I get frequent emails requesting help with diagramming. here are a few guidelines to help budding authors and artists.

Paper format
A4 is the most common format, unless you live in the States. Diagrams can always be scanned and reduced in size, but enlarging them reduces the quality. If you don’t follow this format, the editor may need to relay the diagrams. Try to keep all artwork within a rectangular border of about 3cm all the way round. This leaves room for items like page numbering. Line up the step folds so they make full use of the available space.

Folding sequence
Before you start to diagram, you should know the sequence of steps. Even if you intend to use a computer, it can help to produce rough pencil sketches showing the sequence. Rework every fold to ensure it is shown in the clearest possible manner. Once you know the number of steps required, you have some idea of how many pages will be needed. Most diagrammers number their steps. However, some omit both numbers and text in a quest for elegance of layout. If you choose not to add numbers, make sure the flow from each step to the next is clear. A thin grey “path” under the steps can be used to show the flow.

All text must be legible. Depending on your graphic abilities, handwriting can be fine, but computer text is probably neater. When choosing the size of your text, remember that for many magazines, A4 diagrams will be reduced to A5 and your text will therefore be smaller. Choose your words carefully – some of your readers may not speak English. Don’t add more text than is necessary; “turn the paper over” is unnecessary if the turnover symbol is used, for instance. Make the title text clear and bold. The editor may decide to replace this with another font, to match an in-house style.

Every diagram is a balance between keeping page numbers to a minimum and presenting sufficient information to enable a relative newcomer to make a decent stab at completing the design. Use more steps where a sequence may be unusual or unclear, but avoid individual steps for common sequences, such as folding a bird or preliminary base. If the diagram is aimed at raw beginners, you may well need these extra steps, but in many cases, they are superfluous.

Avoid rotating the orientation unless it makes the step clearer. Add a “rotate” symbol if you have to change orientation. Enlarge the step at appropriate places, depending on the complexity of the move and by how much the paper has reduced in size. “Change of scale” symbols are often unnecessary, but us them if you wish.

Allow each step room to breathe – if things look cramped, they make add extra difficulty. Traditionally, steps have been lined up horizontally and flow from left to right. However, if you wish to make the diagram more attractive, you can depart from this tradition. Overlapping steps can look very attractive as well as saving page space.

Try to present the correct angles where possible, whether 30, 45 60 or 90 degrees. It makes the diagrams look more like the actual paper, inspiring confidence. If your diagrams are too “free-hand”, people may not even attempt the design, which is always a shame. If you use thinner paper, place a sheet of graph paper or some other grid underneath to help. Drawing software offers a “magnetic” grid which allows you to draw angles and shapes very easily.

Using a computer clearly allows you to copy & paste steps and symbols freely from earlier models, much reducing your drawing time in many cases. In addition, they allow you to enlarge or reduce steps to produce your perfect layout. Almost any drawing package will do an adequate job, but beware of using obscure packages which may not be around for long and you’ll lose out on potential upgrades.  The most common packages are Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw and Macromedia Freehand. Whilst expensive, they are superb packages and if you look around their websites, many offer free downloads of earlier versions, which are fully functional and more than you’ll ever need for origami diagrams. The advantages of computer diagramming for those less artistically gifted cannot be overstated!

Use the internationally recognised symbol set and avoid the more obscure ones, unless they make things clearer. Don’t invent your own, people won’t know them! If you use a computer, build up a “library” file of common symbols. This saves lots of time and adds consistency to your diagrams. Keep your arrows consistent at all times.

This can be tricky if done by hand. Don’t shade manually (like you did at play school!) since this photocopies very erratically. If in doubt, don’t add any shading, but make your steps very clear! Adding lined or dotted shading is fine providing it doesn’t obscure detail like fold lines. When shading with a computer, a density of 20% is probably sufficient. If in doubt, try a few methods on a test sheet, make a photocopy and see which is the best method.

Line width
The paper edge should be the thickest line. Existing creases are much thinner lines that stop just short of the paper’s edge.  Valley/Mountain lines should be thicker than “crease” lines and can be as thick as the papers edge, depending on your taste. The more complex the diagrams, the thinner fold lines tend to be.

3D steps
Few people have the ability to draw accurately in three dimensions. Any solution to this problem is therefore acceptable! Photograph or scan the model and trace over the photo or import the photo into your drawing package and use it as a guide. If all else fails, divide the subject up into shapes and pencil in the shapes rather than starting with an outline and filling in the details. Use graph paper if it helps! In all instances, add an indication of layers where possible – the 2D days of “fold corner XY to corner ZZ” are long gone, thankfully!