How to Make Paper Fans

Folded paper fans are one of the simplest origami creations, yet their charm and elegance make them perfect party favors, place settings, or details for gift wrapping. You can also create fans of any size: tiny fans for dolls or stuffed animals, or larger ones to cool off in the summer. Customize them by using any type of paper in any print. Their versatility and ease make them ideal rainy-day activities for any age.

Preparing Your Paper

Pick your paper to determine the size and color of your fan. If you’re a beginner at origami, origami-specific paper can be picked up at your local craft store. You can also use thin plain paper and card stock as popular alternatives. Origami can be folded from any type of paper, as long as it is the appropriate thickness.

  • Origami paper, also known as kami, is what is traditionally used in this famed practice. Kami is advantageous because it is thin, flexible, and often pre-cut into squares. However, kami was invented to be a less expensive option to Western paper, meaning it can be low quality.
  • Plain copy paper is used for many styles of beginner origami. When choosing copy paper, look for a thinner option as it will fold and crease nicely, whereas a thicker version will be lumpy and unsightly after folding.
  • Card-stock, or craft paper is another popular paper choice for folding. The advantage to card stock is that it comes in endless amounts of shapes, and colors; however, sometimes it can be too thick and rigid leading to cracking within your design.
  • The best way to determine if the paper is too thick is to try a few quick folds. If the paper does not have an even, smooth crease or tears under the pressure of your folds, it is likely too thick for origami.

Trim your paper size to reflect your desired fan size. When you desire a longer fan, use a rectangular shaped paper. Your fan will be approximately two thirds the length of the longer side of the rectangle. Otherwise, you can stick with a square piece of paper. A square piece will yield a fan approximately two thirds the length of the square’s sides.

  • Paper that is 15 cm x 15 cm (6” x 6”) is good for beginners. but you can also use a larger piece if you desire a longer fan.The 15 cm x 15 cm paper choice will allow for a small, handheld fan. If you desire a larger fan, try starting with 20 cm x 20cm (8” x 8”).

Cut your square piece of paper into a rectangle. If you are using a rectangular piece of paper, skip this step. With the paper front-side up, fold down a portion of one side and crease. Unfold the crease and use scissors to cut along the crease. Now you have a rectangular piece of paper.

  • If you have access, use a paper cutter. A paper cutter allows for a quick and straight cut by placing the paper on the mount, aligning it up the corners and pulling the blade down in one quick motion. This is effective for cutting several pieces of paper at once. 
  • Cut slowly. You want to do your best to cut a straight line in order to have an even fan. If you’re struggling to get a straight cut, try using larger cuts to ensure the smoothness.

Folding the Fan

Lay the paper down on its decorative side. It should be back-side up, with the non-decorative or plain side facing you.

Fold down the top edge by one third. Think of folding it like a hot dog bun; you want to fold along the longer edge to produce a long, skinny fold. Line up your corners of the top of the sides of the paper to ensure a straight fold, then crease from the center outwards.

  • With the paper folded closed, you can use your fingers to set the crease by pushing directly down it with your fingers.
  • Pick the folded paper up and look at it’s profile from the side view, ensuring that the decorative side is downwards. Note the “V” shape in the fold. This is called a “valley fold.”

Fold the paper in half, vertically, keeping your initial fold from the previous step. You want to do a second “hamburger fold.” That is, you want it to be short and wide, like a hamburger bun (versus the long and slim, hot dog fold.) Fold the left side of the paper onto the right side, align the corners and crease from the center for an even valley fold, then open the fold again. Now you will have a sharp vertical crease in the center.

Fold the left and right edges in towards the center crease. You want to make two vertical flaps meeting at the center, not overlapping. This is called a “gate fold.” Think of it as two closing doors meeting in the middle, like a gate.

Continue making vertical gate folds. Fold the two vertical edges in twice more, or until you have two inward-folding flaps about 1 cm or 0.5 inch wide. The sides will be folded over themselves, making two slim flaps. Make sure your folds are straight with sharp creases at each step.

Unfold all of the previously made vertical folds. Be gentle while unfolding to prevent tearing your hard work. Now you will have several vertical creases. Each crease should be approximately 1 cm in width. Do not unfold the horizontal fold from step two.

Rotate the paper 90 degrees. The fold from step two will be running vertically on the left. Now the creases that were previously vertical are horizontal.

  • Depending on which hand is your dominant, it may feel more comfortable to have your thick vertical fold on the right. Try laying your paper with the fold on each side, and see what feels most comfortable for the upcoming steps.

Repeat alternating folds with the remaining horizontal creases. Fold a valley, then a mountain, and repeat. This series of folds resembles an accordion. You will immediately start to see a pattern in your folding.

  • If you make with patient and keep trying. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the process will seem easy after the first few tries.