Origami Help for Beginners

The Folding Symbols:

  • Valley Fold
  • Peak Fold
  • Pleat Fold
  • Push Here
  • Fold Behind
  • Turn Model Over
  • Fold / Unfold
  • Unfold
  • X-Ray Line
  • Crease Line
  • The Written Instructions:

  • Sink (closed)
  • Sink (open)
  • Unsink
  • Pull out some paper
  • Reverse Fold
  • Outside Reverse Fold
  • Learn these simple symbols and directions and you'll be able to make almost any well-diagrammed model in any book. Sometimes different Origami authors will use different terms for the same folding instruction. Where possible, each of the different terms will be noted for your convenience. (Most Origami books have a section near the beginning of the book which details the various symbols used within).
    The Valley Fold    - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

    A valley fold means that the fold you make will create a 'valley' or gully in the paper. These are sometimes called 'book folds' too, because when you make the fold on a square piece of paper, the result looks like a book.
    The Peak Fold 
    The peak folds means the exact opposite of the valley fold. This means that if you make a peak fold on a square piece of paper, the result will look like a pup tent. These are also called mountain folds. The fan pictured below has mountain folds (the peaked 'A' shaped folds) and valley folds (the 'V' shaped folds).

    The Pleat Fold 
    The pleat fold can indicate folding similar to the paper fan. More often, the folds take on a 'stair step' style (each fold is higher than the last). Look at the diagram to determine how the pleat is supposed to end up; often the finished pleat should not 'stack' evenly; it may be that the folds are meant to rise and fall in a pattern (peak-peak, valley-valley, peak-peak, valley-valley, etc.). In Kunihiko Kasahara's "Creative Origami" this fold is referred to as a stair-step fold.
    Push Here 

    This instruction is meant to show the folder how to push a certain point (or points) on the model to ease it into the next step. Be aware that often the 'push here' direction is part of an intermediate step; you are pushing a particular point on the model to encourage it to move into the next position.
    Fold Behind 

    This one can be very confusing for beginners. Often the problem is that the diagram doesn't specify behind what. This calls for some experimentation. Find out why the flap is being folded behind something else. Is it to hide the flap? Then it probably doesn't matter what you fold it behind as long as the flap remains hidden. Is it to lock the model? Then you will be able to determine which flap holds the model the most securely. If the piece is folded behind a part of the model so that it may be removed for later utilization, then you should read ahead in the diagrams to determine where it will need to be made available.
    Turn the Model Over 

    This one is quite simple as it merely indicates to turn the model over. The primary recommendation here is to watch for it! Sometimes a model can seem very confusing when all that's wrong is you've neglected to turn it over. Intermediate and especially expert diagrams typically involve a great deal of turning over, turning back, turning over, etc... Always make sure your model matches the diagrams in the book.
    Fold / Unfold

    Fold / Unfold instructions generally are for the purpose of pre-creasing. Even though the benefit of pre-creasing may not be evident immediately, the instruction is usually provided to make a subsequent step easier; the paper will already move in a preferred way. Some complicated folds may be made somewhat easier in this way.

    Unfold instructions are similar to the fold/unfold instruction, although if the direction is to simply unfold, chances are you will be directed to unfold all the way back to a certain step. While fold/unfold instructions general refer to a single step pre-crease, unfold usually occurs after a series of instructions; it is a more complex form of pre-creasing. In more detailed diagrams, the unfold may be part of a series of steps meant to free a piece of the model, or some trapped paper. In this case the model will be refolded after the paper or other part of the model is freed.
    X-Ray Line

    The X-ray line is meant to give the folder an idea of what is going on 'inside' the model, by showing a view as if some of the paper were invisible. At times this will be necessary in order to determine how a fold is to be tucked inside, or at other times, where the paper is coming from that is to be folded outward. If confused by an X-ray line in a diagram, one way to understand what is being shown is to sacrifice a model and either tear or cut some paper away to see what is going on in there. A less extreme method may also work: carefully unfold as much of the model as is necessary to determine what is being shown by the X-ray view.

    Crease Line  _________________

    Crease lines show the results of previous folds. If a crease line shows in a diagram that is not in your model, you may have skipped an important pre-creasing step. Some advanced diagrams start out with pre-crease lines already existing. This is because some creases are quite common, such as folding the paper in half diagonally in each direction (think of an 'x' inside a square).

    One more thing to remember about crease lines. Don't assume that the direction of the fold during pre-creasing is necessarily going to be the direction of the fold later on. Often the pre-crease is made when the affected section of the paper is most accessible. When the fold is made later on, it may be that the fold will go in the opposite direction (i.e., valley v. peak). The pre-crease is still a worthwhile step of course, because it has stressed the paper in a given line and will be more prone to bending in that same line again, even if it is the inverse of the original pre-crease. Confused? It makes more sense in the context of the entire model, so don't be.

    Verbal Directions

    Sink (closed)

    Sinks of all sorts were a major source of confusion for me when I began folding. While it may seem obvious to some, to others it is an unusual step and especially so when trying to distinguish between "closed" and "open" sinks.

    Sink (open)

    The same methods can be used to create an open sink as for the closed sink. The difference is entirely in how the paper ends up. Where the closed sink leaves one with a simple pocket (no compartments) the open sink tends to follow the contours of the model more, creating multiple corners or sections in the pocket. Think of a shirt pocket as a closed sink and a paper lunch bag as an open sink. The shirt pocket is rather flat, but the lunch bag folds in at the sides, creating four distinct corners or sections.


    The unsink is not the same as the unfold direction. It is general meant to create a peak which is created from an existing sink. Think of a Mexican sombrero, a pointed hat with a raised brim. Some sinks, if left unchanged, would leave peaks drooping down beneath the model; the unsink pushes this peak back up into the body of the model.

    Pull out some paper

    This instruction may be frustrating for some folders in its ambiguity. On the other hand it is virtually impossible for the diagram's author to specify which paper is to be removed. Therefore the best way to determine which paper to pull out is to view the subsequent steps of the diagram. Often pulling out "some" paper refers to a single layer of paper that is lurking under the surface of a flap or other part of the model. More complex models often undergo many such steps in order to extend the capabilities of the paper by constantly freeing more paper to work with.

    Reverse Fold

    Kasahara calls this the "pocket" fold. In it, an existing fold is inverted. This instruction is usually accompanied by diagram lines showing whether peak or valley folds are to be used.

    Outside Reverse Fold

    Kasahara calls this a "hood" fold, because when completed one side of the paper will have been folded back over the main body, creating a hood or collar.

    Source: http://www.empnet.com/woodmansee/origuide.htm by Steve Woodmansee
    Bowing lady and Fan graphics by Nekochan