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I have a box of ~1000 (void) gift cards of various colors from my old job because I expressed interest in making a mosaic from the colorful plastic bits.

My question is: how to cut them? I've tried:

  • Kitchen Shears: the dull edge is perfect for a plant stem, but it just chews up the tough plastic. It even gets a little opaque white where the cut stresses the material, which ruins the color.
  • Paper Cutter: good for one precise cut at a time. Takes a long time and dulls the blade rather quickly (and I don't know how to sharpen it).
  • Paper shredder with credit card attachment: Starts off pretty good, but the blades visibly dulled after a dozen and only cuts in one direction, which necessitates another method anyway.

Is there some kind of specialty cutter for plastic I could co-opt for my project?

  • Have you tried regular old scissors? (Not suggesting they'd work better than what you've tried, because I don't know whether or not they would, just asking whether you've tried them.) – Martha Sep 17 '16 at 13:16
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    Regular scissors (the kind for cutting paper) were too lightweight, and if nothing else, my hand would have fallen off after a couple cuts from the exertion it took. – speedfranklin Sep 18 '16 at 22:31
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    I've never tried them for this purpose, but do you have tinsnips around? They're for cutting metal, so gotta figure they're a little less hard on the hand than normal scissors. – John Cavan Sep 19 '16 at 0:47
  • @JohnCavan you would need proper flat tinsnips rather than the aviation shears sometimes sold under the same name -- mine at least would give a rather uneven cut. – Chris H Apr 10 '17 at 8:33
  • I have not tried it, but from comments at work, (we work with different plastics) metal tools should work. So metal cutting shears and maybe fine toothed metal saws. – Willeke May 19 at 10:13
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I have always found one of the appeals of mosaic to be creating non-uniform / random shapes for your art. Both of these options can help capture that.

Score the card

If you score one surface of the card, with something like a craft knife, you should be able to make it snap along the score line. In general straighter will be easier to snap off. By all means, you can do curve but if they are too extreme or change directions you will have a tougher time removing them.

Not sure if this will be faster than what you are already doing.

Freeze the card

I know that freezing the card and making it brittle will make it so that you can hit it and it should shatter into easy random shapes. I am not sure if a conventional freezer will get the card cold enough.

I just tried it with my old health card and it did work rather well. It snapped in my hands. However, I handled it too much so it warmed up and started to bend more than break. I would try keeping in the freezer longer. After some time, wrap it in a cloth and quickly hit it again on a hard surface.

One method to expedite this process would be to wrap the cards inside wet paper towel. Once the water on the towel freezes it should make it easier to process. Again, not sure if this is worth the effort or not.

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    Mental image of OP playing with liquid nitrogen pops into my mind... – Stephie Sep 17 '16 at 14:23
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    @Stephie Would have suggested it outright but apparently it is not a common household item. – Matt Sep 17 '16 at 19:34
  • Well, the OP is from Boulder, Colorado, so he could just wait until a really good winter freeze and do it outside en masse after freezing in the home freezer. :) – John Cavan Sep 19 '16 at 0:45
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There are acrylic/plexiglass cutters you could try.

They essentially score the material repeatedly until you cut through it or can snap it. Here's one in use:

https://youtu.be/AsBrJRNvdyA

Since credit cards/gift cards are so thin, it shouldn't be much work to cut them. Just make sure you have something to protect your work surface.

Curves probably aren't likely.

There's a number of brands and grip types you can find the plastic cutters in. Many are only a few dollars, and more likely found at a hardware store (or online) than an art store.

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There are a couple of options that would easily cut the gift cards. The first would be aviation snips or tin snips. Those are available at major hardware stores like Ace, Home Depot and Lowes. The other option would be industrial shears. They look like scissors, but the separation between the two blades is different than for fabric or paper. They are also available at major hardware stores. Both options would also be available from Harbor Freight online and in stores in the US.

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