Design without Limits – Plywood to Cardboard- Pen Holder with Sexagenary Cycle Patterns

By Yu-Wen Zhang


This project came from the course designed in cooperation with the National Palace Museum last summer. The original physical course ended up online, and the laser-cut to be used in the beginning was replaced with cardboards, so that the projects is more accessible for the public.

Model introduction

The DIY pen holder features the foreign color-paint artifact during Qianlong period of Qing dynasty in ancient China, with the cultural relic was made with four parts in the firing process. After assembly, the parts can rotate separately and it makes a soothing decoration in the office.

Design and production

The original laser-cut design feature an upper and a lower part, using 3mm plywood. A laminated structure was added to make the parts rotatable.

Plywood replaced with cardboard for the first edition

At first, we were planning to use die-cut molds, coupled with corrugated fiberboard. Also, we tried to fit everything into a piece of A4-size paper to reduce cost in typesetting.

However, the cost of using molds would be too high, since our production quantity was not large; we turned to sharing the files on open-source platforms for the public to access. People can print out the models and paint them in their own way, before putting them on 3mm cardboards for cutting.

After we started working, we found that the patterns could get tilted when being pasted onto paper for photocopy. This caused the paper to tear up easily when cutting; also, the paper would turn out uneven when assembling. Therefore, we started working on the second version.

Cardboard replaced with 160-pound paper for the second version

Considering the strength of the paper used and possible deformation, as well as the easy access of materials for the public, we opted for photocopy paper with higher pounds. In this way, the overall structure integrity could be increased with pre-creased lines and at joints to be glued together. Also, the sides to be glued require extra space. Hence, in the typesetting, we laid out the patterns of upper and lower parts two pieces of A4-size each.

The upper edge of the lower half and the lower edge of the upper half could form a buckle for fixture within a dent, allowing the two parts to rotate smoothly.

This version is the simplest and most convenient model. However, to pursue a design that is closer to the original artifact, we kept thinking about how to add a cylinder inside.

Four-layer structure with cardboard for the third version

Based on the second version, the third one featured pre-creased lines to turn cylinder into a polygon to increase the structure integrity.


The original lower half would follow the same approach as that of the upper half, where there were round holes to fit with the cylinder for fixture. The last step was gluing the cylinder to the upper edge of the upper half.
In this model, the upper half and the cylinder in the middle are fixed, the upper layer will drive the cylinder to move along when rotating, so that the cylinder will not get deformed easily.

Finished products of the three versions.


The essence of education is to enable learners to obtain certain things through different media. No matter what kind of tools serves as the media, the core value lies in ideas and practices. It is hoped that through this sharing, everyone can learn not to limit themselves and have the courage to try new things.



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