Friday, 21 October 2011

How to papercut 2: Cutting your design

By now you'll have (hopefully) read my post about how I like to create my designs using Adobe Illustrator. If you missed that post you can read it here.

In this post I'll show you how I like to hand cut my papercuts. Like I said in my last post, I am self-taught and there's lots of other ways to cut papercuts, but this is personally how I like to do it.

I'm happy to answer any questions - leave a comment or on my Facebook page. Or tweet me (@kyleigh). So let's get down to business.

First off: The Tools
I arm myself with a Fiskars Swivel Blade Scalpel. It is the donkeys conkers. I've tried X-Acto knives, Xcut knives etc etc... but THIS is my weapon of choice. (You can get them in HobbyCraft, as well as replacement blades). This little baby will be doing all the lovely curved cuts.

I also use a fixed blade Swann-Moreton scalpel with a 10A straight blade. This puppy does all the straight edges. You also need a good self-healing cutting mat. I have an A3 and an A4 Ecobra cutting mat (available from

Sticking plaster optional...
Let's cut!
Ok so you've printed out your design, got your blades, got your mat, got a lovely cup of tea in a stripy mug, let's get going.

Start with the swivel scalpel and carefully cut along the curves on the top line of text. In the example below you can see I've done the curves on the serif on the 'r', the shape of the 'e' minus the straights, the lovely roundness of the top of the 'r', 'o' and 's' and the inside of the 't'.

As I cut I move the whole design and cutting mat around (upside down, 180 degrees, 360 degrees etc) so that my hand and more importantly the blade isn't ever in danger of cutting at an awkward angle which would lead to ripping or an uneven, unwanted cut.

The swivel blade doesn't cut in perfectly controllable straight lines, by all means try, but if you just use the swivel scalpel for curves and the fixed scalpel for straights you'll get a better overall cut.

When you've gone along the top line of text cutting the curves switch to your straight blade scalpel and start cutting along the straight edges. Carefully let the blade join the two curved cuts you've already made.

I don't use a ruler for my straight edges, but by all means use a metal ruler if you feel you need to until you get the confidence to keep straight by eye.

When you've cut all the curves and straight edges along the top line, then use a natural horizontal line of the design and take your blade right over to the edge.

like so...

Do this on both edges and carefully pull the paper away. Be gentle and don't tug - if it doesn't come away easily it might be that there's still a tiny bit still to cut, or a curve and a straight edge close to one another haven't cut right through.

easy does it...

Done it? Phew! Ok let's keep going...
Now you need to cut the grey shapes in between the lines and words. Same method: curves first, use a lovely confident swing of the knife, and be careful to stop the knife in the right point - try not to go into the white of the letter.

When you're cutting the straight edges aim to cut AWAY from the letter. For example in the picture above on the base of the 'h' where it touches the 't' I would start by putting the (straight) blade in closest to the letters and cut OUT towards the grey. That way if you cut too far you're only cutting into the grey and not into the white letters.

Keep cutting the curves and straight lines and slowly, little by little, the design will emerge...

On the 't' above, I start next to the vertical of the 't' and cut pulling the knife towards me. This enables you to push the blade in at exactly the right point and if you were to go too far with the cut, then you're only cutting into the grey and not into the 't'.

Speaking of ''t'... don't forget to make time for a cheeky brew! DON'T spill it though...

You're doing great... keep going...

 Pay attention to the detail - don't forget the teeny weeeny little bits.

When you get to the bottom I sometimes split the line in half - so cut the curves and straights to a natural word break, then cut vertically down to the bottom of the page and carefully remove the paper. Then do the same to the other half and the last bit (YAY!) of the design.

Stop doing the celebration dance just for a sec, we're not quite finished. Look carefully at your design and neaten up - trim any little strands of paper sticking out and smooth out any dodgy curves.

Ok *now* you can do a little celebration dance!
Give your fingers a break, tidy up and go get yourself a beer.

Thank you for reading and good luck on your papercutting exploits - I'd love to see them!
Next time I'm thinking of doing a 'how to' on framing my papercuts. Any takers?

Have a great weekend!

PS. A few words about the commission I used for this: The wonderful words (from Othello, as it says) are made more poignant knowing that the dates underneath are the days the recipient was diagnosed with the big 'C'. Keep smiling at the thief xx

1 comment:

  1. you. are. my. new. idol :)

    Thank you for sharing this! You're awesome! I tried cutting letters and had a terrible time doing it, no wonder, cos there's a better tool called the "swivel scalpel", thanks to you, I know of now! Brb going to craft store to get a swivel blade.


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