What is a Paper Cutter?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

While a scissors is a device for cutting or shaping paper, and is used for a variety of applications from making paper snowflakes to cutting out newspaper articles, a paper cutter is a device primarily used to trim sheets of paper to a particular size. Paper, in this context, refers not just to sheets of bond paper, but to the wide range of paper thicknesses, including cardstock, cardboard, photographs, and may be used on similar materials like film and vellum.

A paper cutter is used to trim sheets of paper.
A paper cutter is used to trim sheets of paper.

Most paper cutters include some type of safety features to ensure safe operation. Other aspects to consider when anticipating a purchase are the number of sheets that can be cut at once and the width of paper that can be accepted. The manner of operation of the cutter and — for automatic models — the speed are also important to take into account.

The name paper trimmer is used interchangeably with paper cutter. But the paper slitter, on the other hand, cuts paper in a special way — it is specially designed to divide two-up images into two separate documents.

There are several distinct categories of the devices that do go by the name paper cutter. The term rotary paper cutter may refer to a handheld tool with a pivoting head that is rolled along the desired cutting line. It is capable of holding a variety of blades. Another important kind of rotary cutter has the blade mounted on a base. The paper is loaded—many models have guidelines on the base to help align the paper — and the blade is drawn through it, slicing as it goes.

The guillotine paper cutter, some types of which are called arm cutters, has an arm that raised and lowered by hand. The descriptions rate these cutters either by the height of the pile they can cut or the number of sheets that can be cut in a single slice. Manual paper cutters of this type can cut through up to 3 inches (7.6 centimeters) or 800 sheets. Those models that are capable of cutting large amounts often feature a clamp to hold the paper in place.

For high-volume work, there is the semi-automatic or the automatic paper cutter. The semi-automatic cutter may be operated with a hand crank or a button. Automatic cutter models may be electric or hydraulic. In addition to stack thickness, these devices give yield volume in cuts per minute.

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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Discussion Comments


Paper cutters are awesome for cutting out your professional design work. I design a lot of business cards and posters, and I won’t use anything other than a paper cutter to trim off the white edges.

I line up the edge of the design with the guide on the cutter that shows me where the cut will run. My cutter has a grid on the base to help me line things up straight.

When I first started my business, I didn’t have a cutter, so I used a sharp knife to trim the paper. This gave my work a bit of a dog-chewed look, and I knew that in order to impress my clients, I would have to invest money in a professional cutter.

It has become an essential part of my business. The cleaner the cut, the better my work looks, and the happier my clients are.


I like guillotine paper cutters, because they give me more control. If I see that I am about to get out of line when cutting, I can readjust the paper.

With a guillotine cutter, I control how fast it cuts. I like to cut fairly slowly to make sure that I have the right angle. Usually, I make the cut slowly, but then, I go back and do another fast chop to get rid of any uneven edges.

I use my digital camera a lot, and I like to print my own photographs. I use the paper cutter to cut them out of the sheet of photo paper. I like using the cutter for this, because unlike when I use scissors, I can cut in a straight line, and it is hard to tell the difference between my printed photographs and photos developed at a film store.


@seag47 - I used the same type of cutter in college, and after I graduated, I wanted to get one to use at home. However, they were pretty expensive. Instead, I got a guillotine paper cutter, because it was within the price range that I could handle.

I use it every time that I need to cut drawing paper to a certain size before beginning a project. There are two sizes that I use most often, so I went ahead and cut five sheets in each size. The paper cutter was able to slice through all five at once.

After about a year, parts started falling off the paper cutter. This is probably because it was fairly inexpensive. It no longer has a blade guard, so I just have to remember not to grab it from underneath when I need to move the cutter to another room.


I had my first experience with a paper cutter in my college art class. We were learning how to cut our paper and mats to specific sizes with this tool.

We used a large rotary paper cutter. First, we measured and drew out with a pencil the positions where we needed to cut our mat board to make an image window for our artwork. Then, we slid the mat board under the area where the blade moves and lined up the pencil lines with the guideline.

I remember pulling the handle slowly across the cutter and watching in amazement at how thoroughly the blade cut through the thick board. The blade had been sharpened recently, so the cut was very clean. It left no jagged edges behind, and it made the mat look as if it had been professionally cut.

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