How Pop-Up Books Are Made

How Pop-Up Books Are Made

“At the start, you have a rough plan of the story,” says Andy Mansfield, a paper engineer who trained under the famous pop-up pioneer Ron van der Meer. “You work out which bits could be the stand-out pop-ups. You order your story to make sure they’re going to be in the right place. Then you get lots of sheets of card and play around with them to create a prototype. There are only seven or eight types of paper fold and it’s a case of getting them all to work together in different ways. Then you send your working version off to the printer, who’s usually in the Far East, in China or Thailand. And they double check it, to make sure they can get it to work.”

The pop-up then goes into production, as Iain Smyth, the paper engineer behind the new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory pop-up book, explains: “They are still made by hand, like they were in their Victorian heyday. There’s no other way, really. Each one is different, so you can’t simplify the process for a machine. You can use software to prepare artwork and make the design. But, in the end, you have to use what are basically big biscuit cutters that whack up and down onto paper and cut the design into pieces. ”

Louise Jackson, art director of novelty books at Walker, describes how the cut-outs become pop-ups: “There’s a production line of people gluing, sticking and inserting the tabs. The amazing thing is that to make a piece of paper engineering work you have to be absolutely precise in terms of the angle of the paper, the location of the glue points – everything. If it shifts a couple of millimetres, it won’t work. It’s an incredibly precise job. On a complex pop-up the production line can have up to 60 people working on it – each person doing a small part of the book.

“The thing about pop-ups is because they are expensive to make, we try and make big print runs. It’s the only way we can get the costs to work. A pop-up can have a run of 20,000 copies. And you’ve got to add in the time to quality check them. For every certain number of books, someone needs to pull one off the production line and check it works. It takes time.”

Read about the best pop-up books for children in the Autumn issue of We Love This Book.

Know your pop-ups:

Transformations: When a tab can be pulled at the side of the page and horizontal slats slide under and over each other to create an entirely different scene.

Volvelles: Paper constructions with rotating parts, where nested circular pieces revolve on grommets. First used in Rome in the 16th century.

Tunnel books: A set of pages bound with two folded concertina strips so the book can be looked ‘through’ from the cover to the back, creating a 3D scene effect. This type of book dates from the mid 18th century and was inspired by theatre stage sets.