DIY Life-Sized Cardboard Cutout




Introduction: DIY Life-Sized Cardboard Cutout

About: My name is Randy and I am a Community Manager in these here parts. In a previous life I had founded and run the Instructables Design Studio (RIP) @ Autodesk's Pier 9 Technology Center. I'm also the author of t…

A personal life sized cardboard cutout may seem like a fantasy, but you too can easily make one at home. Cardboard cutouts come in handy for all kinds of purposes, including, but not limited to, work meetings, hide-and-go-seek, and family gatherings. Simply place your cardboard cutout where you are supposed to be and walk away. Most people won't even notice the difference.

Step 1: Take Some Pictures

You want to photograph the subject on the cleanest possible white background. It also advisable to avoid harsh lighting and shadows.

To accomplish this I used a seamless paper backdrop held aloft by two C-stands. I then photographed the subject using two wireless photo strobes angled at 45 degrees towards the subject.

The camera and wireless transmitter were situated in the center upon a tripod. Try to find the highest resolution camera that you can. You want the images to be very large, since it will be printed as life-sized. The larger the image file, the less resolution you will ultimately lose.

You don't really need such a fancy setup, but it's best to use the cleanest (most plain) background available.

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Step 2: Adjust Levels, Brightness and Contrast

Using your photo editing software of choice (mine is Photoshop), adjust the levels, brightness and contrast.

In Photoshop, I first open the 'Levels' adjustment window and use the white eyedropper to select a spot on the backdrop. This assigns the backdrop as the most white portion of the image, and re-calibrates the image as such. In doing this, it removes a lot of the shadows from the backdrop by making the backdrop very white, and white-balances the image accordingly.

I then adjust the level's sliders until I achieve the most depth in the image. Don't worry too much about brightness or contrast at this point, but focus on details of what you are looking at.

Finally, to adjust brightness and contrast, I open the 'Curves' adjustment window and tweak the curve until I achieve the results I like. Alternately, you can open the traditional 'Brightness and Contrast' adjustment window, and adjust it that way.

Step 3: Crop the Image

Once the image is color corrected, crop the image in close on the subject to remove everything but the white background.

Step 4: Paint It White

Using the magic wand selection tool, create an outline around the subject.

Create a new layer, and paint this layer white. If the white is covering up any part of the image, erase it. It doesn't have to be too perfect, since it is being cutaway anyhow, but it is helpful to have a crisp line.

Finally, flatten the layers of the image to the background.

Step 5: Scale to Size

Use the select all command and then the cut command.

Scale the image up until it is about 5-10 inches taller than the height of the actual subject being portrayed.

Next, place a guideline that is about two inches from the top, and then another marker that is [2" + height of subject] from the top of the image.

Paste the image into the frame, and scale it until the head is at about the first marker, and the center of the feet is about on the second marker. Your image is now roughly life-sized.

Flatten the image and save it as a JPG.

Step 6: Print

Print the image without any scaling using a large-scale color plotter printer.

If you don't have access to such a printer, take your file to your local print shop or copy center and have them print it for you.

Step 7: Trim Down

Cut a rough outline around your subject to remove as much of the background as possible. This is a rough first pass and shouldn't go in too close. This step is just about removing unnecessary paper to make it easier to work with.

Step 8: Glue Down

Get a large sheet of unbent cardboard and place your subject face down upon it.

Spray the back of the paper generously with spray-mount glue.

Flip the paper over and lay it very flat on the cardboard, smoothing out any air bubbles.

Step 9: Cut It Out!

Now is time to cut around the outline of the image using craft knives and/or razor blades. Just remember to go slow and be careful.

A cutting mat is helpful to have on hand for this.

Step 10: Profit

Once you have a cutout, it will end up in all kinds of unexpected places.

For instance, I ended up in San Francisco magazine without even knowing it!

Step 11: Recycle

When your friends get fed up with the creepy cutout of yourself, make sure they recycle it.

Did you find this useful, fun, or entertaining?
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Question 1 year ago

But what if I want to use an already existing image? I am making decorations for a party.


Answer 1 year ago

You would need a high-res image.

If you don't have that, you could try upscaling it in Photoshop, but that might make it blurry. Photoshop will try to figure it out as best it can, but you are adding pixels, so the image won't be very sharp.

Basically, scale it up, print it out and then cut out the outline with scissors.


Question 2 years ago on Step 8

Where can I get unbent cardboard measured in feet?


Question 4 years ago on Introduction

how much cost per piece image with board but i want to stand board


5 years ago



Neat :)

Voted for you :)


5 years ago

Anyone know of a large format printer capable of doing this which is also affordable for purchase?

Paige Russell
Paige Russell

5 years ago

Hehe, good times were had for sure! I highly recommend that everyone experience the fun of a full sized cutout of themselves. They make shenanigans and tomfoolery a breeze!