by Keith Allen

As a kid, I loved building things out of cardboard, whether it was a spaceship for the very first mission to Saturn or a fortified castle to keep out the fire-breathing dragons. That love stayed with me into adulthood and today I find that same sense of wonder when I’m creating new worlds from a flat sheet of paper.

I work as a Senior Designer, Illustrator and Paper-Engineer at a large greeting card company and also own an independent publishing company that specializes in pop-up books. You may ask, “What exactly is a paper-engineer?” Sounds fancy, right? Well, a paper-engineer is simply a title for someone who loves to build things out of paper. And that’s me!


When I first graduated from Art School, I got a job designing party supplies and was immediately drawn to creating paper centerpieces. I loved the challenge of building something very complex, but simple enough for a consumer to assemble. Wanting to branch out, I began making paper toys and sculptures on my own. An art director noticed my work and asked if I would like to work on pop-ups for an upcoming greeting card line. With a very enthusiastic YES!, I took the job and the rest is history.



I’m not going to lie, building pop-ups can be time-consuming and challenging at times, but when it all come together perfectly, it is exhilarating! My pop-up development process looks like this:

1. Quickly sketch out your ideas on paper first to find a great layout. This does not need to be pretty.


2. Build a rough concept by experimenting with a variety of folds. This step can take a while, but it’s important to get it right in the beginning. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, some of my best folds can from my mis-measurements.


3. When your rough spread is finished, rebuild it over and over and over again. Do this until all the mistakes are corrected and it opens and closes neatly without catching or hanging out of the page.

4. Once it looks good, tear the whole thing apart, but gently. Scan all your pieces into the computer and build your dielines. I like to use Adobe Illustrator for this, but there are many programs that can be used.


5. Illustrate your artwork onto your refined dielines. When your pencil lines are complete, assemble it again and make sure your art is lining up correctly with your folds and attachments.


6. Once your pencil lines are corrected and complete, you can color and finalize your Illustrations. Now you have a finished Pop-Up spread!


If you are interested in learning more about paper-engineering, there are so many great resources out there for beginners and experts. My favorite reference book is THE ELEMENTS OF POP-UP by David Carter, which I refer to almost daily. YouTube has so many wonderful tutorials and videos that go into great detail about particular fold types. I have created a few as well on my YouTube Channel.

Keep on Poppin’!

keithallenKeith Allen is a Senior Product Designer for American Greetings in Cleveland Ohio. He is the co-founder of By the Bay Books and owner of the independent publishing company, 5am Press, LLC.

Keith’s most recent pop-up book, “What a Mess! A Pop-Up Misadventure” was successfully funded on and will be available for sale in the Spring 2017.

Visit him online at, Twitter @5ambook and Instagram @5am_popup.