How to make shadow puppets

Updated February 21, 2017

Adults and children alike can build shadow puppets and direct their own shows or just entertain each other. All you need are a few household items and some imagination to create your own shadow puppet show.

Cut the puppet out of cardboard. Draw the puppet shape directly on to the cardboard or outline it on a piece of paper to use as a pattern. To create a stained glass effect, cut windows into the puppet and cover them with pieces of coloured cellophane.

Using a glue gun or tape, stick a stick or rod to the back of the puppet. Optionally, fashion joints for the puppet using wire or brass paper fasteners. Attach additional rods to the joints to facilitate movement.

Prepare a surface for reflecting the shadows, such as a wall, screen or the side of a tent. When using a wall, remove pictures, mirrors or other items that could obstruct the shadows.

Choose a light source like a spotlight, torch, lamp, lantern, candles or a fire. A strong light source will prevent backlight. When using a weaker light source like candles or a fire, dim other lights in the room. Angle the light source from above to shine over the performers' heads and reduce extra shadows.

Construct the performance area. Include an area for the puppeteers to manoeuvre the puppets between the light source and the shadow surface.

Open your show. Act out a storyline or script. Play background music to accompany the shadow movements.


When performing behind a screen, use cardboard, furniture or some other obstruction to hide the shadows of the puppeteers.

If you add joints to a puppet, do not add more joints than a single puppeteer can manipulate.


When using fire or candles as a light source, keep a fire extinguisher, wet towel or sand nearby to douse any flames. Puppeteers should wear non-flammable clothing, tie back long hair and coat all materials with flame-retardant spray.

Things You'll Need

  • Cardboard
  • Stick or rod
  • Glue gun or tape
  • Light source
  • Wires and brass paper fasteners
  • Coloured cellophane
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