Kirigamis in Copper Plate

Traditionally, Kirigamis are made from paper, yet, perhaps they could be made from metal? What would the advantages be? A typical piece of paper is limited by having an even texture, color and thickness. Etched metal can display its own color, surface relief and texture. As is best known to print makers and jewelers, metal’s properties can be varied in hundreds of interesting ways. A metal sheet of thicker gauges isn’t fragile, like papers or foils. Many kinds of oxidizing agents and paints can be applied to its surface.  My own intention has recently been to translate to metals the photo-Kirigami fusion process I had developed in my paper projects, as were displayed in my 2015 blog posts.

Hand made Kirigamis in metal 

To start with, I made a version of Guy Petzall’s Ullagami pattern, ‘3×3 Obloid‘, in thinnish, gold tone aluminum foil, which I cut and scored by hand using an Exacto knife (dimensions: 7.7 cm w x 10.2 cm h before folding x 38 gauge foil).


Pleased with this little piece, I next got some copper plate which had been pre-treated with a lovely dark patina on the surface, and used it in following model. The structure Kirigami (or Ullagami) , is a version of Guy Petzall’s ‘Mandala 1’ design (dimensions 12.7 cm x 12.6 cm before folding x 5 mil thickness). It was hand cut and scored with a box cutter. Some people have liked the rounded folds which give it a more hand-made feel.


I was now ready to attempt a metal piece meant to combine: a) an original graphic design, b) an original Kirigami design, and c) a sturdy metal plate too thick for cutting by hand.

Chemically Etched Plates

To serve this purpose, I learned and adapted a completely different technique,  UV resist etching.  Sherri Haab‘s jewelry-making tutorial was useful; also I bought and used UV photo resist material from her store. The Kiri lines would be chemically etched instead of hand inscribed, and coincidentally the process would be used to apply my own graphic design elements. My first etched model was inspired by the textbook, “Cut and Fold Techniques for Graphic Designs“. To the model graphic I added mechanical motifs which suggest steam punk style, by shadowing-on some small watch parts during the UV resist step. The appearance or disappearance of the graphics was dramatically affected by varying the angle of the light.


The visible markings were etched into the depth of the metal.  Score lines guide folding but not cutting; those are needed to construct a Kirigami. Score lines that will be folded up/out will make the peaks seen from the front. Those that will be folded down/in will make the complementary valleys. Score lines are made by allowing the etch to incise into the surface, either only from the front (for out-set folds) or only from the back (for in-set folds). All score lines on both sides of the sheet must go only half way through the thickness of the plate. The thickness of metal that remains in the score lines after etching should yield to hand folding much as stiff paper does.

The through-cuts that entirely penetrate the plate, making horizontal and curved cut lines, are etched into both the front and back sides so they overlap lengthwise. Those must penetrate  halfway into the plate to meet within the thickness. The final etching time was found by simply noticing an interval until light was seen to pass through all of the cut lines, yet it was not seen through any score lines.

Next, I was very excited to work out a way to add a photographic component to the piece while using same process. Below is a frame removed from the featured animated image at the top of this posting. This is my first such successful piece (dimensions 8.7 cm w x 6.9 cm h x 20 gauge thickness). When lit from a certain angle it has a subtle iridescent patina.


In my first try, the piece was etched for too long:

Emma crouch flat plate overetched

Interestingly, the very thin, lacy ‘metal foam’ which formed in the woman’s body could be used in the future for dramatic effects. I couldn’t fold this piece, for the foam would have broken off at the folds. (Size before folding: 8.7 cm w. x 6.9 cm h. x 36 gauge thickness.)

All still photos and animations in this blog post are subject to copyright by William M. James, 2016.