A Quick and Dirty Way to Make a Paper Cup in a Pinch

An Easy to Learn Survival Skill.

First of all, click on the video to learn how to make a paper cup that holds liquid, in 5 minutes or less. The design accommodates real-life situations that require you to find any material that will allow you to makeshift a liquid container. Our tutorial uses a standard legal sized (8.5-inch x 14-inch) sheet of paper.

Secondly, the art of paper folding derives from the Japanese term Origami. Ori meaning “folding,” and kami or gami meaning “paper.” The traditional practice of origami is to transform a flat square sheet of paper into a finished sculpture through folding and sculpting techniques. However, our guide follows a modern practice that discourages the use of cuts, glue, or markings on the paper.f

A Brief History on the Art of Folding Paper

Distinct paper folding traditions arose in Europe, China, and Japan which have been well-documented by historians. These seem to have been mostly separate traditions, until the 20th century.

It All Begins in China

In China, traditional funerals often include the burning of folded paper, most often representations of gold nuggets (yuan bao). The practice of burning paper representations instead of full-scale wood or clay replicas dates from the Song Dynasty (905–1125 CE), though it’s not clear how much folding was involved.

Paper Folding Blossoms in Japan

Similarly, in Japan, the earliest unambiguous reference to a paper model is in a short poem by Ihara Saikaku in 1680 which mentions a traditional butterfly design used during Shinto weddings. Folding filled some ceremonial functions in Edo period Japanese culture. Noshi were attached to gifts, much like greeting cards are used today. The art developed into a form of entertainment; the first two instructional books published in Japan are recreational.

Europe Adapts the Art of Folding Paper

Likewise, in Europe, there was a well-developed genre of napkin folding, which flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries. After this period, this genre declined and was mostly forgotten. Historian Joan Sallas attributes this to the introduction of porcelain, which replaced complex napkin folds as a dinner-table status symbol among the nobility. However, some of the techniques and bases associated with this tradition continued to be a part of European culture. Folding was a significant part of Friedrich Froebel’s “Kindergarten” method, and the designs published in connection with his curriculum are stylistically similar to the napkin fold repertoire.

The Art Takes New Forms Around the Globe

When Japan opened its borders in the 1860s, as part of a modernization strategy, they imported Froebel’s Kindergarten system—and with it, German ideas about paper folding. It included the ban on cuts and the starting shape of a bicolored square. These ideas and some of the European folding repertoire integrated into the Japanese tradition. Before this, traditional Japanese sources use a variety of starting shapes, often had cuts. If they had color or markings, they add them after folding the model.

Present Day Paper Folding

Lastly, in the early 1900s, Akira Yoshizawa, Kosho Uchiyama, and others began creating and recording original origami works. Akira Yoshizawa, in particular, was responsible for some innovations, such as wet-folding and the Yoshizawa–Randlett diagramming system. His work inspired a renaissance of the art form. During the 1980s many folders started systematically studying the mathematical properties of folded structures. This led to a rapid increase in the complexity of origami models. 

The Schematics of a Paper Cup

Most noteworthy, you will only need one primary material to construct a paper cup. If you work in a paper company like the fictional “Dunder Mifflin,” then you’re in luck. However, not many of us are so lucky to have a clean sheet of paper hanging around. Luckily, we can substitute any thinly extruded substrate (i.e., tin foil, cardboard, magazine, book page, etc.) to construct a “paper” cup. Due to this, regardless of the material, we can follow the same design to complete our task.

The following illustrations demonstrate how to construct a paper cup:

Materials used for this example are; one legal size paper (8.5 inches x 14 inches).

FIRST STEP: Place paper on a flat surface.

Paper on a Flat Surface for constructing a paper cup

SECOND STEP: Fold the top-left corner of the paper down to the right side of the paper until it aligns with the edge.

Folding top left-corner of paper cup

THIRD STEP: Fold the bottom half of the paper over along the edges of the newly formed triangle.

Folding bottom corner triangle of paper cup

FOURTH STEP: Turn the paper over then fold the small triangle lip downwards.

Folding bottom corner triangle of paper cup

FIFTH STEP: Turn the paper over

Turning paper over for paper cup construction

SIXTH STEP: Fold the left-bottom corner of the paper over to the right side, so the tip meets the edge.

Folding bottom left-corner of paper cup

SEVENTH STEP: Fold the right-bottom corner of the paper over to the left side of, so the tip meets the edge.

Folding bottom right-corner of paper cup

EIGHT STEP: Fold the closest top corner of the paper down.

Folder top corner of paper down on paper cup

NINTH STEP: Turn the paper over.

Turning paper cup over

TENTH STEP: Fold the closest top corner of the paper down.

Folding top corner of paper cup

ELEVENTH STEP: Place your finger inside of the paper folds and press outwards to form a circular frame.

Opening paper cup

TWELTH STEP: Pour liquid inside of paper opening.

Opening of paper cupPouring water into a paper cup

What Can You Do With a Paper Cup?

In conclusion, constructing a liquid container or paper cup out of any material indeed has many practical uses. Paper cups can be used to hold cold or hot water, juice, or liquor. Also, you may use it as a novelty trick at a party or when you do not have clean glassware. More importantly, paper cups become useful in situations where you need a liquid container or paper cup in a pinch.

For instance, imagine yourself on a sandy beach surrounded by coconut trees, friends, a bottle of your favorite beverage, but you somehow have forgotten to bring any cups. Even more, with our video, you can transform a short moment of embarrassment to a long evening of praise as the hero who manages to construct beverage cups made from the sturdy palm tree leaves lined along the beachside.

Above all, you have the necessary knowledge and experience to construct a liquid container or paper cup using nothing but a paper cup. We encourage you to share this newly found survival skill with your friends and family. For that reason, the steps in the paper cup tutorial are suitable for all people of all ages. The guide does not require you to follow traditional origami practices that need you to cut pieces. Furthermore, it takes away from the intimidation and challenges to make a paper cup the quick and dirty way.

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