Papercutting 101: The Tools of the Trade


My set-up. Shark pencil case not required.

My day job, for the last 14 years or so, has been as a manager and repairwoman in a violin shop, a trade that requires me to work with my hands. One of the most important lessons I’ve learned through my work is the value of good tools.  A tool, properly selected and maintained, makes working a joy! A tool you have to fight tooth and nail steals that pleasure and makes you want to chuck it in the trash.  Papercutting already requires a fair deal of patience, so you want to minimize frustration where you can, especially when you’re first starting out.

Luckily, papercutting doesn’t require much!  A few simple tools will get you a long way.  After some trial and error, I’ve found these work best for me.


You light up my knife.

1) The Cutting Tool:  I mostly use an X-Acto knife to do papercutting.  And not just any X-Acto!  I use an X-Acto X-Light, which has an LED light that shines down the blade and helps me place my cuts with more precision.  I also love the NT Cutter Resin Art Knife, a Japanese knife that’s a favorite among papercutters.

I’ve purchased other styles of handles: Fiskars fingertip craft knives, swivel-style knives, scalpels…but I’ve found that, for me, basic is where it’s at. Experiment yourself!  All the tools I’ve purchased have ranged from $3-8 each, so the investment isn’t too tough a pill to swallow.  If you find that one isn’t working, move on.

2) The Blades: I’ve played with different blades, but find that the most basic #11 style blade (what comes in your standard X-Acto handle) works best for me.  You can buy the X-Acto brand blades, or any other #11 Hobby Blade.  I buy Techni-Edge blades by the 100…I go through a lot!  At bulk price they come in around 10 cents a blade.

That reminds me of another point: do not be afraid to change out your blade frequently!  Even if it feels excessive.  On some projects I might change my blade 2-3 times.  Craft blades dull quickly, especially when cutting paper, so if you feel that the blade isn’t pulling as smoothly as you’d like, or the tip has knocked off, change it post-haste!  As you get more experience you’ll get a good instinct for when your blade’s time is up.

3) The Cutting Mat: A self-healing cutting mat is a necessity.  No way around it.  It’ll protect your blade and your table, and help you pull smooth lines in your paper.  I use an Alvin Cutting Mat (12” x 18”) and have been really happy with it.  The cutting mat I purchased prior to the Alvin (a Dahle) healed so silky smooth, but the soft surface would cause my blade to stick just slightly.  And a stuck blade = snapped tips!  I went through a good pile of blades before realizing the problem wasn’t me.

And that’s it.  You’ll find, over time, that there are tools you go for again and again.  Treat them well and they’ll stick with you for many crafty projects to come.



Fond, fond, fond of the Audobon.