Papel Picado Guide - Everything You Need To Know

papel picado guide

What is Papel Picado?

Papel picado is Spanish for cut paper...sounds simple enough, but the term defines a traditional Mexican craft that is anything but simple. Papel picado is party bunting that comes with individual flags made in many different shapes and sizes, in white or a huge variety of vibrant colours, either in tissue paper, plastic or material. Papel picado is a staple when it comes to Mexican party decorations. The expertly made cuts, beautifully illustrate intricate designs, images and patterns that evoke a sense of awe and enchantment. The themes represented on these Mexican banners vary widely depending on the cause for celebration.

papel picado guide decorations for any occasion or event

What Celebrations Can Papel Picado Be Used For?

Mexican banners can be used for just about any occasion! In Mexico, papel picado is commonly used for Día de Muertos, and for national holidays such as Mexican Independence Day on September the 16th, religious festivities, street parties, weddings, birthday parties...just about any Mexican fiesta!

Adding these very easy to hang fiesta decorations to your celebration can add a unique flair, and since papel picado banners can be personalised for just about anything you can think of - they’re a perfect element to include among your Mexican party supplies. Papel picado can be used for the following celebrations if not more:

  • Anniversaries
  • Baby showers
  • Birthdays
  • Block parties
  • Corporate events
  • Costume parties
  • Christmas
  • Dinner parties
  • Farewell parties
  • Festivals
  • Formal galas
  • Fundraisers
  • Graduation
  • Hen/Stag nights
  • Housewarming
  • Masquerades
  • Mexican-themed parties
  • Product launches
  • Retirement parties
  • Weddings
  • Wedding showers

The History of Papel Picado

The history of Mexican bunting can be traced back to pre-Hispanic Mexico. The Aztecs would utilise a paper made of the bark of mulberry and fig trees called amatl to make flags and banners, used to adorn homes, streets and temples, just as papel picado is used in Mexico today. This practice evolved when the Spanish came to Mexico, introducing many new foreign products and goods to the region - tissue paper among them (Tissue paper is referred to as papel de china in Mexico, which translates to “paper from China”). That was when artisans began to apply this ancient art form to a new material, and thus, papel picado came to be the quintessential fiesta decoration we know it as today.

Where is Papel Picado Made?

In the state of Puebla in central Mexico, not far from Mexico City, a municipality by the name of San Salvador Huixcolotla is considered to be the birthplace of papel picado. It was here that artisans first began carving out papel picado banner designs on tissue paper, a practice that eventually spread to the rest of Mexico in the 20th century.

These days, San Salvador Huixcolotla is home to the largest amount of Mexican paper flag crafters, followed by the rest of the state of Puebla and Mexico City. In Huixcolotla, papel picado is used primarily on the Day of the Dead, and also during the municipality’s greatest días de fiesta - the feast of its namesake El Divino Salvador on August the 6th, and Día de la Candelaria on February 2nd.

Papel Picado Guide - How papel picado is made

How is Papel Picado Made?

It’s easy to recognize a true work of handmade papel picado art, as designs are masterfully crafted, bearing one-of-a-kind images and signature artisan embellishments, making expert use of the elements of art, such as balance and negative space.

Artisans first create their designs on a plastic template. It is then placed over a stack of as many as fifty to one hundred sheets of tissue paper (or sheets of plastic, metallic foil, or material), from which the artisan cuts out the design, using chisels from a collection of hundreds of different shapes and sizes, pushed and cutting into the layers below with a hammer.

It’s a process that requires plenty of patience and dedication...seeing a craftsman at work on a papel picado piece is truly a sight to behold.

papel picado guide flag designs

Papel Picado Flag Designs

The possibilities are endless when it comes to papel picado. From the classic figures portrayed on its flags, such as flowers, angels, crosses, skeletons, and skulls, to famous figures and icons such as Frida Kahlo, la virgen de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe) or famous luchadores (Mexican wrestlers); to names, and even company logos...your papel picado banners can bear just about any image or text you can think of. Check out some of our custom papel picado flag designs.

papel picado guide hanging styles

Papel Picado Hanging Styles

Papel picado is hung up in the same way that bunting is hung; decorating walls, or spanning across an open overhead space like a ceiling, street or an aisle, creating an instant fiesta feeling. The colourful rows of banners can either be all mixed, creating a wild fun fiesta look, or the rows can be hung with the colours in each row matching up in consecutive lines, which also looks very pretty.

Papel picado can also be hung up in a tight circular shape, over a dancefloor for example, creating an amazing vibrant circular ceiling of colour, with the different bands of colour made up from the concentric rows of the same coloured flags, which will add a totally unique design to your dancefloor or whole venue.

Not sure how much papel picado to buy? Check out our guide here on how much papel picado to order.

Papel Picado Guide - How papel picado is hung

How Is Papel Picado Hung Up?

There is always lots of extra string at the end of each papel picado banner and various ways to tie it up. Either take the end of the string and tie it in a loose knot around a beam, curtain rail or tree. Or wrap the string around a piece of clear strong sellotape and stick it to a wall. Or nail a little tack into the wall and wrap the string around it. Here is our guide on how to hang papel picado.

Papel Picado Guide - personalised flag designs

Personalised Papel Picado Bunting

The great thing about Mexican papel picado banners is the freedom they give you to be creative and create your own personal totally unique look at your event. With your own colour selection, your own flag designs, your choice of garland lengths, custom-made to your personal taste.

Papel picado are amazingly versatile party decorations so can be used to decorate any kind of event or celebration. ARTMEXICO supplies papel picado for every occasion, and we custom make personalised papel picado to order for weddings, anniversaries, birthdays or corporate events. For example our artists made the above flag based on our client's quinceanera (15th birthday) invitation.

Take a look at our full papel picado collection here, and if you have any questions at all contact us and we’ll get back to you straight away. We look forward to adding the magic of papel picado to your celebration!