Today, I’m going to show you a design technique for taking an ordinary design and making into one that pops up off the page. I’m not talking about something like a card where it pops up when you open the card. I’m talking about a design that seems to come up out of the paper but is still connected to the background. For lack of a better term, I’m going to call that 3d pop up elements.
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Sometimes I have no idea what to call a design technique. Let me show you a few examples so it makes more sense.
Paige Evans calls it “cut and bend” on this design:
The butterflies are connected at the base of the wings and gently bent up off the page.
And on this one she calls it “cut and fold”:
Designer Alaa’ K calls this one pop out petals.
It’s different from a regular pop-up design because there are no struts — the rectangular pieces that pull up a design like this one:
Or this one:
HINT: You can make your own pop-up cards with struts using version 4.3 and above of the software.
This one is a great example because it has those struts on the bunny’s ears and the 3d elements on the flowers:
What I’m talking about is where everything is part of the design, not a structural piece holding up the design. It’s as if the elements are jumping off the page, which creates dimension. Part of the design is flat on the page, part is pulled up off it. It’s something you don’t do in a regular design because then the piece wouldn’t separate from the background.
You could also describe this as a peek-a-boo technique. It allows you to see a glimpse of what’s behind the page.
Hopefully I’ve explained that enough so that you get the picture and we can go on with learning the technique.
The secret to making 3d pop up elements
Here’s the key to creating your own designs like this: open paths.
In any graphics program, a path is a set of points (nodes) connected by curved and straight lines that create a single design. The software interprets those as cut commands. “Start at this point, make a curved line to here, go in a different direction and cut a straight line to here,” etc. If you double click quickly on the image to get into point editing mode, you can see and alter the nodes to change the shape of the design.
Most of the time, we are using closed paths. That’s because if a path isn’t closed, it doesn’t cut out a 2 dimensional shape.
A straight line you draw in Silhouette Studio is also an open path. If that’s all you have on your page, it only cuts a slit in the material.
By using open paths, we can use that idea in our favor with point editing. That’s the process of manipulating the points (nodes). Often we are moving points to change the contours of a shape, adjusting curves, or removing excess points to smooth out a line. But you can also break a path so that you can leave an opening in it, which is where you can fold it to pop up off the page.
Creating open paths for a 3d pop up
Make sure you start with a design that’s in a compound path. If you don’t understand what that is, then see this post. And you want one that is all one level, not one where you glue pieces on top of one another.
Also look for one where you can leave a space and pop up the design on BOTH sides of the gap.
Here’s a simple butterfly (it’s part of this set). I’ve put a plain, closed square behind it. That represents the material.
If I click on the butterfly (and I removed some excess points using Simplify), then you can see the points that make up the design.
I’m going to imagine that his body is in the center of the design and that’s what will stay connected to the page. I’ll pop up the wings.
Making the breaks
On the top, I select the point at the right of the body and break the path. I know it’s an open path because I see red dots.
Now I’ll break the path on the other side of the body at the top (sorry the red isn’t showing up great).
I release the compound path so I can remove the section across the top. (Alternately, you can do one break and just delete the line segment selected with that point). You need a gap between the open points — that’s where you fold the paper up. How much depends on your design and personal preference.
If you’re having trouble with the dots jumping together and closing the path as you try to move them, select the point you need to move and use the arrow keys on your computer keyboard. Zooming in also helps.
I’m going to remove the fill so you can see the open path.
I’ll do a similar technique on the bottom. If, as with my design, you don’t have a point where you feel you need to break a path, just add one. The red dots at the bottom are ones I added to use as break points.
Then I removed that point at the apex on the bottom.
Cutting the pop up design
Now I can cut this out, and where the paths end where I broke the points, I can fold up the wings.
Be careful when you remove the piece from the mat. You want everything to stay together — you don’t separate the design from the background as you normally would. The background can be a square you create around the design, or the full size of your piece of material.
If you want a smooth fold, you can add a perforated line between the open points.
For more information on point editing, see my series on it starting here.
So to recap — you create an element that pops off the page by making breaks in a closed path. It will take some experience to figure out where to break the path, but the concept is pretty simple.
More examples of 3d pop up elements
Here are a few other designs with the technique.
Instead of folding the pop up elements with a sharp edge, you can curl them up for a different look. Notice I did that on my flower petals.
On a flower like this, visualize all the petals emanating from the center when you plan your breaks and where to fold. Keep the opening (fold line) parallel to the center so that the petals fold back toward it.
Adding another layer
Now that you understand the basics, let’s take it to another level.
- After you’ve cut your pop up design element out of paper, you can put another paper behind it like this:
See why I said you could call it a peek-a-boo technique? (That’s just on my mind lately, as I’m going to be a grandma this summer and bought a peek-a-boo elephant for my little one).
- This is great for creating dimension in a shadow box without different layers:
- Here I put different papers on the back side. I also varied it by fully cutting out the main portions of the design:
To get those different papers just the right size, I create a small offset of each design piece.
- As long as your shape is 1 level, single piece in a compound path, you can do this with more intricate designs. It takes practice, but it’s well worth it:
- Here’s that leaf again, but this time with inner pieces. Notice I left the portion in the middle that stays with the background free from the veins. I made sure the open dots were farther toward the middle than any of the dots on the inner pieces:
The designs I used
If you want to use any of those designs, here are links to them:
- Solid Butterfly
- Peony flower
- Pop up butterfly (the one on the shadow box). This one I purchased as a pop-up design.
- Heart with this flourish added inside
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