How to: Make Your Own Optical Toy

Harness the power of illusion with this easy-to-make 19th-century optical toy.

19th century illustration of an optical toy called a thaumatrope
A thaumatrope.
A thaumatrope is an optical toy consisting of a disc with a different picture on each of its sides. When the disc is rapidly rotated, the two pictures appear to combine into a single image. This is called an optical illusion.

People of all ages enjoyed optical illusion toys in the 19th century. To learn more, check out our online learning lesson on optical toys.

Making a thaumatrope is easy and the design possibilities are endless! So get creative, and make your own toy — or two!

Optical Toy Tutorial

Step 1: Gather your supplies

You will need:

  • Two pieces of yarn or string, about 30 cm long
  • Cardboard or card stock, cut into a small rectangle or circle
  • Markers or pencil crayons
  • Scissors

scissors with string and other supplies for making an optical toy

Step 2: Make your thaumatrope

With the tips of the scissors make a small hole at each end of your cardboard. The holes should be directly across from each other.

Weave a small amount of string through each hole and tie a knot. Leave enough string to grasp in your hands.

crafter threads string through hole in piece of cardboard to make an optical toy

Step 3: Get creative

Now, a chance to put your artistic skills to work! On the two sides of the cardboard, draw the images you’d like to combine. In this example, I’ve drawn a face on one side, and a picture of the sun on the other.

crafter draws picture of face on one side of piece of cardboard to make an optical toy
crafter draws picture of the sun on other side of piece of cardboard to make an optical toy

Some other ideas for thaumatrope images:

  • A flower and pot
  • A tree and apples
  • A candle and flame

Or design your own!

Step 4: Have some fun!

Amaze family and friends with your new toy. Gently grasp the strings on either side, twist, and give a gentle tug. The cardboard will spin, and the images will merge. In this example, the face appears to be on the sun.


decorative figure