ruler, rotary cutter and sewing shears with fabric samples

Rotary cutter vs. scissors: a friendly sewing tool fight

I love a good sewing tools comparison so I thought, why not do a matchup of rotary cutter vs. scissors.

Both are such great sewing tools to have around, but how does each one shine? We’ll talk about how rotary cutter vs. scissors fare in categories about price, cutting, ease of use, speed, and types of fabrics.

You’ll probably conclude that both is the option, or will you?

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Pinterest image: "compare your sewing tools: rotary cutter vs. scissors" with assorted scissors and rotary cutters

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Which is a better price: rotary cutter or scissors?

Initially a rotary cutter will be cheaper. A good quality rotary cutter like this Olfa rotary cutter one will set you back about $12.

Shoot, they’re so inexpensive that I have a few.

A good quality pair of shears on the other hand will run you from just under $16 for these lightweight Gingher trimmers to just over $65 for these specialized serrated Kai 7250 shears.

You can check out the best sewing scissors for you for my personal recommendations and reviews of 4 popular sewing shears.

Out of the package, rotary cutters will win on price, but what about maintenance?

Price comparion of rotary cutter vs. scissors maintenance

Scissors need to be sharpened, and rotary blades need to be changed when they get dull.

A pack of 10 generic rotary blades is about $11. If you want to go name brand and stick with Olfa blades, 1 Olfa replacement blade will cost you just under $7.

scissors with sharpener and pattern weights
a basic knife sharpener usually has a scissors slot that’ll keep your shears sharp between professional sharpenings

I’ve used both generic blades and brand name blades, and to my mind, they cut about the same. The generic blades have always worked well for me.

What hasn’t worked well for me are the rotary blade “sharpeners”. They’re difficult to use without hurting yourself and I don’t think they do a good job extending the life of a blade. Give me a shout out if you’ve ever tried the DIY hack of trying to sharpen your blade by cutting through layers of foil.

As for getting your shears sharpened, that’s something you should do a few times a year. Probably when you remember about it. I’ve paid anywhere from $8-10 to get my scissors sharpened professionally.

Because a pack of 10 rotary blades will likely last you longer than the time that it takes for your shears to need a sharpening, rotary cutters almost win the price battle. More on why it’s not quite that simple in a little bit.

Rotary cutters vs. scissors: Who wins out of the box?

If you’re comparing which tool you can grab and get to work with straight out of the box, scissors win hands down.

With a good pair of shears, all you need extra is maybe a scrap of fabric or ribbon to tie around the handles. Consider it a way to mark your scissors FOR FABRIC ONLY. That way your family doesn’t reach for them when it’s time to fix a garden hose.

Ah, but rotary cutters need a mat to go with them. Here’s that hidden cost I alluded to in the price section.

Ok technically, a pair of scissors + a mat is going to help increase your cutting accuracy too. A cheap cardboard mat like this Dritz Kraft Board will serve you for years. Carboard mat + nice shears = good sewing fun for a crazy long time.

Rotary mats: bigger is better

On to the reality of rotary mats. If you mostly sew quilts, a little mat is probably going to suit all your needs. A tiny mat for garment sewing will be a mega pain. You’ll have to keep sliding the mat under your fabric as you cut. As you do this, the fabric can shift annoyingly.

For rotary cutting, I’d suggest investing in a cutting mat that is as large as your cutting table. This cutting mat from Sullivan’s measures 40″x72″ which is big enough for most garment sewing projects.

If you’re not sure if using a rotary cutter is going to be a regular part of your sewing, buy several smaller mats when you can get a deal. Butt them up against each other, and it’s almost as nice as a full sized mat.

You can also try something like a Puzzle Mat which has interlocking edges. Think of them like rotary mat Legos. There’s a 24″x36″, and from there you can add additional 12″x12″ sections to expand the size of the mat.

Which are easier to use: rotary cutters or scissors?

You can answer this question with a yes.

Scissors will be better for curves and fine detail cuts that you need to make.

I always keep my scissors handy when I need to cut notches. Rotary cutters just fail on tiny things like this.

cutting bias tape with rotary cutter

If you cut a lot of straight lines, a rotary cutter is your literal best friend. It’s so nice to be able to cut as you’re measuring with a good ruler. With a rotary cutter, you’ll always get clean, ultra straight lines. I love making bias tape with a rotary cutter.

How to make bias tape

3 easy ways to make bias tape yourself because custom is way more interesting!

Pinterest image: "How to make bias tape 3 ways to do it yourself" with image of cutting bias tape

For scissors, you need to measure out items like bias tape or neckbands first with chalk. Then you cut. Scissors will always be a slower tool to use for this reason. That’s not a bad thing if you’re looking for precision, but it is something to keep in mind.

What you will notice with scissors, especially if you keep them wicked sharp is how well they cut curves. Rotary cutters have a harder time rolling along a curve accurately.

In short:

  • Straight cutting: rotary cutter
  • Curves and fine details: scissors

It’s worth noting there are also pinking blades for rotary cutters available. If pinking seam allowances is a seam finish that you like, try them out. It’s hard to beat the speed of a pinking blade!

What about hand fatigue?

This is a real thing. That’s one of my biggest points in my scissors review post that I tried to get across.

Our cutting tools are the ones we probably use the most in the sewing room other than our machines. As such, all that repetitive motion can build up in your hands and cause pain.

When it comes to rotary cutter vs. scissors, I think it comes down to what’s more comfortable for you. I personally love that I don’t have to open and close my hand repetitively with a rotary cutter.

On the other hand, the angle it requires to cut with a rotary cutter can be uncomfortable for people. The fine rotary cutting makers have thought about this too. Now there are ergonomic rotary cutters like this one from Fiskars.

The adjustable angle reminds me of my favorite Wolf violin shoulder rest. It’s a good nod to the fact that we’re all built uniquely. What’s right for my hands might not be it for yours.

Rotary cutter vs scissors: fabric tests!

Okay, so the big question is who would win the actual cutting test. Like all things it seems, it depends. From my own tests, this is what I would recommend.

Okay, so who wins cutting what fabric:

Fabric typesRotary cutterScissors
Quilting cotton wins for accuracy with a ruler. okay
Knitsfor speed!okay
Faux furnopeyes with a caveat*
Leatherbeautiful clean edges!not my favorite
Heavy coating fabricsrequires too much pressuremuch better
Denimsame as coating, pass on this onewinner
Sequinsnopebest on sequins, but don’t use your best pair
Silksyes, use new blade to avoid snagsyes, especially micro-serrated shears

* Scissors win the faux fur test only if you cut through the backing only. Read how to sew faux fur sans fluff for the real winner that’s better than scissors or a rotary cutter.

Are scissors or a rotary cutter better for traveling?

This is a tough one. If you sew ever outside of your home, it’s good to pack as light as you can.

If I go to a sew-in or a sewing retreat, I will take already cut out projects. That’s eliminates the need for having to pack a big cutting mat.

In that case, I’ll say scissors win this mini-battle. A set of scissors can do everything you need!

That being said, if you’re a quilter, a little small mat + a rotary cutter is totally packable. I like this folding mat from Omnigrid. I like that it has it’s own cover and a pressing surface built in as well.

In a gold medal fight of rotary cutter vs. scissors, really everyone is a winner. I regularly use them both and I would recommend to anyone to do the same. If I was just starting out, I’d pick these lightweight Ginghers for their price and versatility. And as my sewing skills grew, I’d consider a large mat and a good rotary cutter. It’s another tale to remind us that sometimes things come down to personal preference rather than clear cut winners.

More sewing tools for you to explore

Keep it accurate
Keep it accurate

Rulers, hemming tools and tapes oh my

Mark it up
Mark it up

Old school no fail methods for marking fabric + great marking tools for all fabrics.

The best sewing tools
The best sewing tools

If you had to pick sewing tools that’ll up your game the most, these are it.

6 thoughts on “Rotary cutter vs. scissors: a friendly sewing tool fight”

  1. Good summary of most of the important considerations.

    I’m left-handed. I learned to cut right handed because at the time left-handed scissors were hard to find and expensive. True left-hand scissors can still be difficult to find. I use both scissors (in both right and left-handed variations) and rotary cutters. All of my rotary cutters can easily be assembled with the blade set for left-handed cutting. Dominant hand should also be a consideration.

    1. That’s cool Laura. I didn’t know that about rotary cutters! I know Kai makes some true left handed shears, but they do seem to be more expensive (the 7250s are $80 vs. $70 for right-handed).

  2. Good summary. Mild carpel tunnel definitely has an affect too. My ergo rotary cutter is the one I pick first, but if I have to use scissors I will. Some scissors are easier to use than others too.

  3. Charon Becker

    Thanks for the article! I’m making my first quilt, and it’s a bit of a disaster, most likely due to cutting issues. How often should I replace rotary cutter blades? And should i use a smaller rotary cutter for smaller cuts, or does it matter? I almost tossed out the cutter for scissors, but I keep hearing this isn’t the best alternative.

    On a side note, this long-necked lady also loves her Wolf Secundo shoulder rest, but you may have lost a lot of people there, haha!

    1. Replacing blades will depend on how much you’re cutting or what you are cutting. Some fabrics like fleece are pretty rough on blades. If you’re finding you have to bear down a lot on a rotary cutter to cut through properly or find that it’s skipping on the fabric, not cutting some areas, it’s time for a blade change. I usually end up using a combination of my shears and rotary cutter. I like the rotary blades for curves and shears in general, and heavier weight fabrics, I’m always reaching for my shears. So a lot of it is personal preference and what’s comfortable for you.

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