How to Make Pop Up Books

Pop up manufacture is a collaborative and skillful process requiring the paper engineer, illustrator and the factory producing the book to work closely together at every stage.   

If you are planning to embark on a pop up project without a paper engineer – a word of advice – DON'T – and here’s why!  The job of the paper engineer is to design something that is creative, practical and viable.  This requires expertise and a good knowledge of the production process.   The pops need to be simple enough to construct but robust enough to work time and time again and before any pop up project sees the light of day the prices have to work!  The task of the paper engineer is to juggle with each determining factor.

The Process of creating  a Pop Up



The process starts with the paper engineer who produces sketches and builds a rough mock up to check the mechanics work and establish whether the sheet(s) requires printing both sides or one side. Once happy, the paper engineer produces final blank mock ups – ideally three:

  • one for the printer (to show how the pops are constructed and used for preliminary costings and later, for them to produce a dummy from)
  • one for the designer/illustrator to create the artwork accurately
  • one for your reference 

Simultaneously the paper engineer plans how the individual spreads and pops, pivots and tabs fit onto the printednewsting_sheeting.jpg sheet and produces a nesting guide (a flat plan of the printed sheet) and die-line artwork (a cutter guide showing creaselines, cutting lines and glue tabs).  In order to do this it is important to check with the printer what sheet size they use and what their maximum printing area is.  Optimizing the use of the sheet is key to producing the pop-up in the most economical way.  

Once the artwork is produced a further mock up is made using proofs or print outs to check that the separate artwork pieces fit with the nesting plan and any adjustments get made prior to preparing the final files for the printer.  Many publishers go to the additional expense of creating proofed up dummies which are useful for sales and provide a final check that everything really is working.  


Most pop ups these days are produced in China, Thailand or Malaysia but the number of suppliers is dwindling as many find it difficult to find and keep their skilled handworkers and look to increased automation. 

On receipt of the files the printer should produce paper plotter proofs with the pops in place, these will show the dielines overprinted (although these will not be printed on the final sheets). On approval the printer will make the dies, prepare printing plates and after the sheets are printed, die cut the nesting elements ready for assembly.  

Prior to the bulk being produced a printed and assembled verification sample should be supplied for approval.  The final check!

The assembly involves a production line of handworkers who fold, assemble tabs, connect pivots and glue down the pops.  Each individual or team is responsible for building one part of the pop up and it is not uncommon to have a team of sixty people working on one project. 

The entire process is extremely labour intensive and will take much longer than producing a conventional book but it’s key not to hurry or miss out any of the checkpoints along the way. 


What factors affect the costing?

  • Paper usage is a large factor affecting the production cost of the book. Pop ups which require the mechanics / workings to be concealed (concertina bound) use more paper than those which have the pops mounted onto the surface of the page.
  • Overall complexity - working from the mock up, the printer calculates how long the die cutting and hand assembly process will take and the number of glue points used.  The more complex the higher the wastage, a cost which also gets factored in
  • Print requirement – printing the sheet both sides is more expensive than printing the sheet one side.  When planning the nesting (assuming you are using multiple sheets) it is sensible to nest any unprinted elements together so that these can go on a separate, unprinted sheet.
  • Paper type and weight – card which is coated on both sides (advisable if you are printing on both sides of the sheet) is more expensive than single coated card.  Also, the heavier the card the higher the cost. Lightening the board weight could however, have a detrimental effect on the overall effectiveness of the pops.  Your paper engineer will consider what is most suitable based on the nature of the pops during the design process.

Things to watch out for:

  • Colour matching base spreads and pops – it is worth bearing in mind that it can be difficult for the printer to match the colour of the base spreads to the pops because the separate components are unlikely to print in track. 
  • Die cutting limitations – most dies are made by transferring an image onto a wooden board and inserting flexible blades bent to the design.  Sharp small angles and small circles are difficult to achieve.  It is important to leave ample space (15mm) around the separate die cut elements and at the edge of the sheet.  
  • Die cutting tolerances -  the standard die cutting tolerance is 1.5mm – 2mm in any direction.  Be sure to include 3mm bleed around each illustration to avoid the potential for white edges once the elements are die cut.
  • Worn dies – on long print runs (40 – 50,000) the diecut blades can wear out and require replacing / repair.  Worth checking what your printer's policy is.
  • Grain direction is a factor in how easily the pops / slides move.  Wherever possible folds should run in parallel to the grain, i.e following the direction of the fibres.  This can of course impact on the paper consumption as the pieces need to be arranged on the nesting sheet with consideration.

Imago provides pop up production, simple and complex - we can also put you in touch with expert paper engineers to help get your project off on the right foot.