The three stunning religious-themed designs from the Christmas 2016 stamp issue have been executed using the intricate technique of paper-cut. The artist, Stuart McLachlan, has hand-cut delicate paper shapes before layering, photographing and colouring them to create the beautiful stamp images.

The stamps, released on 31 October 2016, each depict a different scene from the biblical story of the birth of Christ.

While Stuart also ready possesses an international reputation as an illustrator, it was while doing a craft activity with his young daughter a few years ago that he stumbled across the intriguing and exacting art of paper-cut, for which he has now also built an international reputation. Stuart had cut out a ‘scene’ from a piece of paper and photographed it on his digital camera, which happened to be laying around. He showed a photo of it to his agent at the time, who loved it, and so began his exploration of this incredible art form, which includes creating full-scale sets, ‘wearable’ paper art and now stamps!

Like most creative endeavours, the starting point with paper-cut is to create a concept, in this case one that was tied together stylistically across the three stamps. Stuart drew each design in silhouette form and then placed it within the frame of the stamp template. The actual paper-cut, when boxed, is approximately two feet (60 centimetres) by 1.5 feet (45 centimetres).

Stuart McLachlan at work
Stuart McLachlan at work

“The crucial thing is to get the distance right between each element, especially as some elements may need to be reduced or enlarged depending on the distance between layers or lighting used, in order to get the right effect,” says Stuart.

Once complete, the illustration was divided into layers, with each layer’s elements cut by hand using watercolour paper (“it’s stronger and I like the texture when it’s photographed,” Stuart says.) For example, the three wise men were each cut out separately, as were the hills and Bethlehem. The cuts were then hung up with wire to create the layered scene. Stuart then photographed the scene using an SLR camera, using multiple light directions and apertures.

“Often I shoot the paper cuts at night, because it gives you more contrast. And I don’t use flash photography, because it flattens the whole image.”

Stuart doesn’t manipulate the finished results on computer much either, save for perhaps getting rid of any visible wire. The designs are then coloured and converted to digital files.

This painstaking process can take quite a long time – the photography set-up alone can take two to three hours and the photography itself a day per piece. All of Stuart’s paper-cut creations are hand cut too, not laser cut and certainly not computer generated, though that may well be a ‘safer’ and ‘easier’ method.

Working on the Angel stamp
Working on the Angel stamp

“You really need to be careful, as the Xacto blade is as sharp as a scalpel. I need to lock my arm in place for long periods of time, which can be painful, so as not to slip and slice across my fingers. And I can’t push too hard while cutting either, because I don’t want to snap the blade which could possibly fling into my eyes, as I work quite closely to the paper. In the early days, the tips of my fingers would often go numb for a week at a time from pressing down onto the handle of the knife for such a long period of time!” says Stuart.

But for Stuart, this is all about trying new things – starting a potentially difficult artistic process and seeing where it takes him.

“I love doing all of my cutting by hand. It’s an art form, and it’s important to show that people can still create beautiful and intricate things by hand. It’s difficult, but that’s the whole point.”

View Stuart McLachlan’s paper-cut gallery

Secular stamps 2016

The two secular-themed stamps from the Christmas 2016 stamp issue, designed by Stacey Zass and also released on 31 October 2016, showcase the universal themes of goodwill (represented by a star) and joy (represented by a gift).

The fun-filled Christmas Island Christmas 2016 stamp issue is also released on 31 October 2016. Learn more and take a look back at Christmas Island Christmas stamps through the years.

Find a special gift

This year’s Christmas stamps come in a range of special products, including embellished stamp sheetlets and two embellished stamp packs – one featuring the Joy and Goodwill stamps and another featuring the Christmas Island Christmas Santa stamp. They are a great stocking filler, or the perfect gift for that ‘hard-to-buy-for’ friend, family member, neighbour or colleague.

As an added bonus, the embellished stamp sheetlets and booklets of 20 come with matching “card only” stickers, to ensure that your cards qualify for the discounted 65 cent Christmas card rate.

Personalise your Christmas cards

Three of the Christmas 2016 stamps are available as self-adhesive Personalised Stamps™, which add a fun and festive finishing touch to your Christmas cards. Personalised Stamps allow you to place a photo in the tabs next to the stamps, which are then printed into a self-adhesive sheetlet. You can then place the tab and stamp directly onto your card.


The Christmas 2016 stamp issue is available online from 31 October 2016, at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794, while stocks last.

View the gallery and technical details from this issue.

This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release dates mentioned within this article and will not be updated.

Philatelic Team