MAU Art & Design Glossary




Cutters are tools (blades) that are primarily used to hand-cut thin materials such as paper, cloth, and flexible vinyl. They are also used to sharpen instruments such as pencils. Unlike other cutting tools such as knives and blades, cutters have the unique ability to maintain their sharpness by snapping away the dulled end segment, or by easily replacing the blade. As a side note, it was the Japanese company OLFA that developed cutters with blades that can be snapped off in segments.

In order to use a cutter safely, one should keep only one segment of the blade extended from the handle (be sure not to over-extend the blade), hold it at a 30-40 degree angle as one would a pencil, and then cut by pulling the blade toward oneself. All cutting should be done directly in front of oneself, and one may simultaneously move the object being cut (paper, etc.) toward the cutting blade. If one is cutting a straight line, a straight edge (such as a ruler) may be used for precision. In the case of thick objects such as Styrofoam, a series of small cuts should be made rather than trying to cut it all at once with force. With cardboard and the like, the blade should be moved in small sawing motions after the initial cut into the material.

Various shaped cutters and types of blades exist for different types of cuts and for different materials being cut. The two most common types of cutter are: a smaller one used primarily for thin materials such as paper, which utilizes a 9mm blade with 12 connected segments, and a larger one used for thick materials such as cardboard, which utilizes a 18mm blade with 7 connected segments. It is also possible to use the same holder (handle) with hook-like-shaped blades used for cutting acrylic sheets. There are also cutters known as design knives with holders shaped like pens and sharper blades for use in doing fine cut-outs; rotary cutters which cut thin and soft materials such as cloth with a turning cylindrical blade; and circle cutters used to cut paper in curved shapes.

It is important to use a cutter mat underneath the material one is cutting in order to avoid damaging the surface (such as a desk) beneath. Also, because blade segments that have been snapped off are dangerous, they should be disposed of carefully, using a special case for discarded blades. When handing cutters from person to person, the blade should be retracted into the handle and then handed with the blade portion away from the recipient.

Cutters may be purchased from office supply stores and stationery stores.


  • When cut is smallWhen cut is small
  • When cut is large and/or longWhen cut is large and/or long