Choosing Paper

You can make origami models from most types of paper, but as you learn more about the subject, you realise that certain types of paper are better for certain models. You also start to look at the amazing richness and diversity of paper types that are available.

Not only do they offer different colours and patterns, but also different thicknesses, textures and folding qualities. To select the best type of paper for a model, we look at the folding techniques required. Thicker, less flexible paper isn’t suited to models where many layers overlap, or where narrow points will be created. Conversely, if we want to make a large display version of a more simple model, thicker paper will give strength and longevity.

The most basic property we need from paper is the ability to make and hold a crease. Paper is made from fibres of wood and other plant material, held together using a special glue known as sizing. Some paper has fibres of a uniform length, others are a mixture. Some of these fibres will break cleanly when folded, others less so. Some will be lined up in the same direction, others more randomly. All these factors will interact and determine the “foldability” of a given sheet of paper.

There is no scientific formula we can use on a given sheet of paper, we simply fold it and judge the results. Some paper, such as newspaper and sugar paper is of little use for anything other than very simple, large designs. After a while you will develop a “feel” for paper and can judge it by touch.

Paper falls into three general categories – colour/white (also known as “kami”), colour/different colour (known as “double sided) and colour/same colour. Your choice will depend on whether both sides of the paper will be seen on the finished model. If they are, you may need contrasting colours so that (for example) the eyes of an animal or the roof of a house are shown in a different colour. It may be that a finished model shows both sides and you wish to hide the white sections, so you would use paper with the same colour on both sides.

People sometimes assume most paper is pretty much the same, but this is not so, if you want top quality paper, you need to pay accordingly. Here are some types of paper you should investigate.

Kami paper
This is “standard” origami paper, white on one side, coloured on the other.  “Kami” is the Japanese word for paper!  You can buy packs with many different colours, or of a single colour only (red paper is always useful at Christmas!) It ranges from 7.5cm to 15cm up to 35cm square and is perfect both for practising models and for producing smaller display or “gift” versions. Given the wide range of colours, it is also great for modular origami.

Double-sided paper
This is similar to kami, but with contrasting colours on either side. They may be a strong contrast (red/green, yellow/blue) or may have a bright colour on one side and a pastel version on the other. The extra layer of ink makes it slightly thicker than kami, but folds in the same way.

Patterned paper
This is probably the widest range of origami paper. Much like kami, but with abstract or realistic patterns. There is almost no limit to the range of patterns, covering floral, butterfly, wildlife, geometric and abstract. You need to choose the patterns carefully, since strong patterns can hide the basic shape of the subject, but in general, geometric models work very well. Beginners may find it harder to see where creases are during folding, so you should practice the model first with plain paper.

Metallic / Pearlescent 
This range has a shiny or reflective finish and sometimes a marked texture.  They are generally suitable for making decorative objects such as boxes, geometric shapes or Christmas decorations etc. They tend to work less well where several layers are pressed together (such as animal legs), since they tend to “expand” slightly. Generally used where the visual result is more important than folding accuracy.

This paper is slightly thicker than kami, with a subtle textured finish and the same colour on both sides. It is perfect for folding display models. Tant is Japanese for “a lot,” referring to the vibrant colour. It is used by folding experts, since it is a dyed fibre paper that is very strong and even repeated creases are unlikely to tear. Tant paper is only made in Japan, by Hokuetsu Kishu Paper Company and distributed by Toyo. More expensive than kami, but every folder should have some!

More info

Elephant Hide
Usually made in Germany, Elephant Hide paper is slightly thicker and has a parchment like finish. It has an impregnated surface, so is unusually durable and resistant to marks. It has a randomly “marbled” surface and the colours are fade resistant. Excellent for wet-folding and most kinds of geometric models.

Foil paper
More properly known as foil-backed paper, this has a shiny metallic surface and a plain white paper surface. Sometimes the metallic side has a pattern embossed upon it. Not all designs look good when folded from foil, but for some, it allows you to mould and shape the paper into 3D. It also works well for Christmas decorations. Creases made in foil paper are often highly visible (the metallic surface easily breaks, revealing the white side) and can also be difficult to change from valley to mountain (if required).

Kraft or Wrapping paper
Plain brown wrapping paper is excellent for making origami with and you can buy it in large rolls. Some folders argue that by using such a plain paper, the attention is focussed upon the model itself – a good origami design, they say, shouldn’t rely upon exciting paper to enhance it. Kraft is also available in a wide variety of colours and attractive patterns.

Washi paper
Washi is a traditional Japanese paper made using longer plant fibres. It has a distinctive and “Japanese” feel and the making of it has been developed for centuries. It is generally quite thin and can almost feel like a sheet of cloth to the touch. It is between kami and tant in terms of thickness. It is strong and durable and can be wet-folded to create life-like models. Sheets may have a single colour, but much washi paper is made with typically Eastern designs and patterns.

(also called Yuzen) is a type of Japanese paper that is decorated with brightly colored, woodblock-printed patterns, first produced in the late 18th century as a cheaper alternative to Washi. The genuine paper has a soft texture and long fibres, but the distinctive patterns are often printed onto standard paper.

Other options

Photocopy paper
Providing you have some means of safely cutting A4 paper down to make a square, photocopy paper is perfect for many simpler models, especially modular designs, where you need many sheets of a similar colour. It is, of course, the paper of choice for most paper airplanes!

Scrap paper
If you are really desperate to fold, almost any paper will do and everywhere you go, you can find free samples. Leaflets, posters, handouts, tickets, bags, the supply is almost unlimited. Whilst perhaps not suitable for display purposes, you can pass many happy hours using scrap paper.

Money-folds are a specialised branch of origami. Money is great for folding, since it is designed to be hard wearing and it is crisp enough to hold a crease. Sadly, UK currency is now made from a type of plastic and is far less easy to fold. We suggest you ask at your local bank or post office for the cheapest foreign banknote and buy a sensible number of them. Depending on the country of origin, you many get hundreds for a small amount of your own currency and they make wonderful gifts.

This is a specific type of “fine art” paper that many paper-folders enjoy using. It comes in a wide range of subtle colours, has a pleasing texture ad can be used to make large models. It is also noted for use with the technique known as “wet-folding”, due to the fact it can be shaped whilst wet, then “sets” holding whatever shape it was left in. There are several similar brands of paper, which can usually be recognised quite easily by feeling and curling the paper.