"Papercraft" sounds like a kindergarten activity, right? Well, it is. One cuts shapes out of paper and glues them together by number.
However, online, and especially in the video game community, the word "papercraft" connotates an advanced level of the craft where templates are designed on the computer, and are so detailed that they barely look like paper anymore once they're built.
It all starts with a 3D-model, so it's basically another way of 3D-printing, which so happens to be the hot new thing these days. I like that contrast: rudimenterary as kindtergarten, yet as cutting-edge as what I call 'Act II of the Industrial Revolution'.
To compare papercraft with 3D-printing as we see it on the news, it has both advantages and drawbacks. Three advantages that papercraft has over 3D-printing are pretty signifigant.
First, hardware avalability: 3D-printers are hard to come by, but just about anyone with access to a modern computer has access to an inkjet or laser printer.
Second, cost: the biggest necesarry cost of papercrafting is the paper itself, as opposed to the polymer spools (etc) that 3D-printers require.
Third, no maximum field: the finished size of a papercraft is not limited by the size of the printer. 3D-printers cannot print outside of a confined virtual box, and therefore 3D-printed objects must be small. (At least until giant or 'free-crawling' 3D-pritners become the standard.)
To illustrate that third advantage: I was aghast to hear that Disneyland had built the castle from "Beauty and the Beast" only 30ft tall. That film is one of my favorites, and all because of the castle. So, I came up with a cheeky idea: 3D-model The Beast's castle myself and post a papercraft to the interntet that would be 31ft tall if constructed. Whether it would be strong enough to stand in reality would of course be an issue, but I only wanted to make a point and have a laugh. To this day, no 3D-printer that I know of has the capability to print that big, yet it's already possible with a mere inkjet! Later on, I found out that that wasn't far off from Disneyland's own way of thinking. They were also building Prince Eric's castle from "The Little Mermaid" and began with a 3D-scan of a hand-sculpted model. They used a program to convert the scan into a blueprint for a rebar frame, assembled the rebar in 6ft x 6ft chunks at a time, then the whole, and finally filled the finished frame with plaster. In short, for real, Disneyland built a castle with what was, in essence, a giant Pepakura template!
Now, for the drawbacks:
Papercraft takes work to build, whereas 3D-priniters do 100% of the work for you.
It also takes signifigant time, often weeks if the model has lots of detail.
Paper is also weak, so in order for a papercraft to be of any practical use, such as for a costume piece, it must be treated with paper-mache or highly toxic fiberglass resin, or traced onto cardboard or hard foam.
But, for the work that papercraft saves as opposed to making something from scratch, it's definitely worth it. Try it yourself, even an easy model, and you'll see. It truly is an astounding artform.