Graphic Design: Create a Papercut Background

Beginner level Adobe Illustrator Adobe Illustrator


Handicrafts never go out of fashion! They will always have a place in design. Well, speaking of which, papercut (or paper-cut) is one of the most well-known techniques. In this tutorial, we'll see how we can imitate this technique in digital. We'll create a gradient abstract background. Prepare your scissors and digital paper. Shall we begin?


Creating the waves

To create the waves we'll follow a simple procedure. Although we can use the Pen Tool (P) and create the shapes as we like, we'll make the waves with the Star Tool. You'll see how easy it is. 

Step 1

Select the Star Tool from the toolbar.


Step 2

Click on the artboard with the Star Tool selected. A pop-up window will appear. Set the Radius 1 to 25 px and the Radius 2 to 50 px. Select 8 points.


Step 3

We have a star, so let's convert the points into waves. To do so, grab the Direct Selection Tool (A) and click on the star. You'll see some circles near the points of the star. Select one of them and drag it outwards.


Perfect! Now we have the waves.

Step 4

Make a copy of the star by dragging it while holding Alt. Remember that if you want to move the copy straight in the horizontal or vertical axis, you'll have to hold Shift too. 


Step 5

Let's select a color palette for the gradient. You'll only need to choose the colors for each end. In our case, they will be two variations of blue.


Fill each shape with a different color.

Step 6

Now, we'll create the intermediate color steps. To do so, select the Blend Tool (W). It's important that you double-click on it to be able to adjust the parameters. In "Spacing", choose Specified Steps and enter a value of 4


Step 7

Now, with the Blend Tool (W) selected, click on the first shape and then on the second one. You'll see how four new shapes appear between the two. This will generate a color gradient between them. Now we have six shapes in total: the first two that we created before and four new ones that we generated with the Blend Tool.


Step 8

Place the shapes in such a way that the first and the last are in opposite corners of the document (we can vary this depending on the composition we want to create). You'll notice how the elements have moved and how you can only select the shapes on both ends. To select one of the shapes, don't forget to double-click on it so that you activate the isolation mode

As you can see, the other shapes will move too, so they'll create a straight line between the shapes on opposite corners. 


Step 9

Scale them proportionally (holding Shift) until you get the result you are looking for. You'll only have to make sure that you avoid gaps on the artboard. In my case, I left it as the reference image shows. It doesn't matter if the shapes go outside the artboard. You can trim them later on to fit the design within the artboard.


Step 10

Grab the Rectangle Tool (M) and create a rectangle with the same size as the artboard.


Step 11

Select everything on the canvas, right-click on the rectangle that we've just created and select "Create Clipping Mask".


Perfect, we've just created the background and the gradient. We're just missing the shadows and the text box, but I'll leave this up to you, as you might be looking for something with a flat look. In my case, as I want to give more volume to the shapes, I'll apply shadows to each shape. Feeling curious? Keep reading!


Giving volume to the design

In this part of the tutorial we'll see how to isolate every part of our design. We'll also apply the shadows and we'll create the text box to finish our design. Let's go!

Step 1

The first thing you need to do is to make sure that the composition we're going to work with is the final one, because we're going to separate all the parts that compose this design. In my case, I'll make some adjustments.


Step 2

Enter the isolation mode to separate the shapes and work with them independently. To do so, double-click on the clipping mask → double-click again to see the whole shape → select all the shapes.


With the shapes selected, go to Object → Expand…


Now you'll have all the shapes ready to work with them freely.

Step 3

Ungroup all the shapes to be able to apply the shadows without any problems. To do so, enter the isolation mode, right-click and select Ungroup


Step 4

Now, we'll apply the shadows to the pieces. For now, we'll only apply one of them because if we try to apply this effect to all of them at the same time, the computer might slow down too much. It's better to see how it works in one piece first and then, if we like the result, we can apply it to the rest.

Select the piece on the top and go to Effect → Stylize → Drop Shadow…


Change the parameters for the drop shadow until you get a result that you like. These are the values I've applied.


Once you have decided how the first piece is going to look with the shadow, select the rest of them and apply the same effect. 


The text box

Now we'll create the central text box of the design. To do so, we'll need to create a rectangle and two pieces of text. Finally, we'll place a ruler beneath the text.

Step 1

Create a 513x254 px rectangle using the Rectangle Tool (M). This will be the text box. For the fill, I chose a blue color that is darker than the ones I previously used in this tutorial (#004A67). Place the box in the center of the design.


Step 2

Repeat the same process as before: apply a drop shadow to the box.


Step 3

Create a text. Depending on the font you choose, you'll get different results. For this design, I chose Open Sans ExtraBold 72 pt, filled with the lightest color of our design (#55c0d6) and center aligned. 


Step 4

Repeat the process to make the subtitle below. For this, I've also used Open SansBold 62 pt. To generate a bit of tension over this part, I've placed this word in such a way that overlaps the previous one.


Step 5

To finish, create a line at the bottom of the box with the same color as the text (#55C0D6). Center align it to the design. The line will have a length of 170 px and a width of 3 pt


It's done!

At this point, we can say we've finished our design. I hope you found this tutorial easy to dollow. As always, if you have any doubts or suggestions, please type them in the forum. See you in other Tutpad tutorials! :)


What do you think of this tutorial?


1 month ago

On Step 11, after you have made your selection using the Marquee tool, are you switching to a new tool to do your selection?  I tried using the Selection Tool (V) and when I right-click on the rectangle I don't see the option to make a clipping mask.

1 month ago

I also tried this: 

After using the Marquee tool and selecting everything, I chose:

Object -> Clipping Mask -> Make

but then I got this error:

Can’t make clipping mask. The top selected object must be a path, a compound shape, a text object or a group of these.

1 month ago

I need some help. In step 8 it says: "To select one of the shapes, don't forget to double-click on it so that you activate the isolation mode."  I can't seem to select any of the shapes except the ones at the end. I tried double-clicking but that does not work.  No matter what I do, it either: moves all the shapes as a group or I can only change the shapes at the 2 corners. Please help!

2 months ago

simple but beautiful.

2 months ago

Thank you very much for your comment! I'm very happy as an author to hear these words from you, and I hope to see what you've achieved with the tutorial in the projects tab of the tutorial. Regards :)

Do you like following the design trends? Papercut was very popular for some time, and it's still in. If you don't want to miss on this opportunity to learn something new, join me in this tutorial!

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