How Do I... Scrapbooking Basics

How Do I… Trimmer Tricks Part One

Written by Tamara

This week it’s time to focus on one of the most controversial and confusing scrapbooking topics of all time – how to use your paper trimmer!  No, really, this is a hot topic.  Many, many times people come in to the store looking for a new trimmer because they hate their old one, or don’t know how to use it.  Or because they’ve thrown it out the window.  Really, people are passionate about their paper trimmers.

Let’s go over the basics.  There are several different kinds with different features as well as pros and cons.

Guillotine trimmer

Guillotine trimmer

This is your basic guillotine style trimmer.  You lift the handle up, pull it down, and voila, cut paper.  These trimmers are pretty precise as long as you have a good hold on to the paper as you’re lowering the handle… if you let go, it will move and you’ll have a crooked cut.  Pros: They can cut more than one piece of paper at a time, you don’t have to buy replacement blades, they’re fairly sturdy and hard to damage, and as long as you hold the paper in place, they’re very accurate.  Cons: They’re initially a little more expensive than your standard paper trimmer, they’re difficult to carry if you like to travel with your trimmer, and it’s hard to cut small pieces with them.  There’s also no scoring with these guys – just a solid cutting tool.  These are a love ’em or leave ’em kind of trimmer… people either love them and swear by them, or they use them once and never use them again.  I personally am not a fan of these for everyday use, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be.

Rotary Trimmer

Rotary Trimmer


Rotary blades

Rotary Trimmer

The next style of trimmer is a rotary trimmer – these trimmers use a strong track with a circular blade attached that you pull towards you and cut your paper like a pizza…  this will be familiar to you if you like pizza or quilting.  It’s the same principle.  Here’s a close up of the blades:


Rotary Trimmer Blades

Pros for rotary trimmers – they are very accurate and the replacement blade last a fairly long time compared to a standard paper trimmer.  They’re also pretty sturdy and can cut slightly smaller pieces than the guillotine style trimmers.  Some of them also come with blades that cut in patterns – like waves or scallops.  That’s a pretty cool feature that no other trimmer can claim.  They do also have blades for scoring and perforating, which is nice if you’re not comfortable with paper folding or your making complicated folds.  Cons – They again are usually a little more expensive, it’s hard to see where you’re cutting sometimes, they’re bigger and bulkier and slower to use than the standard style paper trimmer.  At least for me – I’ve tried several versions of these and I always end up going back to a standard trimmer.  Maybe that’s just what I’m comfortable with.  The blades in these trimmers are also slightly more complicated to change than with a standard trimmer, although that’s only important if you like to be speedy.

So this is what I’m referring to when I say “standard” trimmer…


Fiskars Triple Track Trimmer

This trimmer works by pulling a stationary blade straight through your paper.  The little orange square is the blade… it’s sharpened on both sides so as it gets dull you can flip it around.  There clear “track” that the blade rests on has a little divot on one side that makes changing blades quick and easy… you literally pop the old one out and pop a new one in.  Cons – These trimmers are not the most accurate in the world… the tracks wear down over time and spread apart as you pull, causing a little blade wobbliness.  However, for me, the rest of the features make up for the very slight wobble you experience.  You do have to change the blades on these trimmers much more frequently than the rotary style… think of the difference between keeping a pizza cutter sharp versus a paring knife.  You still have the sharpen the pizza cutter every once in a while, but not nearly as often as you do a paring knife.  It’s kind of like that.  Pros for this trimmer – they’re inexpensive, they’re light weight, and they’re quick and easy to use.  1.. 2.. 3 and you’re done.. this works for me.  Fiskars has attempted to solve the blade wobble problem by inventing the triple track system:

Triple track blade

Triple track blade

See how the little feet on the outside edges of the blade fit into grooves in the track?  They’re supposed to eliminate the wobble, but I’ve noticed that over time the track eventually wears down and the wobble comes back.  However, we’re talking about a sixteenth of an inch generally… so it’s almost unnoticeable by most people and in most projects.  So, it’s a great, inexpensive trimmer to get if you want to work quickly or you go to a lot of classes, as it’s much easier to tote and use in small spaces than the other trimmer styles.

Once you decide on the style of trimmer you want, you still have to figure out how to use it.  So, let’s go over some basic guidelines and then we’ll have a tutorial on measuring while we create a cute card.  First of all, lets take another look at the triple track trimmer:

Getting to know your trimmer

Getting to know your trimmer

Sorry – I tried to show some detail but the tags are smaller than I thought they’d be.  You can see it better if you click on it.

Things to note: first, this is the way I always use my trimmer – most people think it’s upside down because the numbers are upside down.  However, if you think about it you’ll realize all is right with the world… first, the numbers ascend correctly.  That is, zero is still on the left and the numbers get higher as you move to the right, just like on a number line.  When you turn the trimmer the opposite way, so that the numbers are right side up, the zero ends up on the right and the numbers ascend to the left, which is just odd.

Now, there are other actual functional reasons I keep my trimmer turned like this.  First, now your measuring guide is closer to you, which just makes it easier to see.  Second, pulling is easier and more accurate than pushing.  You are usually more stable and able to control the trimmer when you are pulling the blade towards you rather than when you are pushing the blade away, which would mean you would have to clamp down tightly on the trimmer so it doesn’t slide away from you.  See that clear little ledge right below the 1″ and 2″ mark?  That functions as a T square; that is, when you place your paper in the trimmer and you pull it flush against that ledge, you know your paper is straight in the trimmer.  So, I always push the blade up the track so its furthest from me, place my paper in the trimmer at the proper measurement and flush with the little clear ledge and then pull the blade towards me, making a quick, straight cut.

A lot of people are confused by the simple act of measuring.  This is nothing to be ashamed of as, I mean this when I say it – this confuses a lot of people.  I’m going to break it down here, but an afternoon of practicing with rulers and fractions never hurt anybody and will make your life much simpler in the future if this is an area of confusion for you.  Please don’t think you are not capable of figuring this out, because you are.  It just takes a little patience and a little practice.

First, you’ll notice I circled the area in the center of the track – this is where your cut is happening.  Thus, this is ground “0” – your measurements start from here.

As you look from the 0 to the right, you’ll see some numbers.  Again, don’t worry about the fact that they’re upside down.  That’s just aesthetics.  They are in absolutely the correct order and you should treat them as such.

Let’s do a little fraction review.  When you have a “whole” something, you have 1, correct?  Let pretend we’re cutting a pizza, since we’ve already talked about pizza and it’s an easy fraction analogy.  And, I’m starting to think I want some pizza.  But that’s for another time.  OK, so you take your pizza out of the oven and before you make any cuts it’s completely whole, so it’s one. So, going back to our trimmer, from the 0 in the center of the track to the 1 is 1 inch.  Got it?  Good…

Whole Pizza... mmmmm

Whole Pizza… mmmmm


Now, let’s say we want to share our pizza with a friend.  I’m not sure why we would do this, but hey, sharing is caring, right?  Now, we take our cutter and cut right down the middle of our pizza.  Now we have two pieces, and each piece is one half of the original pizza.  (I know your eyes just glazed over, and probably not because I’m talking about pizza, but just hang in there… this is easier than you think!)

One-half of a pizza

One-half of a pizza

Not surprisingly, if you cut an inch in half, you also get two halves.  Funny how math works like that.  SO, if you go back to our trimmer, you’ll note that the lines directly on a number and the lines that exactly divide those numbers – the half marks – are a little darker than the other lines on the trimmer.  So, if you know you need to cut something 1 1/2″, you look first at the one, then move to the right another 1/2″ to the dark line and there you have it… 1 and 1/2″.  Follow?  You should be able to find it on the picture above because I put a little tag on the 1 1/2″ line.  It works the same as you move down the ruler – so, take a minute now and see if you can find all the halves in the trimmer picture above – you should be able to find 2 1/2, 3 1/2, 4 1/2 and 5 1/2… the picture cuts off before you get to 6 1/2.

OK, so that’s halves.  Now, much of card making and scrapbooking relies on the next measurement – the quarter inch.  Don’t go away yet… you can do this!  A quarter inch is just like a quarter of a pizza or a quarter in money – it is 1/4 of a whole.  So, a pizza cut in quarters would have 4 total pieces.  It takes four quarters to make a dollar.  And, it takes four quarter inches to make an inch.  Look backup at the trimmer – you’ll see there are lines on all the quarter inch marks as well.  In fact, if you start at the 1″ mark and count the number of long lines on the base of the trimmer until you get to 2 inches, you’ll see that there are…. yes, 4 of them (don’t count the line on the 1″ mark).  So, if you need to cut something 1 1/4″, you start from your 0, move to the right 1 full inch, and then one of the quarter inch marks.  I have marked this on the picture.

Now, if you think about math a little, you’ll see the long lines go 1″, 1 1/4″, 1 2/4″, 1 3/4″ and 2″.  But, in math we’re always simplifying things, right?  So, instead of saying 1 2/4″, we’d say 1 1/2″.  So, look at it again, and you’ll see 1″, 1 1/4″, 1 1/2″, 1 3/4″, and 2″.  It’s not that hard, right?

Do you know what the smaller marks on the ruler are – the ones that don’t have full lines but just tiny tick marks?  Think about the pizza again – if you had cut your pizza into four slices it would be yummy, but hard to eat.  Most pizzas are cut into… eighths!  So, if you cut each slice in half, you’d have eight slices.  On the ruler, if you cut 1/4 in half, you get 1/8″.  This is another useful measurement to know, as a lot of margins in scrapbooking and card making are measured by the eighth inch.

Now, lets say you have to feed a soccer team, but you still only have one pizza.  You need more than eight slices, so what do you do?  You cut the slices in half again… making 16.  So, each 1/8 mark is divided again into 16th marks.  When you look at the trimmer, the eighth marks are slightly longer and darker than the 16th marks, so you should be able to see them easily if you know what you’re looking for, but if you don’t, just count the marks between the inches.  There are 8 eighth marks between inches, and 16 16th marks.  Make sense?

I found some kid’s ruler quiz on the internet which breaks it down pretty good – study this and practice on your own ruler and you’ll be a pro in no time!



I’m thinking this is probably enough for our bruised little brains today, so next week tune back in and I’m going to demonstrate how to use your trimmer while creating this super cute card:

Gorjuss Little Things Card Sample

Ooohhh – look at all the lovely cutting!  If you’re wanting to look for the products used to make this card, ask Michelle about the Gorjuss Little Things Sweet Tea stamp set and Authentique’s Infused Collection – I used the 6×6 pad and the Infused Elements stickers.  See you next week!



  • Just wanted to let you and Michelle know that I love the info you are putting out. Not know how to use your paper trimmer seems to be a common problem that no one wants to admit to! So let me say it loudly…..I DONT KNOW WHAT THE HELL I AM DOUNG TO HEN IM USING THE PAPER CUTTERS! Sometimes I get lucky but often I chose another project so I can avoid having to figure out that g&/!?@-$’ machine!

Let's hear from you . . .