Paper Cut Ketubah vs. Laser Cut ketubah

Laser Cutting Machine


Laser Cutting Machine
A lasercutting machine in an industrial setting. Photo courtesy of S. Zillayali
Cutting By Hand
Handmade papercuts are the result of careful work by the artist.

Laser Cut Ketubah vs. Paper Cut Ketubahs

Is There A Difference?

Ketubahs made of cut paper are very beautiful and it’s no wonder that they’re very popular choices for couples. You have no doubt seen them described as either “papercut ketubahs” or  “lasercut ketubahs”. In the photos they look like the same thing, but is there actually a difference?

The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, but there is definitely a difference. The word “papercut” simply means exactly what it says, so it could refer to handmade papercut art or to lasercuts, which are technically papercuts as well. For the sake of simplicity, however, I take papercut to refer to hand cut art. “Lasercut”, on the other hand has no ambiguity about it. It is a paper cut with a computer controlled laser beam. It is an industrial manufacturing process.

To put it simply, the main difference between a papercut and a lasercut is that one is made by the artist’s hand and the other is made in a factory.

Is One Better Than the Other?

This is a very loaded question. I won’t delve into the metaphysics of intrinsic quality, although this is a very well explored philosophical debate. It is the difference between handcrafted and mass manufactured. And whether or not one is better than the other is a question you need to ask yourself.

From across the room a handmade papercut and a laser cut ketubah will look very similar. Get up close and the story changes. There are definitely some notable differences when you place the two side by side.

Lasercuts are machine made and they take no time to crank out of a laser cutting machine. Mass manufacturing theoretically drives costs down, although nowadays many ketubah artists are charging the same prices for their mass manufactured laser cuts as other artists are charging for handmade art. One of the main draws of laser cuts is that because a they are made with a very precise machine, it allows for the designs to be exceptionally intricate. There are drawbacks, though. The most obvious drawbacks have to do with the manufacturing process itself.

In order to cut, lasers have to focus on a specific point (using precise lenses). The focus point is very shallow, and this predicates the thickness of the material that can be used. The thicker the material, the longer the laser has to stay focused on one point in order to burn through all the way. Logically, the longer the laser stays in one place, the hotter it gets, and there’s a better chance of the material lifting on fire. The stop and go nature of the lasercutting process also sometimes lends it a jagged or “pixelated” stairstep look. From up close, it is obvious that it was made by a machine.

Lasercutting factories have to take these factors into account, so in order to minimize burning they have to make use of thin paper of  inferior quality that might not stand the test of time. Others will opt for a trade-off, using thicker paper but accepting that burns are inevitable. In either case, the burning problem can never be eliminated. If you take a look at the edges of a laser cut piece, you will always find telltale scorch marks (for an explanation of why this happens, click here). These are literally burns from where the paper lit on fire or where ash fumes left permanent deposits on the surface. The marks are brown or black and can be quite unsightly, especially on white paper. Turn the paper over and you will see that the back is always covered in such burns. It is in the nature of the manufacturing process and cannot be avoided — only controlled somewhat (and to be fair, there are ways of minimizing the burns). That said, lasercutting does have its place. It can be cheaper to buy than original artwork and when made by a reputable manufacturer can look quite decent.

Handmade papercuts, on the other hand have a lot more pros than cons. They are carefully made by the artist’s hand, which has to be as steady as a surgeon’s. The amount of work and care that goes into a hand cut ketubah ensures that it is perfect. Since mistakes cannot be fixed, a successfully completed papercut is a testament to the artist’s skill and experience. Additionally, the paper always remains pristine and white from any angle. The materials used are always superior. An artist isn’t limited by the manufacturing process or what types of paper a machine can or cannot take. Thus an artist can select the very best materials to ensure top quality.

Of course for one of a kind commissioned works there is no substitute for a handmade papercut ketubah made by the artist. Not only does a custom made design deserve the very best materials and care, but it would be impossible for a mass manufacturer to provide the same type of personalized attention that you can get when dealing directly with the artist.

The ketubahs I sell in my online shop are always made by me in my studio, using a blade as per ancient tradition. That said, you will find some of my designs on a major manufacturer’s website. They have an exclusive license to produce and sell some of my designs. There is no overlap between us at all.  They don’t reproduce the ketubahs I sell in my shop and I don’t sell the ketubahs I design for them. These licensed ketubahs are completely managed by the distrubutors. The designs are mine, but the production is completely out of my hands.

In the end, the consideration of which is better or worse is very much dependent on the buyer’s priorities. Each production method has its place. For considerations where price is a deciding factor lasercutting is great, as it provides an affordable way to buy reproductions of an artist’s work. But if you’re looking for premium quality, the best materials, and an artist’s individual touch you should always order direct from the artist — you will get an original work of art you can be proud to own.