Pop Up Book


The pop up book is a book with paper elements within the pages that may be manipulated by the reader. Many refer to such a book as a moveable book. Pop up books include text, illustrations, and folded, glued, or pull-tab elements that move within the pages of the story. The pop up book is primarily marketed to children.

The moveable paper elements within the pop up book require the expertise of a paper engineer to effectively design these elements. This paper engineer is part engineer and part creative designer, constantly seeking new, fun elements to design into pop up books while ensuring they will inexpensive to produce and successfully manipulated. The paper engineer communicates to the printer/publishers how the moveable elements are die cut and then assembled. The die cutting of these elements is expensive and complex. Even more expensive is the extraordinary amount of hand work the moveable elements require as many must be cut, folded and pasted by hand (some books include 100 elements that require hand manipulation). In fact, pop up books are becoming somewhat collectible because of the extraordinary amount of hand assembly that goes into the construction of each book. The pop up book has been the subject of at least two art museum exhibits in which the art of the illustrator and the design of the paper engineer have been highlighted.


Moveable books are hardly new. About 700 years ago people used simple books with moving parts to teach about anatomy or make astronomical predictions. Even fortune-telling used moveable books. The pop up book was the domain of adults until the late 1880s when metamorphoses books, also called turn-up books, included fold-out illustrations within the pages of children's books. By the nineteenth century such moveable books were published in some quantity in England. By mid-century a British firm was happily producing such books for children, and by the twentieth century they had published over 50 titles.

An American firm named McLoughlin Brothers of New York city produced the first moveable books in the United States about 1880. They were large plates that unfolded into multi-layered displays. As Europeans found cheaper papers and booksellers sought to enlarge their markets cheaper and more inventive pop up books were developed in the early twentieth century. By the 1960s American Waldo Hunt created advertising inserts and premiums inspired by Czechoslovakian works. Hunt began to produce his own moveable books for popular consumption and is believed to have popularized the moveable book in the mid-twentieth century. Today, pop up books are enormously popular with children because of the novelty of the moveable elements greeting cards and advertisements include pop up elements. Recent pop up books for children are written on topics as diverse as astronomy, geology, meteorology, children's classics, and dinosaurs.

Raw Materials

The typical pop up book uses heavy gauge paper for the pages and the moveable elements of the book, heavy board cover in front and back, glue for securing the cover, and glue for the attachment of the pop up elements. Inks of a wide variety may be used in the printing, from soy-based inks to more traditional oil-based inks. Many pop up books are coated with a coating on the page to make them sturdier and dirt-resistant. These coatings include oil-based varnishes that render a shiny surface on the page. Some companies use aqueous or water-borne varnishes. Other pop up books use a plastic film that is put over the pages as a laminate.

The Manufacturing

  1. The author and the editor of the pop up book take ideas about the movement of elements within the book to a paper engineer. A paper engineer is trained to understand how paper may be folded in order to render certain effects, and he or she designs how the paper may be cut and folded in order to create pertinent pop up book elements. A paper engineer's primary job is to design elements that are to move within the book, including cut parts, parts with tabs, and so forth. The paper engineer must fold, cut, and paste elements and create by hand in rough draft form for examination and approval. This page-by-page understanding of the moveable parts of the pop up book is put together in an all-white paper model referred to as a white dummy. This white dummy is meant to highlight how the elements will work together through the manipulation of paper elements.
  2. The white dummy is an important element for the author, editor and paper engineer to examine and assess. Any changes in gluing, paper movement, size of pull tabs, or folded elements are assessed and finalized at this point. The paper engineer must do two things to ensure the book can be produced. First he or she must produce a digital file or some other template that will allow the printer to create dies in order to produce the moving paper elements. Secondly, the paper engineer also must lay out or nest all the pages so that the moveable pieces will all fit onto the size sheet that will be run through the press.
  3. Next, the editor works with a graphic designer who will work with the paper engineer, author, and illustrator to lay out each page, element by element. The graphic designer will produce a flat lay out. This flat lay-out determines the relative positions of the text, the illustrations and the pop up elements. This process is highly collaborative. In some cases, the art work is place first and the text accommodates the art; in other cases the art is placed according to moving paper elements and text.
  4. Once the flat lay out is agreed upon by all, the illustrator must create the flat art in full color to fill in the areas that he or she is given to work in. When the art work is complete, the illustrations are sent back to the graphic designer.
  5. The designer takes the art work and creates a mechanical, which is an electronic file that shows the printer where the art work, is inserted into the page. Then, the text is placed on the mechanical. The mechanical and the art work is sent to printer.
  6. Now, the pop up book is ready for printing. The digital file of the art work and text for each page is output to a film. The film is then used to make a plate for printing. Four different films are generally used to print children's pop up books including blue, yellow, red, and black. Each plate carries a different color. The individual pages are off set printed, meaning an inked blanket deposits color onto the page.
  7. The printed pages are proofed, which means they have an initial printing that must be assessed and approved by the editor before production can continue. Once they are approved, final printing can occur. The pages are printed and await the attachment of the moveable paper elements. Some pages receive a coating that is applied to the surface of the paper. Shiny pages receive a varnish coating as opposed to a matte finish.
  8. Meanwhile, the moveable elements must be created. The digital files help create the dies in some publishing companies; thus the computer generates these dies automatically. However, in some publishing companies, especially those overseas, the dies are often made by hand using sophisticated machinery by tool and die makers.
  9. The dies are used to cut out the moveable paper parts. About 10 sheets of paper are placed on a die. A hydraulic press forces the cut die through the paper to produce the desired shape.
  10. The moveable parts of the pop up book are of often cut out by hand and are folded and glued by hand upon the printed pages.
  11. The cover is glued or sewn to the lining. Front and backs are often made up from board, which is just a heavier gauge paper than is used for the pages. However, some pop up books do not have covers that are thicker or heavier than the inner pages but are of precisely the same material as the pages within.
  12. The book is then packaged and sent to the distributor.

Quality Control

There are many checkpoints in the production of a pop up book as there is much at stake if small mistakes are discovered after the book goes to publication. Publishing is very expensive and few publishers are able to make a large amount of money on these books. The eyes of the designer, illustrators, paper engineer, and author must look for mistakes prior to production.


There is some waste in the production of pop up books. Paper waste may be discarded by the manufacturer; however, it is more likely the paper is recycled or re-used by another company. Solvent-based coatings on the pages are fairly common but are being phased out because of problems with disposal. Companies increasingly prefer aqueous varnishes, which are water-based and

A pop-up book.
A pop-up book.
not oil-based. Dies are rather expensive to make and bulky to keep so many dies are melted down and re-used quickly.

Where to Learn More


Carvajal, Doreen. "Boing! Pop-Up Books are Growing Up." New York Times Web Page. 27 November 2000. December 2001. < http://www.nytimes.com/learning/students/quiz/articles/27POPU.html >.

Designmation, Inc. Web Page. December 2001. < http://www.pop-ups.com/new/process.html >.

Oral interview with Greg Witt, Customer Service Representative at Leo Paper Company. Seattle, WA. November 2001.

Oral interview with Sarah Ketcherside, editor at Candlewick Press. New York, NY. November 2001.

Nancy EV Bryk

Also read article about Pop Up Book from Wikipedia

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Sep 1, 2011 @ 4:04 am
Dear Ms. Bryk,

The Goethe Institut Tel Aviv which is one of two branches of the Federal Republic of Germany's cultural institute in Israel is preparing an exhibition about pop-up books. On behalf of our library director Ms. Andrea BĂ©lafi I would like to ask for your permission to use this article for a description of the making of a pop-up book. Of course we would mention your name and this URL as our source.

Many thanks; yours sincerely,

Felix Wiedemann, intern at Goethe Institut Tel Aviv

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