Pop-Up Questions

We receive a great deal of mail from our visitors asking questions about pop-up books as well as Robert Sabuda’s work. Since it may not be possible to answer each of these individually, we have compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions.

If you have a question that is not answered here, please e-mail it to us and we will add it to the list as soon as possible.




Have you always been an artist?

RS: I do not recall I time when I did not have a pencil or crayon in my hand! Even as a young boy I enjoyed making little books that I could fill with stories and pictures.

What inspires you as an artist?

RS: I think that inspiration comes from the experiences of my everyday life. I’ll read about something (or someone) and say “wouldn’t that make a wonderful book?”

What artist inspired you?  Is there anybody in your life that has influenced you the most and supported
your creativity?

RS: I’ve always been inspired by the work of artist Tomie de Paola – he is my hero and has supported me and my work from Day One! Also, David Carter, who helped keep pop-up books alive during the 1980’s and early 1990’s with his Bugs in a Box series. If he had not been creating pop-up books at this time I don’t know if the market would still have been available to me in 1994 when my book The Christmas Alphabet was published.

How did you first get started working in children’s books?

Please visit Robert’s Biography Page to learn more about his early career.

You’re often called a “paper engineer.” What exactly is a “paper engineer?

RS: “Paper engineer” is just a fancy way of referring to someone who makes pop-ups as their career.

How do you choose your stories or subject matter?

RS: I usually only work on stories or subject matter that interest me. I have always loved Christmas (growing up in the snowy country of rural Michigan, so many of my books deal with this holiday. I’m also fascinated with non-fiction subjects (real life things).

Why do you sometimes work in white and in other times, color?

RS: I usually work in white when I want the pop-ups to be viewed as just shapes. I don’t think they really need to have any color to convey my creative vision. This works especially well with books that take place in the winter. If a book is more of an adventure, like “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” or needs color to convey information, then I’ll use lots of color.

Why do you use string and those little sticks in some of your books?

RS: Paper is not necessarily the only thing used to make pop-up magic! Things like string and dowels can be used to assist the paper to do special tricks, like spinning around or twirling.

What tools do you use when making pop-ups and what kind of glue and card stock?

RS: When we’re designing pop-up we use a very simple white, water based glue very similar to Elmer’s Glue. The thick paper we use, called card stock, is from an office supply store (such as Staples or Office Depot). We use white card stock measuring 8 1/2 x 11 inches, with a weight of 110 lbs. Besides paper and glue, all you really need are scissors and a pencil!

What was the FIRST pop-up book you ever had?

RS: The very first pop-up book I ever owned was “The Adventures of Super Pickle.” It was about this crime fighting people who lived in a vegetable town. It sounds a little silly today, but I LOVED that book when I was a boy.

What is your favorite pop-up book that you’ve created?

RS: I don’t have a favorite! However, some pop-up books are more challenging to create than others so I suppose I have some favorite pop-ups. It seemed to take forever to create the gingerbread house in “Cookie Count.” I was so excited when that one finally worked!

How many books have you published?

RS: You can visit the bibliography page to see all of Robert’s books.

Some of your pop-up books seem like they might be too delicate for young readers. Are your pop-up books for children or adults?

RS: Sometimes pop-up books can be delicate, but that’s what makes them so wonderful. The more delicate it is, the more fantastic it usually is. If a parent is concerned about their young children handling a pop-up book, it’s the perfect opportunity for them to sit down and SHARE the book with the child, turning the pages carefully. This also teaches a child to respect a book and not treat it like a toy.

Pop-up books seem to be becoming more popular. Why do you think this is?

RS: There are so many things competing for a young reader’s attention today like television, the computer, video games, CD’s, DVD’s. I think a lot of parent’s like pop-up books because they can educate and entertain a child but are not a part of the electronic world. You don’t need to plug a pop-up book in and “boot” it up. You can enjoy it anywhere you want any time you want. I also think, that people love the surprise of not knowing what is going to be on the next page of a pop-up book. At our studio we call that the “WOW” moment. When someone opens a pop-up book and goes “WOW!” They are really affected by the magic of a pop-up and amazed that they have the power in their hands to make it happen because they themselves are turning the pages.

How did you learn to make pop-ups?

RS: After receiving “The Adventures of Super Pickle” I set out to learn how to make pop-ups. There were no books at that time to help me, so I got more pop-up books and began to carefully examine them, trying to figure out how they worked. Eventually I was able to teach myself!

When creating detailed works of art and with such small, intricate pieces, does creating your work ever become frustrating? If so, how do you deal with it as an artist?

RS:  Perhaps it may come as a surprise, but the only thing I really find frustrating about my work is the deadlines.  You have to remember I’m not a fine artist, but a commercial artist, which means I’m supposed to be finishing projects on time for publication.  This can be very difficult given my book tour travels and having a private life as well.  How do I deal with this?  I do everything I can to try to stay on schedule (although I’m almost always late turning in projects).  Working out at the gym, doing yoga and spending weekends at my house in the Hudson Valley of New York helps keep me sane.

What styles of art do you like to integrate into your work?

RS:  You’ll notice that I have a few different styles of 2-dimensional artwork.  Each one is unique to the story or manuscript.  I never really know what kind of artwork I’ll create until after the 3-dimensional design work is completed.

What do you love the most about your work or being an artist in general?

RS:  I love that I don’t have a boss and that I get to make messes and no one tells me to clean them up!

What genre of pop-up book do you like to create the most? (Such as comedy, horror,  romance, etc…)

RS:  I really don’t have a favorite.  Each book is unique.  I suppose it’s a bit like having children, there are qualities that you like about them and things that can be occasionally annoying, too.

If I have a pop-up book idea, how can I get it published?

RS: One of the best places to get started if you are interested in children’s publishing is at the SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators), www.scbwi.org. They have all the information you need to get started. In fact, were it not for the SCBWI, I would not be published today! I went to my first SCBWI conference in New Jersey when I was still in college and met the man who would become the author of the very first picture book I illustrated “The Fiddler’s Son” by Eugene Coco.

I have a pop-up idea. Can you paper engineer it?

RS: Unfortunately we are just too busy to take on any new projects at our studio. But if you would like to work with a paper engineer we have a page of recommended paper engineers.

Which publishers publish pop-up books?

RS: The world of publishing, and even the publishers themselves, are changing all the time. The best way to find out which publishers are producing pop-up books is to visit your local library or bookstore. This is the best way to begin your research.

How can I learn how to make pop-ups?

RS: You can print out and make your very own pop-ups here at RobertSabuda.com by
Clicking Here.

Where can I find books on how to make pop-ups?

RS: You can also visit our
Books on how to make pop-ups section for a guide to the best books for making pop-ups.

Do you do workshops or visit schools?

RS: Unfortunately, due to my busy schedule I do not do workshops or visit schools.

Is there an organization for people who love and collect pop-up books?

The Movable Book Society was founded for just this purpose in 1994, and holds a conference every two years here in the U.S. For more information on the Society and how to join please
click here.

How many assemblers work in the plant?

RS: A typical hand assembly plant may have between 500 – 1500 workers assembling pop-up books.

How many books can they make?

RS: About 10,000 to 15,000 books can be made per week.

How many of your books do they make?

RS: A typical pop-up book will usually have a first printing of about 20,000 – 30,000. Our books have become a bit more popular so a first printing can be half a million.

Why are pop-up books hand assembled overseas instead of in the U.S.?

RS: The U.S. does not have a history or tradition of assembling pop-up books. Also, at this time there are no plants in the U.S. that are capable of producing complex pop-up books. It would be great if there were because then we wouldn’t have to travel so far to oversee the hand assembly of our books (someone from our studio goes for each book)!

How much does it cost to produce a pop-up book?

RS: The manufacturing cost of a pop-up book is about 1/4 the selling price. So if a pop-up book sells to the public for $20 it should cost about $5 to make. This may seem like the publisher will make a lot of profit, but that is not necessarily true. The publisher must pay for all the marketing and promotional for the book as well as its own publishing staff.

How can I have a pop-up book produced?

RS: Most hand assembly plants will not manufacturer a book or pop-up project with a print run smaller than 10,000 copies. Also, the cost per book to manufacture goes down as the number of pieces go up. So 10,000 would cost more per copy than 50,000.

I’m still interested in having my own pop-up project manufactured. Who do I contact?

There are several companies that hand assemble pop-ups. An internet search is a great way to start. We have also worked with the following companies with good results. You can contact them directly:

Millenium International (China)

Three Color Stone Manufacturing (China)

Toppan Excel (China)

Sirivatana (Thailand)


How can I find a literary agent?

The best way to find a literary agent is to do some research. The book “Literary Marketplace” (available at most libraries or online) which is regularly updated, has a section listing almost all literary agents along with their special areas of interest. One should also visit www.scbwi.org which also has information on representation.

Is there a popular size for pop-up books?

RS: Pop-up books do not come in any specific shape or size, that decision is usually left up to the artists involved in the project and the publisher depending on the subject matter.

Do the pop-ups themselves have to be a particular size?

RS: No, but if there are concerns about manufacturing costs the pop-ups are often designed smaller to use less paper.

Do you as the artist choose the size of the book and pop-ups included?

RS: Yes, for the most part the artist chooses.

What type of process is used to print the pop-up books, lithography, for example?

RS: Pop-up books are typically printed on a four-color web press, the same way traditional color books and magazines are printed.

What in particular led you to/interests you about the area of movable books?

RS: From my website you can see that I have always been a children’s book ilustrator. A great deal of my 2D work is created using various forms of paper, cut paper collage, paper mosiac, etc. So I decided in the early 1990’s to begin investigating working with paper in 3-dimensions. I am completely self-taught in regards to pop-ups.

What makes for a good mechanical book?

RS: I always feel that if when you turn the page there is a great “WOW” moment when the pop-up explodes, you are on the way to a great mechanical book!

What, in your opinion, causes the reader’s fascination with mechanical books?

RS: The element of surprise contributes greatly to the success of a pop-up book. Not knowing what to expect on the next page takes the reader back to their childhood experiences with book. They become like children again when they see a pop-up. They are experiencing the book as if they were children again.

To what extent does the use of paper mechanisms bring an element of play/interactivity to a book?

RS: In today’s overly electronic world, both children and adults can benefit from a pop-up book as a form of non-electronic interactivity. So much of our time is spent at the computer, with computer games, on cell phones, or using PDA’s it’s a relief to enjoy a piece of movable magic that occurs without having to plug it in!

Where do mechanical books sit on the line between book and toy?

RS: I feel as if toys are specifically meant to be played with. Pop-up books (certainly not mine) are not really meant to be played with. Because of their delicate nature, they are meant to be shared, carefully, between child and adult.

How do the obvious technical restrictions inherent in the construction of a mechanical book influence the reader’s experience of it?

RS: For the most part, the reader is oblivious to the “technical” aspects of a mechanical book (unless they are an engineer!) and that’s the way it should be. They shouldn’t be focusing on the “how” of the book, they should be enjoying the book for the sake of the experience.

How does the delicate nature of a mechanical book affect the reader’s experience of it/their attitude towards it?

RS: It gives the perfect opportunity for a parent to tell a child “this books is special and delicate, so we’re going to share it together, very carefully.” I’m amazed at how often this attitude works and it gives the child a greater respect for books in general.

Can you shed any light on the origins of paper engineering in book design?

RS: A good place to begin would be at www.popuplady.com. She has a very good history at her site. Also, check out her links for more information.

Have production costs and other technical restrictions hindered the development of paper engineering as an element of book design?

RS: There are always considerations when calculating the costs for production of a movable book, such as how many glue points there are and how much paper is used. I do not consider these points to be “restrictions” here at my studio. Because we have been producing books for several years, our publishers are usually pretty open to anything unusual we’d like to try.

Briefly, what is the future of paper engineering in book design?

RS: I am optimistic that paper engineering will continue to be an important part of non-traditional books for children. It has been so well embraced over the last 10 years that I can only hope it will continue.

Why do you think pop-up books appeal to adults?

RS: I think pop-ups appeal to adults because it allows them to revert back to their childhood experiences with things that amaze them. When an adult’s eyes light up when turning the page of a pop-up I know they’ve become big kids again!

Are you noticing more adults discovering them?

RS: More adults are definately discoving them. I have more adults now at my book signings than ever before.

What would you say is the biggest challenge in producing a pop-book up?

RS: Getting it to pop shut! I know most people would think that making it pop-up is the difficult part, but making it pop shut is the real challenge.

How long, on average, does it take you to create a pop-up book?

RS: Depending on the complexity, designing a pop-up book can take from six to eight months. Add on creating all the two-dimensional art onto the pop-up pieces, and the book can take up to a year to complete.

How many do you do a year?

RS: We can produce one or two books a year, although this does not include pop-up cards and ornaments.




Before anything else is started, the pop-up book’s story is written. All the pages of the story put together are called a manuscript. The author shows the manuscript to the editor at the publishing house who makes corrections or changes and finally approves it. This process can take from one month to a year depending on the project.

Pop-up list

Once the manuscript is approved we (myself and any of my designers: working on the project, we have two designers at our studio) create a Pop-up list. This list consists of our ideas for what types of pop-ups could go in the book. Even though we may consider this list to be final, we sometimes do change it as we are designing. This list is written only. We never draw any pictures of what we think the pop-ups look like because there is no guarantee that we can paper engineer what we draw.

3-dimensional, rough prototypes

After the pop-up list is complete we begin the paper engineering process. We cut, fold and glue thousands of pieces of card stock to begin developing the pop-up mechanisms themselves. This is the most difficult part of making a pop-up book. Many times the pop-ups designed don’t work and we have to start all over again. But this is also one of the most exciting parts of a project, especially when the pop-ups work! All of the pop-ups are white since we don’t need to waste any time adding color at this early stage. Designing the rough prototype pop-ups can take between three and six months.

Tissue tracings

Once we know the paper engineering of the pop-ups work, we carefully take them apart, lay them on a flat surface and trace their shapes onto tissue paper. Now we have a record of all the pieces that will be needed to make the pop-ups. Another advantage to having the tissue tracings of the pop-up pieces is that we can put the tissues on a photocopy machine, copy them onto card stock and then cut and assemble them into pop-ups. This takes from between one to two weeks.

White dummy

While all this work is going on, our publisher has no idea what we’re doing! Since they don’t yet know what the pop-ups look like we make one special book for them called the white dummy (I don’t why this is called a “dummy”, it’s more like a model). Using the tissue tracings we cut, fold, glue and assemble just one copy of the book for the publisher. Since all the pop-ups are still just white we may do some pencil sketching onto the pop-up pieces to give an idea of how they will look in the finished book. This work takes about a month to complete.

Computer die lines

Once the publisher gets the white dummy they approve it and give us the go ahead to the next stage. All the tissue tracings are scanned into the computer. Using the computer program Adobe Illustrator, digital tracings are made of the tissue tracing scans. Really this is just a fancy way of saying we make computer tracings of the tissue tracings! But the computer, or digital, tracings are more accurate than the tissue tracings. These new digital tracings are now called “die lines” (explained below). The die lines are all printed out onto card stock and then cut and assembled in a completely white, fully functioning pop-up book. This book lets us know that all the pop-ups work correctly. This whole process can take a few months and we are glad it’s over so we can go the next stage.

Finished artwork

The digital die lines are printed out onto clear, acetate and attached to separate pieces of white card stock. We use these acetate overlays as a guild so we know where the artwork needs to go for each pop-up piece. If the finished artwork is created using cut paper collage (like “Beauty & the Beast”), all the colored paper is made by hand first and is then cut into different shapes. These bits of colored paper are carefully placed and glued to the white card stock under the piece of acetate showing the die lines. Now all the artwork is perfectly aligned with the die lines. This also helps the printer understand which pieces of art go on which pop-up pieces. It can take a few months to complete all the finished artwork.

Off to the manufacturer!

After the publisher approves all of the final artwork, the digital files and the white prototype dummy are sent off to the manufacturer. All pop-up book manufacturers are located overseas in either South America or Asia.


When everything arrives at the manufacturer, the first thing they do is “nest” the pop-up book. All the pop-up pieces and pages will be printed on just a few very large pieces of card stock. To avoid using so much paper (and to save cost) the manufacturer tries to get as many pop-up pieces onto a little an area as possible on the sheet. This process is called “nesting” and is so horrible and time consuming that we don’t even do it in the studio anymore. It’s like trying to do a jigsaw puzzle without any picture of how the finished puzzle is supposed to look.


The large sheets of card stock that contain all the pop-up pieces and pages are printed in full color, on both sides, the way any color book, catalog or magazine would be printed.

Die making

While the sheets are being printed, the die making begins. A “die” is like a cookie cutter made out of metal that will be used to cut all the pop-up pieces and pages out of the sheets. The die is made by taking a thin piece of very sharp metal and shaping it in a vise to match the shape of a pop-up piece. These dies are hammered into a large block of wood that has been carefully cut to have the dies inserted into it. The block of wood with the dies sticking out of it, is called a “die mold.”

Die cutting

The die mold is place onto a printing press and one by one the printed card stock sheets pass over it. The sheets are then mashed onto the die mold to cut the pop-up pieces.

Scrapping out

Even though the pop-up pieces have been cut out from the sheet they don’t completely fall out of the sheet (or all those pieces would clog up the machine!). Instead, the die molds have been created so the pop-up pieces still cling by just a little bit of paper to the sheet. The sheets are taken into the “scrapping out” room where all the pop-up pieces are removed by hand from the sheets. Many different kinds of tools are used to help remove all the pop-up pieces, which are then counted and set aside for hand assembly.

Hand assembly

All pop-up books are put together completely by hand. This means that somebody folds and glues every single pop-up piece into every single book! Each hand assembler is responsible for just one part of one pop-up. They carefully fold the piece and then using a small bottle of glue or brush, put the pop-up together. Each assembler becomes an expert at that one, specific pop-up. When one pop-up is finished it is handed to another assembler who will glue it into the book.