Crease patterns, sometimes simply referred to as CPs, are the marks that are made when you unfold a completed origami design. The crease pattern for a basic project like the origami jumping frog might not look very impressive, but patterns for more difficult designs like origami tessellations are much more appealing.
For people who appreciate origami as a true art form, crease patterns are a beautiful way to give insight into how a figure was designed. Looking at a crease pattern and then looking at the finished figure illustrates the "magic" of origami in a way that is very memorable.
Crease patterns also serve as hints for how to fold a model. Artists who do not want to take the time to diagram formal instructions or share step-by-step photo tutorials will sometimes offer free crease patterns to assist people who want to learn how to make a model. Interpreting a crease pattern is difficult, but advanced folders can often figure out how to make a model with some effort. On YouTube, Tadashi Mori has a video that explains how to read a crease pattern. Gilad Naor also has a written tutorial sharing some of his thoughts on how to use crease patterns as an instruction for folding an particular origami model.Creating a Crease Pattern
To draw a crease pattern on your computer, you need a vector oriented graphics program with the ability to handle commands such as constrain angle, snap to point, and snap to object.
FreeHand MX or Adobe Illustrator are the most popular graphics programs used to generate computer drawn origami crease patterns. If you don't have the money to purchase new software for your computer, several folders report having success creating crease patterns using the free Inkscape graphics program.Crease Pattern Controversy
Noted origami artist Robert J. Lang has been exhibiting crease patterns as stand alone works of art since 2003. His patterns have been shown as prints, giclees, and, in collaboration with Kevin Box, as wall-mounted metal sculptures. On his website, Lang has a gallery of some of his crease patterns for his original origami designs, as well as photos of the models they correspond to.
To a beginner, it's hard to think of crease patterns as something that can be copyrighted. But, since crease patterns are individually recognizable to someone with a detailed knowledge of origami, they are in fact protected by copyright laws just like a song or painting would be. When something is protected by copyright law, the creator has the right to control its use. This includes "derivative works" that are inspired by the original design.
In 2009, a fan of Lang's work informed him that a painter named Sarah Morris had been using his crease patterns as the basis for a series of paintings. Morris filled in the different spaces in the pattern with various colors to make abstract works of art. The crease patterns she used were renamed and none of the artists who created the original designs were given credit for the work.
Six origami artists, representing countries from around the world, decided to sue for copyright infringement. Three eventually had to drop out of the case, but the dispute was finally settled in March 2013. The parties involved decided not to go to trial and reached a private agreement that Morris's paintings would be retitled to include the name of the original origami artist and the title of the origami crease pattern that inspired the painting.
Since the case was settled out of court, it does not establish a legal precedent for origami copyright law. However, it does serve to bring awareness to the need to respect the work of all folders within the origami community. If you want to use another folder's work as the basis for your own design, especially if you plan to sell your final product, ask for permission first.