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Working with Specialty Papers: Tyvek

corrected gecko.jpg

I recently needed to redo a paper sculpture I had created for my daughter’s school. It was only meant as a temporary installation, but had ended up being in the hallway for several years. As such, some of the pieces had been torn, and as it was being redesigned, I pulled the whole thing down to refurbish it. 

A paper sculpture artist I follow, Gail Armstrong, shared that she was using TYVEK as paper for an outdoor installation.  Tyvek is a synthetic “paper” that is waterproof and tear-proof yet can be shaped much like traditional paper.

I was very interested in finding out more about using this paper as a paper sculpture media.

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I did some various studies and completed two small paper sculptures (click on the images to enlarge). The first one, "The Geckos", is completely out of Tyvek (except for the back support).  The second one, "The Flying Fox", has Tyvek on the wings, ears, and leaves, while the rest was built using my more standard approach to paper sculpture.



1) Tyvek cuts beautifully with an xacto knife, better than with scissors (it is quite slippery). Cutting a straight line with a ruler is very tricky because the ruler tends to slide. It’s so easy to cut with an Xacto that I would probably use it for a whole piece – I don’t think it would strain my hand.


2) Tyvek does score and shape similarly to a cotton-based paper. I didn’t find it strong enough on its own for my needs however. I think in future work I would make a 2-ply paper based on one layer of Tyvek, 1 layer of the white Strathmore 500 (or other) drawing paper.


3) Tyvek colorizes beautifully with inks and paints, but you always get a texture of the fibres of the paper. I think this is something to be played with, but you would want to be aware of it in how you design your piece. I prefer doing my own colorization. Tyvek will almost always come in white. I purchased sheets of Black, but they were colorized the same way I would and had a visible white core when cutting.


4) There is a right/wrong side to Tyvek. The “right” side is slightly more shiny, the “wrong” side has a very faint visible weave pattern.  This is something to be aware of when creating 2-ply sheets and in colorization.


5) Tyvek does not rip or tear! This is both a pro and a con, because while it makes it a very durable material, there are some paper manipulation techniques that require ripping and tearing.

My thoughts on working with Tyvek:

Purchasing/Repurposing Tyvek:

Because I plan on backing it with paper in the future, I will buy the lightest weight Tyvek. I have found that the weights are given in very inconsistent units.  You want to be careful to purchase the “hard” Tyvek, not the “soft” or “cloth” Tyvek. Be careful on the orders for sizing: what may seem like a good price could be for very small sheets. On Amazon, I have only found the smaller sized (letter or smaller) sheets. This is a good option to try the material. Or wait and see if you get a Tyvek envelope in the mail and try repurposing it! I have also seen Tyvek samples advertised on Etsy.

Sample link to Tyvek on Amazon.


I was able to purchase larger sheets of Tyvek through Kelly Paper.  I didn’t find it on their website, but I called the store and was able to order them (I think it was a 10 sheet minimum). If you want the large sheets, you can try calling and see if they will ship them if you aren’t local. The large sheets are quite inexpensive (under $2.00).


My future goal is to determine what type of company uses Tyvek envelopes on a regular basis and find out if recycled envelopes would be appropriate in paper sculpture (i.e., would the printed side show through, etc.)

Tyvek in "Star Maiden" and "the Bottle" pieces: 

I used Tyvek for the whole background for “The Spirit in the Bottle” and for forming the river rock bottom in “The Star Maiden”. This video details how I colorized both pieces.

Video: "Working with Specialty Papers: Tyvek

A video showing me using Dr. Martin's Bombay inks to add color and value to Tyvek paper. Note: for the most part, this video is live-action of me working, and it is long. (Almost 30 minutes).


Warning: This is a LONG video - almost half an hour. It's basically watching me work - I know some people like that! (?!) Most of the information it covers is also written out in this post. 

Highlights of the Process of Inking Tyvek:

(Note: I keep one side of my cutting mat for "messy" applications like inking. I can protect my work surface, and then flip it over for a clean cutting surface)

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I began by comparing my selected swatch colors against my chart of Dr. Martin’s Bombay inks. I like the concentrated strength of these inks. For a deep waterproof black, I use Black Magic. (I create a color chart like this for all my materials – it’s a little time-consuming at the outset, but invaluable to have as a resource). 

color samples for tyvek sheets.jpg

I knew that I wanted to do a blend of blue/Black Magic for the top of “The Spirit in the Bottle” background, and a blend of Van Dyke Brown and Sepia for the forest floor bottom. For the river rocks in “The Star Maiden” I wanted some aqua tones overlaying a gray undertone. I used some scrap pieces of Tyvek to do some color testing before working on the actual background papers.

I knew that the visual texture created when inking the Tyvek would give a nice organic texture to the forest floor for “The Spirit in the Bottle”.

colorized and trimmed spirit final.jpg
colorized river bottom.jpg

(Final colorized and trimmed background for

"The Spirit in the Bottle")

(Final colors for the river bottom for

"The Star Maiden")

For the river bottom, I wanted to do an additional step where you melt the paper to form bubbles.

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 (Colored side down, between two sheets of wax paper)

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I first followed the advice to hover a hot iron over the paper, sandwiched between two Teflon pressing sheets. Since I don’t have Teflon pressing sheets, I tried first using Freezer paper (didn’t work, it stuck. Fortunately I peeled it off in time).

Next I tried between wax paper. I wanted the colorized side down, because I wanted the bubbles to come up through the colors like rocks. After quite a bit of hovering (20+ minutes) and achieving only gentle rippling (and my arms giving out!) I tried blowing sideways across the paper with my heat gun.

after pan and heat gun.jpg

This gave me more bubbles, but larger than I wanted. I was going to settle for this effect, when I found a video that I should have been using all along.


The technique works best when you:

1) lay the paper in a metal baking sheet. I assume the radiant heat from the pan helps the process.

2) use a skewer to keep pushing the paper back down.

3) use a heat gun. Be careful – you can easily scorch the paper. (You can see three scorched areas below).  A blow dryer might work also. It literally took 30 seconds bubbling the paper with this method!

This is the link to the video I followed. (Since good videos exist on this process, I didn’t bother making my own).

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