Die cutting machines are those wonderful devices used to cut out intricate patterns and shapes from paper and fabrics to embellish your crafts. You can cut out flowers, butterflies, or animals and use them to decorate your crafting projects or your scrapbook. It’s much easier than it sounds, and it doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated. Best of all, you won’t have to wrestle with scissors to get that clean, professional edge!

Simply put, a die cutter is a machine designed to cut materials to a specific shape. Crafters usually use them on materials such as such as metal, fabric, or paper. They then add these cutouts on their crafting projects. You can make a wide variety of projects with your die cutting machine. Scrapbook designs, stencils, stickers, greeting cards, magnets, quilting panels, and party decorations are just some of the uses for die cutting machines.

Types of Die-Cutting Machines

There are two basic types of die cutting machines available. If you’re on a budget, you may want to choose a manual die-cutting machine, which is less expensive. However, if you’re open to spending more, you may want to purchase a digital die cutter. Most crafters new to die cutting start with the manual, or rotary die cutting model.

Manual die cutting machines

Manual die cutting machines are usually less expensive and operate much like a cookie cutter. The user places cutting dies into the device along with the material to be cut. When the material and the die pass through a die cutting machine, the pressure applied by the rollers force the die through the material. This process cuts it into the exact shape of the inserted die.

These are also known as rotary die cutting machines, and they will either have a small motor or a simple crack handle to move the material through the machine. You may want to cut out shapes to decorate another crafting project. Or, the finished form may be the entire project. Because of the wide variety of designs available, the possibilities can seem endless.

In manual die cutting, the dies are usually bought separately from the machine. Manufacturers produce them in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. You’ll find dies as simple as square cutouts for quilts, and you’ll see intricate scroll work with flourishes for creating stencils. Some companies will even manufacture dies to your exact specifications.

Since a manual die cutter is usually the first machine most crafters start with, we’ll talk mainly about these models and how you can use them in your craft projects. While we will be focusing on manual die cutters for this article, it may be important to illustrate the difference between the two basic types.

Digital die cutting machines

Digital cutters do not require metal dies. They have blades that cut the material very similarly to how an ordinary computer printer prints designs on paper. Digital die cutters even look like ordinary printers. They run on electricity, and the uses uploads designs to the digital die cutter by using a cartridge with pre-designed patterns already loaded into it. Alternatively, you can also program them by downloading designs you create yourself on your computer with die making programs, through the USB port.

What are dies?

Dies are custom-shaped metal objects with one smooth side and one side with raised, sharp metal edges for cutting paper, fabric, or thin metal. The machine adds pressure, which cuts the pattern. They look a great deal like cookie cutters, and work along the same principle. For example, the die for cutting butterflies will look like a butterfly.

There are several different kinds of dies for several different purposes. “Steel-rule” dies are very sharp and lined with plastic or foam for your protection. These kinds of dies are made to be stronger for cutting thicker materials, such as sheet metal, plastic, or felt. You can also use them for cutting several layers of material at once. Thinner metal dies are not as robust as steel-rule dies. Because of that, they cannot cut as many thicknesses of material or any material that is too strong or thick. Dies are made in a variety of styles and sizes. You’ll find a selection of geometric patterns, intricate lace dies, a variety of plants and animals, or words and letters.

What you need to get started

You'll only require a few things to get started crafting with a die cutter. Luckily, most die cutters will come with almost everything you need except the actual dies. They will usually come with complete instructions to get you started.

You can purchase dies online and in hobby shops. You’ll also find cardstock, fabric, and paper in a wide range of thicknesses and colors. You may also want to purchase a die cut mat. The mat sits above the die to keep it in place while you’re cutting your material. Once you have those, the rest is up to your imagination.

Choosing a Die Cutting Machine

The die cutting machine that is right for you will depend on your projects, your budget, and how often you plan to use it. If you are simply crafting, scrapbooking, or making the occasional greeting card or decoration, you may want to choose a smaller, less complicated and less expensive unit. However, you may be planning to turn your skills into a money-making venture, or even your primary source of income. In this case, you want to opt for something capable of handling greater production and built to last longer.

The price of a manual die cutting machine

The best way of thinking about a die cutter is to equate it to purchasing a new sewing machine. It can either be an appliance or an investment. Again, this depends on how you plan to use it. From our research, we’ve discovered that die cutting machines can cost only $45 for a low-end manual model. However, we’ve found digital models for as much as $500. Those, of course, are the extremes at either end.

Manual machines will usually run from about $60 to $200, and digital ones will be more. How much more will depend on its features, accessories, and capability. The price range of dies, the cutting pieces, is equally broad. Some small dies with less complicated designs can be found for around $2. More intricate dies may come in sets and run for over $100. Typically, sets of dies will cost between $20 and $50. Many manufacturers package and sell themed sets of dies, such as assorted butterflies or a selection of different flowers.

Die Cutting Machines for Every Budget

Here are some examples of manual die cutting machines available in various price ranges. We’ve chosen these machines based on customer satisfaction reviews, and focused on finding the best model at different price points.

The most popular manual die cutter machine we found for under $50 was the Fellibay die cutting embossing machine. A superior model for small projects, Fellibay specifically designed this model to work with dies under 3 inches. Well constructed, you'll find it holds up for years under normal use. The size and price make it perfect for making greeting cards, signs, and other smaller, more personal projects.

The size makes it portable, and it's simple to use. It includes two embossing plates and an embossing mat. Its small size means it will be unobtrusive as you work on your projects. You won’t find yourself having to work around it as you would with a larger unit.

Pros

  • Very easy to operate
  • Made sturdy and durable
  • Compact design saves space
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    Multiple uses

Cons

  • Size limitations for projects and dies

Sizzix has led the pack in die cutting machines since 1977. They come with a reputation, and they live up to it with every machine. Their Big Shot 660245 model comes with an extended multi-purpose platform that allows you to do bigger projects with dies up to 6 inches. Besides being very efficient, the soft colors and lines make it easy on the eyes. If you have been leaning towards slightly larger craft projects than the 8.5x11 cut-out variety, this will get the job done.

It includes a convenient carrying handle, but It’s still compact enough to be unobtrusive once it’s set up. It is, however, quite portable and ready to travel. The adjustable cutting platform makes it even more convenient for engaging in different types of projects, and it’s compatible with the entire Sizzix catalog of dies.

Pros

  • Portable
  • 3-year limited warranty
  • Will do die cutting and embossing
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    Works with non-Sizzix die cutters and embossing folders
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    Embossing is very well defined

Cons

  • No die cuts or embossing folders
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    The cutting plates are known to scratch and must be replaced

The Cricut 2000293 Cuttlebug is a well-thought-out machine. For example, the cranking handle of the unit folds up and can be tucked out of the way. When you unfold the side, it activates the suction cups on the bottom of the unit so that it stays firmly attached to the work surface. The Cuttlebug can also be used on a wide variety of materials, such as cardstock, felt, fabrics, poster board, and even thin metal and thin wood.

The Cuttlebug is another very portable machine with a collapsible carrying handle for easy mobility. It only weighs 7 pounds and cuts a smallish figure of 14.4 inches long by 7.2 inches wide and just 12 inches high. The basic Cuttlebug package includes a spacer, cutting plate, instruction book, and a 5 by 7-inch embossing folder. The embossing is very crisp and cuts quite smoothly.

Pros

  • Requires very little space for storage
  • Easy to use
  • Compact foldable design
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    Compatibility with most dies
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    Can work on many different materials

Cons

  • Instruction manual is complicated
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    Cutting materials thicker than 1/8-inch may get stuck in machine

Are You Ready to Begin Your Die Cutting Adventure?

It wasn’t so long ago that a die cutting machine was considered more of a toy than a tool. After all, they don’t do anything that your grandmother couldn’t do with a pair of scissors and a lot of time. But interest in crafting has exploded over the years, and the demand for more versatile and well-made machines has also increased. Now, what was once a niche market has evolved into a mainstream activity.

The number of die machine manufacturers and the types of machines available can vary widely and be confusing. We hope this explanation of the craft and the short list of some of the best die cutters will help you decide how to get started. Investing in much more machine than you need can be a costly mistake. However, not getting all the features you will require for your projects to save money can be a mistake as well. Hopefully, you discovered something in this article that will guide you to make a more informed decision when it is time to buy. Good luck and happy crafting.

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