Skull-A-Day 5.0 - Tutorial - Dia de la Abby #63: Skull Papel Picado

I wanted to make some Dia de los Muertos papel picado banners in a similar way to my Skullflake design. Both are cut paper, but the folding will be a bit different. If you can cut a snowflake, you can make a papel picado banner. You can either do these in a stack or individually. You can either hang these in a row together or separately. Just depends on what works best.


  • Tissue Paper - I used tissue paper (which is traditional), but if you find that too thin, you can use colorful computer paper. I buy my tissue paper at Dollar Tree. It comes in various colors and patterns, in large amounts
  • Scissors - To cut the paper to a smaller size, the sides and bottom edge
  • Xacto Knife - To cut inner design
  • Cutting mat, cardboard or chipboard - For cutting on, to protect the work surface from the xacto blade
  • Pencil and Eraser - For drawing the design before cutting
  • Clean white paper - For protecting the cut tissue paper while pressing
  • Large Heavy books - To flatten out the paper pieces after you are done cutting
  • String, twine or Ribbon - For hanging the papel picado pieces like a banner or separate for individual placement
  • Clear Tape - For making a casing at the top of the tissue paper, for the string to go through


Since, I made two using different folding methods, I'll tell you how to do both. Traditionally, they are done in a stack with chisels and a hammer, not folded like I will show you. I wanted something easily symmetrical and familiar for you all...and me too.

1) Lay one piece of tissue paper out. Since this is large, you will need to cut it (unless you want a huge banner) into 4 pieces.

2) Fold the tissue paper vertically and horizontally, and crease. Cut along those creases. You will be working with one of these smaller pieces at a time.

Banner 1: Wide Baner

1) With the rectangle piece of tissue paper placed so the long part is at the top and bottom, fold the top of it over 1 inch. This will be used later to create a casing for hanging.

2) Fold the the paper vertically several times in even amounts. This is to make cutting the bottom edge easier. Lightly sketch your design along the bottom edge, while the paper is folded. Make the design simple, as you will be cutting through multiple folds. Keeping the paper still folded, cut the design out using the small scissors. Since tissue paper is thin, this should be easy to cut through. Repeat this horizontally for the side.

3) With the paper folded in half vertically, fold it in half again. Fold it in half again, but leave the decorative edge out. You should have a long column of paper with the decorative edge out and the center fold in the opposite. This will basically be an accordion fold. Folding the paper will making cutting through the thin tissue paper easier. I made my folds to match with how I folded the paper for the bottom edge. That way the bottom decorative edge would look even with the central design.

4) Lightly draw a basic design on the folded paper. Keep in mind where the folds are. You want the design focused on the center folded edge, so when it's open after cutting, you will have a triplicate symmetrical design (like mine). Also, keep in mind the folded casing edge at the top. You do NOT want to cut through that.

5) Lay your folded paper on a piece of cardboard, chipboard or a cutting mat. This will protect your work surface from cuts. Using the xacto blade, cut out your design. If your skull is curved like mine, you want to leave breaks in your curved line cuts, so the paper stays together in some places. You will still be able to see your design clearly. The triangles I used help accent the skull shape and proved a filler design. Triangles are very simple to do and work well with curves and straight line spaces.

6) After you are done cutting, your paper will be very bend from the folds.  On a hard stable surface (a table or a counter are best), lay a clean piece of paper down. Lay your cut tissue paper carefully down on this piece of paper. Put another clean piece of paper down over top of the tissue paper. Place a large heavy book on top of this piece of paper. This will help keep the tissue paper clean and flat.

7) After a few hours of this pressure flattening, your tissue paper should be nice and flat. Unfold the cassing channel. Put a long piece of ribbon in this channel. The ribbon should be longer than the channel, so you can hang it. Lay the channel piece over the ribbon. Using small pieces of clear tape, secure the channel closed.

8) Hang your papel picado high up, so it's protected from being bumped into and placed like a banner would be. You can hang multiples on one ribbon, tacking them to the wall or ceiling in between the paper pieces. Or, you can hang them separately.

Banner 2: Tall Banner

1) The difference between how I did the Long Banner and Tall Banner is how I folded it. Place the paper with the short sides at the top and bottom.

2) Make the decorative edges the same at the Wide Banner.

3) To make the center design, fold the paper in half vertically. Draw with the pencil and cut with the xacto knife, the main design in the same way that you did the Wide Banner. The big difference with that is you will only be cutting through 2 layers of paper. You need to be more delicate with it while cutting.

4) Leaving the paper still folded, fold it again but horizontally. You want to make sure the edge designs match up, so the next cuts will be squared and even. Keep the top casing free from the design area. You don't cut that.

5) To make the basics of the corner and side design, lightly draw it out and cut. Since the skull design will have some odd negative spaces, you can't make designs all over the uncut paper. This is ok for this step.

6) After starting a basic design, unfold the paper once. This will leave it still folded in half once vertically.

7) Draw additional designs at the top, bottom and any other uncut design area. Cut these out with the xacto knife. Or, if you are like me, I just free cut the designs instead of drawing them all 1st.

8) Open the paper and press in the same way you did the Wide Banner.

9) After pressing, you can hang it in the same way at the Wide Banner.

There are several ways to make folded papel picado. You can fold them in various ways to make different design repetitions. You can make a half circle by doing the triangle folding method and cutting along the outside edge in a circular way. The interior design can be repeated in a fan style or which ever design you choose. You can hang pieces of different or the same sizes, shapes and colors.

If you are very good at folding neatly and cutting through layers, you can make multiple pieces with the same design, by stacking several same size pieces of tissue paper together before folding, drawing and cutting your design. You can also make a template from thick paper to use as a guide for cutting. This can be great for cutting through multiple pieces at once. To keep the multiple pieces of tissue paper and template together, staple the pieces together at the top while the casing areas are unfolded. You will only need a few staples. Less is better. You will carefully remove them after cutting your design. This stapled paper will be used for the casing backing,

If you are curious about the the traditional chisel method, there are a couple great informative tutorials on YouTube by Dia de los Muertos artist Jose Chapez.


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