I have some paper that I need to cut down to size but do not have any scissors (not that I am very good at cutting in straight lines with scissors anyway...).

I was wondering if anyone had any good methods of cutting / ripping paper that would leave it with straight and smooth edges?

Obviously I have tried the simple fold and rip method, but it always starts to veer off track as soon as it gets to the important part of the document in question Any new methods or more advanced methods that people know?

  • 26
    "new methods" - you could say you're looking for the ... cutting edge techniques? I'll be here all week
    – corsiKa
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 18:22
  • I know that it is not a life hack but from my experience, scalpel is by far the best tool Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 14:49
  • When I'm at work and I need to write a note, but can only find larger sheets, I'll crease it, start a small, straight tare down the crease, then pull the two halves away from each other really fast. 99% of the time it will give you a fairly clean cut down the crease (dependent of course on the type of paper and how well you creased it). Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 1:49
  • May I ask why you put a bounty on this? I think all possible methods have been mentioned. What is missing? Or could you clarify your question?
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 12:32
  • 1
    @Alex I just like to make things more exciting for people answering / people who have answered!
    – MrPhooky
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 12:34

10 Answers 10


The fold-and-rip method works or doesn't work based on the type of paper you are working with. Paper that is made on rolls (most office paper, newsprint, paper towel, etc) has a 'grain'. The pulp fibers all align in a certain direction (typically with office paper, the long direction).

It's quite easy to fold-and-tear this type of paper along this axis. It's rather difficult along the other axis.

Some ways to make this easier:

  • Do a double fold (fold one way, then the other, to try and break the fibers along the fold)
  • Once folded, find a solid straight edge to lay on one side of the fold, and then tear the other side in an upward motion along the straight edge
  • Prior to tearing, moisten the fold to help loosen the fibers.

At the end of the day, though, you'll still find that you can't do this successfully 100% of the time. The paper's grain just makes that difficult.

The other way to make paper is via matts/screens. In this scenario, there is no grain as the pulp fibers align themselves all in random directions. Paper made on matts tends to be artist's papers such as watercolor paper, thick cotton rag, printmaking paper, etc.

These papers are actually incredibly easy to tear along a straight line with just a straight edge. No need for fold at all.

Other ways to cut paper if you have a good straight edge to use:

  • run a knife along the straight edge
  • run a 'roller cutter' along the straight edge (typically used to cut fabric)
  • open up your scissors and use one side as a knife blade along the straight edge.
  • 3
    The "You can't do this successfully 100% of the time" can be easily solved. Place the paper on a hard surface. Lay a rule along the fold, put pressure on the rule and then rip the paper up and towards the rule (ie your hand moves across the rule and down). I'm pretty sure I've had a 100% success rate with this method. The rule solves the "varying grain direction" issue nicely
    – Jon Story
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 23:51
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    @JonStory you must have excellent technique! :)
    – DA.
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 23:59
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    I'm clumsy and uncoordinated! But this really does work. The only time I've had an issue, thinking about it, is with very cheap/thin paper, which sort of "pulls" apart under the rule.
    – Jon Story
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 0:02
  • 3
    For me it helps if I use a finger nail, or something else which is hard and flat, to push down on the fold, before trying to rip it. This weakens the paper quite a lot.
    – holroy
    Commented Mar 16, 2015 at 13:39
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    @JasonC My impression of 'life hacks' are that they are mostly common how-to skills. ;)
    – DA.
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 14:57

Disclaimer: Most of the answers/techniques I have seen here so far actually only work on flat surfaces. Except licking the crease method (provided you can perform a straight fold mid-air) works mid-air. I use this almost daily, but forgot to mention it, because it's became a routine to me

I can just add some tips to the fold and rip method you already know:

Thanks to agweber for pointing out: By fold I always mean to tighten the crease, by running the edge between your pointer finger and thumbnail or (on flat surfaces) running your thumbnail over the crease, after defining the crease.

  1. fold the paper at the desired spot multiple times in both directions (at least 3 times each [depending on thickness of paper]; you will get the feel of it)
  2. unfold it and start pulling on both sides of the crease(the crease will start to bend up, picture below) in a slightly downways direction (left: SW, right: SE)

You still can't rip a whole piece of paper without rearranging your hands when ripping, but I feel like you can separate a bigger section, before it starts to veer.

enter image description here(don't mind the arrows)

Try this with an unimportant piece of paper and you will feel when you need to move your hands down to start ripping the next section.

Fold, lick and rip

As mentioned above, this is the only method that works mid-air. Downside of this is, that you don't get very smooth edges and you may lose some paper in the crease area. For a related explanation you can search for a video explaining how to roll a cigarette/joint backwards. There the sticking out part is not used and the paper is pretty thin but the tearing is very similar.

  1. Fold (at least) once at the desired spot and flatten the crease.
  2. lick the crease (or damp with water) slightly. Be careful not to lick to much / press your tongue to hard. Really just the crease should be wet, not the area next to it.
  3. Before it dries again, unfold it and gently rip the two parts apart. Hold one side with one hand and with the other hand pull the other side away (I prefer pulling it towards me or away from me, not in the direction the paper is). Section for section. You can try doing it on the whole document but keep in mind that (depending on thickness of the paper) the paper is weak and will start to veer easily.
  4. Optional (while edge is still wet): Burn off the grains that stick out of the edge on both parts. Be careful not to burn the paper - you don't have to hold the edge directly into the flame, a distance of 1cm or less is enough. I recommend a lighter on low flame, matchsticks or a candle.
  • 2
    This is how I would do it. You fold one way, then the other. Repeatedly. I have not encountered paper which will not tear in a straight line after doing this enough times. ("enough" is when the paper is too weak along the folded line for it to even think of veering off into a 'no rip' zone) Move your hands up the page as you rip the paper, not as one large rip. Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 22:01
  • 1
    You still can't rip a whole piece of paper without rearranging your hands when ripping - Lay it flat on the table, one hand on each side, and slide them apart (angled so that it rips from top to bottom). Usually requires a starting rip at the top along the fold, but has always worked for me
    – Izkata
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 21:36
  • @Izkata Well, you just have a bigger risk of the paper starting to veer. Maybe I just used this on to big sheets. But you're right, you can easily seperate sections of 20cm+
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 21:54
  • 1
    To add to the repeatedly folding method, after each fold I will tighten the crease by running the edge between my pointer finger and thumbnail with a decent bit of pressure. I find this substantially reduces the number of folds required, as well as making a nicer edge.
    – agweber
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 23:42
  • @agweber indeed, I intended to name that, thanks for reminding me. Though I still fold it three or four times (talking about usual DIN A4 paper here). But you're right! I think it's the only right way to fold.
    – Alex
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 7:17

when you do the fold and rip method, just lay something straight and flat along the crease, like a book or a ruler and then push down on the object to keep the paper secured and then rip pulling the paper over the object. having the object there will keep your tear from veering off track

  • Absolutely this: I've no idea why this isn't the top answer, as it works with all paper types (unlike the top answers)
    – Jon Story
    Commented Feb 11, 2015 at 23:49

The only way to cut paper with clean straight edges is using a cutting ruler and a sharp cutting knife.

enter image description here enter image description here

This will beat all scissors in precision. All tear and cut solutions will inevitably lead to more or less visible paper fibers at the cutting edge, and in addition the foldings process will make the rims always stand up a bit.

But alas, once you don't have a pair of scissors at hand you likely also won't have a cutting ruler or a cutting knife.

This is when our imagination will give us all the hacks needed:

Make something a cutting ruler

Anything with a stiff straight edge may serve as a ruler for this single purpose.

  • Use a board or a latch
  • Take the edge of a plastic box
  • Use a picture frame
  • Find a glass pane
  • Use an old tile
  • Take a thick cardboard
  • Look out for a metal pipe with a square profile
  • take a hardcover book
  • use a CD or DVD case

of course there will be many more items you may find when looking around

Make something your cutting knife

The most important thing a cutting knife needs to have is a sharp, very sharp blade.

  • Razor blades
  • Surgeon's skalpels may even beat a cutting knife in sharpness
  • Steak cutlery when freshly sharpened
  • Some kitchen knifes when newly sharpened may also cut paper
  • Swiss army knifes or other pocket knifes come with blades sharp enough
  • Broken glass may have very sharp ends (but take care to cut the paper, not your fingers!)
  • When in an outdoor survival camp you may even use a sharp-edged rock (flintstones are great) but you may not really need to cut paper there.

How to cut

When cutting the paper it is vital to hold the ruler firm in place. It easily slips especially after we felt we need more pressure from a not too sharp blade. Cut several times the same line with little rather than one time with too much of pressure applied to the blade. Cut on a firm but not hard surface. There are special cutting mats to protect your desk from scratches but you could also use a newspaper or a journal.

Safety note: be very careful when using a cutting ruler. Be constantly aware that the cutting knife wants to jump over the guiding edge of the ruler and attack your hand. This becomes more likely as you decrease the angle between the blade edge and the paper surface, that is, when you "drag" the blade along instead of holding it near vertical.

  • These knives can be very sharp. Keep that in mind when making a cutting ruler - you can easily cut into it. I wouldn't use cardboard or hardcover book. As far as cutting surfaces go, they can be hard, IMHO it is not necessary to use newspapers or cutting mats.
    – blablatros
    Commented Feb 12, 2015 at 22:59
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    @blablatros: good points, thank you. Cutting paper on a hard surface will still work but it rapidly blunts you knife, and the paper to cut may slip out of place more easily. That's why I always put a cutting mat below.
    – Takkat
    Commented Feb 13, 2015 at 7:11
  • Safety note -- be very careful when using a cutting ruler. Be constantly aware that the cutting knife wants to jump over the guiding edge of the ruler and attack your hand. This becomes more likely as you decrease the angle between the blade edge and the paper surface, that is, when you "drag" the blade along instead of holding it near vertical. Commented Mar 3, 2016 at 23:48
  • @A.I.Breveleri: of course! Thank you for that. I included this in the answer now.
    – Takkat
    Commented Mar 4, 2016 at 7:35

Fold and then run your finger along the edge to totally flatten it out and then use a kitchen knife (ideally), just the same as a letter opener. Keep the paper taught to avoid slipping or ripping. Nice clean cut

You can also use a ruler to do the same thing put the paper on a flat surface, fold it over and then slider the ruler in. Keep it taught as above and there you go!


Wet wool. Honestly. Wet a length of wool or yarn or string, you get the idea; and run your fingers across it to whip away extra moisture: you want it wet but not dripping. Lay it on the paper where you want the cut (the wool is the line you'd cut along with scissors), and put a bit of force on it (pulling down with the loose ends or fold the paper over so the wool is in the crease). The paper will be weakened enough to just (slowly, to be safe) pull the sheet free from the rest of the paper.

This works on paper, card (but not cardboard), so it should be good for a huge amount of purposes (including, for what its worth, taking a page neatly out of a notebook or even a book like a novel)


You can use something pointy, like a needle or a thumbtack. Make sure to use at an angle.

Otherwise when doing the fold and rip method licking the crease (when folded) helps the rip not to veer off course.


Lay a ruler along the piece of paper where you want the straight line. Press down VERY firmly on the ruler with one hand, and sharply pull up the other side in short sharp motions, keeping the tension about the line of the ruler.


You can use thread or string or copper wire or any thin wire.

first fold the paper and then place the thread between folded paper, fix the one end of thread and pull the other end smoothly will cut the paper.

I use to teach this method to small kids to cut paper straightly without getting ingured by knife or scissors.


Rajnikant Sharma

  • Tried this method, but leads to raw edges not smooth one :(
    – UiUx
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 12:54
  • For smoothness, fold and press the paper and use thin wire or string. all you need is practice... Commented Jun 15, 2015 at 14:47

I'm astonished that the tools of a graphic artist/designer weren't mentioned.

There are two basic paper-cutting tools used day-to-day for two different reasons:

1. For curves, use a pair of scissors. They're terrible for cutting straight well.


2. For straight lines, use a single-edge razor blade


Keep a package of band-aids nearby

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