Origami Heaven

Origami Heaven is the website of paperfolding designer and author David Mitchell


A Family Tree of Origami
This page provides a broad overview of origami in the form of a family tree. Somewhat unconventionally, the categories of origami that form the trunks and branches of this tree have been differentiated by the intention of the designer or folder - the purpose for which the paperfold is designed or folded - rather than by the folding technique they have employed.

Many paperfolders may be surprised to discover that what they thought was the mainstream - model-making origami - is just one branch of the origami tree, though admittedly one rather heavily laden with fruit.

It is in the nature of any analysis of this kind that the divisions between the categories will be somewhat artificial in places and many of the categories are not as separate as they may at first seem.

There are links within the text to pages that provide more detail about some of the more unusual categories.

1   Everyday origami is paperfolding which serves a practical everyday purpose and which forms part of the general culture of a society as a whole rather than the special culture of the origami community. Examples of everyday origami are wrapping presents, weakening paper by folding so that it can be torn apart, folding letters to insert them in envelopes, or folding photocopied sheets into booklets, party invitations etc. Functional origami can become everyday origami if it is disseminated sufficiently widely. Playground folds can be considered to be a form of everyday origami.
2   Ceremonial origami is paperfolding carried out for ceremonial or religious purposes. In Japan ceremonial origami largely concerned the folding of wrappers - called noshi or tsutsumi - for gifts of flowers etc associated with particular religious festivals throughout the year. In China it is more associated with the folding of Yuan Bao (gold nuggets) which are burned at funerals. This style of origami is now largely of historical interest and significance.

Performance origami is about using paperfolding to produce entertaining, amusing, or sometimes magical, effects. There are two different kinds of performance origami:

Performance origami in which the effect lies in the folding process itself, either purely in the almost magical emergence of the design or in a 'surprise denouement' at the end of the folding sequence.

Performance origami in which the effect is achieved by the manipulation of the finished paperfold. Troublewit is a classic example.

4   Conceptual origami is the most difficult type of origami to understand or explain. Conceptual origami uses the conventions of origami design, diagramming, or culture to make a serious, humorous or satirical comment about (usually) origami itself or (occasionally) wider issues. Unlike most other forms of origami it may aim to offend rather than entertain.

NOFO or NO Fold Origami is an extreme minimalist type of conceptual origami which does away with the folding element of paperfolding entirely. This is clearly a contradiction, yet, somehow, the concept works.


Craft origami is what most people would think of when they hear the word origami. Craft origami embraces both the process of creating designs that are intended to be reproducible and the process of reproducing them from personal or recorded tuition, from diagrams, or by reverse-engineering. I call this shared process Partnership Art.

The reproduction part of craft origami is not a sterile process. In reproducing the chosen design the folder seeks to personalise it - by careful choice or manufacture of the paper, by the application of folding and finishing skills, and often also by varying the finishing folds to produce an enhanced aesthetic effect.

Craft origami can be divided into representational, abstract, play and functional origami. There are individual notes on each of these

6   Virtual origami is origami without folding paper.

This is not as crazy as it sounds. Experienced model-making paperfolders can often look at a paperfold for the first time and reconstruct the basic folding sequence in their minds. It is a short step from that to being able to visualise a finished model that you want to design and 'unfolding' it to work out how it could be made.

In addition, origami designers, particularly designers working in the model-making field are increasingly using mathematical design techniques and only realising their models in paper once the design process is at an advanced stage.

7   Exploratory origami is the hands-on trial-and-error or serendipitious investigation of the possibilities inherent in the paperfolding process which may. or may not, lead to designs the reproduction of which would fall within other categories.

Origami puzzles or paperfolding puzzles are puzzles which relate to the qualities and configurations of folded paper.

Origami puzzles come in two distinct kinds - those which can be solved by trial and error while folding or manipulating paper (a form of exploratory origami) and those which can only be solved by mathematics (perhaps a form of virtual origami).

It is important to distinguish between origami puzzles and origami models of puzzles which were originally designed in another medium such as plastic or wood. The folding of such models is a type of model-making origami.

9   Representational origami is a form of craft origami which seeks to represent objects and living beings in a recognisable way.

This can be done either by the merest suggestion (minimalist origami) or by attempting to achieve a high degree of verisimilitude (model-making origami).


Play origami is a form of craft origami concerned with the design and realisation of paperfolds which can function as manipulative novelties or toys. Many traditional paperfolds - including the Flapping Bird - fall into this category.

Playground folds are folds which are in common use by children in the playground. In UK the most common playground folds are the basic paper dart from a rectangle and the Fortune Teller from a square. (Playground folds could also be considered to be a form of Everyday Origami.)

Paper Aircraft are a variety of play origami, but one that is now taken quite seriously in some quarters (thanks largely to the Guinness Book of Records).

Flexagons are fascinating novelties made by folding and weaving strips of paper into polygonal forms. These forms can be flexed in many intriguing ways to alter the appearance of their visible surfaces. Flexagons are not strictly origami - but are definitely origamic.

Origami Games are games specifically designed to be played by folding paper or which require paperfolds as essential apparatus (eg Jumping Frog races). Making folded paper versions of existing games that normally using apparatus made of other materials (eg origami versions of Tangrams) is a form of model-making origami.

11   Abstract origami is a form of craft origami which is about the folding of geometric and decorative forms.

Usually such forms are produced by straight-line folds alone, but the use of curved crease lines is becoming more common. Straight-line folds in one part of the paper can also be used to induce curves in other areas of the same sheet..

Abstract origami forms are generally either single-piece or modular. Modular origami is a technique in which sheets of paper are folded into modules or units which are then combined into two or three-dimensional abstract forms.


Functional origami is a form of craft origami that is intended to serve a practical purpose around the home or in the work-place.

Most functional objects - containers, photo-frames, stands etc - are single-piece paperfolds, though there are many excellent modular boxes.

Ornaments may be considered a form of functional origami. Most of the best origami ornaments are modular, though there are some fine single-piece designs as well.

Some paperfolds, especially mathematical models, are conceived as teaching aids and therefore qualify as functional origami.

13   Rule-compliant origami is a type of paperfolding which is constrained by self-imposed rules which limit the creative options available to a designer or folder in some way. Although the intentuion may be, for instance, to design a bird, compliance with the rules takes precedence over any other factor during the design or folding process.

Two examples of this kind of origami are John Smith's Pureland and my own Naive Origami.


Minimalist origami, whether single sheet or multiple sheet, is a form of representational origami that seeks to capture the essence of a subject in the smallest possible number of folds (usually between 1 and 5 - though there is no hard and fast rule).

15   Pictorial origami uses paper which is white one side and a single plain colour the other (or a different plain colour each side) to create flat (but not necessarily rectangular) two-colour images of objects, figures, landscapes etc. This technique is sometimes known as 'drawing with paper'.

Many minimalist folds are pictorial, since this technique dramatically increases the representational potential of a few simple folds.

Pictorial origami can be either single sheet or multiple sheet.


Model-making origami seeks to model plants, living creatures, or inanimate objects in folded paper as realistically as possible.

Enthusiasts for this type of origami often subscribe to the ethic that origami should be single-sheet. This combination of the single-piece ethic and a desire for realism brings the designer straight up against the limitations of paperfolding technique, so it is not surprising that most of the advances in single-sheet origami technique have been achieved by designers working in this field.

Model-making origami often makes use of bases. I sub-divide base-using model-making origami into Old School and New School. In Old School model-making origami the base is one of a limited number of traditional bases, such as the blintzed bird base, which serves as a standardised point of departure. In New School model-making origami the base is a custom form which provides the number of points the creator requires for the design.

Model-making origami is the most popular form of craft origami. Indeed many craft paperfolders and paperfolding designers tend to concentrate on this form of origami to the virtual exclusion of everything else.

17   Minimalist modular origami is a type of origami in which the intention is to produce stable modular designs from modules which are created using the minimum number of structural folds.
18   Geometric sculpture is a form of abstract origami that seeks to produce aesthetically appealing form by folding paper.

Many designers have produced single-sheet sculpture using techniques which vary from twist folding through cross-pleating to random crumpling.

Modular sculpture is abstract sculpture produced by modular origami.

Macro-modular sculpture is abstract sculpture produced by combining simple modular assemblies into larger structures.

Sculptures can also be created by the arrangement of sculpture pieces folded from multiple sheets of paper.


Mathematical and scientific modelling means the folding of polyhedra, tiles and tiling patterns or other mathematical and scientific designs.

Tiles and tiling patterns in this sense are folded from multiple sheets and should be distinguished from origami tessellations, which are effectively tiling patterns folded from a single sheet.

Polyhedra can be folded either from single sheets or, usually more effectively, from modules.

In a similar vein, modular origami has been used to model molecular structures, particularly the structure of fullerenes.

20   Origami tesselations are a form of abstract origami in which multi-layer tilings are produced from a single large sheet of paper by a technique known as twist folding.