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Prototype with Cardboard: Shaping Techniques (Part 3)

The cardboard prototyping series continues. After part 1 on types of cardboard and part 2 on how to cut cardboard, I explore here different ways to shape it.

In this article, I also tell you more about tools available for each of these techniques.


Folding Cardboard

With cutting, folding is one of the obvious ways to shape your cardboard prototype. Let’s look at a few examples.

This record player is a simple piece of folded cardboard. It was designed for music label GGRP by advertising agency Grey Vancouver.


Cardboard record player.

Designer Chengyuan Wei prototyped the Origami phone handset, which is made of a foldable sheet of cardboard encasing the electronics.


Origami Phone set prototype. Credit image: Chengyuan Wei

Model below is a prototype of a real-size bike’s skidplate cut by hand and taped. Cardboard model was a way to test the shape and size and was then used as a cutting template for the final part, made out of aluminium.


Skidplate bike part prototype made out of folded and taped cardboard. Credit image: AdvRonski

Taras Lesko is a 3D paper designer who runs Seattle design studio VisualSpicer. He created a giant replica of his head out of cardboard, using 3D paper folding software Pepakura, and a lot of patience.


Paper model artist Taras Lesko and his giant cardboard face. Credit image: Taras Lesko

Folding Tools & Resources

  • Pepakura is a Japanese software to create papercraft models. Results are amazing. Pepakura transforms a 3D model into advanced folding instructions that can be printed on any paper.
  • Folding Techniques is a book on paper folding. Website contains a few interesting videos as well.
  • Interesting Instructables on corrugated paper folding technique



Layering Cardboard

One interesting way to work with corrugated cardboard is to pile it in multiple layers. Sheets are cut and glued together layer after layer until building a full strong 3D prototype. This building process can be called “cut and stack”.


Prototype of a torch, made out of corrugated cardboard. Credit image: csimdesign

This prototype made out of multiple layers of corrugated fiberboard is a torch called SoftTorch. It enabled the designer to adjust positioning of the switch and battery pack.

Cardboard creations don’t have to be small. Famous architect Frank Gehry designed Easy Edge and Experimental Edge in the 1980’s, two series of furniture entirely made out of cardboard.


Frank Gehry’s Edge cardboard furniture

Frank Gehry chair

Frank Gehry’s Edge cardboard furniture

Cardboard furniture are almost a design category in itself, with cardboard clocks, lamps, chairs, tables or stools created over the years by professional designers. Check for example UK design firm Liqui Design tribute to Frank Gehry Edge Collection, sharing 3D models of their creations on Sketchup.

In this video, Jolie-Lamp’s creator shares his process using layers of corrugated cardboard and glue to create a lamp:

Cardboard Layering Tools

Autodesk offers a free online software specifically designed for building layered cardboard prototypes. It’s called Autodesk 123D Make and is fully free.

Layering cardboard requires good cutting tools and good glue. I compare below some of the most popular glues for cardboard and detail which one will fit best for your project.

Tools at a glance:


Cardboard glues come in spray, liquid or stick. If you plan on using large pieces of cardboard and have access to a well ventilated room, use spray glue. Otherwise, liquid glue is easy to manipulate.

Brand Product name Pros Cons Price
Aleene's Original Tacky Glue glue-cardboard-prototyping Spray glue / great for cardboard /thick / $2.39
Elmer Glue-All elmer-glue-cardboard-prototyping Liquid glue / classic / great for cardboard / $3.49
Sticky Ass Glue Sticky Ass Glue sticky-ass-glue-cardboard-prototyping Liquid glue / More adhesive than others More expensive $9.22

Aleene is your best option for spray glue. Sticky Ass Glue is a favorite in liquid glue.


Good to know: Craft boards are designed to make working with glue much easier. They self-clean and avoid traces on your desk while offering a good flat surface to work with your prototype. A good one is Ranger.




MIT teacher and open source hero David Mellis prototyped a radio using cardboard. Frame is held together with press-fit struts.


David Mellis radio prototype made out of cardboard. Credit image: David Mellis

Learning how to press-fit is part of the Fab Academy curriculum.

Flatpack is a walking robot. Its creator started by making a cardboard prototype to check sizes before to make a functional prototype out of acrylic plate.


Walking robot prototype in cardboard created by RetroInterfacing. Image credit: Retrointerfacing

Press-fitting Tools & Resources

  • An example of press-fit technique to build a replica of a 1930’s Chrysler Building Hat is to read on Make Architecture.
  • Another press-fit example, this time from a FabAcademy student showing different techniques using cardboard and plywood on his page.
  • Tools needed are usually the ones that give you the sharpest and cleanest cut. Laser cutters and utility knives are a must-have to press-fit cardboard.



Gliding is a way to create moving parts in your cardboard prototype, or making fabric-like or grid-like shapes.

This low-cost microscope prototype is functional and made out of cardboard using a gliding technique. It has been designed by Stanford bioengineer Manu Prakash and colleagues as a solution for cheap medical screening tool.


Low-cost cardboard microscope. Credit image: Manu Prakash


Hope you find good inspiration from these examples. I’d love to hear about your prototypes in the comments below!

I also would like to thank Gerrit Niezen for sharing this great website about Cardboard Modeling by Joep Frens from TU Eindhoven. Website is packed with clear how-to videos on different ways to shape cardboard or foam.

Cardboard Prototyping Series:

See you soon,


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