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.
More ways to celebrate: Check out our DIY sugar skulls (calaveras de azúcar) and literary calaveras, and learn about Diás de los Muertos traditions and how to make an altar for a loved one.
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)
- Hole punch and tape or glue
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.
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.
Cut sheets of tissue paper or plastic table cover to the same size as your 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.
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.
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).
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.