MAKE Kirigami with Silhouette Studio Software

Kirigami is the art of paper cutting which dates back hundreds of years. This technique has inspired expressions from cultures all over the world, including, Chinese Jianzhi and shadow puppets, Japanese Monkiri and Senga, Polish and Ukrainian Wycinanki, German Scherenschnitte, and Mexican Papel Picado. You can view our Prezi, For the Love of Paper, to see a visual overview of kirigami from around the world. You can also explore modern uses of kirigami and new media techniques with real world connections with another Prezi, Modular Paper Engineering.

We love to being Kirigami explorations by discussing where we see the technique in our everyday lives. It can be seen in fabricated decorations (i.e. laser CNC metal signage, slidetogether lighting sculpture, Dia de los Muertos decoration, and even in clothing design cutouts). You can explore these digital fabrication techniques using Silhouette Studio software, which is free vector-based design software, and Silhouette Cameo machines, which have a small blade that can trim fabric, foam sheets, paper, vinyl, and more.

Try some of our Kirigami activities:

Mathematical Puzzle Sculptures

Three-dimensional mathematical puzzles are a fun way to develop problem-solving and visual reasoning skills but they can also turn into beautiful works of art. Whether using everyday objects (such as popsicle sticks and straws), origami (paper folding), or kirigami (paper cutting), you can create something awesome while you also apply some cool math.

Check out our posts for some inspiration:

Modular Kirigami Puzzles

Using the art of paper cutting (kirigami), you can transform multiple copies of 2D shapes (modules) into clever 3D objects by connecting or combining them in different ways. Mathematical sculptor/designer (and engineering professor), George Hart, uses this technique to create amazing mathematical puzzles constructed as sliceforms and slidetogethers. These sculptures are not only beautiful, but are also concrete physical explorations of abstract mathematical concepts that can address mathematical knowledge and visual reasoning skills. He has many publications that discuss this basics of modular kirigami (i.e. read this article that discusses an overview, create a “tunnel cube” out of a deck of cards) and he has great resources to help teachers integrate these concepts to “make math visible” in the classroom.

Based on Jessica Jones’ design, you can connect 12 identical copies of this simple flower piece to create a unique 3D flower sphere that is based on pentagons. No adhesive needed; the only ingredient is paper! We like to cut ours out on colorful cardstock paper using by duplicating the design in Silhouette Studio software and then cutting them out on our Silhouette Cameo machine. Then we turn them into jewelry, lampshades, and ornaments.


You can vary the design of the piece to create other unique designs too, such as this one that is based on the Loomi lampshade design:IMAG1358

Learn more about the historical and cultural background of kirigami: For the Love of Paper (Prezi)

Lights, Camera, Shadow Puppets!

Shadow puppets have a long history, dating back to China over 2,000 years ago. Their unique technique, called “shadow play,” involved intricate puppets which were moved between a screen and a light using sticks, regional folk music, and theatrical lighting (for more information, view the Chinese Shadow Puppetry documentary on YouTube, 10:07). Though the technique is still used today in its original form, people all over the world have entertained themselves through manipulating shadows with creative silhouettes. This activity uses both digital and non-digital design tools to explore line, shape, and contrast through the creation of shadow puppets that can perform on a stage.
hand shadow puppet OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Materials needed:

  • black cardstock paper (or other dark colored paper)
  • sticks (i.e. craft sticks, chop sticks, wooden skewers, sticks, etc.)
  • paper fastener brads
  • white copier paper or tissue paper
  • cereal box (or small cardboard box)
  • scissors
  • tape and/or glue
  • table lamp
  • Silhouette Studio software (optional)
  • Silhouette Cameo machine (optional)
  • video camera (optional)


  1. Begin with the end in mind. Consider how you want to construct the puppet. This decision will impact the way you create your silhouettes. Also, consider where you will perform. What light source will you use? Where will your “stage” be?
    1. Do you want it to be a solid piece that easily glues to a stick and has static movement?
    2. Do you want to more options for controlling the puppet’s movement through the use of interconnected joints using paper fastener brads and sticks?
  2. Skeleton Shadow Puppet DesignCreate the puppets. This can be done by drawing by hand on cardstock paper then using scissors to carefully cut out the shapes, or this can be done by creating digital designs in Silhouette Studio software and then trimming the designs out of cardstock paper on a Silhouette Cameo machine. Either way, the silhouettes must have a strong sense of line to provide contrast. Affix puppet pieces using chosen materials (i.e. sticks, paper fastener brads, etc.)
  3. Build the stage. Stages for shadow puppets and shadow play can be constructed out of anything. Whether you cleverly use the sunlight to cast shadows on the ground or you build a high-tech stage for formal performances, the key to success is a strong light source (i.e. sun, lamp, projector, etc.) and an area to cast shadows (i.e. ground, white paper, white bed sheet, etc.). Check out this easy upcylcled cereal box stage. Or if you want a real challenge, check out this high-tech fancy stage idea.
  4. Put on an awesome show. If you don’t already have an awesome story in mind, try out a story generator to get started. Once you have your idea, you can formally write a script or improv your way to a great performance. Don’t forget to invite others to share in your awesomeness and add in a simple video recording so you can share your performance with the world.

WANT MORE? View the Shadow Puppet Lesson, which is focused on 3rd grade English Language Arts and Visual Arts. In the activity, students will create an original video that will highlight their own story, music, shadow puppets, and stage design. Students will begin by writing a short story in response to book or a prompt. They will consider mood through the creation of original music using found objects to accompany the short story. They will then explore line, shape, and contrast as they create shadow puppets and a stage. The performance can then be performed in front of an audience of other classes and parents or video recorded to share with others beyond the school community. This activity can me managed and modified to take under an hour or be spread over multiple class meetings.

Multidisciplinary connections:

Additional resources:

Modular Paper Sculpture

Inspired by the mathematical sculpture of George Hart, these paper sculptures consists of a series of flat two-dimensional shapes that hook together to create a three-dimensional form. This particular design is based on the Loomi Globe Lampshade, which can be connected in a variety of configurations.