DIY papel picado: Make cut paper banners for Day of the Dead

Those colorful, festive cut paper banners you see on Day of the Dead altars and at Mexican celebrations are papel picado. Traditionally, these pieces of Mexican folk art were chiseled by hand (say whaaaat?!) from stacks of tissue paper, using designs that varied based on the occasion. All we had to do was whisper the words “cut tissue paper” to Hallmark Lettering Artist Lynn G., and suddenly we had three designs—and free templates!—for DIY papel picado. 

Papel picado banners displayed over an altar created to celebrate Day of the Dead

Papel Picado in pink, blue, and yellow

Papel Picado supplies: plastic table cover, string, templates and instructions, scissors, hole punch

SUPPLIES FOR DIY PAPEL PICADO

  • FREE papel picado instructions and templates (download here and print on white copier paper)
  • Tissue paper or lightweight plastic table covers in bright colors
  • Scissors (or craft knife, if you prefer)
  • String
  • Hole punch and tape or glue

Papel Picado in blue, pink, and yellow with cut-out designs

HOW TO MAKE PAPEL PICADO

The templates for each of the banner designs shown here work a little bit differently. We’ll cover the basics here, but you’ll want to look at the instructions for the specific design you’re going to make.

Supplies for DIY papel picado: hole punch, string, cutting board, instructions, and three finished banners

First, print the paper template and instructions for each design—or just pick one you like. We’ve color coded the templates so you can see which design is which. But obviously, you can make any design on whatever color or colors you want to. (For example, you might want a long string of just multi-colored skulls, and it goes without saying that it would be awesome.)

Trim about a half-inch off each side of the paper template.

DIY Papel Picado: Cutting plastic table cover to fit template

Cut sheets of tissue paper or plastic table cover to the same size as your template.

DIY Papel Picado: Sheet of plastic placed over template.

To get the hang of making the papel picado, start off by putting the template under a single sheet paper or plastic. Follow the instructions for each design to fold and cut each one.

DIY Papel Picado: Folding sheet and template.

DIY Papel Picado: Cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Folding and cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Folding and cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Folding and cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Folding and cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Folding and cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Folding and cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Folding and cutting along template lines to create skull design

DIY Papel Picado: Finished skull designs

Once you’ve mastered the folding and cutting, you can ditch the template and use a few sheets of paper or plastic at a time. Follow the same steps for folding, but try improvising the cut patterns.

DIY Papel Picado: Hanging banners by punching holes in top corners and threading on to string

DIY Papel Picado: Hanging banners by punching holes in top corners and threading on to string

DIY Papel Picado: Hanging banners by punching holes in top corners and threading on to string

To put it all together, you can:

  • Punch holes in the two top corners of each papel picado and string your designs to make a banner. A little bit of tape over the holes will keep them from sliding.
  • Fold the top of the papel picado over the string and glue it down (this is easier to do with tissue paper).

Papel Picado displayed over Day of the Dead altar

DIY Papel Picado: Hanging banners by punching holes in top corners and threading on to string

DIY PAPEL PICADO IDEAS

  • Decorate for your Día de los Muertos party. (More ideas here.)
  • Use your banner to decorate a Day of the Dead altar. (Learn how to make one here.)
  • Papel picado are used as decorations for holidays and special occasions. Play around with different designs and hang the at your next celebration.

Did you try them? Show us! Tag us on Instagram and share your photos on Facebook

Learn more about Day of the Dead (Día de los Muertos), how to create an altar, and sugar skulls (free coloring page included!).

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