diy project: custom paper silhouettes

today’s final diy project comes from stu and janet at three potato four. we got a sneak peek into their reston, virginia home last month and several of you asked about the beautiful silhouettes by their staircase. when i spoke with stu and janet they kindly offered to share their instructions for creating your own custom diy paper silhouettes. this would be a wonderful project for the weekend, or a fun way to create an easy customized birthday gift or housewarming present. i wonder if i can make these for my cats…click here for the full instructions or just click “read more” below. [thanks to stu and janet for sharing!]

Custom Paper Silhouettes

What you’ll need:

– Good side profile photo
– Scissors or Xacto Knife
– Tracing Paper
– Glue Stick or Spray Mount
– Stapler
– Black Acid-Free Cardstock Paper
– Plain or Patterned Paper for Mounting
– Frame of Your Choice

What to do:

1. First you will need to start with a good side profile of the person. Make sure there is some contrast with the background so you can get the details of their profile and catch some detail in their hair. Print out the photo in the desired size you would like the end silhouette to be.

2. Next, placing your tracing paper over the photo, carefully trace around the profile of your person. It’s good to incorporate any cowlicks or wisps of hair in bangs or ponytails. These little details make the silhouette more unique and interesting. Don’t worry, sometimes it takes a couple rounds of tracing the face to get just the right one.

3. When you are happy with your tracing, staple the tracing paper to you black acid-free paper. Staple around the traced silhouette. This keeps it in place as you cut your silhouette out.

4. Carefully and slowly cut your silhouette out, using either a good pair of scissors or an Xacto knife (whichever you are more comfortable with using). The tracing paper should be stapled securely to your black acid free paper, but just make sure you are cutting through both as you go.

5. Then take your finished black paper silhouette and mount it to the paper of your choice. I used a patterned paper but you can mount it on plain white background or even use a fun floating frame like shown in the photo above. Use glue stick or spray mount to secure your silhouette.

6. Place in your frame of choice and enjoy! These make great gifts and are a great personal memento for any home.

  1. Amy says:

    That is such a fantastic idea, and would make a really awesome Mothers’ Day present! Great post!

  2. stacy says:

    So cute! Funny that you mentioned your cats. I made similar silhouette portraits of my lab and corgi.

  3. Tommy says:

    I remember making these as a part of an art class in elementary school (circa 1978). I know a few ladies for whom this would be a perfect Mother’s Day gift for. Thanks!

  4. Sara says:

    Yes! Thank you so much for sharing this. Those silhouettes on the staircase were one of the first things I noticed in the sneek peek. I just love the way it looks with the three all lined up in that one frame. I am definitely trying this one out.

  5. Barb says:

    What a cute idea! I loved it so much that I wrote about it on my blog today!

  6. jessica says:

    I made my own version last year- they look great when raised off of decorative papers in the IKEA riba frames

  7. Deb says:

    Thanks for sharing!!

  8. Katie says:

    Have you seen the photo in Jonathan Adler’s book or on his website with his, his dog’s, and his partner Simon’s silhouettes?

    I love them! Thanks for the great idea.

  9. Smruti Sarangi says:

    nice blog dude.

  10. Melissa says:

    Thanks so much for these instructions – which seem easy enough for someone like me – a better admirer than creator of art. I can’t wait to make them for gifts!

  11. I am so glad you posted about this Grace. I always love silhouettes, however they are always black and white! I love adding the color in the background.

    This is a must do!

  12. Allison says:

    So cute! I think maybe I’ll try one of my friend’s pregnant silhouette- great for an expectant mom’s Mother’s Day.

  13. Amy says:

    Love it! I especially like how it looks on the printed background.

  14. sophia says:

    I saw this amazing poster print and few cards as well..they’re gorgeous and great for kids. thought you might be interested.

  15. Tizzalicious says:

    That’s fantastic! Thanks so much!

  16. Tamie Snow says:

    This is wonderful!!!!

  17. peata says:

    this is sooo cute. it instantly reminded me of when i was a small girl and i had a necklace with a silhouette of a boy and a girl with a pony tail just like this. memories…. -all about the mini album
    my blog – Crazy bout mini albums :)

  18. Cate says:

    I love the animal silhouettes in the background :-)

  19. tanya says:

    i made one of these too, when i was in elementary school (circa 1998) only we put cut outs of our favorite things in our heads… not very stylish (although i will admit i still have mine, laminated and all, and also a bit incomplete). But i love this idea more, and will probably make one of me and my fiance. how magnificent!

  20. Tina says:

    My son painted a wooden jewelry box for my mom’s birthday. I was going to glue a photo or some beads to the top of the box for decoration. Now I’m going to make a silhouette of my son and glue it to the box. Great idea-thank you!

  21. Robyn says:

    Just what I was looking for! I have a church group of 8 to 12 year-0ld girls and we are having a Mother/Daughter tea party. We needed a great Mother’s Day Gift that the girls could make and THIS IS IT! Thanx!

  22. Deb says:

    I tried this project, but did it w/ a twist. I did a one using a young Audrey Hepburn’s profile and one of my dog! SO COOL looking, thanks for DIY…LOVE THIS SECTION!!

  23. Jenny says:

    I did these this week – one of my son and one of my boyfriend’s daughter.

    They were so easy – it took about 25 minutes each at most. I have started smaller ones for mother’s day gifts and found them more difficult and having to re-cut to get the profiles just right.

  24. marlene says:

    my ‘what am i going to make for mother’s day’ question has been answered… thanks!!!

  25. Rebecca says:

    Fathers Day 2008! The perfect gift for the man that loves his kids and hates it when I spend money! I am thrilled with how they turned out!

  26. Nan says:

    it’s very cute, i’ll make it for my boyfriend. Thaks for ur idea

  27. I LOVE this! I can remember sitting in my preschool class getting this done. Thanks so much for posting this!

  28. caitlin says:

    thanks so much for putting this up, i have been thinking how much id love a silohuette of my kids , but figured no one does that now days, so i am rapt and cant wait to start

  29. Sara says:

    I have been wondering how to do this and this is a great tutorial! Thanks!

  30. Jennifer says:

    What a wonderful project! Thanks for sharing. I will have to try this.

  31. Bronte says:

    I like to make silhouettes for MD gifts. However, I have to use actual shadows and would like a way of making them smaller. Any ideas welcome.

  32. emily says:

    we made these for mother’s day with our own variation. we cut out the actual photo and spray painted it black. turned out great! just another suggestion… less supplies…

  33. Kathy says:

    I just found this article in Real Simple, May 2009. I have always loved silhouettes since my first one was made when I was in Kindergarten. I still have it 49 years later. I would like to share two ideas. I am a 30 year first grade teacher. My favorite mother’s day gift is a silhoutte project I help my first graders make. I take each of the kids pictures with an instant polaroid camera. The child’s face is on one side of the picture and the back of the instant picture is naturally black. I use a small pair of cuticle scissors to cut around the face. When you’re done cutting, turn the picture over and miraculously you have an instant silhouette to use as you like. The second idea I’ve used for silhouettes is when celebrating the President’s during the month of February, you always see Washington and Lincoln in black silhouette. My whole school made life size head silhouettes of every student in our school and hung them over their locker. It looked so cool. We had fun guessing who was who and had them hanging during conferences when parents were there. It was one awesome sight!

  34. Destinee says:

    so cute! im going to make this for my mother for xmas!

  35. Angie says:

    I did these for mothers day last year for grandma’s. The only differance is that I just cut out the photo and then i let my son paint black over top of it… he felt special getting to help make a big portion of it. He was also was just learning to write his name, so I let him write it below the silh on the white to make a really cool affect.

  36. Stacey says:

    I saw the link for this site at Rock’s in my Dryer… and so now this is my project for the weekend!
    Thanks so much for all the detailed instructions!

  37. Erin says:

    Thank you so much for this tutorial, I used it to make Mother’s Day gifts and linked to you!

  38. These turned out great! I love your colored backgruond paper. I simplified mine a little bit to eliminate the tracing paper step, then made the silhouette in white for a twist on the traditional. See the quick and easy tutorial at:


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