Monday, November 12, 2012

Papercraft building FAQ

This is only a papercraft building FAQ, making a papercraft creating tutorial would take up too much of my time I'm afraid.

But you can follow my "Works in Progress" on my papercraft weblog here to see how I do it, although that's not necessarily the only or even the best way for you of course!

The best way to learn how to make your own papercraft models I always say is simply learn by trying, playing and fooling around with paper parts and pieces and having fun! ;o)

First of all, Yamaha has a great papercraft building tutorial explaining all the basic techniques that's definitely worth a look: (archived)

Software/computer programs for opening common papercraft files:
  1. Opening PDO files
  2. Opening PDF files
  3. Opening ZIP/RAR/7z/LZH files
Tools for building papercraft models:
  1. What kind of paper should you use?
  2. What kind of glue should you use?
  3. What other tools do you need?
Techniques for building papercraft models:
  1. Scoring fold lines
  2. Cutting parts
  3. Mountain folds and valley folds
  4. Glueing parts
  5. Butt joints
  6. Pre-shaping/curving parts
  7. Edge-colouring
  8. Papercraft models without fold lines
  9. Blank/uncoloured papercraft models
  10. Replacing textures on unlocked PDO files
  11. Scaling papercraft models
  12. Instructions
Other resources:
  1. Where can I find more papercraft models?

1. I found a paper model in PDO format, what program should I use to open it?
PDO files (file extension *.pdo) are created using Pepakura Designer. To open them, you should use the latest version of Pepakura Viewer:

Sometimes people accidentally use the Pepakura Designer tool instead of Pepakura Viewer. If the creator of the PDO file has protected it against editing with a password, Pepakura Designer won't be able to open it! Pepakura Viewer can open and print all PDO files, even password-protected ones.

Note that a password used by the creator of a PDO file to prevent it from being edited by somebody else in Pepakura Designer, is not the same as the registration key you have to buy to unlock the save and export features of Pepakura Designer! So buying a Pepakura Designer registration key will not allow you to open and edit locked PDO files in Pepakura Designer!

Sometimes if the PDO file you download has a filename with illegible (usually Japanese or other Asian) characters, Pepakura Viewer will have trouble opening it on western computers. Usually renaming (right-click on the file, and choose "Rename" from the context menu that pops up) the PDO file using western characters will solve the problem, allowing Pepakura Viewer to open the file.

Pepakura Viewer and Designer are Windows-only programs: they will not run on Apple/Mac computers. If you still want to use Pepakura Viewer/Designer on a Mac, you will have to run a virtual Window installation using a program like Boot Camp, VMware or WINE.

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2. I found a paper model in PDF format, what program should I use to open it?
Most of my own papercraft models are released as PDF files, and there are many different programs that can open them.

The most popular one is Adobe Reader which is probably already installed on your computer and will automatically open PDF files on your computer when you double-click them or click on a PDF link online.

If you don't have a PDF reader program yet, you can download Adobe Reader here:

or search online for another free PDF reader of your choice of course.

Usually, when you click a PDF link on the internet, the PDF file will open right there in your browser window.

You can also right-click the link and choose "Save as..." from the contect menu that will pop-up to download the file to your computer to view and print it offline (you can also save the PDF after it
pre-viewing it in your browser window).

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3. I found a paper model in ZIP/RAR/7z/LZH/... format, what program should I use to open it?
I sometimes use ZIP files for my hand drawn papercraft models, but RAR files, 7z files or LZH files and so on are all basically the same: they are small archives/packs that hold other compressed files inside, so the download file will be a little bit smaller in size.

After downloading a compressed files, you need an unpacker tool to open (unpack) them. New versions of Windows usually have a built-in ZIP tool that will automatically unpack ZIP files when you double-click them like you would do to open a normal Windows file.

If you need to unpack more exotic compressed files though, you often need a special tool, like 7-Zip, which can unpack many different file archive types:

After you click a compressed archive file, your ZIP tool will create a new folder and unpack all the files that were inside the archive file into that folder.

Inside ZIP files from my papercraft webpage you will usually find plain Jpeg image files that any image viewer will be able to open (like the Windows built-in Photo Viewer or a free program like Irfanview) or in the case with papercraft models from other websites, often PDF or PDO files.

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4. What kind of paper should I use for papercraft?
I always use 200 gsm paper myself: "200 gsm" means "200 grams per square meter", and it's how paperweights are measured in most countries.

200 gsm is about 2.5x as thick as regular printer paper (which is usually about 75-80 gsm) so the final paper models will be nice and strong, but of course if you like using thinner or thicker paper, that's fine too!

Don't let anybody tell you what kind of paper you should use, but try it out yourself: most people end up choosing anything between 120-160-200 gsm, while others prefer using regular printer paper, or special paper like glossy or photopaper.

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5. What kind of glue should I use for papercraft?
I always use "TESA All-Purpose Glue" (90 grams bottle) but the answer is the same as which paper you should use, really: try out which glue you think is best yourself. ;o)

There are many papercraft glues available of course, and papercrafters in America often mention brands like "Aleene's Original Tacky Glue" or "Elmer's Craft Bond or School Glue", and "UHU" is another brand that's often mentioned.

Simple wood glue/carpenter's glue (usually a white PVA glue) also works very well!

You probably already have some crafts glue lying around the house that you can try out, and in the crafts department at your local department store, you can probably find many different ones that will do just fine! ;o)

The heads of glue sticks are often too big for glueing small parts though, and "Super Glue/Krazy Glue" or "hot melt glue guns" are usally a bit overkill just for glueing two pieces of paper together and can make quite a mess if you're not careful, although they will do the trick of course. ;o)

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6. What other tools do you need for papercraft?
Again there's no definitive answer of course: you can really use any tools you like! ;o)

You should try to get some basic tools though:

6a Knife: I always use an X-Acto knife with a Classic #11 blade, but you can use any other crafts knife of course; many people use a "breakaway knives" where you can break off a piece of the blade when it becomes dull.

You can also use scissors of course, but try to find small ones, because it can be difficult to cut small parts with a big pair of scissors. And sometimes you still need a knife to cut small slits or cut pieces out of the inside of parts.

6b Cutting mat: to avoid cutting into your table- or desktop, use a rubber, self-healing cutting mat to put underneath your sheet of paper when you're cutting out the parts.

And then like I said, there are lots of optional tools you can use:

6c Toothpick: sometimes your fingers are just to big to reach inside a piece you're building when you really need to, so in those cases, you can use a toothpick, or the back of a spoon.

You can also use toothpicks for pre-shaping small cylinders, by simply rolling the parts around the tootpick.

6d Embossing pen/ballpoint/mechanical pencil: to make sharp, crisp folds, you can score the fold lines first with a special embossing pen (a "pen" with a small metal ball at the end), but a "dead" ballpoint pen (one that doesn't write anymore; make sure of that of course!) or a mechanical pencil without the lead do the same thing.

6d Coloured markers/coloured pencils: to get rid of the "white lines" from the edges of the paper on paper models, you can colour the edges of the paper in the appropriate colour with markers or pencils after cutting out the parts ("edge-colouring").

6e Tweezers, clothespins/clothes pegs: or whatever else you can think of or might have lying around the house and think could be useful!

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7. Scoring fold lines
To create sharp, crisp folds on "blocky" papercraft models, you can use a blunt tool (like a special embossing pen, a "dead" ballpoint pen that doesn't write anymore, a mechanical pencil, ...) to score the fold lines on a paper model.

It's usually easiest to score the parts before cutting them from the paper: run the tool along the fold lines while applying light pressure, to make a little "dent" in the paper along the fold lines.

Then when you try to fold the part, the paper will automatically want to fold along that line.

To make really sharp folds, you can also use your knife and only apply a little bit of pressure to actually cut through the upper layer of the paper (be careful not to cut too deep of course!)

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8. Cutting parts
You can either use scissors or a knife for cutting out the parts. Scissors are actually great for big, curved parts, and you can use small scissors for cutting small parts and small glueing tabs but in some situations, it's still often best to use a knife.

Make sure your work area is well lit so you can always clearly see the cut lines, and use a rubber cutting mat underneath the paper when you use a knife, to protect your table- or desktop but also your knife!

Always use a sharp blade and don't push the tip of your blade too deep into your cutting mat, so you don't have to use a lot of force to cut through the paper.

Don't try to twist your arm in weird positions to cut out difficult shapes, but instead turn the parts sheet so you can always cut the parts in a natural way.

(because there are often a lot of parts on a single sheet of paper, I sometimes cut out the parts very rougly so I only have a small piece of paper to work with, instead of the whole, big sheet).

I always only cut out one part at a time when I need it, but some people like cutting and scoring all the parts all at once. If you do so, make sure to keep them somewhere safe so you don't loose them, and don't forget to put the part numbers on the back of them with a light colour pencil! ;o)

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9. Mountain folds and valley folds
There are basically two kinds of fold lines: mountain fold lines, and valley fold lines.

For mountain fold lines, you should fold the part upwards along the fold line, and for valley fold lines, you should fold the part downwards along the fold line.

Usually, each type of fold line will have its own pattern, and sometimes a small legend/schematic will show you which is which.

If there's no legend/schematic though, you can usually use the following rule:

By far most fold lines on papercraft models are mountain folds, so that line style pattern will be the one that's used most.

Pepakura users often use the default line style pattern settings, which are:

Dashed lines for mountain folds (the one that's used most!): _ _ _ _ _ _ _
and dot-dash lines for valley folds: _ . _ . _ . _ . _ . _

(and solid lines _________ are usually lines that should be cut with a knife or scissors)

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10. Glueing parts together
Most papercraft models will have glueing tabs where you can apply the glue, and then put the other part on top of it.

The most important tip I can give concerning glue, is don't use too much of it!

Only use just enough glue and spread it out with a scrap piece of paper so that the glueing tab is still "tacky", but isn't necessarily soaked in glue like when you use way too much glue...

That way, you can still move the parts a bit when you put them together, but you won't have glue spillage when you press the parts together and you don't have to hold them forever until they're stuck.

For certain situations, it's also a good idea to put the glue on the opposite edges that don't have the glueing tabs instead, and then push the part with the glueing tabs inside of it so the glueing tabs connect with the glue that way (video).

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11. Butt joints
Some models use a separate piece of paper as a separate glueing tab, glued underneath both edges/parts to make a perfectly smooth joint (normally, you would glue one part on top of the glueing tab of the other, so you will have a little raised edge).

This is called a "butt joint" and is a little bit more work, but not really much more difficult of course (video).

This technique isn't used very often on paper models you can download from the internet, and mainly on papercraft airplanes models or space rockets, to make the fuselages perfectly smooth (or as close as possible).

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12. Pre-shaping/curving parts
Sometimes a papercraft model looks better if you don't make sharp folds, but instead curve the parts and create smooth "folds", without scoring the fold lines first.

Take the part you want to pre-shape/curve in the palm of your hand, and then move a round tool like a pen or pencil or a wooden rod up and down against it while applying pressure (video).

Then when you take the part out of the palm of your hand, it will stay curved and it will be much easier to glue the parts together in the right shapes.

For smaller parts, you can use a round toothpick and roll the part around it, for instance making small paper cylinders, like fingers (video).

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13. Edge-colouring
When you glue two pieces of paper together, you are often left with a white edge: the crossection/inside of the paper sheet. Especially on darker coloured models, they can be quite apparant.

To get rid of them, you can simply use a marker or pencil in the same colour of the part (or as close as you can) to colour the edges of the paper (video).

Because the ink from markers will soak into the paper a little bit and turn darker than you might expect, it's best to use pencils for parts that have a lighter colour.

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14. Papercraft models without fold lines
When Pepakura Designer could only create black fold lines, and you couldn't let them "blend in" with the colour of the parts, I often made two versions of my papercraft models: one version with fold lines, and one without.

That way, the models wouldn't have so many black lines on the models, which often wouldn't look so good of course...

Some people still like making lineless papercraft models, and in those cases, you should always look for a version with lines too, because that will be your guide to score the version without lines.

Because fold lines always run from one corner of a part to another, all you have to do is find the same cornerpoints on the lineless version, place your ruler or guide between those two cornerpoints, and then use your scoring tool to score the "invisible" fold line between the two cornerpoints (video).

The newer versions of Pepakura Designer do allow you choose the colour of the fold lines to make them "blend in" with the colour of the parts more; sometimes even so well that on the printed sheets, it can be difficult to see where the fold lines are!

In that case, you can open the PDF file on your computer, and zoom in, change the brightness etc. to see the fold lines, and use the same techniques as on lineless versions to score them on the printed, paper version.

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15. I found a paper model with only white/uncoloured parts, what should I do?
There may be different reasons for a papercraft model not having any colours:

If the finished papercraft model is simply supposed to be all white, you can just go ahead and print it as normal of course. ;o)

Some simple papercraft toys are meant to be "customized" by the builder, to give it a personal touch. You can do this before printing, in an image editing software of your choice (like Photoshop or Gimp), or after printing the blank papercraft toy, using markers, colour pencils, crayons, aquarel or other paint, or by glueing on coloured paper, glitter, etc. (or you can just leave the paper toy blank of course! ;o)

Sometimes if he creator made a lineless paper model, the blank version is only intended as a fold guide, allowing you to see very clearly where all the fold lines are, and whether they're mountain or valley folds.

And in some cases, blank parts templates are meamnt to be on printed paper; this technique is usully only used when the finished paper model only has simple, solid colours (as an extra bonus, if you use coloured paper, you will never get "white edges" of course, so you'll never have to "edge-colour" the paper model ;o)

Normally, the colour of paper you should use to print each sheet on should be mentioned on the sheets themselves, but a lot of paper models that use this technique seem to be Japanese chibi/SD (super deformed) Gundam robots, and sometimes the colours you should use are only mentioned in Japanese.

Although usually it's not very hard to figure out which colours you should use for which sheet by comparing a finished picture with the part sheets, here are some frequently used colours with their Japanese translation (although please note that just as often, more imaginative names like スカイホワイト "sky white" or ぎんねずみ "rat silver" are used that look very diffently in Japanese of course):

(aka: red)
(ao: blue)
水色 (mizuiro: light blue)
(midori: green)
黄緑 (kimidori: light green)
黄色 (kiiro: yellow)
橙色 (daidaiiro: orange)
茶色 (chairo: brown)
桃色 (momoiro: pink)
(murasaki: purple)
(shiro: white)
灰色 (haiiro: grey)
(kuro: black)

But of course, you can also use your own imagination and create your own colour scheme! ;o)

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16. Replacing textures on unlocked PDO files
Sometimes a papercraft ZIP file includes an unlocked PDO file and several different texture files/images (usually BMP, PNG or JPG/Jpeg files, or sometimes another file format that Pepakura Designer can read).

This usually means that the creator intended it to be possible to print different coloured versions of the same papercraft model by replacing the textures in Pepakura Designer (Windows-only; Pepakura Designer and Pepakura Viewer won't run on Apple/Mac computers unfortunately) before printing it.

If you still use the old Pepakura Designer 2 version, you can replace the textures by going to the "3DModelWindow" menu, and then choosing "Texture Configuration".

Then you can either click "Reset Texture" to delete the texture for a completely blank model, or choose "Specify Texture Image" to browse your computer for an alternative texture file (in Pepakura Designer 2, you can only load BMP or JPG/Jpeg texture files/images.

If the paper model uses more than one texture, you have to replace each one separately, and be sure to use the right one for each texture or they will show up on the wrong parts!

In the newest Pepakura Designer 4 version, the "Texture Settings" option has been moved to the "Settings" menu, but it still works the same (only "Reset Texture" has been more appropriately renamed "Delete Texture" and you can use more file formats for your texture image: BMP, JPG/Jpeg, PNG, TIF/TIFF or TGA).

You can also create your own texture images or edit the ones supplied with the paper model before loading them in Pepakura Designer of course, but you have to make sure the proportions and texture layout of the different parts remains the same as on the original textures, or else the textures will look all messed up on the paper model, and that you save them in a file format your Pepakura Designer version can open.

Replacing textures (and making other edits) can only be done if the PDO file has been left unlocked by the creator so you can open it in Pepakura Designer (otherwise, you can only use Pepakura Viewer to only open and print it).

You can use an unregistered, trial version of Pepakura Designer to do this, but because Pepakura Designer won't allow you to save or export your work without buying a registration key first, you must print the paper model with your changes before you close the Pepakura Designer program, or you'll loose all the changes you made!

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18. Scaling paper models bigger or smaller
18a General methods: often, you can simply specify a printing scale in the printer settings dialog box, but sometimes the program you used to open the papercraft file won't allow this.

To print a paper model smaller, you can also try printing multiple pages per sheet, and to print it bigger, you could choose larger paper size (if your home printer can't load bigger paper sizes, you can take the papercraft file to a copy/print shop, or use a printer that can at a friend's house or at school or at work), but these two methods won't allow you to specify an exact scale.

18b Scaling regular image files (BMP, PNG, JPG/Jpeg, GIF, etc.): most image viewing and editing programs will let you specify an exact printing scale in the print dialog box, but you can also manually scale the images before printing.

Many people use a program like Photoshop or Gimp that have a lot of extra options to edit regular image files as well, but most basic image editing programs will allow you to manually scale regular images before printing (see the "Help" files of the image editing software of your choice if you don't know how to do so).

18c Scaling unlocked PDO files: if the PDO file has been left unlocked by the creator, you can use Pepakura Designer to scale the paper model to an exact scale.

If you still use the old Pepakura Designer 2 version, you can go to the "2DPatternWindow" menu to "Scale Up Development by 10%" (default shortkey "Ctrl+L") or "Scale Down Development by 10%" (default shortkey "Ctrl+J") each time you click these options, or you can "Scale Up/Down Development by Specifying Value".

With that option, you can specify the exact assembled height you want the finished paper model to be (measured from the lowest to the highest point in the 3D view) or specify an exact scale. After clicking okay, you can see what the new assembled size will be in the bottom right hand corner of the screen.

The newest Pepakura Designer 4 version has the same options , only they're located under the "Change Scale" option in the "2D Menu".

The 2D unfolded view in Pepakura Designer will automatically update each time you change something, so if after scaling the paper model the parts don't fit properly on the separate sheets anymore, you can try moving them around or rotating them to get them to fit on separate sheets again, choose a bigger paper size, or simply print them as they are and glue them together later on after cutting them out.

Re-scaling a PDO model (and making other edits) can only be done if the PDO file has been left unlocked by the creator so you can open it in Pepakura Designer (otherwise, you can only use Pepakura Viewer to only open and print it).

You can use an unregistered, trial version of Pepakura Designer to do this, but because Pepakura Designer won't allow you to save or export your work without buying a registration key first, you must print the paper model with your changes before you close the Pepakura Designer program, or you'll loose all the changes you made!

18d Scaling PDF files: if your PDF reader won't allow you to specify an exact printing scale in the print settings dialog box, you can try opening it as a regular image file in a program like Photoshop or Gimp.

After downloading the PDF file, right-click it, and then choose "Open with..." from the context menu that pops up. Then select an image editing program that can open PDF files (usually, if the PDF files has multiple pages, the image editing program can only open one page of it at a time).

Once the PDF page has opened in your image editing program, you can either scale it manually like you would do a regular image (see the "Help" files of the image editing software you're using if you don't know how to do so) or print it directly or save it as a regular image and then print it, specificying a specific scale in the print dialog box of your image editing/viewing software.

18e Printscreening PDF files: if you don't have an image editing program that can open PDF files as regular images and don't want to download and install one, you can try using the "PrintScrn" ("Print Screen") key that's present on most computer keyboards:

Each time you press the "PrintScrn" key, a screenshot of your computer screen gets copied to the virtual "clipboard" of your computer.

Then you can create a New File in the image editing software of your choice, and paste (usually shortkey Ctrl+V in Windows programs, or located somewhere under the "File" or "Edit" menus) the screenshot as a regular image in the new file.

You will probably have to take lots of different screenshots (make sure you don't accidentally change the PDF viewing scale in between Print Screening!) and copy+paste and piece together all the separate screenshots of the PDF file together manually in your image editing program, so this method is much more labour intensive, but the principle is the same:

After you've pieced together all the different parts, you can scale it manually in your image editing software like you would a regular image, and/or save it as a regular image and scale it using the print settings dialog box.

18f Fuzzy lines after scaling: most paper models will be in raster image format (BMP, PNG, JPG/Jpeg, GIF, most PDF files, etc.) and when you scale them much bigger than intended, the images and the lines will become "fuzzy" (the bigger you scale them, the fuzzier they will get).

Vector images are scale-independent, so they won't become fuzzy, even if you scale them much bigger, but you need special vector image software (like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW or Inkscape) to open them preserve the vector benefits (Photoshop for instance can open some vector file formats but will treat them just as regular raster images and loose the scalability of the original vector image).

PDO files are vector based, but because the texture images are usually raster based, only the fold and cut lines will remain sharp and crisp if you scale PDO files much bigger, while the textures will still become fuzzy (the same is true for other vector based paper models that use raster images as textures of course).

18g Parts becoming bigger than the paper sheets: often if you scale paper models much bigger, the parts won't fit on the original sheets anymore.

You can try to move and rotate the separate parts around to try and make them fit again, or you can try choosing a bigger paper size, or just print them as they are. Normally, the printing software will automatically cut off the parts that are too big to fit on one sheet at the printer page margins of the sheets, and then automatically print the rest of that part on another sheet.

Then when you're cutting out the parts, you can use the printer page margins to create your own glueing tabs to cut the separate pieces of the part together again (or use scotch tape or the butt-joint method for a flat, smooth joint).

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18. Instructions
For most of my models, I made step-by-step picture instructions that you can use when you're not sure about how to fold a certain part.

If a papercraft model's part are all numbered, then usually the creator intended the model to be built in that order (sometimes glueing the parts together in a specific order makes it easier to build). But if you think a different order would be easier, you can try your own order of course!

If you can't find an instruction file for the papercraft model you downloaded, check to see if there's a Pepakura (PDO) file, which you can open with Pepakura Viewer.

Although PDO files don't offer step-by-step instructions and don't show you specifically how to fold and glue together the parts, they show you a digital 3D view of the completed model and you can click each part to see where it should go, and check which edges should be glued together by placing the mouse cursor them.

Sometimes the instructions are only in writing (look for PDF files, Windows Notepad *.txt files or Microsoft Office Word *.doc or *.docx files) or sometimes there just aren't any instructions.

Usually, you probably won't need all the instructions provided, only the ones for parts that are a bit more difficult. So you can choose to print the instruction file, but especially if there are a lot of pictures, you can also simply view them on your computer when needed.

Not only will this save a lot of paper and ink, but it will also allow you to zoom in and/or change the brightness of your computer screen to see some things more clearly if needed.

Most of the times, you can figure out how to fold most parts easily enough yourself by looking at the fold lines and the finished pictures or previews.

If you're not sure, you can fold and/or pre-shape the part the way you think it should be done, but don't glue it together yet; then hold it against the other parts, and see if it fits and looks right.

If it does, apply the glue and glue it to the rest of the model, otherwise try to see which part doesn't look right and you might have to fold the other way.

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19. Where can I find some more papercraft models?
All around the internet really! All of the papercraft models I created myself can be downloaded from my papercraft website:

On my papercraft weblog, I post new models I find online every day, and in the links section you can find hundreds of links to other papercraft sites, sorted by category:

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