How to make a cardboard cut-out

There is a moment in all our lives when all you desire is a crude life size cardboard cut-out of someone special. This might of an absent loved one, an arch-enemy or of Rick Witter from Shed Seven. For the purposes of this demonstration I’ve decided to make a replica of Richard Brodie, a non-League footballer of some repute who shares my rosy cheeks but is far better at scoring goals and being really happy about it.

First up, find an appropriate photograph of your subject. Have them looking straight at the camera. Then eliminate all background detail, closely following the body.

This can be done by begging a favour from your arty friend who has a pirated copy of Photoshop and knows how to use the ‘Magic Wand’ tool. Alternatively, struggle with MS Paint for three hours using the ‘eraser’ to eliminate the background pixel by pixel before accidentally swamping the screen with the black paint pot and saving it as a bitmap file.

Step two: Extract the edited image in a super-duper high res format (photo compression was invented to ruin the plans of the aspiring cut-out creator) and download the programme Rasterbator. Allow yourself a quick giggle at the name and feed the photo into the programme.

Step three: Select ‘landscape’ for the paper layout – if you’re doing a person standing up then you probably want the length of two A4 sheets as the width of the person. Click ‘continue’ and enter 2.0 sheets wide on the ‘output size’ screen.

Exactly what Charles Babbage had in mind

Step four: Click continue again and choose the options to generate a PDF file. Ensure that the box showing crop lines is ticked (you’ll want them later), reduce the dot size to the stupidly small 2mm and choose ‘multi colour’. This is not really what Rasterbator is designed to do – its original purpose was to blow up photos to very large sizes utilising black and white dots that at a distance appear as a single image. Here we’re attempting to make a relatively small colour printout that looks really detailed even under close examination – Rasterbator is useful in that it increases the size without pixellation. Click continue and make a cup of tea as your laptop processor struggles to deal with the enormous task you’re asking it do. After a while a PDF will be spewed out. Check it, ensure that it looks detailed enough and that it’s about the right size and then go find a printer.

Brodie in pieces

Step five: Don’t even consider trying this with an inkjet. And I wouldn’t bother using your own laser printer since this sort of project is bad in so many ways – you need very high quality technology, it’ll probably break your machine, and it uses up ink faster that a very irate octopus. The perfect situation is to be a student at a university/college with an ample supply of subsidised printing or work in the photocopying department of a local government office. Given that you’ll be printing about twenty pages it’s probably not worth doing if you’re paying more than 20p a page. If you can find somewhere appropriate then do a test printing of the first page and then if that’s fine then print the rest of the person out. You’ll have some thin borders so you’ll need to carefully guillotine along the crop lines – do it badly and you’ll leave gaps, take off a few too many millimetres and the whole thing will be askew.

Step six: Find an appropriately tough cardboard box. Try going around to the poshest shops at closing time and pick up the largest container you can find with the thickest possible sides. Shoe shops are great, especially upmarket ones. I did Russell & Bromley’s recycling for them, opened it up and cut off the flaps. Remember to check it’s big enough to contain your man – lay it out to check. Buy some standard P.V.A. glue and stick the printout to the cardboard page by page. As you learnt in art class at primary school, remember to spread the glue everywhere but thinly to avoid it bubbling up.

Step seven: Let the glue dry. Stand back and be slightly shocked / appalled / pleased with what you’ve achieved. Then use a Stanley Knife to cut out your man. Start with an inch thick border and then cut it closer if you prefer. There will be some weaknesses in the cardboard where the corners were – strengthen them by using the cut-off flaps to double up the thickness. Attach them to the back using duct tape. Again, wonder why you’re doing this.

Step eight: You’ve done it. You’ve now got a life size cardboard cut-out of your subject. Including printing costs, glue and a knife it’s probably cost under a tenner. But what the hell do you do with it? In this case you realise that you’ve committed yourself to taking this out in public, confronting the fact that you’ve JUST MADE A CARDBOARD CUT-OUT OF A LANKY NON-LEAGUE FOOTBALLER and that you have to take it to the FA Trophy final without making it look as though you’re some sort of culturally challenged wrestling fan who accidentally wandered into the wrong sporting event. Oh. Damn.

What have I done to deserve this?

Step nine: Carry the cut-out on public transport through the metropolis, get admiring glances, let people take photos with it at the pub, take it into Wembley stadium and watch the real footballer miss chances to score in a dour match. Realise that everyone prefers a cardboard cut-out replica to the real thing. Consider whether that is a truly philosophical point. Give cut-out away to someone who actually wants it.

No need to get a special Oyster card

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