Are There Different Types of Origami?

The word origami comes from two Japanese words, oru and kami, meaning to fold paper.

While origami has traditionally been done with a single sheet of paper and a series of precise folds, today’s origami is slightly different.

Are there different types of origami? There are numerous paper folding crafts that are considered to be a form or a variant of origami. Variants of traditional origami include modular and action origami, Golden Venture, wet folding, pureland, strip folding, tessellations and kusudama.

With origami, you’re only limited by your imagination.

There are hundreds upon hundreds of creations to try, and if that’s not enough for you, challenge yourself by exploring some of the more modern variations of the craft.

You’ll find that several types of origami are relatively easy, while others are extremely difficult and time-consuming.

Types of Origami

Nothing stays the same for long. Even origami, which has been around for hundreds of years is gradually changing to include versions, that while lovely and intricate, deviate from the norm.

When you think about it though, art, which origami is, constantly evolves with new ideas, methods, elements, and purposes to enrich our lives and broaden our horizons.

The following is by no means a comprehensive list, but it does highlight some of the most popular origami offshoots as well as the older, more widely practiced versions.

Traditional Origami

Although it’s believed that, in the earliest times of paper folding, cutting of the paper was permitted, once the art became standardized, alterations of the paper were, and still are, frowned upon. 

That means that scissors, glue, tape, staples and stitches are not part of traditional origami. 

In origami’s purest form, one sheet of paper is transformed into an interesting model using only a series of folds and creases. 

The resulting figure can be two or three dimensional. Popular, traditional origami designs include the famous orizuru (crane) and other animal shapes, stars, pinwheels, boats, and flowers.

Modular Origami

Brightly colored modular origami sphere made up of individual flower units.

Unlike traditional origami, modular origami uses two or more pieces of paper to create a more complex model.

However, as with traditional origami, the creations are made without the use of cutting, fasteners, or adhesives.

In modular origami, several sheets of paper (the number depends on the design) are folded into individual units featuring little pockets and tabs. 

When the units, or modules, are complete, they’re joined together by sliding the tabs into the pockets according to the pattern until all units are interlocked to form the complete model.

The first known example of modular origami, a modular cube, dates back to 1734 in Hayato Ohoka’s book entitled Ranma Zushiki

Another book published in 1965, Isao Honda’s World of Origami, sparked an interest in modular, or unit, origami, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that this origami subset really took off in popularity.

Since then, thousands of different designs have been developed, some featuring as many as 500 interlocking units.

Modular origami creations may be two dimensional, such as a flat wreath, or three dimensional, such as Sonobe’s cube, pyramids, and complex, polyhedra spheres. 

Some designs consist of easy-to-fold modules while others may take weeks to complete. If you are looking for a challenge, modular origami may do the trick.

Action Origami

Origami that’s designed to be capable of movement when manipulated is known as action origami.

Examples include birds that flap their wings when the tail is gently pulled, frogs that hop at the touch of a finger, and balloons. These balloons can be: 

  • Inflated with air.
  • Filled with water to make a water bomb.
  • Filled with smoke and tapped to make smoke rings. 
  • Stuffed with tiny origami units, tossed into the air, and tapped to burst the balloon and release the shapes within.

Here’s an easy-to-follow tutorial that demonstrates how to make a hopping frog.

Golden Venture Origami

A recent addition to the ever-growing group of origami subsets is known as Golden Venture origami. 

In 1993, a group of Chinese refugees was discovered aboard a recently shipwrecked ship, the Golden Venture, in a New York harbor. 

While being held for months in an American prison while their request for political asylum was reviewed, they occupied themselves by forming highly detailed, 3D origami models, the likes of which had not been seen before. 

It was later discovered that these refugees hadn’t invented the technique. Rather, this form of paper folding had been a traditional method for many years in China.

Some of their creations were given away to those they considered friends, some were put on display in a traveling exhibit, and others were sold to help pay legal fees.

This take on the original craft is similar to modular origami, except that the individual units are typically triangular in shape. Some models require as many as 500 units to complete. 

Many Golden Venture creations take the form of fully rigged ships, pineapples, and swans.

Also commonly called 3D origami, Golden Venture origami can challenge even the most adept folders. 

Wet Folding Origami

Wet folding might be considered by some to be more of a technique than a variant form of origami, but it nonetheless produces nontraditional effects and adds an entirely different element to the craft.

In wet folding, the paper is dampened before being folded. This allows for shapes to be molded or sculpted with slight curves and gives the end result a textured appearance.

I have an entire article on the wet folding technique that you’re sure to find interesting.

Pureland Origami

This origami subset is named for the pure aspect involved, meaning no cutting or gluing, and the two folding methods based on natural land forms.

In pureland origami, only the two most basic folds are used – mountain and valley folds. 

Strip Folding

The term strip folding actually covers several techniques used to make small origami models, but they all utilize narrow paper strips. 

Folding, twisting, creasing, and weaving are all commonly employed in strip folding. 

Tiny origami roses the size of a penny, lucky stars (puffy stars), Moravian stars, 3D hearts, and even complex polyhedra modules can all be done with strip folding.

Occasionally, in designs that call for weaving, you’ll see either palm leaves or pretty ribbons incorporated into the object for a stunning effect.

Origami Tessellations

Tessellations are formed on a single piece of paper by using mountain and valley folds on a drawn or creased grid to create repeated patterns across the entire paper.

The designs are usually two dimensional, though 3D are possible too. Whatever the dimension, the edges of the prefolded paper continue to be edges the entire time.

In other words, the sides of the paper are not picked up to join the opposite side at any point except for when making the creased grid.

Through repeated folding, twisting, and coercing the paper into the shape you’re aiming for, multiple layers are formed in a definite pattern throughout the piece.

So, while many tessellations appear to be flat, they actually have raised elements throughout.

When held in front of a light, the raised elements will appear darker, thanks to the extra layers, than the low spots, giving the model an entirely different appearance.

Kusudama Origami

Often called medicine balls due to their original usage, kusudamas are spherical shapes made of multiple, identical units. 

If you’re thinking that it sounds similar to modular origami, you’d be correct. 

The difference is that kusudamas are typically held together with adhesives or thread while modular origami tucks units into one another instead.

Is Kirigami a Form of Origami?

Many people do consider kirigami to be a form of origami despite the fact that kirigami involves cutting. In fact, it’s dependent on it.

Many origami purists, however, argue that kirigami differs too greatly to be considered an origami form. Find out why here.

The name kirigami comes from the Japanese kiru and kami, which means to cut paper.

This art does involve folding like in origami, but the folds are often temporary and are used to produce repeating, symmetrical patterns when cut. 

Additionally, gluing, taping, stapling, drawing, and stitching are involved with many kirigami designs, all of which are a big no-no in origami.

You’ll have to decide for yourself whether kirigami is a unique art or merely another branch of origami.