A Beginner’s Guide to Paper Cutting Art

Paper cutting art is almost as old as paper itself and goes back to the 4th century AD during the Han dynasty where it grew into a folk art called jianzhi. In Japan, the art form Kirigami developed quickly and is one of the more technical styles of paper cutting. 

By the 13th century, paper cutting spread to European countries where it evolved regionally into several styles like scherenschnitte in Germany or wycinanki in Poland. These are traditionally cut from colorful papers, feature traditional 18th and 19th century motifs and were predominantly used for decorating home interiors. 

Traditional Jewish Papercuts are highly detailed and intricate, with the main motifs usually in the center of the piece and the background space is filled with as many details as possible.

In ancient Mexico, the Aztecs used obsidian knives to cut spiritual motifs into paper-like bark. Modern-day Mexican artists use tissue paper to create papel picado with chisels and mallets. 

Today, paper cutting is a large industry where paper artists and illustrators employ a mix of old and new techniques to create their art. You probably have seen professional paper art used in a magazine to illustrate the topic or an ad in the background of the product being sold.

Experienced paper cutters agree that better quality tools make all the difference while working with paper. Sharp, clean blades that cut a clean line are the most important tool for the paper cutter, but there are a few more items required to get started.

What you’ll need:

Cutting Mat: 

Find a good quality cutting mat that is large enough to cover the work area. A larger mat is better, as it allows for more working space and protects your desk surface, but they are available in a variety of sizes, so you are sure to find the one that suits you best. 

Self-healing mats are made to absorb the cuts of the blades through the paper and protect the knives from dulling quickly. Cleaning the cutting mat regularly is a good idea, and if only used for paper cutting, cleaning the mat with a damp clean cloth is enough. Mats should always lay flat, even when not in use, so store it under the bed or flat on a shelf or desk.

Find the Cutting Mat You Need

collection of hobby knives

Hobby Knife:

Hobby knives, or craft knives as they are sometimes referred to, provide accuracy and precision in cutting detailed work. There are many handles to choose from, like the classic aluminum K1 or the K16 stencil knife. If a softer handle is preferred, the K18 or the K26 are a great choice! Both have soft grips that are great for long projects. Additionally, the K26 has a rubberized ergonomic shaped handle. For maximum control, try the K71 index knife. With its sculpted loop finger-rest paired with the correct blade, this knife enables the artist to have the most precision and control.

Replacement Blades

It’s important to have stainless steel blades on hand to keep the knives working smoothly and to not interrupt your work flow. The most popular blade is the No.11. It’s double-honed with a strong tip and flex. This blade has a very pointed tip, making it ideal for small, detailed cuts. Other blades also great for paper cutting are the No.16 stencil edge blade and the No.12 mini curved blade. Their unique shape allows for targeted precision cutting. 

Find the Replacement Blade for Your Project

Tool Tip: Test your blade after each project. If it’s dull and not cutting smoothly anymore, it’s time to replace it. Dispose of the blades properly. Even though they’re too dull for the project, the blades are still sharp. Having a blade dispenser in your workspace is the easiest way to keep the used blades safe and separated from the new ones.

excel stainless steel blades

Metal Ruler:

Paper cutting blades are sharp and can cut through plastic rulers. Metal rulers and other measuring tools are better suited for paper cutting with blades. Additionally, a slip-resistant base will ensure the ruler stays put. The Alumicolor ruler is made from aluminum, has a non-slip backing and a raised edge finger guard. The backing helps to keep the ruler in place. This is especially important when the design is meant to be precise. 


There are hundreds of paper types to choose from for paper cutting art. From the craft store, inexpensive options include bespoke papers in a rainbow of colors and textures. Start with the craft store papers which come in multi-color packs of 25, 50 or 100 sheets so you’ll have plenty to practice with.

To get started, you’ll need to get used to using your new tools. Start by practicing cutting strips of paper. They don’t have to be perfect. This exercise is meant for you to get used to holding and moving the knife along the paper and your workspace. Next, go on to practicing cutting out shapes. With a pencil, draw a few circles, triangles and rectangles in a few sizes and cut them out. Move on to more complex shapes like leaves or florals and practice until you’re comfortable with the tools.

More challenging exercises are small and intricate details. Small round shapes are particularly difficult, but they will get easier with practice. 

Good luck and don’t forget to tag us at #excelblades to share your creations! 


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