Learn how to make shadow puppets and start your own shadow puppet theatre at home!
Children are quick to learn the art of creating shadows on the walls with their hands. They fall in love with this activity that is both full of innocent magic and pushes bedtime off a little bit longer! Once they have explored hand shadow puppets, it is natural to progress to traditional shadow puppets on sticks.
But do shadow puppets really stand a chance in this age of 3D animation?
Absolutely, yes. You see, shadow puppets allow children to be the creators instead of the audience. With shadow puppets, they can stage their favourite fairy-tales as well as make their own stories. Our three little pigs often end up being on best terms with the wolf and invite him for tea. Children can also experiment with light and filters, engineer articulated puppets, and even film their own shadow puppet cartoons or stop animation. Shadow puppets are just the right kind of toy for any young artists, writers, directors, or animators.
Shadow puppetry has became just such a creative outlet for us. Over the years, we have created a variety of shadow puppet templates, suitable for use at home, in libraries, or at schools. We have shadow puppets that are based on fairy-tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood, but we also have shadow puppets that allow teachers, librarians, or parents to present fables and nursery rhymes, teach about animals, and explore stories behind festivities, like Christmas, in a fun way.
The legend behind the Moon Festival, presented with shadow puppets.
We love shadow puppets, first of all, because they’re such an amazing creative outlet. But we also like how easily you can learn to make shadow puppets. All you really need is some paper and scissors. It does help to know a few tips and tricks, and in this post I’m going to share a few that I’ve discovered.
Best Materials to Make Shadow Puppets
- Black card stock: 80-90 lb is my favourite paper weight for puppets; 65 lb is a little thin, but may be better for cutting with scissors and a hobby knife, especially at first; 110 lb+ is good as far as durability goes, but it would be hard on scissors or cutting machines, and you might have to abandon some details.
- Bamboo skewers for puppet sticks.
- Puppet templates: You will find most of my puppet designs to be in PNG format – that way, you can use them for printing on paper and cutting by hand or for importing into the software of a silhouette cutting machine
Other than the puppets, you’ll also need a theatre. We have a tutorial for making a simple cardboard puppet theatre by printing our design and another one for building a 19th century-inspired wooden puppet theatre.
How to Make Shadow Puppets by Hand
Print the silhouettes on black paper – the silhouettes you see here are from the Make-a-Fairy-Tale set. You may wonder why black paper. It’s admittedly a bit more difficult to see the design than on white paper, but it’s not at all impossible, as you can see for yourself on the picture above. The advantage of this is that the puppets are black on both sides, which looks quite nice, and little discrepancies between the printed design and the actual cut will not show up.
My favourite tools for cutting are:
- standard scissors for cutting out general shapes and straight lines
- precision manicure scissors for cutting out tiny details
- hobby knife for cutting out inner design, like folds in clothes and windows in buildings
You can watch the process of cutting a fairy puppet in the video in this post.Pros: Cheap, and no special equipment required.
Cons: Will require some time investment: one shadow puppet takes about ten minutes.
Cut Shadow Puppets with a Machine
Pros: The machine does a good job, and once you invest in it, you can use it for all the silhouettes you will ever need. I’m very fond of mine.
Cons: Not so cheap. On the other hand, for a crafter, it’s a really amazing investment, and cost is similar to a decent printer. Like a printer, there is the ongoing cost of expendables – you need to buy replacement mats and blades occasionally.
Printing Shadow Puppets on Transparent Film
If you get printable transparent film (there is film for inkjet printers and film for laser ones) and use it for printing designs, you will only need to do very basic cutting before the puppets will be ready to play with.
Pros: Quick and rather inexpensive.
Cons: You will be able to stage shadow puppet shows by holding the transparencies against the screen, but you will not be able to cast crisp shadows on the wall with a flashlight or do experiments with light.
How to Make Colourful Shadow Puppets
Speaking of film, if you print on it, you can also easily make shadow puppets colourful! Alternatively, you can glue pieces of coloured film to the puppets to add colour, like as in this picture of our fairy puppets below.
Here is another way to make colourful shadow puppets that would not require any intricate cutting – you paint the puppets on a piece of plastic.
How to Make Shadow Puppets with Moving Parts
Many of the traditional shadow puppets from China and Indonesia have articulated limbs. If you want to learn how to make shadow puppets with moving parts, you can do it with our free printable template of medieval knights. The trick is to use miniature brads!