Glass vs Self Heal

What should you be using as a mat for your paper cut art?

Like many paper cutters I started on a self heal mat. I used the one my husband had on his desk, many of the starter kits come with self heal mats and I do believe these are probably the best option for new cutters.

Though now I mostly I cut on glass, after my brief stint on the self heal and feeling like I wasn’t really getting anywhere I grabbed the glass chopping board out of the kitchen, gave it a clean and had a go with that. Personally I found it a lot easier. I have yet to break a blade on the glass and I can certainly cope with the blades blunting slightly faster in favour of the beautiful curves it gives me. It wasn’t long before I traded up the kitchen chopping board for a huge A3 glass mat from Tonic Studios, a few months later I also picked up a bargain 13″x13″ x-cut glass mat.
However I do still have a little self heal mat, for when I want to use a swivel blade rather than a fixed one. I don’t use it that often but if I put the swivel blade on the glass mat it’s like dancing on ice, the blade goes everywhere but where I want it to.

Weighing up the pros and cons of both types seemed a good idea;

Pros and Cons

Self Heal

Pros

Cheap
Good to learn on
Easily replaced
Up to A0 size
Better for straight lines

Cons

Blades dig into the mat
Slower to cut
Paper harder to move
Shorter lifespan

Glass

Pros

Paper easy to move
Better for curves
Longer lasting
More stable surface

Cons

Larger Outlay
Blades blunt faster
Blades may snap easier
Limited sizes
Can loose control easier

Cheaper Alternatives

There is no doubt that glass mats can get expensive and if you are looking to just have a go with one to see if you like it then it’s a large outlay. A smooth glass worktop saver is a cheap way to try out a glass cutting surface.

Conclusion

As you can see from the pros and cons there is possibly no right or wrong answer to the debate between self heal or glass as a cutting surface, while I enjoy better results from a glass and find they last longer than self heal so justify their cost there are many papercut artists out there that will swear by the self heal.

I would still recommend beginning with a self heal mat, even if it is to just get used to the actions involved in paper cutting.

While you can’t get the huge mats in glass like you can with self heal, it is probably rare that you would use anything larger than A3 anyway, unless you have the space and plan to cut large pieces.

If you are concerned about a glass mat being fragile, mine have held up to transportation and toddlers, I think they are robust enough to handle most things.

What do you find best and which quality makes that the cutting mat for you?

Types of Blades

If you are cutting with a scalpel then there are a few blade shapes you can choose from. For this article I will only be covering the main five blade styles that are most commonly used.

11 ACM

The standard art, craft and model blade if you buy a craft knife this blade is most likely the one that is in it. They are very sturdy and offer little flexibility but have a rather nice point on the end. They are thicker than the surgical blades below so very small details can end up larger than you intend.
Personally I don’t get on with these as I find them too ridged for the actual cuts but they are fantastic for when you are cutting straight lines for backings or mounts with a ruler as they are the most rigid blade.
These are probably the most expensive of the selection though so not as cost effective if you are cutting lots.

11 Surgical

Probably the most used blade by paper cutters the 11 surgical blade offers flexibility which helps with cutting curves, it’s suitable for larger areas and small details. The downside would be that the point isn’t as steep as on other blades though I have never had an issue with that. The 11 is also the most widely available.
These are the ones I use and I buy them by the 100. Non sterile are cheaper and packaged in in 5’s. Sterile are more expensive but come individually wrapped.

10a Surgical

Not to be confused with the 10 (which has a rounded blade) the 10a is the middle ground between the 11 ACM and 11 Surgical. It has the point of the ACM but does offer flexibility. It wasn’t one I particularly got on with though perhaps because I never got on with the ACM for the main cutting. Due to the shape of the base to the blade it can be slightly more problematic to find a knife that will fit these blades after the flat surgical handles, however the Fiskars soft grip holds these well.

15a Surgical

A nice short, pointy blade. If you are particularly into detail and find a longer blade a but unruly then this is probably the best choice of blade for you. Because of the length it doesn’t have the same flexibility as the other surgical blades but offers a lot of control without the thickness of the ACM blade. These can be slightly harder to source though and as with the 10/10a the 15 is rounded so make sure you are looking at a 15a.

Swivel

This is the blade I use the most after the 11 a swivel blade uses it’s own type of handle (though I have not seen any particular make/model that is different so x-acto, x-cut, fiskars, jakar all use the same blade in their handles.) These are fantastic for curves though I wouldn’t recommend using them on a glass cutting mat as they do have a tendency to run away on those. Using a self heal you can easily cut beautiful curves in one smooth motion rather than with a fixed blade where you have to turn the cut to continue on the curve.

As with anything personal preference, your style of cutting and your style of design will all play a part in the blade you ultimately go for. There are also many other types of blades out there. Rounded blades do also have an advantage in that you are able to rock them over a line so for thicker paper or layers of paper they can be very useful.