Basic Paper Cutting Techniques

There are many ways to make paper cutting and techniques may also vary depending on whether you use scissors or knives. However, several basic techniques are universal.

1. Folding

Fold the paper once to create simple symmetry or fold multiple times for more complex repetition.

What the Monarch Remembers

What the Monarch Remembers, template and rice paper cutout, 4.75x3.20", 2010

2. Negative space cutting

The object/motif is depicted in parts that have been cut away.

Beach Ball Blast, details, rice paper cutout, 2009

3. Positive space cutting

By cutting away the unwanted parts of the paper, the object/motif is revealed within the paper that’s left.

Memory Windows I, rice paper cutout on silk, 24x24", 2010

4. Black and white outlining

The simultaneous use of both negative space and positive space cutting techniques.

The Pebbles Think They're Buddha

The Pebbles Think They're Buddha, rice paper cutout on silk, 12.25x12.25", 2010

Source: Zhang, Daoyi. The Art of Chinese Papercuts. Beijing, China: Foreign Language Press, 1989.


11 thoughts on “Basic Paper Cutting Techniques

    • There are several things I do. If I make a mistake in the beginning of the cutout, I tend to start over. That said, I had started over after nearly finishing a piece and that was quite painful. Sometimes, I can work around the mistake and make it look right. The irreversible ones are those that I cut away too much paper.

      Given we are human beings, I accept that mistakes happen and don’t stress over it too much. I deal with it when it comes. But the best strategy is to prevent it from happening to begin with. Careful planning is time-consuming but it really helps. And I also work in silence to ensure total concentration. I find it very effective because most of the times when a mistake occurs, it is due to a distraction.

  1. Hi there and thank you for the lovely images.

    I am trying my first attempts in paper cutting πŸ™‚
    I was wondering if you are cutting only rice paper? Did you ever try to cut other kind of paper? I am working with photo prints (paper which is much thicker then rice paper, I believe.. and find it quite difficult t have a clean cut. Any tips?


    • Tamir,

      Thanks for your comment and question. Photo paper is too thick to make a clean cut, like you said. My suggestion is to find a thinner paper that has coating on which you can print photos. Or you can look into laser cutting if you want to keep using photo paper.

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