Paper Cutting Tips and Links
Advice on Effective Technique
Consider the piece you’re going to cut as a whole and understand the image you are going to cut.
• How does each part of the image relate to the other parts?
• How does it fit together structurally?
• Where are the weakest areas?
• Which areas are the most intricate?
Hold the blade at a 35-degree angle from the paper (a bit like writing with a fountain pen) though the blade should not veer to either side.
Cut with the side of your palm below the little finger (the hypothenar eminence ) resting on you cutting board.
Unless you are cutting really small details most of the movement will come from the shoulder and elbow.
The elbow will at times rest on the table as you cut. This keeps your hand in line with your arm and and reduces strain.
Hold the blade firmly but remember to keep your hand relaxed as you cut. When cutting keep the blade pressed down so it cuts through the paper but not so much that you are scoring too deeply into the cutting board. We are entrained from an early age to work on top of paper as we write, sketch and paint so you should always visualise cutting through the paper as you cut to challenge this habit.
Place the forefinger of your other hand in front of the scalpel to press down on the paper.
Before you start to move the blade along the cutting line raise the stock of the blade perpendicular to the paper then press through the paper, you should feel it ‘bite’ just a little through the material. You can then move it along the line of the intended cut. Raise the blade to perpendicular as you finish your cutting line. This will stop over and under cutting. (I find that if you undercut then deliberately overcutting as you practice will help improve your work.)
MOVE THE PAPER AND THE BOARD NOT THE HAND
If you are constantly bend your wrist to accommodate the curves and corners of a design whilst applying pressure through the wrist then you will strain your wrist. The movement of your wrist should be very shallow as most of the change of direction is facilitated by moving your whole arm and turning the paper and/or board.
After a few hours of playing about with templates this should become second nature as you cut. Everyone adopts a slightly different approach that suits them the best so feel free to experiment.
Always start from the middle and cut out the smallest/most intricate parts first. The more cut from a piece of paper, the more unstable the remaining paper becomes.
If you’re cutting out a template and you start veering away from the line, just go with it and gradually bring the blade back to the intended line. Embrace those little wobbles, as they’ll give the finished piece character and stop it looking like something that was cut by a machine.
Cut with paper that's between 120 - 160gsm thickness as anything thicker than you will find it very hard work on your hands and anything thinner and the paper could rip easily.
You can add colour to the reverse of your papercuts to make them stand out. Photocopy the back of your finished cut onto everyday paper and use this copy as a template. Place it on top of coloured paper and cut through both pieces, then glue the coloured shape to the reverse of your papercut.
Place a desk lamp (ideally with a daylight bulb) in front of your cutting hand so the shadows fall behind your hand and don’t mask your view of the template.
You don’t have to be great at drawing to create paper cut art. There are so many templates online for free and for sale through Etsy at very reasonable prices.
A great online video about papercutting techniques by Emma Boyes can be found here. It’s always good to look at a variety of approaches and there may be tips here that suit your own personal cutting style as you develop the skill.
Genie’s arts and Crafts also goes into detail about cutting implements in their tutorial:
I am sure that you will be able to find many more online tutorials.
My favourite scalpel is the Fiskars soft grip precision craft knife:
The home Crafters is a great UK based site to support.
A cutting mat with a board to cut on is also a must:
The board can be any flat piece of board you have to hand. You can buy something like this:
I use American Crafts (AC) card stock available from amazon.
And for coloured card I use Docrafts 12 x 12-Inch Solid Premium Cardstock.