Sunday, March 4, 2012

Silhouette Cut-Outs

Last month when I finally figured out how to proceed with the Family Tree, the process inspired me to try using my craft knife to cut out silhouette images. I had paper and I had a craft knife. It was nice to begin a project without having to go to the craft store first.

With only a few basic crafters’ tools, you can quickly create paper silhouettes. They make beautiful, inexpensive gifts idea for so many different occasions. I have given silhouettes as gifts for Mother’s Day, Christmas, birthdays, weddings and baby showers.
The paper silhouette is simply a foreground page with an image cut out of it layered on top of a background page. The silhouettes can be placed in frames for a much more finished look and presented as gifts. You do not need mats for your frames because the silhouettes create their own mats.


  • Foreground Card Stock (this is the paper that will be cut and in the front) – this is usually a solid color such as black, white, ivory, etc.
  • Background Paper (This will be in the back of the finished image and is NOT cut to create the design) – Can be card stock or regular paper. Solid colored paper or one with a with slight color variation works better than heavily patterned paper.
  • A printout of the image (silhouette) you want to create – this should be smaller than your foreground paper and will be your stencil for the project. The original of the image shown here is a design by Maria Cheek. I just filled in the bird to make it a solid figure. You can search for "black & white silhouettes" online to find one. If you plan to sell your finished silhouettes be sure to acquire a silhouette image that allows you to use it for something other than personal use.
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Scotch Tape (the kind that is easily removable)
  • Craft Knife (Exacto knife) – make sure the blade is sharp because a dull blade will make this project difficult.
  • Cutting Mat (to protect your table surface)
  • Frame (optional)

Finding the Right Silhouette Design: To create your design printout, you must first find an image that will “work”. Simple black and white designs work best. You will also need to choose an image (or alter it) so there are no “floating” pieces of the image. Everything must attach. For instance, in the image shown, if the bird was in flight, with no part of it touching the branches, the bird would fall out of the design once it is cut out. Since the bird is sitting on the branch, it becomes a solid piece of the design and can be used.

Also, every part of the design must in some way be connected to the edges of the image. In the image shown, all of the branches, flowers, etc can be followed to the edges of the images with no interruptions. The spaces where your design meets the edges of the image are your anchor points. The more anchors you have, the “sturdier” your design will be. You can certainly use an image with very few anchors, but your design will be harder to cut out.

Flip the design so you wind up with a mirror image and print it out. This printout is your stencil.

Trim around the edges of the stencil leaving an even border all the way around. (If you leave a half inch boarder on one side, leave a half inch border all the way around. In my image, I left no border).

Center your stencil face up on the BACK of your foreground paper. Use a ruler to make sure it is centered because once the completed image is in a frame, a crooked design becomes more obvious. I used the ruler and a pencil to mark out the borders on the foreground paper for my stencil.

Using the scotch tape, secure all sides of the stencil. You do not need to tape the whole edge. Just make sure the edges are secure so they don’t move. It is best to have a piece of tape at each anchor point.

working side
With your craft knife, begin cutting around the image of your stencil. Any straight edges (such as the design borders) can be done using a ruler. The rest is done freehand. If your design image is similar to the one I have shown (black and white), you can cut anywhere in the white area (within the borders!!!) but do not cut inside any of the black areas. Do small sections at a time and go slowly. As you cut out your design, remove the cut sections to get them out of the way. You can flip the paper over to see your progress. This flip side is the side that will be visible on your finished product.

front/display side

Once your design is completely cut out, remove the stencil and the scotch tape. Flip the foreground paper over so the front side is facing and layer it on top of your background paper.

NOTE: If your foreground paper is the same size as your background paper, they can be layered together and immediately framed. If your foreground paper is smaller than your background paper (as shown in the images), flip the foreground over and use a glue stick around the border (not where you cut). Then center the foreground on the background and let it dry before framing.
Aside from having a very cramped hand and sore fingers afterwards, the resulting silhouettes were surprisingly easy (except for the small curves) and turned out fantastic (in my opinion).

Many (not shown here for obvious reasons) were deemed "Mother's Day Presents" on the spot. Those will be pictured on a later date in another post. Check back on Mother's Day. :)

Then I REALLY started looking for possible pictures. I did a trio of fairies for The Girl's room. You can get the various fairy illustrations shown here from

Then I made a wolf for The Girl (because the wolf silhouettes look much cooler than ferret silhouettes):

And finally some music:

You can see the craft knife was starting to dull - some of the cuts are a bit "fuzzy":

Aside from the hand cramps and soreness, I really enjoyed making these.  I have plans for a trio of smaller 3x3" cutouts with a beach theme for a wedding gift...sea shells, blowing grasses...

UPDATE 3/31/2014:
I was able to get a picture sent to me of the beach-themed silhouettes. (I had forgotten to take a picture of them before I shipped them).

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