself. Pepakura offers a version of Pepakura Viewer specifically for Silhouette CAMEO cutting machines. You can buy it for $15. The CAMEO machine costs $300, so you should be sure on your decision before adding it to the shopping cart.

That is pretty much all the information you need about cutting. Don’t forget this is highly personal, therefore you should decide which techniques help you to cut faster and more precisely.

Piece Folding

When it comes to folding pieces there are two main techniques that you can use.

Score & Fold

Scoring is where you take a narrow but blunt instrument and run it along the fold line to create an indentation. This will allow you to fold the piece along a clean straight line, giving a high level of precision and neatness. Be careful not to cut into the top surface of the paper, as folding will create splits in the paper.

Without scoring, a fold will likely appear as a broad and messy crease. If you score all fold lines you’ll get a very accurately shaped, but also very angular model.

In paper modeling, folds are generally marked as follows:

Dashed lines (– – –) indicate mountain folds where the upper printed surface makes a peak along the line. Dot-dashed lines (– · – ·) are valley folds where the upper surface forms a trough instead.3)

Smooth Building

This method is where you ignore all the fold lines except for any sharp bends and the tab folds (a good idea since this will allow for clean manipulation). Instead of folding each piece along every line, gently shape it into a curve secured by its attaching tabs. With smooth building you’ll achieve a more natural finish which greatly suits highly detailed models. It will save you a lot of time with there being comparatively less folds to produce.

Which method should I use?

There are pros and cons to whether you should smooth build or score and fold. Usually it will depend on a combination of your preferences, skills and the detail of the model.

Scoring and Folding

+ Clean fold lines
+ Greater precision as the model matches the 3D data better
+ Very good for small or angular models
− Scored lines may be very visible if poorly done
− Need to use a lined template, or constantly reference the lines for a lineless version

Smooth Building

+ Saves time dealing with minor folds
+ Recommended for highly detailed models of all sizes
+ More natural finish
− Less precise; many small inaccuracies can add up
− Could require minor to moderate improvisation if things go wrong
− Will not work on low polygon models very well as gaps and white spaces are more likely to occur

An example of a scored and folded model4):

An example of a complex smoothly built model5):

Piece Gluing

You may be wondering why there are white triangles or trapezoids attached to your pieces. Keep them together, they’re important! They’re what we call glue tabs. In other word, that’s where you put the glue to secure the face of a model with its adjacent face.

There are three ways to glue your pieces together: with white glue, a glue stick or a glue gun.

White glue (i.e. PVA based) is what you should use most of the time. For instance, people who like the glue to quickly dry after applying pressure on it might prefer Scotch’s Quick-Dry Adhesive glue. White glue dries really quickly when you press on the gluing spot firmly for a few seconds. Although, it may stain your paper if you drop even a tiny quantity over the printed side. It may also dry up too quickly, say, when you want to cover a very big glue tab. In this case, you may prefer glue sticks.

Indeed, with a glue stick, you can cover a big glue tab very easily. Although, it’s main disadvantage is on the long term: it’ll stop securing the parts and the model may fall in ruins.

You will rarely need to use a glue gun, in fact. The main use is to fix pieces together in a very, very firm way. It may be useful when, by example, you have to attach a oddly-shaped arm to a body (King Bob-omb may be a good example).

Most tabs will glue to the underside of the joining piece. But if there are parts that glue on without a true join to a model then they may require attachment by surface contact. This is a term used to sometimes describe the gluing of tabs directly to the flat upper surface of a piece or shape. Or gluing an entire piece to another via their surfaces touching each other (such as gluing one completed cube to another completed cube).

Model Storage

A finished model can be your pride and joy but remember it is still made out of paper. The thicker the paper, the stronger a model will be but care must still be taken to avoid handling damage, liquids and excessive sunlight. Over time the models may fade and get dusty, so consider storing them safely in boxes if you want to preserve them over the long term.

Also, don’t forget that if you have a young child or sibling, you may want to store your models in place they can’t reach, by example, a high shelf. You surely don’t want to see them take your precious artworks and squash them in their arms…

1) Based on Pepakura Designer test results by Brian Cesar
2) Note that earlier or later versions of Pepakura Viewer may or may not function.
4) Image source: Grog built by XenonRay
5) Image source: Fox McCloud built by Zeroangelx2
building.txt · Last modified: 2017/03/20 15:58 by