How to Make a Pinata

traditional bull pinata
Download and print free instructions to make your own pinata!

A pinata is practically a staple at a children's birthday party, but buying one can set you back $40 or more, depending how fancy you get. Fortunately, pinatas are surprisingly easy to make at home. If you need help downloading the printable instructions, check out these helpful tips.

How to Make a Simple Pinata

A pinata is nothing more than a papier mache craft. As you get more confident in your papier mache skills you'll be able to add more details, and make your pinata look as good as they do in the stores.

You will need a few supplies to get started:

  • Newspapers, cut into approximately one-inch wide strips
  • Recyclable materials like toilet and paper towel tubes, construction paper, etc.
  • Jug of liquid starch like Sta Flo
  • Balloons (you'll want a variety of sizes and shapes)
  • Masking tape
  • Colored streamers or paint for decorating
  • Elmer's glue
  • Metal lid from a jar
  • One foot of twine
  • Large bowl or container, suitable for mixing starch

You'll probably want to lay down a towel or plastic to help make cleanup a little easier.

Step #1: Make the Base

balloon inflated for pinata

On your first attempt, blow up a large balloon and have a round, spherical base. You can later turn this into a ball or a character's head. However, as you get more confident you can use a variety of different balloons to make almost anything. Use masking tape to attach balloons together and shape your pinata. Don't forget that you can use oblong balloons to create other details such as an arm or the tail of an animal. A few tips that will help you include:

  • Start with a sketch of what you want to do. If you don't sketch, print a picture found online.
  • Use an oblong balloon folded in half to give tails, arms, legs or cones depth. You'll cover over the hollow spot in the middle with your papier mache.
  • Keep in mind that your shape doesn't have to be perfect. You can sculpt a lot of imperfections away when you start the papier mache. Even if you don't, it is very unlikely that a group of kids at a party is going to notice that your shape isn't perfect.
  • For best results start with a large, round balloon blown up as large as possible.
  • You can add shapes like cones or cylinders with other materials like paper towel tubes or construction paper.
  • Small details should be added on after the papier mache is set for your base. For example, if you were making an animal with ears, you'd form the ears separately and then attach at a later point. Including them in the base will weaken the pinata.

Step #2: Add Paper Layers

Pinata balloon covered with layers of newspaper strips

To begin adding layers to your creature, follow these simple steps:

  1. Pour approximately one-third of the liquid starch in a bowl.
  2. Dip one newspaper strip at a time into the starch.
  3. Use your forefinger and middle finger to gently squeegee out the excess starch.
  4. Layer your strip of newspaper onto your balloon shape base, smoothing out any wrinkles. You can lay down starched newspaper in any direction, but always complete a full layer before beginning a new layer.
  5. Repeat the process of dipping a newspaper strip, squeegeeing out the extra starch and layering onto your base shape until you have two to four layers of starched newspaper.
  6. Lay your papier mache project in a sunny, dry area for at least 24 hours.
  7. Once the project is completely dry, repeat the whole process again so that your finished piece has five to seven layers. Again, set out the project to dry in a sunny area for about 24 to 36 hours.
  8. After the second drying, use your thumb to press into various spots on your pinata. If you can make an indent, then add two more layers and let the pinata dry for another 24 hours. If you don't see any weak areas, you can start on preparing your pinata for decoration.

Decorating

There is no one way to decorate a pinata. You can use a variety of materials depending on how much time you have and the look you are trying to achieve. For an easy finish, paint your pinata. If you have more time or want a more authentic look, decorate the pinata with crepe paper. To decorate successfully, there are a few things to do first.

Preparing Your Pinata for Decorations

cut opening in pinata before decorating

Before you start decorating, follow these steps:

  1. Cut out three sides of a square to make a flap in the back of your pinata, towards the top. The square should be big enough to fit your hand through, but not so big that it weakens the pinata too much.
  2. Fold the layers back on what would be the fourth side of your square. You now have a 'door' through which you can add candy.
  3. Deflate balloons and take them out of the pinata to discard.
  4. With a permanent marker, draw your design onto your pinata. You will use this as a guide as you're decorating.

Painting Your Pinata

You may want to paint your pinata. Acrylic or fabric paints tend to look best, but if you need an inexpensive option, poster paint will do the trick. Follow these tips for an ideal finished product:

  1. Start with a base coat of paint first. This is generally going to be the lightest color in your design.
  2. It doesn't matter which side you start with, but plan for 24 hours drying time in between painting the front and back sides. This way, you can lay the pinata down to paint it.
  3. After all the paint has dried, add a final clear, acrylic top coat to your pinata. This should give it a glossy sheen and make it stand out among your party decorations.

Decorating with Crepe Paper Streamers

Pinata with crepe streamers

Crepe paper is the traditional way to decorate a pinata. Follow these tricks, and no one will believe that your pinata was homemade.

  1. Unroll a long length of the color you would like to use on the bottom of your pinata first.
  2. Fold your streamer in half length-wise.
  3. Cut halfway through the width, about one inch apart, all the way up the length of the streamer.
  4. Starting on the bottom, glue the streamer to the pinata.
  5. Working from bottom to top, continuing gluing streamers until your pinata is completely covered.
  6. Make sure that the door you created earlier is decorated, but remains accessible.
  7. You can use other materials such as googly eyes, paint, or craft foam to add additional details if necessary.

How to Hang Your Pinata

Nothing is worse than having your pinata come crashing down after a couple good whacks because the rope holding it wasn't strong enough. Try this technique for ensuring that your pinata doesn't literally cave under pressure.

  1. Puncture a hole into the middle of the metal jar lid.
  2. Using a double length of laundry rope or other very sturdy rope, insert the rope into the hole in the lid so that one side has a loop and one side has two loose ends.
  3. Tie a double knot with the loose ends. One side of your lid should have a knot, and the other side of the lid should have a loop. Make the loop longer if you want the pinata to swing as the kids hit it.
  4. Poke a hole in the top of your piñata.
  5. Using the door you made before you started decorating, insert the entire lid with the knot into the pinata.
  6. Push the loop up through the hole in the top of the piñata. Your pinata now has a very sturdy loop to hang from. You can hang the pinata from the end of a long wooden pole or stick.

How to Fill Your Pinata

Believe it or not, there are tricks to filling your pinata that can make or break the experience for your guests.

  • Use the door in the back to scoop candy or small toys by the handful into your pinata.
  • Once it's filled, you can push in the corners of the door so that no one will be able to see that there's a weak spot there.
  • As you're filling the pinata, stop and check to make sure it's not too heavy. Generally, you'll not want to fill it more than one-half to two-thirds full.

Pinata Safety

To make sure everyone is safe, tape off a section for the pinata and ask all the spectators to stay behind the section of tape. It is generally a good idea to have an adult monitor the kids watching while another adult holds the pinata. Give the kid who is hitting the pinata a stick that is about three feet in length and at least one inch thick. When the pinata does break, you can help make sure there isn't a mad dash towards a small pile of candy by tossing some candy out into the crowd. While making a pinata takes time, it is a fun way to add festive decoration to a party, and a great way to fill goodie bags!

How to Make a Pinata