Origami design process (introduction)

Post is a part of a larger series (Design process):

Note: This blog post is the first out of two blog posts dedicated to the Origami design process. In the second one, I will show you the whole process using a simple example. Do not miss it.

Origami is – I hope you understand – not some arbitrary, random paper folding technique that you use to create, almost by an act of magic, exciting paper models. Quite the contrary. Behind what is seemingly random paper folding there is a clear mathematical logic.
But, let’s start from the beginning.
Generally speaking, the origami design process is more or less straightforward. It can be said that there are three phases in folding:

  1. a square paper,
  2. a base and
  3. a final model
Abrashi Origami design process
Figure 1: Origami folding/design process (Elephant is designed by Enomoto Nobuyosh)

Traditional approach design process

It is important for you to remember, to understand, that a base is always the middle step. A base represents the foundation of all origami models. That’s why the most important step is picking the right base, the base that has the same number of flaps as the model you are trying to fold.
I hope you understand the general idea behind this.
I’ve chosen the word “PICKING” on purpose, because in the traditional origami a base was always picked out of a group of so-called traditional bases. You’re supposed to simply pick a base that best suits your needs and intentions and then, with more or less effort, fold the final model.
You already see the problem. If you rely only on these traditional bases, you will soon realise that the range of available choices is severely limited. There are only a handful of traditional bases with few more or less useful variations.

Abrashi origami bases
Figure 2: The Few traditional origami bases (A-Kite Base, B-Fish Base, C-Bird base, D-Frog Base, E-Water-bomb Base)

Novel design approach

Don’t get me wrong. A lot of amazing models can and have been folded out of these bases. There’s no doubt about that. But truth be told, absolutely stunning models that we come across today do not have traditional bases in their foundation, they are the product of two exciting new methods called Circle packing and Box pleating (polygon packing).
What’s the difference? What is so new and exciting about these two methods?
Well, the procedure is still the same: a square paper, a base and a final model. However, the attention turns now fully to the base. The base is the central element that is supposed to be designed and folded so that it suits your needs, the needs of the model you are planning to fold. The base is no longer picked from a set of predefined, traditional bases.
These new methods put an emphasis on the base. The base is the step in which you are supposed to show innovation and new, fresh ideas.
I cannot stress this enough. The shift toward the base design is so immense; it’s been generally believed that once you manage to design such a new and innovative base, folding the final model is quite easy.

Difference between Circle packing and Box pleating method

So, what is the difference between these two methods? To put it simply, Circle packing method is all about packing circles on a square piece of paper. Box pleating is also about packing circles, but this time these circles are inscribed into polygons. That is why Box pleating is something referred to as a Polygon packing method. In this method we are trying to pack polygons, which is much easier to do compared to circles’ packing.

Problems with Circle packing

Many will disagree with what I’m about to say right now, but in my opinion, circle packing, though a really, really great technique, is at the same time very complicated. Using Circle packing method one can get extremely complex crease patterns. Let me just make some things clear. The complexity of the circle packing method is not a disadvantage in itself, however this complexity does, to a large extent, complicate the usage of this method. Once again: I do not want to imply that Circle packing is not a great method. Quite the contrary. But, on the other hand, there is also Box pleating, a similarly powerful, yet a less complex method. So, which one is way better for origami newbies? The choice is more than obvious.

Why would I suggest the Box pleating method?

Box pleating method de facto derives from the circle packing method, and it shares almost all ideas with it. It could be said that polygon packing method is simply a new way of applying the same old ideas. This new method is less complicated, while in principle equally powerful. Therefore, by using polygon packing instead of circle packing method you gain a lot and lose almost nothing. That’s a great trade-off.

Box pleating imperfection

Of course, the Box pleating method isn’t free of any imperfections.
First, models designed using Box pleating method tend to be smaller compared to models designed using Circle packing method. Box pleating methods can be said to be not that optimal. Fortunately, this problem could be to a large extent solved by applying Pythagorean stretch technique.
Second, the base developed using Box pleating method is characterized by rather thin flaps, which may sometimes be a problem, but not necessarily. It all depends on the type of the model you are trying to fold. Sometimes thin flaps may even be an asset. Who knows? However, if you still need wider flaps, they could be made wider using Level shifters.

So, if you are a beginner into the Origami and you do not know where to start, my advice is to check out Box pleating method first.

Of course, don’t forget to read an Origami Design Process (part 2) blog post.