When papercutting, one often has to cut very small circles, like below. When I do that, I often break my blade. How should I cut small circles or other small holes? Think about ...

  • Should I apply pressure or not?
  • Should I only turn the knife on its place or really move it?
  • Should I hold the knife vertically or diagonally on the paper?

enter image description here

  • 5
    Which of the circles are you asking about? The center of the flowers or the ring around the center of the flowers? Could you give us a more concrete measurement of "very small"?
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 21:43
  • @Catija you are right, this should have been more clear. I meant anything inside the flowers or the bird -- that is, up to 2mm diameter or so.
    – Keelan
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 22:29
  • crafts.stackexchange.com/questions/85/… Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 5:47

7 Answers 7


Punch it

Given the size of the holes you are doing this might not seem like useful advice but I would bet that this is what the artist in the picture did, as those are not perfect circles. Outside of this you could use a small punch to get a perfect circle.

small punches

The way you get that to work is put a lot of paper (or some other thick material) underneath so that the "work" paper will be less likely to tear out.

For larger holes or if punches are not available

Whatever you need to do that feels comfortable so that you can do one continuous cut. As with all cutting make sure you are using tools that are sharp!

Should I only turn the knife on its place or really move it?

Keeping the work stationary for me is a problem especially for circles, as you are moving your wrist and arm around more, which could put strain (cramping from repetition) on you faster (which in turn is asking for small mistakes). This can also reduce your control of the cut. I am in favour of moving both the work and your hand at the same time. I find this makes the motions easier and they take less time.

Should I hold the knife vertically or diagonally on the paper?

While the cut would naturally be at a slight angle with what I am describing, I would try to avoid doing so and try to cut as vertically as possible. Cutting on a diagonal can weaken the edges of the cuts making more susceptible to damage.

It is definitely important to try and do the cut in one pass. Hesitation or multiple cuts can create nibs or stray fibers. This is fixable of course but you have to remove more material which can affect the shape. However if done right corrections like that can be hidden as most people won't notice.

Should I apply pressure or not?

Not sure of the best answer to this other than not too much. You want the knife to do the work. As long as your tool is sharp you should not have to put too much force into it.

  • 3
    Haha, I am the 'artist' of the picture. I did this by simply cutting and breaking one or two blades.
    – Keelan
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 12:27
  • 2
    @CamilStaps I hope you know I meant no offence. Also, like others, I though you meant the fruit on the branches at first.
    – Matt
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 12:30
  • 2
    Of course, no offense taken.
    – Keelan
    Commented Apr 27, 2016 at 12:35

It really does depend on how big the circle is.

For tiny circles

I recommend not using the knife at all. Find a pair of compasses (or, in a pinch, a dried-up pen or sharp pencil will do), and use that to punch a hole in the paper. Of course, you can also use the knife in much the same way, by poking the hole with the tip of the knife.

Note that this solution is for tiny circles, i.e. less than a millimetre's diameter. You will more often need a solution...

For slightly bigger circles

If you can fold the paper at all, a hole punch is a good solution (yes, I know I'm cheating). Use it to punch half a hole, and when you open the paper back out you have one complete hole.

If you really want to use the knife for this, you can - I tend to keep the knife still and move the paper, as I find it gives me more precise control over where exactly the cut is made.

  • Hmm, I don't think this is what I'm looking for. Compasses or any other tool to pinch a hole will not leave the paper smooth.
    – Keelan
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 21:40
  • @CamilStaps I find compasses do, if you leave the paper on a hard surface (a board made for craft knives is often right) and press relatively lightly. Pens and pencils certainly don't, though.
    – Åna
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 21:41
  • 3
    Why would you try to punch half a hole and potentially end up with an odd figure 8 shape or an ellipse if you don't center it perfectly. The example art seems to show plenty of space to fit the entire hole punch without folding (which would leave creases in the paper).
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 21:42

How to cut a tiny hole using a knife:

(This method requires a very steady hand and caution.)

  1. Draw the hole. You can use whatever technique you want. If you want to avoid people seeing marks, you can draw and cut the hole from the reverse side. I have also used a scoring tool instead, as this leaves no marks afterward.

  2. Use the correct blade. I use blade 11 for exacto knives. You need something very fine and very sharp.

  3. Perforate the outline. Lining up the blade with the direction of the line, repeatedly puncture the outline. Work your way around the circumference, leaving a gap between each puncture which is smaller than the average length of each puncture. Go around a second time, this time puncturing the gaps between each mark, separating the interior from the exterior and completing the hole.


This will probably work well for decently-small sized holes that are around 2 mm in diameter:

Hole Puncher - Normally used for paper

These things can be pretty useful. You often see them in paper cutting three of them at a time, so you can put them into your binders and duo tangs.

If you've got a decent quality hole punch, you should be able to make clean cut holes without any bending - and there you have it!

  • This is why I've asked which size the OP is looking for. If they're looking for pinprick-sized holes, a hole punch isn't going to be capable of that.
    – Catija
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 21:49
  • @Catija Yeah, I wasn't sure either. The nice thing about the hole punch is tat the standard ones will get to around maybe 5 mm in diameter (I think?). Whatever the case, I've definitely seen some of these that are around 1-2mm at the craft store.
    – Zizouz212
    Commented Apr 26, 2016 at 21:51
  • 2
    Me use this one, but it doesn't reach interior of paper.If we're doing decoration at an educational institute; we could use some cork-borers from laboratory; and put the paper on a thermocol sheet, and bore them. At home, a broken old radio antenna works nice.
    – user1091
    Commented Oct 18, 2016 at 10:23
  • Similarly you can use a leather punch on paper, and these often have selectable hole sizes on a wheel. Backing the paper with a cutting mat or card helps to cut all round.
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 16, 2016 at 16:50

You could try using a sewing needle or dressmaker's pin, repeatedly pricking the paper along the circumference of the circle. That would effectively result in a very closely perforated circle. Then lightly press against the circle using some other blunt-tipped tool, and it should eventually pop out.


In Dutch traditional paper cutting only a fine pair of scissors was used, very pointy ones which were sharp over the whole length of the blades.

To cut very small holes the paper would be folded over the center of the hole and only that little bit pinched. Then a semi circle would be cut on the fold so that when unfolded the hole would be a circle.
I bet it would take a lot of practice to get it right.

For bigger holes a very small fold would allow the start and then one blade of the scissors would be inserted to cut the whole shape.
I believe most cut paper artists would not switch to this method until the hole was about 3mm diameter or irregular in shape.

The whole of the work was cut freehand, no other tools used, except for sometimes a pencil line to give guidance.


You can use old bullet casings as punches, in a pinch. Hit them with a ball peen hammer.

  • This would be a decent hole punch :) but I think it would also end up being too big for this specific application.
    – Erica
    Commented Dec 18, 2018 at 17:02

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