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Cut paper drawings on Photoshop

Updated on January 17, 2010

Step by step tutorial for making digital drawings in a paper cut collage style.



Paper cutting is a fantastic technique to create great art. However, it’s not always easy to find the time, patience or steady handiness needed for the work.  So how can you achieve that lovely paper style without annoying scissors and piles of discarded bits of paper? With Photoshop, of course! It’s actually very easy to do and I’m going to teach you how. All you need is a drawing, Photoshop and the determination to make it. 


This requires a basic knowledge of Photoshop. If you're clueless about it or just want to brush up some concepts, please visit my other lens: Photoshop drawing for beginners

A little note about organization

While the techniques used for doing a cut paper style drawing are very simple, it's the organizational part that should concern you the most. We are taking about a very serious amount of layers in play, organized in a particular order and even, in some cases, in a particular position. Sadly there's no way around it. But to avoid chaos and pandemonium, here are two tips to help you:

* Use groups. It sounds rather general, but in this case, is essential. Put all the things that make one object together. Then, you'll be able to move them together, change them together and even maybe your whole layer panel a lot neater.

* Name each layer descriptively. Then they'll be much easier to find and organize. Sometimes you're likely to forget. But as long as you have a good amount named to take as reference, it won't matter.

Step 1: Preparing the base

The first thing you need is a drawing. Mine is a pencil sketch that I scanned and then cleaned a little bit so the lines would look clear. You can also scan one of your drawings or even take a photo of it. This will be used just as a guide and it won't be seen in the resulting drawing, so quality is not a concern. As long as you can see the lines, it's all right.

After you have your drawing in place, you'll want to create a group. This will contain all the layers that compose a particular figure of your drawing. In mine, I have only one figure but I'll be adding a background later so I'll definitely want it to be separated from the start.

* My group creating rule for multilayered drawings such as this is to create, at least, one group for each figure in the drawing and one for the background. Make sure that all you colored areas are in a group (with the exception, perhaps, of the base color) then you'll be able to move them around, re-arrange their order and add elements between them easily.

Now that you have your sketch and your first group, I'll teach you a little trick that will make your working experience easier. Go to your Layer panel and duplicate your Background Layer. Take that duplicate to the top of the list and set its Blending Mode at Multiply. This way you get a lines-only version of your drawing that won't disappear under all the other colored layers. Just make sure it's always on top.

Step 2: Coloring

When doing paper cut style drawings you’d have to imagine each layer as a bit of paper you would cut to make a collage. The lot of layers will make the whole drawing, but every layer will be just a bit of color. This will be our main concern here. Not only creating layers adequately, but also making them in an order that will later work for the collage look.

1. First, I’ll start with the hair. You’ll usually want to start with the thing that is further back and work your way to the front, but the order of creation doesn’t really matter since you can then later rearrange the layers to whatever order you need.

Using Pen Tool we will trace the hairline (the one on the back, not the fringe) and create a closed path. Remember that each element of the drawing is going to be a layer, so when you don’t have a line to follow, it doesn’t matter what you do as long as you keep going. That part will later be hidden underneath something else, so don’t worry.

2. Create and empty layer in the group and fill the path with the color you want that part of the drawing to be.

3. Again with Pen tool, trace another part of the drawing (in my case the face) and fill it in a new layer. Keep doing the same until your entire figure is covered.

4. Check that every layer is in its place. If they are not, go to the Layer Panel and change their order by moving them up or down. Layers will overlap each other and unless they are in the correct order, it’ll look bad. Same as with real paper, really. So keep that in mind.

Now we have a colored image that while very nice in its own right, it’s not exactly what we are looking for here. So, lets press on.

Step 3: Shadowing

This is the secret, if you can actually call it a secret, of making a paper style drawing. Giving the layers shadows creates the effect of actual paper resting on other paper. Although Photoshop offers tools to create a wide variety of shadows, we are going to use one of low distance and small size. Shadows made by paper on other paper are generally short and dark and that's what we are going for.

1. Grab a random layer of your drawing; preferably, one that is big and stands out in the drawing. Access the Layer Style window (either by double clicking on the layer or clicking on the Layer Style icon in the Layer Panel) and select the Drop Shadow option. These are the settings I use. We want a small shadow rather than a big one, so keep the numbers low.

2. Click with the right mouse button on the layer and select the Copy layer Style. Then select all the layers you want shadowed (most of them, probably, except perhaps eyes or things like that) and Paste the Layer Style.

And you're done! (With this step anyway)

Step 4: Adding a paper texture

Your drawing is almost complete. What we are going to do now is give it a more realistic paper look by adding some textures to it. If you know how to do textures in Photoshop or prefer to download them, then skip the first part step. If you prefer your own textures, then keep reading.

Making a paper texture in Photoshop is incredibly easy. All you need is paper and a scanner. If you have different sorts of paper, even better!

1. Take a blank paper (not a glossy one) and scan it.

2. We want to bring out the texture of the paper. There are several ways of doing it. I always do a basic one and then alter it on the drawing. For this one I want a more subtle texture and to achieving it I desaturate (Image > Adjustments > Desaturate) and then duplicate the layer. I set the second layer's Blending Mode at Multiply and then Flatten the image.

3. Now that we have a texture, we copy it to the document where our drawing is and put it on top of all the other layers, setting the Blending Mode at Multiply.

4. It looks a bit weak, so we're going to duplicate the texture layer once.

5. You may notice that I added a background. When you have one, a great effect you can achieve is by using darker textures in the images on the back. I duplicate one of my texture layers and drag it down, so it can be behind the main figure of the drawing. To create a more darkening effect, we applied Auto Contrast (Image > Adjustments > Auto Contrast) resulting in a much more pronounced texture. If it's too dark, we lower the opacity.

And there you have it, your own digital cut paper styled drawing. Not really hard, wasn't it?

More on the same style

This is another drawing I did using a simplified version of this technique. Which is basically the same up to the third step, but instead of using several layers of texture, I just applied one texture for all. It's part of a Star Trek TOS series of drawings and if you want to see the rest of them, the links can be found by clicking on the image.

Alternative and variations

There are several other things that you can do with this technique. For example, just doing up to the second step can create fantastic drawings, albeit simple ones. And if clashing colors become too much of an issue, you can create a shadow just for the part that clashes or change one of the clashing elements to a darker tone.

You can also skip the whole texture step and create a drawing just with colors and shadows. This also could look great and cleaner. Textures usually bring the colors down a bit, so if you prefer bright shining colors, this is the way to go.

You can try using different textures for different things of the drawing, like different sorts of paper and the like. I've never done this myself but I've seen it done and it looks fantastic.

And why not try fabrics? You can create fabric textures just as easy as you do with paper. Or even better, use the fabrics directly! Just rummage your wardrobe for colors and I guarantee extraordinary results.

Some great books on Paper Art

If you’re interested in actual paper art in its different variations, then these books are just for you.

Other artists that go for paper cutting

Want to see some more cut paper collages? These two made some of the best I've seen. So if you ever want to make actual paper cut designs sharpen your scissors and look this way for motivation.

Dan Barrett

He has a fantastically original drawing style that united with a pile of different colored papers can only result in awesomeness. His gallery combines crazy funny with pop culture and you definitely should pay him a visit.


In her work you'll find a very fairytale like style with a touch of science fiction and her gallery is definitely worthy of a visit and great admiration.

Everything welcome. And if this lens helped you, I'd loved to see the results.

Opinions, questions, suggestions, corrections, requests?

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    • profile image

      Carlos Sarcinelli 3 years ago

      Good tutorial! I'll try on some scratches.

      Thanks for your kindness!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      I have a Uni project for my third year and i was planning to do something like this! Im so glad i came across this article. Thankyou so much for the wonderful tutorial!

    • profile image

      Arnolda 5 years ago

      What a great tutorial! I followed it step by step, thanks so much for putting it together! I love your art :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wow, drooling with envy.....

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      cool! This is very useful!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      This is amazing and gives me lots of ideas.

    • semas profile image

      semas 5 years ago

      Looks great!I will definitely try this technique :)

    • caketech profile image

      caketech 5 years ago

      Very interesting! I love the step by step directions. SquidAngel blessings to you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you very much :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What a simple yet wonderful effect. Definitely using this in the future :)

    • profile image

      agent009 6 years ago

      This is clever! You won't need to cut out the paper yourself since you have that effect on computer.

    • profile image

      psrios 6 years ago

      I love it my love! Do you know any book with cool effects for photoshop?

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Thanks! This is exactly what i am looking for. :D

    • Kyetsu profile image

      Kyetsu 6 years ago

      I'm always looking for new ways to express myself with art. This looks like a great one! Thanks for sharing!

    • jasminesphotogr profile image

      jasminesphotogr 6 years ago

      Wow, that's really cool. Didn't know you could make those on a computer. :)

    • Joy Neasley profile image

      Joy Neasley 7 years ago from Nashville, TN

      I can't wait to try this.

    • Jkak profile image

      Jkak 7 years ago

      looks great! can't wait to try this :)

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Great stuff. *-*Blessed*-* and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust and also on Photography

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      i learned everything i know about photoshop by following online tutorials so keep up the good work. people like me owe you guys a lot. good work.

      Elliott Walsh - Photo Restoration Expert

    • norma-holt profile image

      norma-holt 7 years ago

      Wonderful lens with great descriptions and drawings. Blessed by an angel and featured on Sprinkled with Stardust

    • profile image

      kasei_lee 8 years ago

      Awesome Lens! Faved!

    • semas profile image

      semas 8 years ago

      A very interesting technique and well explained.5* and faved it to try it out!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      What a cute idea! I may never get this far with Photoshop but it's always fun to see how other people use it. Thanks for joining my friends, I've become your fan, too.

    • profile image

      editionh 8 years ago

      I am impressed, very good instructions and beautiful illustrations and an inspiring idea.. great to met you here!

    • dancerene profile image

      dancerene 8 years ago

      Great stuff, I bet there are people out there who are willing pay to learn this. 5*s

    • eloise-spleen profile image

      eloise-spleen 8 years ago

      @Philip-of-the-trade: Thanks! It's always easier to explain things with text. And of course, easier to understand them when you can visualize =D

    • eloise-spleen profile image

      eloise-spleen 8 years ago

      @FlynntheCat1: Thanks a lot! =D

      Because of the whole 'only 9 links from the same domain or you are SPAM' rule I have to reduce my list of artists references and she was on that list. I absolutely love her comics. I'll see if I can change some things around and include her.

    • eloise-spleen profile image

      eloise-spleen 8 years ago

      @EditPhotos: Thanks a lot! I'm glad you enjoyed it =D

    • eloise-spleen profile image

      eloise-spleen 8 years ago

      @Ramkitten2000: Thanks! I'm glad it inspire you to try it. Photoshop can be great fun =D

    • Ramkitten2000 profile image

      Deb Kingsbury 8 years ago from Flagstaff, Arizona

      Hey, this is really cool! I haven't used Photoshop much (it's definitely a patience thing for me, and I usually end up coercing my husband into doing the work for me), but seeing something like this makes me really want to give it a try. This is an excellent tutorial, and it looks great too. Well done!

    • EditPhotos profile image

      Edit Photos 8 years ago from Earth

      This is awesome! A great tutorial and a really fun topic/art-form. 5**** and a Squidoo Angel Blessing.

    • FlynntheCat1 profile image

      FlynntheCat1 8 years ago

      This is great! Blessed by an Angel ^_^

      Also, have you seen the webcomic Yu+Me? The artist used this style recently. (rosalarian on DeviantART)

    • profile image

      Philip-of-the-trade 8 years ago

      great lense! love how you combine text and images :) 5 stars