When to Use Wet Folding in Origami

Gray origami elephant created by wet folding.

Although origami is a popular creative outlet and has been practiced for hundreds of years, some people become frustrated by the rigid, crisp appearance of their completed origami models, especially animal creations.

Necessity often gives birth to change, and that’s exactly what happened in origami. A relatively new technique called wet folding was created to give many origami figures a more realistic appearance. 

When do you use wet folding in origami? Wet folding can be used any time a life-like, textured appearance with gentle curves is desired when creating models of animate objects, such as animals and flowers, or designs that naturally have curved lines, like a boat. The moisture makes the paper more pliable and able to be sculpted. 

If you’ve perfected your basic origami techniques and are ready to begin creating more life-like structures with a textured look and feel that will last for years to come, wet folding is definitely worth exploring.

Let’s take a closer look.

When to Use Wet Folding in Origami

In wet folding, the paper is dampened with water to make molding, sculpting, and curves possible.

Basically, you can use wet folding whenever you want to bring life and volume to your design.

The method is usually only for non-geometric models based on living things.

Most inanimate origami pieces wouldn’t benefit from this technique because they are dependent on straight lines, and it just doesn’t make sense to add life-like qualities to a nonliving form. 

However, designs that naturally have curved lines, like boats and hats, would appear much more realistic when wet folded.

Models of animals, flowers, and items such as masks can be greatly enhanced with the wet folding method because the gently curved lines add fluidity and a realistic shape.

Origami models that call for multiple layers of folding, many sharp corners, or crisp folds generally won’t work well with this method.

Benefits of Wet Folding Origami

While many origami purists might argue that wet folding deviates too far from the traditional origami methods, others embrace the detail and dimension that wet folding permits.

You’ll have to decide for yourself, but know that wet folding:

  • Brings life to the model.
  • Makes the paper more malleable.
  • Adds a textured look to the paper.
  • Allows for gentle curves to be formed.
  • Creates a sturdier model that will hold its shape.
  • Reduces the number of wrinkles in the completed model.
  • Makes the paper less resistant to manipulation and easier to sculpt.

Watch the following video for a demonstration and to see the added elements wet folding brings to even the most basic creations.

What Origami Models Are Best for Wet Folding?

Any origami model that recreates an animate object is suitable for wet folding. 

After all, wet folding was created to bring life-like qualities to origami, so it only makes sense to use models that are based on living creatures.

Simple dog, cat, fish, monkey, bird, and insect models, to name a few, are great candidates for wet folding. 

Just don’t choose complex designs with lots of overlapping or advanced folds as they won’t come out well due to the thickness of the paper.

Wet Folding Tips

Start With a Simple Model

It’s best to choose an origami model that you have dry folded before so that you are familiar enough with the steps that you’ll be able to work quickly before the paper dries out.

Models that only call for simple folds and few sharp corners and creases will be best for wet folding, especially if you’re a beginner. 

For instance, a cube would not be a good candidate for wet folding because of all the sharp, crisp edges and corners.

Besides, bring a life-like quality to a cube would be silly, and softening the edges would make it look more like a ball than a cube.

A better option would be a simple dog or fish model.

Keeping it simple will allow you to get a feel for the method and improve your skills, while a complicated design will likely leave you with torn paper and plenty of frustration.

Use a Thick Paper

Thin paper will tear easily when damp, so experiment with different thicknesses to see which is easiest for you to work. 

The thickness of paper is measured in grams per square meter (gsm). Generally, the larger the model, the thicker the paper can be. 

Most origami paper is quite thin at around 60 gsm and will tear fairly easily when beginners try wet folding with it. A gsm of 100 or so (like copier paper) will be better.

You can find my article on types of origami paper here.

Do Not Saturate the Paper

Your goal here is to only dampen the paper slightly to loosen the fibers temporarily so that you can shape or sculpt it.

You do not want the paper to be too wet, despite the technique’s name, and you certainly don’t want the paper to be saturated, just moist enough that you can work comfortably with it.

Some people use a damp rag or sponge to moisten both sides of the paper to achieve a uniform dampness.

Others prefer to lightly mist the paper with a spray bottle, then wipe with a dry cloth to distribute the moisture. 

Experiment with both techniques to see which one you prefer.

Just so you know, if you find that the paper has dried too much before you are finished folding, you can remoisten the paper with either a damp cloth or a spray bottle. 

Try to avoid rewetting areas that are already complete.

Fold Midair When Possible

In traditional origami, you often are instructed to use your fingernail or a folding bone (these make terrific gifts for fellow folders by the way) to make sharp creases as you work. 

In wet folding, however, softer, less crisp folds are often used to maintain the puffy aspect of the design. 

Softer folds are achieved by only pressing lightly with your fingertips when creasing the paper.

If you’re folding on a hard surface like a table, you’re more likely to produce folds that are sharper than you intended, which may ruin the overall final effect. 

To prevent this from occurring, try to carry out as many folds as possible while holding the model in one hand and shaping and folding with the other. 

You, of course, may set it down as you manipulate the paper, but try to complete the majority of folding midair to ensure gentle, careful work.

Let It Dry

When you near the end of your project, examine it carefully to see if any heavily layered areas may need a bit of reinforcement to keep their shape until dry.

Robert Lang, an origami expert, recommends using masking tape for tricky parts until the unit dries, at which point it may be removed.

Also look for any areas that are extra “puffy” and may come apart or splay before drying is complete. To reinforce these parts, try using rubber bands (not too tight!), mini clothespins, or binder clips.

When the last fold is in place and you’re satisfied with the curves, set it down and leave it alone. No more adjusting. No more fiddling. No more refolding. 

Walk away and let it dry, or you risk damaging the piece permanently.

If you are truly in a hurry for it to dry, you can speed up the process using a blow dryer on a low heat setting.

Hold it at least an arm’s length away from your model, and remember, no last minute adjusting. 

Practice

Your first creation may not come out exactly like you hoped, but that’s okay.

You may not have achieved perfection, but you gained valuable experience and you’ve started to develop a feel for the technique, which is priceless.

The more you practice, the better you’ll be and the more confidence you’ll have. As you gain experience, you’ll know right away if the paper is too dry, too thick, too wet, etc.

You’ll also begin to focus less on getting the technique just right and focus more on the creative side of the art. This will be when your models and your skill really begin to stand out.