How to make a thaumatrope

How to make a thaumatrope

Thaumatropes are a simple craft that kids will enjoy making – and they will be amazed at the visual effects when the spinning pictures merge!

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Have you ever heard of a Thaumatrope? Here’s what Wiki has to say:

A thaumatrope is an optical toy that was popular in the 19th century. A disk with a picture on each side is attached to two pieces of string. When the strings are twirled quickly between the fingers the two pictures appear to blend into one due to the persistence of vision.

They are pretty cool – although we made a slightly different version, where the two pictures are attached to a stick, and then rubbed between your hands. It creates the same effect!

I made a classic design in advance to show the girls: a fish on one side and a fishbowl on the other. They were fascinated!

How to make a thaumatrope

To make the craft, use a cookie cutter or any round template to draw two circles onto card.

Draw two designs, something that forms a picture when blended together. Here are some ideas:

  • Bird and Cage
  • Man and Hat
  • Duck and Pond
  • Flowers and Vase
  • Egg and Bacon
  • Stars and Moon
  • Butterfly and Flower
  • Caterpillar and Leaf
  • Bird and Branch

How to make a thaumatrope

But you can also do text too, like “I U” on one side, then a heart in the middle of the other side, so that it makes “I (heart) U” when blended. Clear simple designs work best.

How to make a thaumatrope

Once both designs are finished, use tape or glue to attach them to a wooden dowel (we got ours from Or you could use a straw!

How to make a thaumatrope

Hold the stick between your hands and rub your hands forwards and backwards – the effect is simple yet amazing!

How to make a thaumatrope

BTW I literally took hundreds of photos to see if my camera could catch what the eye could see, but I completely failed! Here is the best one – you can *just* see the bird on the branch!

How to make a thaumatrope

The thaumatrope has been tricking our eyes since the 1800s. With this toy, you can make two drawings on separate papers merge into one!

What you need

  • Image pairs (included below)
  • Scissors
  • A glue stick
  • Adhesive tape
  • A wooden skewer or straw
  • Optional: colouring pencils

Safety first!

Adult supervision may be needed when handling scissors.

Make it

  1. Choose and print a pair of pictures.
  2. Optional: colour the pictures.
  3. Cut out the circles.
  4. Use the tape to attach the skewer or straw to the back side of one of the pictures. This will serve as your axis. Make sure that the dotted line is in the centre.
  5. Glue the second picture back-to-back with the first one (the skewer or straw will be between the two pictures). Before gluing them together, make sure that the dotted lines are aligned. The surfaces that you coloured should be facing out.
  6. Leave the glue to dry.

Test it

Hold the thaumatrope between your palms (as far from your face as possible for the best illusion). Rub your hands back and forth together quickly to spin the skewer and see your two pictures become one!

Explain it

The scientific principle behind this toy is known as “persistence of vision.” What happens is simple: the pictures change so quickly that the eyes and the brain don’t have time to see the individual images. The brain is still registering the first picture when the visual information from the second one arrives. As a result, the brain mixes the two pictures to make one single image!

Observe it

You might be surprised to find that the principles behind the thaumatrope are the same ones that have led us to create animated films! By creating still drawings which change quickly from one to another, the illusion of motion is created. This is because the previous drawing, or frame, persists for just long enough to make the transition seamless.

Go further

Another toy which uses the principle of persistence of vision is the flipbook – try making your own!

An example of a Thaumatrope

Back in the days when children often made their own toys, they made thaumatropes. This was a simple art form designed to fool the eyes into combining two pictures into one composite picture. The picture on the right shows two separate pictures in the first two circles. The third picture combines them into one picture. These were combined with the help of computer software, but if you print the first two circles on cardstock or other heavy paper and make them into a thaumatrope, you can spin them to get them to combine into one image.

How to make a thaumatrope:

  1. Cut two circles the same size on a piece of cardstock or heavy paper. You may copy the file below into a document to print and use as a template.
  2. In one circle draw one part of your picture (such as the flower pot or vase).
  3. In the second circle draw the rest of your picture (the flowers).
  4. Glue the pictures back to back, but keep in mind that one must be upside down in relation to the other.
  5. Punch a hole in the two sides of your thaumatrope. Attach a string through the holes on each side. The heavier the string seems to work better.
  6. Hold on to one of the strings and twist it until it is wound up tight like a paddle on a toy boat. Then holding both strings gently pull as you watch the thaumatrope spin. You should see your two pictures merge into one as the toy spins. If your thaumatrope balances well it should spin continuously as first the string on one side winds up tightly and the other side unwinds. Experiment with different thicknesses of string. How long can you keep it spinning?

How to make a thaumatrope

How to make a thaumatrope

I used rubber bands for the string on my thaumatrope.

Delight the senses with super easy Christmas theme thaumatropes you can make just about anywhere! My son loved this easy STEAM activity and that’s saying quite a bit since he usually doesn’t like anything to do with drawing. When I showed him my sample thaumatrope he was pretty interested in how the two sides seemed to blend together when he spun the straw in his hands. The perfect project for us!


How to make a thaumatrope


It is thought the thaumatrope was invented in the early 1800’s as a popular optical toy. It has a disc with different pictures on each side which appear to blend into one when spun. Thanks to something called the persistence of vision.

Our Christmas thaumatrope below is a fun way for kids to explore simple optical illusions. To give the illusion of the images blending together, you need a picture that comes in two parts. A classic thaumatrope is the bird and a cage.

How to make a thaumatrope


When I say easy, I mean easy! I didn’t realize just how simple this super fun toy is to make. No mess either! I am not too crafty so I was impressed by how easily they came together. Plus my Christmas thaumatropes actually worked! Bonus, YOU can do it too!

Want to try the other activities seen in the video? Click on the links below.


  • Printable Christmas pictures (see below)
  • Christmas straws
  • Tape

How to make a thaumatrope


STEP 1: Print out the thaumatrope Christmas pics below.

How to make a thaumatrope

STEP 2: Cut out your circles and then tape the back of one circle to a straw.

How to make a thaumatrope

STEP 3: Then attach the other circle to the straw with tape. You are done!

How to make a thaumatrope




Click on the image below or on the link for more easy Christmas activities for kids.

How to make a thaumatrope

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How to make a thaumatrope

Have you ever wondered how cartoons started? Discover an early form of animation by making a simple optical illusion to trick your brain!

Age: 6+
Time: 15 minutes
Topics: optical illusion, brain, vision

What you need:

  • Pencil or pen
  • Paper
  • Crayons, markers, or colored pencils
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Optional: Thaumatrope template (download and print)

What to do:

If you have a printer at home:

2. Color the two images however you like.

If you do not have a printer at home or wish to make your own images:

1. Cut out two squares of paper, approximately 2 inches by 2 inches.

2. Think of a simple object or image you could draw that has two parts, like a scoop of ice cream and a cone or a fish and a fishbowl.

3. Draw and color one part of the image on each square (for example, draw the ice cream on one square and the cone on the other square). These two images will be combined in the end, so think about how they will look if they are on top of one another. Where on the squares should you draw each part of the image so they will match up correctly when they are combined?

Once your images are drawn, colored, and cut out:

4. Tape them securely back to back (with the pictures facing out) at the top of the pencil or pen.

5. You now have a thaumatrope! To use it, hold it upright in front of you between the palms of your hands. Lightly roll the pencil back and forth between your hands so the two images flip back and forth.

  • What happens when you spin it slowly?
  • What happens when you spin it quickly?

6. Other ideas to try:

  • Try it again with new pictures. How many can you create? Which images worked best?
  • Try different colors. How did the new colors change how you perceived the image?
  • Could you make a thaumatrope that shows one object moving, instead of two objects combining? How would you do it?

What’s happening?

A thaumatrope (THAW-muh-trope) toy creates an illusion based on how your brain processes information from your eyes. When you spin the thaumotrope slowly, you will see each image by itself. If you spin it fast enough, you no longer perceive them as two separate pictures but instead perceive the two on top of each other. The illusion is created when images are presented to your eyes faster than your brain can process them individually, so it combines them into a single image. This is also how flipbooks or movies on film work: they are made of individual images, or frames, which change so quickly from one to the next that your brain perceives them as one continuous moving image.

'There is no better high than discovery.' E. O. Wilson

How to make a Thaumatrope:’

Demonstrating the thaumatrope at a Victorian weekend at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow. (with really bad hair cut!)

Animation as we might understand it as a technical process of synthesising motion from a series of static images – precedes the invention of the cinematograph by several decades. It has its roots in the numerous parlour-game toys popular in the early 1800s which experimented with persistence of vision effect known as the Phi phenomenon. ‘One device of the times which demonstrated this effect was the Thaumatrope accredited to three different people, Dr Fitton of London, Peter Roget and/or London physicist John Ayrton Paris. However it is known that Paris used his device to show the Phi phenomenon to the Royal College of Physicians in 1824. It consisted of a disc with an image painted on each side. When the disc was spun by pulling on a twisted pair of strings, the images seemed to be combined – a bird on one side of the disc would appear in the empty cage on the other side. ‘Trope’ comes from the Greek word for ‘things that turn’. ‘Thauma’ means wondrous, therefore a thaumatrope is a ‘turning marvel’ or ‘wonder turner’.

Okay – to make one:

You will need:- thin piece of cardboard – hole punch- pencil- scissors- glue – string

Directions: Cut 2 discs out and glue together for thickness (pictures facing out and top sides up). Using scissor point, punch holes evenly on the sides and tie string in them. Twist the string back and forth between your thumb and forefinger to spin the disc and see two pictures as one! Yup! It actually is that simple.

How to make a thaumatrope

It’s probably difficult to imagine a time with no television, no movies and no cartoons. But believe it or not, those times weren’t so long ago! What did those kids do when they couldn’t watch movies? One of the most popular toys during that time was a great-grandfather of the modern cartoon. This toy was called a “thaumatrope,” and in this activity you’re going to make (and test) your own thaumatrope to learn about how vision works!

Thaumatropes employ the same science used by the artists that draw your favorite cartoons. While watching a movie, we see characters jumping, running and dancing instead of seeing hundreds of still images. Our brain takes the images flashing on the screen and connects them to form a continuous stream of motion. This is known as the illusion of apparent motion.

Thaumatropes use the same illusion to join two separate images into one image. They were one of the most popular toys available in the U.S. during the 1920s. Many of the original thaumatropes were made by gluing two pieces of paper together and spinning them on a string. In this activity you’ll use a rod, making it slightly easier to spin. But feel free to test other designs—see which one works best for you!


  • Chopstick or thin dowel rod (about 12 inches)
  • White paper (Construction paper or stiffer paper type works best.)
  • Permanent marker
  • Clear tape
  • A ruler
  • A pencil


  • Cut out two circles from your paper, approximately two inches in diameter. For reference, we’ll call them “Circle 1” and “Circle 2.”
  • Find the center of Circle 1 using your ruler. Use your pencil to lightly draw a line across the center.
  • Line your ruler up along the centerline you just drew, then measure 0.25 inch from both edges of the circle. Mark the two points with your pencil.
  • On the left side of Circle 1, start at the 0.25-inch mark and write the letter “H” using your permanent marker. Make the letter large, approximately 1.5 inches tall.
  • Starting at the other 0.25-inch point, draw a large “!” with your permanent marker.
  • Now begin with Circle 2. Draw a centerline across the middle of Circle 2.
  • Line up your ruler along the centerline on Circle 2. Measure one inch from the right side and mark that point with your pencil.
  • Use your permanent marker to draw a large letter “I” at the one-inch point on Circle 2.
  • Sandwich your dowel rod between the two circles (with the writing facing out). Tape the paper to the rod, and then tape the paper together, creating a paper-and-dowel rod lollipop!
  • Hold the rod between both hands, with Circle 1 facing you.
  • Practice slowly turning the rod by rubbing your hands together, so that you see Circle 2, then Circle 1.
  • Once you have mastered rotating the circles, you’re ready to start!


  • Hold the rod between both hands with Circle 1 facing you.
  • Hum (or sing!) the ABC’s song. Rub your hands together to the beat of the song while looking at the circles. Does anything change about how the letters look? What do you see as you look at the circles?
  • Gradually increase the speed that you rotate the circles. Keep looking at them! What do you notice as the circles flip faster? Does anything change about how the letters look?
  • Rotate the rod as fast as you can while still looking at the circles. What do you notice about the letters on the circle?
  • Continue spinning the rod, but try blinking every second. Does blinking your eyes change the way the letters look? If so, what are the changes?
  • Extra: Try drawing other things on the circles. For example, draw a fish on Circle 1 and a fishbowl on Circle 2. See what happens!
  • Extra: Try testing the arrangement of letters (or pictures) on the two circles. What happens when you draw a letter on Circle 1 and a different letter in the same place on Circle 2?

Observations and results
When you rotated the rod at top speed, the letters on the Circle 1 and Circle 2 should have merged together, so that you saw the word “HI!”. Even though the letters are on two different sides of your “lollipop,” when you spin them quickly, your brain doesn’t process the two sides as separate images. Instead, it merges them together to create one word!

One reason our brains do this is to help us understand movement in the environment. When you watch a person walk across a room, you don’t see every tiny movement that person makes as they walk. Instead, you see a continuous, smooth motion. If you’ve ever been in a room with a strobe light, you know how important it is that our brains can do this for us. A person dancing to a strobe light can look like a robot, because their movements seem disconnected and separate. Our brains can’t connect the movements because the light is flashed only at relatively long intervals. You should have observed a similar effect when you watched the spinning circles while blinking. Even though you were spinning the circles at the same speed, your brain couldn’t connect the images as it did when your eyes were open.

This activity brought to you in partnership with Science Buddies

Hi, guys! My blog for today is a guide on how to make your own DIY thaumatrope. But what is a thaumatrope? According to Merriam-Webster, a thaumatrope is an optical instrument or toy that shows the persistence of an impression upon the eye and that consists of a card having on its opposite faces different designs that appear to the eye combined in a single picture when the card is whirled rapidly round a diameter by the strings that hold it. In other words, it’s a kind of art that shows an illusion or motion when you whirled the artwork rapidly.

And this blog would help you better understand the concept of thaumatrope by making one! Just prepare the materials given and follow the procedures and instructions below. Goodluck!

  • 2 Printed copies of Circle (shape)
  • Scissors
  • Rubber bands or any kind of string that you could tie (e.g. yarn or ribbons)
  • Coloring materials
  • Folder
  • Puncher
  1. Prepare your shapes (circles) by cutting the printed copies. After cutting, punch both sides of the circle (both left and right). You may choose to draw the shape yourself or you could do what I did, I printed a copy of the shape.
  2. Draw and design the first circle, as you can see in the picture. I draw a jar.
  3. Design and color your second circle, as for me, I draw a cute firefly.
  4. Paste or glue the circles to a folder, you could choose not to, but for a better quality of the thaumatrope, (to avoid the printed shapes from being ripped), you could paste it first in a folder before pasting it together.
  5. Paste both circles together, don’t forget to paste it upside down.
  6. And lastly, tie the rubber bands on both punched holes and whirl your thaumatrope!

This gallery would show my own thaumatrope; you could comment down below suggestions or concerns regarding my blog and don’t forget to share you own thaumatrope as well! Best of luck!

Please click the link here if you want to check the video of my thaumatrope: Thaumatrope for FB