Whether you’re a hobbyist that likes to embellish scrapbooks or a small business owner that designs and cuts out their own labels, die cutting has been a large and integral part of the crafting movement. Nowadays, die cutting machines have become small enough to put right on top of your desk!
While die cutters aren’t the cheapest way to help you in your crafting, they are certainly a worthy investment, especially if you don’t feel like toiling away at cutting out designs by hand. If you’re a novice to die cutting, we’ll gladly take the time to explain the basics and fulfill your curiosity.
What Exactly is Die Cutting?
Preeti Datta from Crafters Corner nicely explains that die cutting is basically an easier means of creating multiple and identical shapes out of various materials. Typically, there are two types of die cutting machines.
A manual die cutting machine requires human effort to make the die cut through the chosen material. On the other hand, a digital or electronic die cutting machine automatically does this for you so there’s less human involvement.
Most machines can cut through all types of material such as paper, leather, thin cloths, chipboard/cardboard, foil, etc. These units are most handy for scrapbookers, card makers, and paper crafters since they allow for easy and virtually perfect cutouts of any shape every time.
They’re especially great for cutting out designs too complicated or too detailed for human hands to cut, such as a doily or intricate gift boxes. With this, you can really impress your friends with custom designs without spending hours beforehand cutting them out.
What are Dies?
For both manual and digital die cutting machines, cutting out patterns and shapes depend on dies. Dies are a specific form that’s used for making identical duplicates out of different materials like paper, fabric, thin metal, foam, and a lot more. You can think of them as cookie cutters!
Scrapbook.com mentions that manual die cutters have two major types of dies which include thin metal and steel rule. Made out of etched metal, thin metal dies have their centers cut out and have a flat back with a thin raised area that traces the design and functions as the cutting edge.
Steel rule dies work more like a cookie cutter and is manipulated into the shape that will be cut. This cutter is then applied to a wooden base with steel edges that are wrapped by protective foam which both protects and prevents the cut pieces from getting stuck in the die.
Steel rule dies are more durable and have more cutting force than thin metal dies. This makes them more ideal for cutting through thick materials (sometimes multiple layers at once) like fabric, mat board, and leather. Thin metal dies are more practical for detailed designs, not to mention they’re cheaper, more lightweight, and easier to store.
There are also other kinds of dies such as thinlits and framelits. Thinlits are wafer thin dies that make shapes that can be utilized on their own. These are practical to add to a project or to create a shape that’ll be converted into a 3-D pattern. They can cut out any individual element and they don’t need a coordinating stamp set.
Framelits are also wafer thin and can cut out shapes that create windows for stamped images. Companies like MFT or Lawn Fawn tend to sell coordinating sets of stamps so there is no need for any messy cutting.
Digital die cut machines are not like manual ones for their “dies” are actually digital files that function as patterns to signal the machine what to cut. Some machine manufacturers will have their own exclusive file formats for their units but most are able to use SVG files or .jpeg files for conversion to use in their available software.
Is a Manual or Digital Die Cutter Better?
For beginners to die cutting, it’s important to figure out which die cutting machine bests suits your hobby or craft.
If you’re under a strict budget and are looking for something more affordable, manual machines come to mind as an initial investment. Although further along the way, the cost for individual dies for these machines can make them more expensive.
If you like to create stamps, manual machines make it a lot easier to work with the large variety of dies that are available. They also have a special feature that digital machines don’t – they can emboss paper and thin metal with plastic embossing folders.
When using steel rule dies, manual die cutting machines allows you to easily cut a large variety of materials. You just place your chosen die with your preferred material on the board, arrange how you want it cut, then cover it with a clear and protective board.
After you turn the lever, the board will come back out the other side and you can finally take off the board and pop the cut material out of your die!
Digital machines are a lot more flexible for digital design files and can be modified and resized to fit the crafter’s individual style. You can have access anytime to online stores to buy a design you like that’ll fit your project perfectly.
Keep in mind, digital machines may be a lot more advanced, but they can also be primarily expensive. They’re also not as portable as manual machines since they require power to work, but they certainly are a handy tool that can sit on your crafting table and are a worthy investment in the long run.
What are Some Important Tips for Beginners?
Craft Stash offers these helpful tips that can help either beginner or advanced die cutters.
Die Cutting Sandwich Tips
- Create your sandwich according to the machine manufacturer’s instruction and use low-tack or washi tape to hold the die in place.
- Run the sandwich through the machine and take out and rotate the die for a complete and clean cut. Fine glue pens or a cocktail stick used to apply glue can help with attaching intricate die cuts to paper.
- You can always run your design through the machine again if it didn’t cut all the way through. You can either add a piece of cardstock or buy metal adapter plate for certain machines to obtain the right pressure.
- Carefully remove the cut out shape from the die using a poke tool. You can use the end of a fine needle pushed into a cork if you don’t have one.
- Using the poke tool, start to remove the negative space. Wax paper or baking paper can help release the cut out shape from the die.
The tips above should help you cut anything from thin paper to mid-weight cardstock neatly. If you need a more visual input on how to use a die cutting machine, this video from Tonic Studios shows how to arrange your materials before cutting along with a brief explanation as to how a manual die cutting machine works.
Die Storing Tips
There are many ways to store your many dies, plastic folders, and magnetic sheets to keep them safe from damage and to make them easy to find.
Here are some helpful tips come from Simple Scrapper:
- You can use Poly Bag Floss organizers from Hobby Lobby, which are similar to baby Scrapracks used for small scrapbooking materials. Most of these have a zipper close so nothing will slide out and get lost.
- CD cases are handy for storing small to medium sized dies, although they have a tendency to let smaller pieces slip out when you’re carrying your dies on the go.
- Transparent paper protectors can be used to store and display your dies and can also be stored in folders. If you like to be organized, these protectors usually have holes on the left edge that can be clipped into folders which can be labeled.
- Products like the Die-Namic storage set from Totally Tiffany lets you store all sizes of thin, metal dies. Inside each storage box are transparent plastic sleeves that hold a plastic card layered with 1″ pockets. These let you stack and store your dies so they’re easier to find. There’s additionally tabs at the tops so you can label and organize them.
- You can feel free to follow this step-by-step guide from Crafts Unleashed that shows how to make an easy to thumb through case for your die cuts. All you’ll need is an embossing folder storage case, Core’dinations 6×6 Kraft cardstock, 2-inch snap rings, and a round hole punch.
- If you’re more of a drawer person, you can consider buying a large drawer cabinet or a wafer die storage box from StampNStorage.
What are Some of the Best Beginner Die Cutting Machines?
If you’re ready to start on your die cutting experience, there are some machines that are great for those just getting into the craft.
Maranda from Multiplicity Crafts recommends the Cricut Cuttlebug for beginners since its cutting plates are simplified and easy to understand. They are all labeled “A”, “B”, and “C”, and the machine usually comes with two A and B plates. The C plate is available for separate purchase but isn’t too essential to get started.
The Cuttlebug is very compact and ideal for smaller craft areas and projects. It’s also great for those with a tight budget and is durable enough to last through simple design cutouts.
If you have a little more wiggle room in your budget, you can also consider the Sizzix Big Shot. It’s arguably one of the best manual die cutters and has a good value for its quality.
It comes with 2 cutting pads, a Thinlits plus die set, a Bigz L die, a Textured Impressions plus embossing folder, 4 double-sided A4 cardstock sheets, and 10 double-sided 5 ½” x 6″ cardstock sheets.
If you’re looking for less effort on your part and would like to look into a digital die cutting machine, the Silhouette Portrait 2 Starter Bundle is the most recommended unit.
It features Bluetooth technology so you won’t have to worry about wires excluding its power cable. It’s able to cut materials like vinyl, photo paper, cardstock, fabric, etc. up to 8 inches wide and 10 feet long.
Inside the bundle includes a USB cable, Bluetooth adapter, 2 of the 8″ cutting mats, Autoblade, Ratchet blade, 50 digital designs, a 24-pack of sketch pens, Silhouette Studio software, and a one-month free subscription to the Silhouette Design store.
If you’re a hobbyist that likes to scrapbook or make cards, or if you’re a small business owner that designs custom labels and prints, die cutting machines can be a very useful tool in the craft space.
Die cutting doesn’t have to be hard, and depending what you like, you can choose from either a manual or digital die cutting machine. If you’re just beginning in die cutting, it’s best to start with a small and simple unit. Then when you’re ready, you can invest in more advanced machines that further broaden your die cutting experience.
Hello there, my name is Carole Lokey from Texas. I am a die cutting and scrapbooking enthusiast and I have been sharing my passion with my friends and likeminded folks for close to 15 years now. Don’t hesitate to get in touch with me via the contact page. Learn More>>