Cultural Kirigami

Kirigami is the art of paper cutting which dates back hundreds of years. This technique has inspired expressions from cultures all over the world, including, Chinese Jianzhi and shadow puppets, Japanese Monkiri and Senga, Polish and Ukrainian Wycinanki, German Scherenschnitte, and Mexican Papel Picado. Using new media technology tools, this tutorial will teach you how to design your own cultural kirigami in Silhouette Studio software and use a Silhouette Cameo machine to trim and perforate a variety of thin media.

GATHER MATERIALS: (Vendors – Silhouette America)


  1. Think about cultural symbols that you identify with.
  2. Locate a high contrast image file of one of the symbols online using Google Image Search.
  3. Save the image in a basic raster image format (such as PNG, JPG, BMP, GIF, and TIF file types).
  4. Open the file in Silhouette Studio (File > Open option). Once in the software, the image then needs to be converted into a cuttable image that has lines present for the Silhouette Cameo cutting machine to recognize as cut lines.
  5. Click on the Select Trace Area tool.
  6. Draw a box around the image that is desired to be traced.
  7. Adjust any of the tracing filters as desired. Filters include the following:
    1. High Pass Filter – Allows the trace lines to be set beginning from the outside of your image and then works toward the inside of the image as the filter setting is adjusted up. This is a nice option if you are trying to create a basic cutting frame for a more detailed image. If you do not wish to create a frame outline for your image, you may wish to turn this option off.
    2. Low Pass Filter – Does the opposite of the High Pass Filter where tracing begins at the center points of your image parts and then works toward the outside of the image as the filter setting is adjusted up.
    3. Threshold – Determines how broadly you wish to apply the trace filter to your image beginning with the darkest colors for low settings and applies lighter color parts as well as you move to larger settings.
    4. Scale – This setting controls the smoothness of pixilated edges of your image. It is only necessary to use if the image in question is of a low quality and highly pixilated.
  8. Once you’ve selected the area to be traced, the trace filter will show a yellow area covering the image. This yellow area is a preview for where your cut lines would be created. Adjust filters as necessary.
  9. Select one the tracing methods under Apply Trace Method. The available trace options are as follows:
    1. Trace – This option will trace all outer and inner lines. This is generally preferable if you are attempting to create a regular cut image with multiple parts and specific details to be cut.
    2. Trace Outer Edge – This option will create a cut line only around the outer edges of your image. This is generally preferable if you are attempting to create a Print & Cut image.
    3. Trace and Detach – This option will punch out the image from the white background space. It is only used when you specifically removing the white background so that you can have select images overlap or be closer for Print & Cut jobs.
  10. Save your file (the software does not automatically save; therefore, you have to routinely save).



  1. Select the Text Tool and type a word or phrase that corresponds with the symbol you’ve traced.
  2. In the Text Styles window, you can adjust font style, justification, text size, character spacing, line spacing, and kerning. Experiment with these features to overlap the text.
  3. With the text selected, right-click on the text and select Weld. This will turn the overlapping text into one solid piece to be cut.
  4. Resave your file (the software does not automatically save; therefore, you have to routinely save).



  1. Click on the Cut Settings tool.
  2. In the Cut Settings window you can choose a variety of options, including Cut Style for Selected Shape (solid cut line or perforation), Material Type (ranging from fabric, paper, to vinyl sticker). Double-click on “Cardstock” from the materials list to select it as your choice.
  3. Scroll down the Cut Settings window to see the technical details of the Cardstock setting, which include what level to set the ratchet blade at (Level 1, 2, or 3) and the default settings for cutting speed, thickness of material, and advanced features.
  4. Connect the Silhouette Cameo cutting machine to the computer and check that the ratchet blade is set to the appropriate blade level. You can take the blade out and twist the bottom to point to the appropriate blade level then replace it into the machine by locking it in place.
  5. Check the Cutting Mat to ensure that it has the appropriate cardstock material securely in place. Place the cutting mat into the machine by aligning the edges of the mat under the rolling wheels. Alignment is important because the grid on the cutting mat corresponds with the grid in the software.
  6. Once you’ve checked the machine and cutting mat, go back to Silhouette Studio and select the Send to Silhouette tool. Click Start to send the digital design to the machine.


  • Consider welding the symbol and text together to create one solid piece.
  • Use the shape tools and weld feature to add interlocking embellishments to the design.
  • Use the shape tools to subtract from the design (Modify > Subtract).


  • Use the kirigami design as a stencil. Use non-aerosol fabric paint to stencil the design onto a t-shirt or use paint to stencil the design onto cardboard. Experiment with vellum as a reusable stencil.
  • Curve the kirigami design and tape the end to create a luminaria tea light holder.
  • Transform the kirigami into a mask and experiment with thin craft foam.
  • Write a persuasive narrative about why you chose the symbol and help others’ understand what it means to you.