What is the difference between a papercut and a lasercut?

A few months ago I was at an art fair, displaying my papercuts, when a customer approached me and asked, "Why are your lasercuts so much more expensive than everyone else's?"

I explained to him that what he was seeing were not lasercut reproductions, but original papercuts, cut by hand, using a knife. He then asked, "Aren't lasercuts done by hand?" I explained that they were not cut by hand, but by machine. He was surprised to learn this. As the day went on it became clear, from talking to people at the fair, that most of them thought that lasercuts were produced using hand-held lasers in place of knives or scissors. This misconception led me to add this page to my website.

A papercut is an image produced by cutting paper using a knife, scissors, punch, etc. There is a variety of techniques, tools, and materials, but the bottom line is that, in order to be an original papercut, it is cut by hand.

Put simply, a lasercut is a reproduction, produced by a machine. The system that I am familiar with has a cutting table with a vacuum pump to hold the paper in place, and draw away the smoke (this reduces the scorched effect). Above that is a laser reflector on two computer-controlled, moveable axes. The reflector races above the table's surface, carefully vaporizing any unwanted paper until the image is completed. The quality is excellent, and it can be difficult to tell a machine made lasercut from a hand cut papercut, if you don't know what to look for. Very intricate detail can be produced, allowing images to be produced in a scale that would severely strain a human papercutter's eyes and manual dexterity.

So, you ask, what is the problem? My answer is that there is no problem, as long as the customer knows they are buying a reproduction and not an original piece of artwork. It works to both the artist's and the customer's benefit that papercuts can be reproduced by laser. The customers can get beautiful of artwork at a fraction of the cost of the original. The artist benefits from wider exposure, ease of production, and, usually, an increase their income.

As with all reproductions, the customers need to be aware of several factors. Primarily, they should know that they are buying a reproduction. Secondly, the purchaser should be aware of how many reproductions were made. Some editions are are limited (numbered editions) some are unlimited (open editions). In an open edition, the price is usually noticeably lower. A third consideration is the artist's involvement in the work. Some artists supervise the production, and then apply color themselves and mount the artwork. At other times, colors may be printed, and perhaps the work was sent out to be done. Other considerations include the quality and durability of the materials. The seller should be forthcoming with this information, and the customer should know what to ask. When in doubt, contact the artist. Most artists are very happy to answer questions about their work.

The best advice, as with any art purchase, is to be an informed purchaser, buy what you like, and pay what you can afford. The value of your purchase may increase or decrease, but as long as you follow these three basic guidelines, you have made the right purchase.

Back to Home Page.

Make your own free website on Tripod.com