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How to Make a Paper Cut Effect in Illustrator
  • By Design Bundles
  • 01 Jul 2021
  • 7 Mins
  • Illustrator Tutorials

How to Make a Paper Cut Effect in Illustrator

In this tutorial we will learn how to make a 3D Paper Cut Effect .
First, we will need a contour shape. You can use any appropriate vector or  image for this purpose. If you decide to go with an image, transform it into a vector using Image Trace or create the shapes from scratch or to trace them yourself.
Image Trace Panel Illustrator
Contour shape base Illustrator

Step 1: Set up your contour shape

Create a New Document and bring in the vector contour shape you want to use.
New Document Illustrator
Add contour shape Illustrator
Fill it with a light color (we used white) and if your image doesn't have a background, use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create one in a contrasting color (we used black).
Change Fill color Illustrator
Rectangle Tool Illustrator
Select both (shapes and background) and use the Shape Builder Tool (Shift + M) while holding the Option/Alt key to punch the Shapes through the Background.
Shape Builder Tool Illustrator
Subtract from shape Illustrator
If there’s multiple shapes, just keep going until you finish them all.
Shape builder tool use Illustrator
Check if there are some vectors that need to be cleaned up and use the Direct Selection Tool (A) to pick them up and Delete them.
Clean up paths Illustrator
Direct Selection tool Illustrator


Step 2: Add your color palette

Is a good idea to set up your color palette just outside your document so you can then color your artwork using the Eyedropper Tool (I).
Add color palette Illustrator
Eyedropper Tool Illustrator

Step 3: Create the layers

Select your contour shape and go to Object > Path > Offset Path. Adjust the settings depending on your shape, in this case we used a 1.5 mm Offset, Round Joins and a Miter Limit of 4. Click on the Preview box so you can check how the settings apply to your shape.
Offset path Illustrator
Offset path settings Illustrator
You should now have two contour shapes, one larger than the other.
To get a better view, enter Outline View (Command/Control + Y) and select the larger contour shape.
Outline View Illustrator
Select path Illustrator
Create another Offset Path with the same settings.
Offset Path Illustrator
Keep going until you think you have enough layers.
Offset path Illustrator
Once you are done, head back to Preview Mode (Command/Control + Y).
Preview Illustrator]

Step 4: Color the layers

Select one of your contour shapes, and using the Eyedropper Tool (I) fill it with one of the colors from your palette. Fill each contour shape with a different color.
Use Eyedropper Illustrator
For the Background, use the Rectangle Tool (M) to create one that covers all your contour shape and fill it with a contrasting color.
Create Rectangle Illustrator
Right-click on top of it and select Arrange > Send to Back.
Send to back Illustrator
You can round the corners of your background shape by clicking on the small circles near each one and pulling down until you get the desired curvature. 
Round corners Illustrator

Step 5: Apply a paper-like texture

Select everything and head to the Appearance Panel (Window > Appearance). Click on the Illustrator Effects button at the bottom-left side of the panel and go to Artistic > Film Grain.
Film grain Illustrator
This will open the Effects Gallery. There, use the following values: Grain 2, Highlight Area 0 and Intensity 10.
Film grain settings Illustrator
You will get a grainy paper-like look on your shapes.
Film Grain result Illustrator

Step 6: Add the shadows

Now, select everything again, head to the Appearance Panel (Window > Appearance). Click on the Illustrator Effects button at the bottom-left side of the panel and go to Stylize > Drop Shadow. Use the following values: Mode Multiply, Opacity 50% and X and Y Offset 2 mm, Blur 1 mm.
Drop shadow Illustrator
Drop shadow settings Illustrator
Drop shadow results Illustrator

Step 7: Remove unwanted portions

To get rid of the portions of the contour shape layers coming out from the edges, look at the measures of the top-most contour shape.
Check measurements Illustrator
Create another square on top of everything (make it transparent - No Fill and Stroke).
Create Rectangle Illustrator
Select it together with all the contour shape layers but leave the text and text border layers out and head to Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Command/Control + 7).
Make clipping mask Illustrator
Clipping mask Illustrator
Paper Cutout Illustrator
You can use other colors, reverse the order of the shapes, etc. to achieve different results.
You can check out our great variety of Illustrator Tutorials, or learn another way of achieving similar results with our other Paper Cut tutorials for Photoshop and Procreate.

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