Most crafters are familiar with vinyl cutting machines, which we covered in our previous post on Maker Spaces. You won’t really find a manual die cutting machine in your local library, in fact, you’re more likely to find it at your grandmother’s house… maybe in a dark closet accumulating cobwebs.
We wouldn’t recommend die cutters for more experienced crafters unless they know that they’ll use the embossing function, something the modern electronic cutting machines can’t quite do yet.
The real problem is their size: they often can cut only 6″ x 8″, not enough for a standard sheet of printer paper. Many newer crafters wind up getting frustrated by this and they never return to crafting again, so if that sounds like you, maybe consider borrowing someone else’s or doing some research on the internet to find the best die cutting machine for your purpose.
Manual die cutters are used for three tasks, typically:
- Embossing material
- Cutting fabric quickly
- Cutting through thick materials like metal
Each machine uses a set of metal dies that are a lot like cookie cutters. You create a sandwich of your material, the cutting die, and two cutting plates. Your material gets pressed in between at high pressure, and the shape of your die is cut out.
Manual die cutting machines are typically much smaller than their digital counterpart, but they’re also heavier. If you treat them right, they’ll last you decades because there aren’t any electronic moving parts inside. If you’re looking to just get started as a crafter, there’s another big benefit as well: the price. These die cutters typically run between $40-50 to start, and you’ll also need a set of embossing plates and dies to cut out your first patterns. That price does add up over time, because unlike a digital die cutter, you need a physical die for every shape you want to cut.
Digital die cutting machines, on the other hand, are much more versatile. Not only can they do everything the manual machines can (except emboss), they also allow you to control exactly what they cut out, just like how you decide what a printer prints. This means you don’t need to lug around hundreds of metal dies anywhere you want to craft, hoping not only that you have the design you want but that you can even find it!
With a digital cutting machine, you use software on your computer or tablet to design exactly what you want. And what you see: that’s what you get. If you like someone else’s design, they can just send it right over to you in a special format called an SVG. SVGs are like images but with a special set of math built-in that the cutting machine can read to know exactly how to make the cuts on your material.
Whichever type of die cutter you choose, make sure to do a bit of research first and know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. These machines, especially the electronic ones, can cost quite a bit and you want to make sure it won’t just wind up like Grandma’s old manual die cutter, in a closet somewhere!