Fact Checked

What is Scherenschnitte?

Tara Barnett
Tara Barnett

Scherenschnitte is a traditional German folk craft that involves cutting paper to produce designs or pictures. The term itself means "scissor cuts," and the craft shares many techniques and design elements with other papercutting traditions.

Cutting is accomplished by use of scissors, razors, and other sharp tools. Folding may be involved to achieve greater symmetry in the finish product, but the resulting image is almost always displayed flat. Primarily, the difference between scherenschnitte and other papercutting art forms are the topic of the resulting image and the motifs used in the design.

A craft knife may be used to cut paper for scherenschnitte.
A craft knife may be used to cut paper for scherenschnitte.

Generally, a design is planned before any cuts are made. It may be drawn directly on the paper. Careful planning is required to ensure that the entire paper stays intact. Much like a stencil in reverse, all parts of the design must connect to one another so that the entire paper stays together. As such, planning can often be the most difficult part of this art form.

Usually, medium-weight paper is used in scherenschnitte, but lighter or heavier paper may be appropriate. Scissors and razors must be extremely sharp in order to accommodate the level of detail characteristic of this art form. While performing this craft by hand is usually important to the artist — both because it displays talent and is enjoyable — it is also possible to create scherenschnitte designs using lasers to cut the paper. A laser is capable of extreme precision and can create patterns no human hand could ever accomplish.

Once cutting has been completed, the paper may then be painted if desired. As many pieces of scherenschnitte are designed to give the effect of a silhouette, painting is often unnecessary as the paper is intended to stay a single color. Alternatively, a background paper can be painted different colors a way that harmonizes with the monochromatic scherenschnitte design.

Traditional designs usually depict scenes portraying people, animals, or stories. Modern designs can include anything from cities to ninjas. The design aesthetic is entirely dependent on the artist. With advancing technologies, even the most ambitious and detailed patterns can be accommodated.

A finished piece of scherenschnitte is usually displayed against another piece of paper, although some people incorporate the piece into furniture or place it against a window. Cut paper is extremely delicate, and it is therefore advisable to protect a papercutting piece with glass. Properly stored, a piece of scherenschnitte can last hundreds of years, and there are still some very old pieces existing today in museums and private collections.

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Discussion Comments


@umbra21 - Actually there are computer programs which will do it for you. If you use Photoshop or its equivalent, just make sure you have an image that can be completely "bucket filled" with one touch.

That means that all the elements of the picture are touching one another and that's what you need for a successful paper silhouette.

Of course, scherenschnitte artists learn how to make something that will look really good when cut in this manner, and that's something the computer can't do for you.

Not every image is going to look good when shown without color. Although, I actually think it would be really cool to use two or more colors when doing this. Figure out the image so that each color joins together and sits on top of each other. Difficult, but I'm sure someone could do it.


@KoiwiGal - You can also try searching for scherenschnitte patterns if you are hoping to try your own hand at it.

I would recommend getting a boxcutter knife, that kind where the blade can be snapped off to reveal a new sharp blade whenever it gets dull. Try to get one with thin segments so that it lasts longer.

And definitely use thicker paper to start. I don't think you necessarily need to use a very easy pattern though. After all, it's only paper, so you can always start again if you need to, and I think the pride that comes from completing something difficult is what will really make you want to continue or not.

But, I would try to get a pattern that someone else has created for the first go, since it's more difficult than you might think to create a suitable image for this kind of paper cutting.


There are some amazing examples of scherenschnitte art online. You just have to type in scherenschnitte into a search engine to find them, or maybe paper silhouette.

You can even buy them on eBay or Etsy, for what I think is a reasonable price.

Of course, the more complicated the design, the more expensive it becomes and sometimes the design is only used once and so it's more expensive because it's unique.

I'm really happy that paper craft seems to be coming back into vogue in general because there are so many beautiful things that can be made if you get create with it.

If you're really interested there are a couple of good paper craft blogs to follow that feature examples of different things people are doing including this kind of paper cutting.

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    • A craft knife may be used to cut paper for scherenschnitte.
      By: Theo Malings
      A craft knife may be used to cut paper for scherenschnitte.