Kite Paper

What's Best For Making Kites?

Kite paper can be just about any kind of paper, but making kites fly really well requires more than just ordinary writing paper.

The main properties required are strength and light weight. Gift wrap's not bad. Having said that, I'm going to touch on the whole variety of paper used in modern kite-making.

Now, let's pause here for a moment. Yes, you can't get the absolute ultimate in kite performance out of ordinary copier paper. But I've taken that as a challenge!

The MBK Paper Series are kites you can make from A4 or Letter sheets of colored paper. They take a little time and effort to create - but they do fly well! I'm talking 100s of feet in the air, while you just stand there and watch :-)

Making Paper Kites is a printable download describing all the Paper Series kite designs.

OK, back to a general discussion of kite paper...

Kite paper can be colored light tissue, as used in these Taiwanese kites. Tissue and bamboo kites in a long train

Kite paper can be colored light tissue, as used in these Taiwanese kites. Tissue and bamboo kites in a long train

Modern paper kites cover the whole range, from super-quick designs that barely fly, through to carefully crafted traditional kites that shoot up high on the barest puff of wind.

In the photo down there is a long stack of traditional Taiwanese kites we saw at the Adelaide Kite Festival one year. Tissue paper and bamboo construction, all attached to a single flying line.

Many years ago, the very first kite I ever bought from a shop was an Indian design. Made from colored tissue and bamboo, it was an exceptionally good flier over a wide range of wind strengths!

So, in general, what kinds of kites are made with paper sails anyway?

A few moments with my thinking cap on resulted in 3 very broad categories, to answer that question. Curiously, the MBK Paper Series doesn't really belong in any of them! But never mind.

One category is covered in each of the sections below...

Western Kid's Kites

Going back to at least the middle of the 1900s, kites for children were available in shops. The bulk of these used paper for sail material. Although shop-bought kites now use mainly plastic or nylon, kite-making workshops for kids still often feature paper or tissue for sails.

The simple Diamond is a common choice, since it is so easy to make and is such a reliable flier. The longer the tail, the more reliable :-) Rokkakus are often made of paper too. Another choice for the more artistically minded are Butterfly kites, which tend to be pale imitations of the real flying art-work from China...

The kite paper...

Here, the range of options is pretty wide. For a kite with a frame, such as a Diamond or Rok, almost anything works to a degree. As long as it is not so porous that it lets air through! A perimeter line goes around the tips of the spars, and the paper or tissue is made slightly over-size. Hence, the sail can be folded over and pasted down around the edges to help keep it flat and resist tearing.

Let's see, bearing in mind lightness and porosity, you could try...

  • Gift wrapping paper
  • Rice paper
  • Origami paper
  • Writing paper
  • Newspaper! (the poor man's sail material)

Not to mention a host of other materials that are not wood products, such as Mylar and Cellophane.

Minimum Kites

The MBK Paper Sled in flightA single sheet of copier paper
The MBK Paper Sled in flightA single sheet of copier paper

Not sure if there is such a term really, but it seemed appropriate enough. Some kite designs these days are meant for absolute minimum everything. Minimum...

  • Complexity
  • Construction time
  • Materials cost
  • Kite-maker ability!

Not surprisingly, this approach tends to result in .... minimum performance too, but that doesn't stop loads of people enjoying the thrill of making something themselves and then seeing it fly! Long tails are often required to keep the kites stable, and they won't fly at all in light winds since the paper and tape can be rather heavy. Of course, kids can always tow them around to make them fly.

The majority of these kites probably fall into 2 categories - Sleds and Paper Planes. Yes, one of the most well known of these does look somewhat like a paper plane, except that a bamboo skewer or straw is taped across it to function as a horizontal spar. Due to the small size of these designs, most of them can be flown on sewing thread lines.

The kite paper...

What's the most commonly available kind of paper on the planet? A4 or Letter sized sheets of course, as commonly used for photo-copying. These are too heavy for great performance, but can be coaxed to fly as proven by the kite designs already mentioned. In fact, the picture up there is our Minimum Sled design. Crafted from a single sheet of A4, and precious little else!

Any reasonably thin and stiff types of paper could be tried, and should work to a degree. For example wrapping paper, which could have some great patterns pre-printed on it. However, flimsy tissue or crepe paper won't work at all since it can't stay flat without a lot of help.

Traditional Kites

A Taiwanese leaf kiteExquisite 'leaf' in bamboo and tissue
A Taiwanese leaf kiteExquisite 'leaf' in bamboo and tissue

Although kite-making tradition goes back 100s or even 1000s of years in various locations, modern kite makers in Asia are still churning out large volumes of paper kites which are very faithful to ancient traditions. Often, the kite paper and techniques used are virtually unchanged.

China, India and Japan have kite-making entwined through their cultures.

The major sail material for traditional-style kites is paper or tissue.

As you can see in the photo over there, of a Taiwanese leaf kite. A pretty good representation of a leaf don't you think?

Most of these kites are superb fliers. I will never forget my Indian kite which I bought as a teenager. It was my first experience of a high-performance single-liner.

The kite paper...

Apparently, the art of hand-making extremely strong but light kite paper originated in China before finding its way to Japan. In Japan, this 'Washi' paper is often created from the bark of mulberry trees. The final product is laminated from thin layers of fiber, one on top of another. It's the long length of the fibers which gives the extra strength. Commercially made paper created from wood-pulp just can't compare!

Indian fighter kites are traditionally made from tissue paper and bamboo strips, although modern versions often use such materials as Mylar or plastic sheet as well. Modern re-creations of these kites work adequately with tissue sheets from newsagents or gift shops. As long as the tissue has relatively low thickness, weight and stretch, it is fine. However, the Indian makers of the best fighters have their own special sources for tissue paper.

Have fun experimenting with all kinds of kite paper! I might try a big newspaper kite myself one day, I'm curious...

And of course, if you have any copier paper and sticky tape lying around the house, try the MBK Paper Sled. Keep it dry, handle with care and it will return many hours of flight time for you!

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P.S. Keep an eye out for books by kite author Glenn Davison, a prominent kite person in the USA.

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Wind Speeds

Light Air
1-5 km/h
1-3 mph
1-3 knots
Beaufort 1

Light breeze
6–11 km/h
4–7 mph
4–6 knots
Beaufort 2

Gentle ...
12–19 km/h
8–12 mph
7–10 knots
Beaufort 3

Moderate ...
20–28 km/h
13–18 mph
11–16 knots
Beaufort 4

Fresh ...
29–38 km/h
19–24 mph
17–21 knots
Beaufort 5

Strong ...
39–49 km/h
25–31 mph
22–27 knots
Beaufort 6

High Wind
50-61 km/h
32-38 mph
28-33 knots
Beaufort 7

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