With the holidays around the corner, surprise your friends and family with a pop-up card that takes your gifting game to the next level. Transform 2D illustrations into tactile, 3D elements using our seven step-by-step instructions to make a printable pop-up card.
In this tutorial, we'll show you how to create a pop-up card using four Linearity Curve tools:
Pens or markers
Ready to dive in? Let's lay the foundation of what exactly a pop-up card is and how you’ll make a basic version using Linearity Curve. Unfold your paper art journey and inspire your next pop-up projects.
Jumpstart your ideas with Linearity Curve
Take your designs to the next level.
What exactly is a pop-up card?
In case you've never received one or heard of them at all, a pop-up card is a 3D greeting card that features design elements that 'pop up' or unfold when the card is opened. They start out as flat, two-dimensional pieces of paper. Using clever folding techniques—involving cuts, folds, and collage—2D forms turn into 3D shapes when the card is opened.
The parts that pop up can take on all sorts of shapes and become quite complex scenes. This method turns a traditional greeting card into a gift of its own—something interactive and a whole lot more fun to receive.
The first commercially produced pop-up Christmas card is credited to printer, lithographer, and publisher Louis Prang in the 1860s. As an ancestor of the greeting card forms, he’s become known as "the father of the American Christmas Card."
In the early 20th century, with the help of the famous Hallmark Company, pop-up cards started taking off in the United States. Over the decades, pop-up cards evolved into artworks of their own—just one of the reasons why we want to show you how easy it is to make one and build on this beautiful history of paper-made objects.
If this is your first time designing a greeting card on Linearity Curve, jumpstart your understanding by checking out this video by designer and illustrator Maddy AKA @maddastic, who shows you how to design a whimsical snow globe card in the video below.
The basics of pop-up card design
Let's get into the technicalities of pop-ups. The pop-up card we're designing consists of some basic elements:
1. Base card structure
The card starts as a flat, two-dimensional piece of paper or cardstock. This will feature the design on the outside and the pop-up element on the inside.
Creases and folds made in the centerfold of the paper allow for movement when the card is opened. Guidelines created on the base card ensure the card is neat when it comes to assembly time.
2. Pop-up elements
Inside the card are paper elements that are cut and combined either with folds or glue and then secured to the inner faces of the card. When the card is opened, they’re pushed or pulled into a three-dimensional position.
For ease of construction and design, we recommend using symmetrical shapes for your pop-up elements. For a holiday-themed card, for instance, some symmetrical elements could include shapes like snowflakes, snow people or gingerbread people, pine and fir trees, gift boxes, or decorative baubles.
3. Design considerations
When thinking about the layout of the pop-up card, carefully plan the placement of pop-up elements and consider how they’ll interact when the card is opened. You can test this with a little mock-up card made from scrap paper before you get started on your Curve design.
Make sure to leverage all the intuitive tools on offer, like the Auto Trace Tool and Background Removal. These powerful tools enable you to transform images (even photographs) into high-resolution vector graphics. Let our templates be the starting point for your limitless creativity.
Get to know your tools: Linearity Curve
First things first, open the Linearity Curve software on your desktop, iPhone, or iPad. We'll be using a Mac for this post.
Next, select one of our greeting card templates, like this joyful holidays greeting card template. With its Bauhaus-inspired design, the layout is fresh and modern with a variety of great shapes to play with.
Just in case you haven't used one before, here's how to use Linearity Curve templates on the platform:
- Click 'Open Template,' and your chosen design will download.
- Open the file in your Mac (or iPad) Downloads folder.
- With Linearity Curve installed, the template appears in your Linearity Cloud Gallery.
From the Templates modal that appears, head to the 'paper templates' section on the left and select an A4 landscape template. You can also select the A5 portrait, depending on the final size of your pop-up card.
Just remember when setting up your page that you’ll need to add a centerline (for folding your card in two halves). The right-hand side of the Artboard will be the 'cover' of your card, and the left-hand side will be the back, or enclosing, cover.
While we're here, explore Linearity's vast collection of tutorials led by professional designers. With 100+ tutorials to choose from, you can easily filter them based on your skill level and preferred device.
Get creative with our ready-to-use templates.
Linearity Curve offers templates for every social media platform and various use case templates for posters, business cards, slides, app store screenshots, and more.
6 steps to design your pop-up card
Now that we've set up the design for the base card, let's get to the fun part—creating your own card with a 3D pop-up element.
Create a new Curve document
Start off by creating a new Artboard for this part of the project (we used an A4 landscape template). This will form the base for the steps that follow.
Make your shape
Let's move on to making your shape. This is where the magic happens. Here are three easy options to explore, along with some inspirational tutorials to help you realize your design:
Option 1: Pen Tool
Use the Pen tool to create cut-out elements. Whether it's a heart or any custom shape, you can draw accurate paths using the Pen Tool.
Experiment with curves and angles to keep things wavy, and make sure these elements will stand out against the background you've made while aiming for some symmetry.
Option 2: Auto Trace Tool
Use the Auto Trace Tool to turn any artwork into a vector—even a photograph. With Linearity Curve's AI-powered Auto Trace Tool, you’ll be surprised how fast you can create a design without drawing a single path. It’s easy, it’s fast, and it looks professional.
Option 3: Iconator
One of our favorite time-saving tools is simply using one of the vector shapes from the incredible Iconator library. Iconator is a library inside Linearity Curve with over 80,000 royalty-free vector icons that can be used for free in all your projects.
To use Iconator, simply open the Library Tab (+) in the right-hand panel, search using keywords, and then tap and drag an icon into your document. We found some great wreaths and Christmas trees that were symmetrical enough to use for this pop-up card project.
Multiply your shape
Once you've made your shape, multiply it as many times as you can using the Duplicate Tool, and try to fit each duplicate onto a single artboard. Leave space between the shapes so that you are able to cut around each one after printing.
We managed to multiply our Christmas tree shape twelve times. Then that’s it, your shape sheet is now ready to send to print.
Make it pop
Set your craft space up while you print both of your artboards. Get out your craft materials: A4 cardstock paper in a festive color, scissors, glue, a ruler (for folding), and pens or markers. Work on a surface you're not afraid to make a little messy. Let's get crafty.
- Create the base: Turn your A4 cardstock into a landscape orientation, score it along the middle line, and fold it into an A5 card. You now have the base which you’ll attach your outer and inner elements onto.
- Apply the covers: Take your printed cover (our first template-assisted design), cut out the print or bleed margins, apply glue all over the underside of it so that you can apply it to one side of your colored card stock, and press it down. The outside of your card is now ready.
- Cut and score your shapes: It's time to cut out all your shapes for the internal pop-up element, so get busy with those scissors. Once you're done, take one of the shapes you've just cut out and fold it along the central symmetry line, creating a crease. This first shape will be the base that stays attached to the inside of the card. Try using a ruler here to 'score' the line, making sure it’s neat and consistent. Then, use the ruler to flatten your shape and make a sharp line. Continue scoring and folding the rest of your cutout shapes.
- Craft your pop-up shape: Apply glue to the folded line of one of your shapes and attach it to the fold of your base shape (your first cutout shape). Align the fold of the base shape with the next folded shape so that they fit neatly inside each other. Continue to do this with all your shapes so you eventually start creating a sort of fan or concertina.
- Attach the base shape: Now that all your shapes are attached to each other, apply glue to the full extent of the back of your base shape (your first shape). Align the fold of the base shape with the inside of the card fold, ensuring they match perfectly, and press down. Ensure the back of your whole 3D object is well stuck down to the inside of the card. Fingers crossed.
Test your pop-up card
It's time to see if everything worked, so open your card and witness the wonder of pop-ups. You may need to add a bit of glue here and there, but well done—you've just made your first pop-up card using Linearity Curve.
Personalize your card's message
In the great words of Emma Taggart: “A round of Santa-plause! You did it! And it looks lit!”
Take some time now to personalize your card for the person receiving it. Get a pen or marker, write a personalized message in the space surrounding your pop-up element, and add a few xx's and oo's so they’ll feel the love.
Share the pop-up cheer
Pat yourself on the back for making a handmade holiday card—there's nothing so special as knowing someone spent time designing and crafting something just for you.
You can now place your card in an envelope, address it on the cover side to the person receiving it, and add a stamp to the top right-hand corner of the envelope face (even if only for the Wes Anderson-esque aesthetics of it all). We’re sure it’s going to be a hit with your friends and family.
And if you’re ready for your next design and illustration challenge, head over to our blog to find more drawing and crafting tutorials. If you haven’t already, get started for free with Linearity Curve by signing up below.
Our powerful design software gives you all the tools you need to create digital and print assets that pop.
Jumpstart your ideas with Linearity Curve
Take your designs to the next level.
Garreth van Niekerk
One of GQ's 'Young Creatives To Watch' and described as a "Creative Force" by the Sunday Times, author, designer and marketer Garreth van Niekerk is a contributor for Linearity in Johannesburg.