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what is papel picado

What is Papel Picado? A Deep Dive Into the Colorful Mexican Party Decoration

What is Papel Picado? A Deep Dive Into the Colorful Mexican Party Decoration

When it comes to artistry and cultural richness, Mexico stands as a shining example. One of its most captivating and symbolic artistic traditions is Papel Picado. This centuries-old craft has played a vital role in Mexican celebrations, religious ceremonies, and festivals.

In this blog post, we're diving deep into the enchanting world of papel picado— exploring its history, significance, and the intricate techniques that bring this delicate art form to life. Join us on a journey through the vibrant colors, intricate patterns, and profound cultural meanings that make papel picado a cherished gem of Mexican culture!

what is papel picado

What is Papel Picado?

Papel Picado is a traditional Mexican folk art craft that involves the intricate cutting of colorful paper sheets to create decorative designs. The term "papel picado" translates to "perforated paper" in English. This art form is commonly associated with celebrations, particularly during holidays like Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Cinco de Mayo, Mexican Independence Day, birthdays, weddings, and other festive occasions.

papel picado banner

The Cultural Significance of Papel Picado

Papel Picado holds significant cultural and symbolic importance in Mexican culture and celebrations. Here are some ways it is valued and integrated into various aspects of Mexican traditions:

Cultural Identity

Papel Picado is deeply intertwined with Mexican cultural identity. Its intricate designs often incorporate traditional symbols, such as skulls, flowers, and religious imagery, that reflect Mexico's rich history, heritage, and values.

Festive Atmosphere

The vibrant and colorful nature of Papel Picado adds a festive and lively atmosphere to celebrations. Whether it's a joyful event like a wedding, Papel Picado is used to enhance the visual appeal and set the tone for the gathering.

Dia de Los Muertos

Papel Picado is an integral part of Dia de los Muertos, a Mexican holiday honoring deceased loved ones. Intricately cut papel picado with skull and skeleton designs are hung in homes and public spaces to create ofrendas (altars) and decorate gravesites. The delicate paper cutouts are believed to help guide the spirits of the departed back to the living world.

Mexican Independence Day

During Mexico's Independence Day celebrations on September 16th, papel picado is prominently displayed alongside other patriotic decorations. The vibrant colors and festive designs contribute to the sense of national pride during this important holiday.

Street Festivals and Parades

Papel Picado banners are frequently hung across streets and plazas during various Mexican festivals and parades. This practice transforms public spaces into vibrant and visually captivating environments.

Craftsmanship and Tradition

Creating Papel Picado requires skilled craftsmanship, passed down through generations. This art form showcases the talent and dedication of artisans who use traditional methods to cut delicate and intricate designs by hand.

Community and Togetherness

The creation and display of Papel Picado often involve collective efforts within communities. Families, friends, and local artists come together to create decorations, fostering a sense of unity and shared cultural experience.

In essence, Papel Picado embodies the essence of Mexican culture and celebrations. It is more than just a decorative element—it's a symbol of cultural pride, a vehicle for storytelling, and a way to connect the past with the present in a visually stunning and meaningful manner

papel picado holds significant cultural value for Mexico

The Historial Roots of Papel Picado in Mexican Culture

The origins of Papel Picado in Mexican history and culture can be traced back to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, particularly the Aztecs. These civilizations had a long history of using various forms of cut paper for both practical and ritualistic purposes. However, the specific art form known as Papel Picado as we recognize it today developed over time, influenced by various cultural and historical factors.

Aztec Influence

The Aztecs are believed to have used paper made from the bark of fig trees to create decorative and ritual objects. They would cut and perforate the paper to make banners, ceremonial clothing, and religious offerings. These early uses of cut paper can be considered precursors to the modern Papel Picado.

Spanish Colonial Period

With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, the Spaniards brought with them the art of papermaking and the concept of using papel picado for religious decorations, particularly in churches. This merged with existing indigenous paper-cutting traditions, resulting in a fusion of artistic styles.

Folk Art Evolution

Over time, the art of Papel Picado evolved into a distinct form of folk art that was embraced by various regions in Mexico. Different regions developed their own unique styles and designs, incorporating elements from local cultures, folklore, and traditions.

Artisan Traditions

Creating Papel Picado requires skill and precision. Artisans hand-cut intricate designs using chisels, punches, or other sharp tools. This craftsmanship has been passed down through generations, preserving the authenticity of the art form.

Using Papel Picado for Mexican Celebrations

Papel Picado holds a special place in various Mexican festivities, adding a touch of cultural authenticity and vibrancy to celebrations.

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)

Papel Picado is commonly used to decorate ofrendas (altars) during Dia de los Muertos. Intricately cut paper banners with skull and skeleton designs are hung above the altars, creating an inviting and festive atmosphere for the spirits of the deceased to return and enjoy offerings.

In cemeteries, papel picado is often strung above gravesites to honor and remember departed loved ones. The colorful banners flutter in the wind, symbolizing the boundary between the living and the dead.


Papel Picado is often used during Las Posadas, a traditional Mexican Christmas celebration. Colorful banners are hung along the procession route, symbolizing the journey of Mary and Joseph as they searched for lodging in Bethlehem.

Intricate papel picado designs may adorn nativity scenes, adding a festive touch to the depiction of the birth of Jesus.

Mexican Independence Day

During Mexico's Independence Day celebrations on September 16th, papel picado is used to adorn streets, plazas, and public spaces. The vibrant banners in the colors of the Mexican flag (green, white, and red) create a patriotic and festive atmosphere.


Papel Picado is often used in weddings to decorate the ceremony and reception venues. It adds a traditional and celebratory touch to the festivities.


For a girl's 15th birthday celebration, known as a quinceañera, papel picado may be used to decorate the venue. It complements the overall festive ambiance of the event.

Street Fairs

Papel Picado banners are a common sight at street fairs and cultural festivals in Mexico. They create a lively and colorful backdrop for various activities and performances.


Colorfully cut papel picado is often strung across streets during parades, enhancing the festive spirit of the event.

Birthday Parties

Papel Picado is sometimes used to celebrate birthdays, adding a festive touch to the decorations.


For milestone anniversaries, papel picado can be used to commemorate the occasion and create a celebratory atmosphere.

In all of these celebrations, papel picado serves as a visually striking and culturally significant decoration that enriches the atmosphere and pays homage to Mexico's rich traditions and history.

How is Papel Picado Made?

Creating Papel Picado involves a meticulous and artistic process. Here's a step-by-step guide to how it's traditionally crafted:

Materials Needed to Make Papel Picado

  • Tissue paper or other thin paper in various colors
  • Sharp chisels, punches, or small scissors
  • Stencils or patterns (optional)
  • Cutting mat or surface

The Process of Making Papel Picado

  1. First, choose a design for your Papel Picado. Traditional designs often include flowers, animals, geometric patterns, hearts, skulls, and other motifs that hold cultural significance.
  2. Next, stack several sheets of tissue paper (typically around 20-30 sheets) on top of each other. The number of sheets will determine the thickness of the final piece. Align the edges of the paper stack neatly to ensure consistent cuts.
  3. Then create the template. If you're not freehand cutting, you can create a template by drawing or printing your chosen design on a piece of paper. This template will guide your cutting. Place the template on top of the paper stack and secure it with clips or tape.
  4. Begin cutting along the lines of the design using sharp chisels, punches, or small scissors. You can also use small, specialized cutting tools designed for Papel Picado. The cuts can be simple or highly intricate, depending on your design and skill level. Take your time to ensure precision, especially for complex patterns.
  5. When you cut out a design element, you're creating "negative space." This is what gives Papel Picado its delicate appearance. The cutouts will allow light to shine through, casting intricate shadows.
  6. Gently remove the excess paper around the cutouts while being careful not to tear the delicate designs.
  7. Carefully unfold the stack of paper to reveal the intricate cutouts. Take your time to ensure that the cuts are clean and even.
  8. If needed, you can use small scissors to make any touch-ups or adjustments to the cutouts.
  9. String the cutout sheets using thread, twine, or thin wire. Leave enough space between each sheet to allow them to flutter and move in the breeze.
  10. Hang the Papel Picado banner across a space, indoors or outdoors, to showcase the vibrant colors and delicate designs.
  11. Enjoy and celebrate! Once hung, your Papel Picado creation will add a festive and artistic touch to your chosen celebration or space. The interplay of light and shadow through the cutouts will enhance the visual impact.

Creating Papel Picado requires patience, attention to detail, and a steady hand. The final result is a beautiful and culturally rich decoration that captures the essence of Mexican folk art.

how to make papel picado

What Materials Do You Need to Create Papel Picado?

The creation of Papel Picado involves using specific materials that contribute to the art's delicate and vibrant appearance. Here are the primary materials used in crafting Papel Picado:


Tissue paper is the most commonly used material for making Papel Picado. It is thin, lightweight, and comes in a variety of vibrant colors. Its delicate nature allows for intricate cuts and creates beautiful translucency when light passes through the cutouts.

While tissue paper is traditional, some artisans also use colored craft paper or other types of thin, colored paper to create Papel Picado. These papers may offer more durability and sturdiness but may not have the same translucency as tissue paper.

Cutting Tools: Chisels, Punches, and Small Scissors

Traditional Papel Picado artisans often use small chisels with sharp edges to make precise cuts in the paper. Chisels allow for intricate and controlled cutting.

Punches are small, specialized tools designed to create specific shapes or patterns in the paper. They come in various sizes and shapes, making it easier to achieve consistent designs.

Some artisans opt for small, sharp scissors to cut out the designs, especially for simpler patterns.

Design Patterns or Templates

Many Papel Picado artisans use templates or patterns to guide their cutting. Templates help ensure consistency in design across multiple cutouts.

Overall, the choice of materials in Papel Picado emphasizes the art's intricate and delicate nature. The combination of colorful paper, precise cutting tools, and artistic vision results in visually stunning decorations that carry deep cultural significance in Mexican celebrations and traditions.

What are the Symbolic Meanings Behind Different Designs & Patterns Used in Papel Picado?

Papel Picado designs are characterized by their intricate and artistic nature. They often incorporate a variety of motifs that hold cultural, symbolic, and thematic significance.

Calaveras (Skulls)

Skulls are a central motif in Papel Picado, especially during Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrations. These skulls symbolize the cycle of life and death and serve as a way to honor and remember deceased loved ones.


Catrinas are elegantly dressed skeleton figures that are a prominent symbol of Dia de los Muertos. These skeletal figures are often depicted wearing elaborate clothing and hats, reflecting the idea that death is a universal experience that spares no one, regardless of social status.


Flowers are a common motif in Papel Picado and can symbolize life, beauty, and the ephemeral nature of existence.


Hearts symbolize love, affection, and emotional connection. Papel Picado featuring hearts is often used in weddings, anniversaries, and other celebrations of love.


Birds, such as doves and hummingbirds, are depicted in Papel Picado to symbolize freedom, migration, and the spiritual journey of the soul.

Geometric Patterns

Intricate geometric patterns are a hallmark of Papel Picado. These patterns can range from simple repetitions to complex designs, adding visual interest and sophistication to the cutouts.

Fiesta and Celebration Motifs

Papel Picado used for general celebrations often includes messages like "Feliz Cumpleaños" (Happy Birthday) or "Fiesta." These designs add a festive touch to parties and events.

Landscape and Nature

Scenes from nature, such as landscapes, trees, and suns, can also be found in Papel Picado. These designs reflect the beauty of the natural world and its connection to cultural celebrations.

The beauty of Papel Picado lies in its versatility and the way these designs can be combined and customized to suit different occasions and cultural contexts. Each design carries its own meaning and contributes to the rich visual tapestry of Mexican celebrations.

papel picado has many Mexican cultural symbols and motifs used to portray different meanings

How are Certain Themes Captured in Papel Picado Designs?

Papel Picado is visually captivating and carries deep thematic and cultural meanings.

Heritage and Tradition

Papel Picado often incorporates traditional patterns and symbols that have been passed down through generations. This theme reflects the importance of preserving cultural heritage and keeping traditions alive.

Celebration and Joy

Papel Picado is inherently celebratory. The intricate cutouts, vibrant colors, and fluttering banners symbolize joy, festivity, and the spirit of celebration. Whether it's a birthday, wedding, or cultural event, Papel Picado adds a sense of jubilation to the atmosphere.

Reflection and Contemplation

The interplay of light and shadow created by Papel Picado cutouts encourages viewers to reflect and contemplate. The delicate nature of the cutouts serves as a reminder of life's fragility and the need to appreciate the present moment.

These themes, intricately woven into the designs of Papel Picado, contribute to the art form's significance and its ability to resonate with people on both aesthetic and emotional levels.

Diving Deeper into the Cultural Significance of Papel Picado

The cultural significance of Papel Picado runs deep within Mexican traditions, reflecting values, beliefs, and celebrations that have been cherished for centuries.

Cultural Identity

Papel Picado is a powerful symbol of Mexican cultural identity. Its intricate designs often incorporate traditional motifs, indigenous patterns, and religious symbols that speak to Mexico's diverse heritage and historical roots. This art form serves as a visual representation of the nation's rich tapestry of cultures and traditions.

Celebration of Life and Death

Papel Picado encapsulates the Mexican approach to life and death. Rather than shying away from mortality, Mexicans embrace it as an integral part of existence. The vibrant and colorful designs, even when featuring skulls and skeletons, emphasize the celebration of life alongside the acceptance of death.

Cultural Resilience

Despite modernization and changing artistic trends, Papel Picado remains a resilient and relevant cultural practice. Its continued use in celebrations showcases the enduring importance of cultural traditions in the face of change.

Cultural Exchange and Tourism

Papel Picado's popularity has extended beyond Mexico's borders, attracting the interest of people worldwide. This art form contributes to cultural exchange and promotes Mexican traditions through tourism and cultural events.

Education and Legacy

Teaching the art of Papel Picado to younger generations helps ensure its preservation and continuation. By passing down this craft, families and communities pass on cultural values, stories, and artistic skills.

In essence, Papel Picado serves as a visual and tactile representation of Mexico's cultural vibrancy, historical depth, and spiritual connection to life, death, and beyond. Its multifaceted significance transcends aesthetics and touches on profound aspects of Mexican identity and tradition.

How is Papel Picado Intertwined with Mexican Heritage, Identity & Community?

Papel Picado is deeply intertwined with Mexican heritage, identity, and community, serving as a cultural thread that weaves through the fabric of Mexican society.

Mexican Heritage

Papel Picado reflects Mexico's diverse and layered cultural heritage. Papel Picado serves as a visual representation of Mexico's rich indigenous roots, its colonial past, and its fusion of cultures.

Mexican Identity

Papel Picado is a distinct marker of Mexican identity. Its vibrant colors, intricate designs, and cultural motifs evoke a sense of pride and belonging among Mexicans. Whether displayed during festivals or daily life, Papel Picado carries with it a sense of cultural authenticity that resonates deeply with the Mexican people.

Cultural Resilience

Papel Picado's continued use in modern celebrations showcases its resilience as a cultural practice. In a rapidly changing world, its presence serves as a reminder of the enduring significance of traditional art forms in preserving cultural identity and connecting generations.

Papel Picado embodies the essence of Mexican heritage, identity, and community by visually representing the nation's history, values, and shared experiences. Its presence in celebrations, its connection to generations of artisans all contribute to its significance as a cultural touchstone in Mexico.

The Evolution of Papel Picado

Papel Picado, the intricate art of cut paper, has evolved over time from its ancient origins to its current status as a beloved Mexican folk art and cultural symbol.

The earliest forms of cut paper art date back to ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, including the Aztecs and Maya. They used bark paper to create banners, ceremonial clothing, and religious offerings, laying the foundation for the art of Papel Picado. With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, European paper-making techniques and religious imagery were introduced to Mexico. This led to a fusion of indigenous paper-cutting traditions with European designs, resulting in a unique blend of artistic styles.

Over time, Papel Picado evolved from primarily religious contexts to become a cherished form of folk art. Artisans in different regions of Mexico began incorporating local motifs, designs, and cultural symbols into their work, resulting in a diverse array of styles. The evolution of Papel Picado is closely tied to Dia de los Muertos celebrations. Intricately cut paper banners and designs started to play a significant role in honoring deceased loved ones and adorning ofrendas (altars) during this holiday.

In recent years, contemporary artists and designers have pushed the boundaries of Papel Picado. The art form has expanded beyond traditional motifs to incorporate modern themes, intricate patterns, and innovative materials. It's often used in creative installations, art exhibitions, and cultural events.

As cultural awareness and preservation efforts have grown, there's been a renewed interest in traditional art forms like Papel Picado. Artisans and cultural organizations work to ensure the continuation of this craft by passing down knowledge, techniques, and cultural significance to younger generations.

How is Papel Picado Used Today?

Papel Picado has transcended its traditional roots and found a place in contemporary settings, bringing its vibrant colors, intricate designs, and cultural richness to a wide range of events and decor.


Papel Picado is a popular choice for wedding decor. It adds a festive and culturally rich atmosphere to ceremonies and receptions. Couples often incorporate customized designs, their names, or wedding date into the cutouts. Papel Picado banners can be strung across venues, hung above dining areas, or used as backdrops for photoshoots.

Parties and Celebrations

Papel Picado infuses parties and celebrations with an instant burst of color and energy. It's a common choice for birthday parties, anniversaries, baby showers, and more. Whether indoors or outdoors, Papel Picado banners create a joyful ambiance that complements the festive spirit of the occasion.

Interior Decoration

Many people use Papel Picado to add an artistic touch to their homes. Hanging banners in windows, on walls, or across doorways brings a sense of cultural authenticity to interior spaces. Papel Picado's play of light and shadow also creates an enchanting visual effect, enhancing the overall decor.

Cultural and Art Events

Papel Picado is often featured in cultural festivals, art exhibitions, and events celebrating Mexican heritage. Its presence reinforces the cultural identity of such gatherings and engages attendees with a tangible connection to Mexican traditions.

Photo Booths and Backdrops

Papel Picado makes for stunning photo backdrops and booth decorations. Its intricate patterns and vibrant colors create visually captivating scenes for event attendees to capture memories.

Restaurant and Cafe Decor

Restaurants and cafes seeking to create a vibrant and inviting ambiance often use Papel Picado to decorate their interiors. It adds a touch of Mexican culture to the atmosphere and can tie in with the cuisine being served.

In these contemporary settings, Papel Picado not only maintains its cultural significance but also serves as a bridge between the past and the present, connecting people to the beauty of Mexican heritage while celebrating life's joyful moments.

Preserving Mexican Culture Through Papel Picado

Papel Picado holds immense significance in preserving cultural heritage as it serves as a tangible link to Mexico's history, traditions, and values.

Papel Picado carries forward centuries-old artistic techniques and designs that have been passed down through generations. By engaging in the craft and teaching it to younger members of the community, artisans ensure the continuity of cultural practices. The intricate designs of Papel Picado often contain symbolic representations of Mexican life, beliefs, and history. These designs serve as visual narratives that tell stories, convey values, and honor ancestral wisdom.

By using Papel Picado in various cultural celebrations and ceremonies, Mexicans honor and celebrate their traditions. This act of incorporating the art form into daily life helps preserve its relevance and importance. It's a versatile art form that can be adapted to various settings, ensuring that it remains a living and evolving part of Mexican culture.

In essence, Papel Picado is a living testament to the value of cultural heritage. It's more than a decorative craft; it's a vibrant and enduring representation of Mexico's rich history, its interconnectedness with the present, and its commitment to passing on its cultural legacy to the future.

How to Incorporate Papel Picado into Your Home, Parties and Events

Incorporating Papel Picado into your home, parties, and events is a wonderful way to infuse vibrant Mexican culture and artistry. Here are some creative ideas on how to do so:

Home Decor

Wall Hangings: Hang Papel Picado banners or framed cutouts on walls to create an eye-catching focal point in your living room, dining area, or hallway.

Windows and Doorways: String Papel Picado across windows and doorways to add a pop of color and cultural flair to your interiors.

Ceiling Decor: Create an enchanting atmosphere by suspending Papel Picado from the ceiling. The interplay of light and shadow will add depth to your space.

Parties and Celebrations

Table Centerpieces: Place Papel Picado cutouts on tables as part of your centerpiece arrangements for parties, dinners, and celebrations.

Backdrop: Use large Papel Picado banners as backdrops for photo booths or as a colorful setting for your event's main stage.

Invitations and Menus: Incorporate Papel Picado designs into event invitations, menus, and other printed materials to tie in the theme.


Aisle Runner: Line the aisle with Papel Picado banners for a unique and vibrant touch during wedding ceremonies.

Reception Decor: Use Papel Picado to decorate reception tables, chairs, and the dance floor area for a festive atmosphere.

Cake Decor: Adorn your wedding cake with delicate Papel Picado cutouts to infuse a touch of cultural elegance.

Everyday Decor

Seasonal Displays: Rotate Papel Picado banners based on seasons or holidays to add a touch of festivity to your home year-round.

Kids' Rooms: Use Papel Picado cutouts as part of a colorful and educational display in children's bedrooms.

Outdoor Celebrations

Garden Parties: Hang Papel Picado in your outdoor spaces, such as gardens or patios, to create a festive atmosphere for outdoor gatherings.

Poolside Decor: Add a touch of Mexican flair to poolside parties with Papel Picado banners gently swaying in the breeze.

Remember, Papel Picado is versatile and can be customized to suit various themes and occasions. It's a visually stunning and culturally significant addition to any space or event, adding a touch of Mexican heritage, color, and artistic beauty.

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