Saturday, October 19, 2013

Favorite Tools Series: Paper Cutting and Punching

Today's post is the second installment in my new "Favorite Tools Series," in which I'll be sharing some of my most-used cutting and punching tools that I use in papercrafting. Enjoy!

First up: scissors! Shocker, I know. Okay, so I have tried to divide some of my favorite scissors up into different categories. Truth be told, this is just a portion of my huge scissors collection, but these are the ones I find myself using the most (for paper - fabric is a different story, because you know you're not supposed to mix fabric and paper scissors, right? Okay, well if not, you do now.)

Above are a few general purpose shears, which are, of course, a must-have for any crafter. I have found that I like using a few different shears for different purposes. The top pair with the mint green handles are a pair of Martha Stewart scissors that I bought a couple years ago. They have lovely sharp blades and move super smoothly; I use them for a little bit of everything, but mostly for lighter-weight papers and when I need a bit more precision than more clunky shears can offer.

In the middle with the black handles are a pair of extremely cheap kitchen scissors. They cut like crap, but they're great for when you need to cut something with glue/tape, chunky layers or even wired tinsel trim without threatening to goop or tear up your nicer shears. Everybody needs a pair of reject scissors.

On the bottom with the orange handles is a decent pair of Fiskars shears. These are good all-purpose paper scissors like the Martha Stewart ones, but I use them on thicker card stock and for other general crafting as well.

Above we have a couple pairs of precision-tip scissors. My absolute favorite pair of scissors I own are on the right with the yellow and black handles - they are Cutter Bee scissors. On the left is a pair of Martha Stewart spring-loaded scissors that have a non-stick coating on the tip. When you need to cut in tight or intricate spaces, either of these are fantastic options. I tend to use the spring-loaded snips for precision cutting on thicker cardstock and such - the spring joint gives them some extra toughness. The Cutter Bees are my go-to for details and fussy cutting on regular or mid-weight paper. (They're also great for cutting ribbons, trims and fabric embellishments. Cuts like buttah.)

This is a pair of Fiskars Amplify shears. (I actually think this kind with the orange handles is intended for fabric, but they do make some specifically for mixed media and these work just fine.) They cut through really thick materials like nobody's business - bookboard, chipboard, cardboard, hand doesn't cramp and I feel like a superhero.

And of course, decorative-edge scissors. Above are a pair of Fiskars scallop-edge scissors, and a pair of Martha Stewart fringing scissors. (Okay, I seriously didn't realize how many Martha Stewart products I owned. The scallop scissors are great, but a little difficult to use - it takes some finagling to get the blades to line up just right (punches are easier) but they're very inexpensive and they get the job done. And as you probably know, you can get all kinds of decorative-cut scissors. Just don't go too cheap - you get what you pay for with these guys.

The fringing scissors are so stinking cool. they cut approximately 1/8-inch strips and work on plain paper or cardstock - just don't try anything too thin (like tissue) or thick (like cardboard) because it will jam up the blades. Have I mentioned that I love these things? I love them. Using them saves tons of time making things like fringed strips that will roll up into cute spiky flowers. I only wish they worked on fabric, but I haven't had any luck there yet.

Moving on from scissors, let's talk craft knives, AKA the X-acto knife. (FYI, minor pet peeve - they are not all "X-acto's." It's like how we call all boxes of tissue "Kleenex," but they're not all the actual Kleenex brand.) I have probably 5 regular craft knives hiding on my desk at any given time. X-acto brand, Excel brand, off-brand, Fiskars brand...I think I even have a Martha Stewart one hiding somewhere (of course), and I'd throw box cutter razors and larger utility knives in this category, as well. My favorite is the regular old, standard silver metal handle kind with #11 blades. I've tried different kinds of handles - they make ergonomic ones, fingertip ones (like the short orange Fiskars kind above), swivel ones...but I always seem to go back to my old standby silver handles. Honestly, the fingertip Fiskars blade above? I've used it, like, twice. I just can't get the hang of it - but try out different kinds and see what works best for you, because I know some people swear by it.

The most important thing you can do to get the most out of your craft knives is to regularly change the blades. The very end of the tip can break off easily, and then the blade will continue to dull until you're getting rough-cut edges and incomplete cuts. I love using the little black box you can get from X-acto (pictured above) that comes with a bunch of blades in it, plus a hole on the end where you can safely slide used blades so you don't have to dump them in the trash.

One other thing I really like to use craft knives for is scoring, by flipping the knife over and scoring with the wrong side of the blade. It's so much more precise than a dull bone folder. Just try to make sure you're scoring on the WRONG side of the paper, because it will actually scratch the paper's surface, and you don't want to have that ugliness right side up (a beautiful crisp fold in red paper with an ugly white scratch showing through? no thanks.)

Metal rulers are also a must-have for cutting papers with a craft knife. (You never want to use plastic rulers - the knifes will slice right into the plastic.) I have a pretty large selection of metal rulers - super long ones, super short ones and even a triangular one. Cork-backed straight edges are fantastic for decreasing slippage, too. If you're just starting out, a regular 12-inch metal ruler is great. But as you start to expand your repertoire, you'll notice that you could really use more options, and you can add as you go. I just got my little 6-inch ruler above (the one on top), and it's great for working on small-scale projects like cards - especially when you have a cramped working space like I do.

Hole punching! Who knew there were so many options? (I hear the Crop-A-Dile is amazing for punching holes, and I even bought myself one a few months back, but a ghost stole it from my craft room and I absolutely cannot find it, so I'll have to report back on that one.) Did you know you can even get hole punches with standard handles that punch shapes, like stars, hearts or ribbon slots? Good lord, I love the craft store. Anyway, for regular, everyday duty, I stick to a standard hole punch that I am fairly certain I stole from my parents' office drawer about 20 years ago. The cap that keeps the punched dots inside is long gone, but hey - it does the trick. I have also found myself using this purple-handled Fiskars hole punch that makes a 1/16-inch hole. Check out the difference below:

The 1/16-inch punch is great for projects where I need to string something through my paper pieces, such as threading twine onto pieces of a paper garland.

I also often use an awl for punching small holes. I recently lost my favorite one, but my current awl is pictured above on the right - the pointed needle-like tool with the blue handle. If you can't find an awl in the papercrafts department at the craft store, look in either the clay/pottery section, or in the leather crafts section.

I would highly recommend working over a punching mat when you use an awl - otherwise, you'll make yucky indentations in your cutting mat. Plus, having a surface that the awl can sink into ensures a nice punched hole through all your layers - if you just hit a hard cutting mat underneath, you may not actually punch a hole, because the awl has nowhere to go. I have a tiny punching mat that I got in a 3-piece cutting/punching/measuring set from Stampin' Up a few years back, but you can also just work over a piece of corrugated cardboard or thick foam. Actually, because my little stamping mat is starting to get nasty, I recently bought this piece of foam from the kids craft section of play foam at Michaels:

It's about 1/4 inch thick and is exactly like the "special" mat I bought from Stampin' Up...but way cheaper.

Punches! I love my punches. You can get them in all shapes and sizes - tiny to huge, lever, handled, edge cutters or all-over-the-page... The only issue with paper punches is that you really get what you pay for, so don't expect a whole lot of versatility or shelf-life out of cheap ones. The more you shell out, the more likely you are to be able to punch through thicker cardstock without jamming it up, and without cramping your hand. The best advice I have is to get them when the craft store is running a 40-50% off sale, or use your handy smartphone coupons. (Also, please never check out at the craft store without checking your app for coupons. I know Michaels and Hobby Lobby frequently have good ones.)

In the same family as punches are die cutters. I have a Sizzix Big Shot die cutting machine, and for real, if you don't have one, find one on sale and get one. I love the Big Shot because it comes with an adapter plate that allows you to use many other brands of dies by adjusting the height at which the cutting plates roll through the machine. My favorite dies are Bigz dies, because in addition to paper, they will cut through chipboard, fabric and even multiple layers of felt at one time. I have one die in particular that I love using because it has about ten 1-inch circles on it. Multiply 10 by 2 or 3 layers and you can cut out dozens of circles at one time. It's a huge time-saver.

  • Paper slicers and rotary trimmers: I don't use these as much as my trusty ruler and craft knife, but they are still great to have on hand for quick trimming. These are another tool in the "get what you pay for" category - less expensive trimmers are just not as precise as pricier models. For instance, I have an inexpensive, craft-quality, 12-inch Fiskars trimmer at home, and then at the office, we have a bigger foldout, LED-lit, precision Fiskars trimmer. Guess which one gives me grief and which one is pure bliss? (The Fiskars trimmer we have at work is really cool too because it has interchangeable rotary blades that can cut perforated lines, deckle edges, wavy edges, etcetera.)
  • T-square rulers: For cutting larger pieces of paper to perfect right angles, a t-square is super useful. I also like using my t-square for when I need to use a larger razer or box cutter to cut through thicker materials like chipboard or corrugated cardboard. The metal ruler part is thicker and sturdier than my regular handheld metal rulers, and the "t" part can be held securely against the table or cutting mat edge so that it's not in danger of shifting.
  • Compasses and stencils: From my college days, I have a really nice drafting compass that I like using for drawing larger circles, and a ton of plastic drafting stencils with smaller circles, squares, ovals and more. I used them much more when I did more 2D graphic design, but I still find them useful for crafting - especially the multi-sized circle templates.
  • Eyelet setters: I suppose this should go with my post on paper punches because technically, it punches. The Crop-A-Dile comes highly recommended, but as I mentioned above, I have one that is in its original packaging but has gone missing. In the meantime, I also have a set of spring-loaded Fiskars eyelet setters that work just fine for the little 1/8-inch scrapbooking type of eyelets.

What kind of paper cutters or punches do you love for paper crafting? Feel free to leave any questions below!

Disclaimer: This post contains my personal opinions based on my personal experiences. These products were not given to me by for review; I purchased them of my own accord, with the exception of the LED Fiskars Trimmer that was purchased by my employer, which I used for work purposes.


  1. Goodness, such a comprehensive post, thanks! I found myself nodding in agreement and resisting the urge to rush off to Michael's. :) The only tool I can think of to add is one I often use - a paper piercing tool. It's very similar to an awl, but has a sharp tip shaped like a tiny pencil point, then the barrel is uniform in thickness. I use it to apply glue when precision is needed and to roll paper coils when I need one with a hole in the center. Those decorative edge scissors? Totally agree... they are fun, but it's like they have a mind of their own sometimes!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Ann! I don't know that I've used a paper piercing tool before, though my old, sadly lost awl was sharper than my new one. It was all metal and much pointier. I miss it. Is a paper piercing tool similar to a quilling needle?

  2. So that's what happened to my hole punch!


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