Die Cutting Basics – A Beginners Guide

Die Cutting Basics – A Beginners Guide

die cutting basics
Die cutting for crafters can come in all different shapes and sizes for pretty much every craft project. So this die cutting basics guide is everything you need to get you going

Get Starting With Die Cutting

Die cuts can be one of the most favoured form of paper crafting. Even with the amazing and technological new and upgraded cutting machines, basic die cutting remains as popular as ever. They can be used in so many versatile ways.

So check out there ideas on how to use die cuts:

  • Media Artworks
  • Cards: focus of the card or actual card from
  • Artists journals: decoration
  • Planner: dividers, decorations, and accents
  • Scrapbooks: embellishments, titles, photo frames

When you explore the whimsical world of die cutting, you will see that there are basic shapes, complex flowers that are 3 dimentional, butterflies, card shapes and forms, and embellishments. In fact, if you think of any shape or object, there is probably  a die cut for it. Some craft lovers even make a hobby of collecting them!

So What Are Dies?

Die Cutting Basics

Dies are metal words, shapes, or alphabetic that can cut images. They are normally made of metal and come in various shapes and sizes. They are generally designed to cut into cardstock and paper, but some of them are also able to cut into fabric, making them multi purpose machines.

Some dies are designed to be used directly out of the packet. Others dies are connected by little wire connectors. In this case, you will need a small pair wire cutters to cut off the extra pieces.

  • One side of the die is the smoothest side, and the flip side of the die has ridges. It is these ridges that will do the cutting onto the paper into the shape of the die. So you must ensure that the ridges of the die are facing the paper.
  • You will also see small little holes in the die. The reason for these holes in the die design allow you to remove or loosen the paper if it gets stuck. The holes will not show on the paper design. You will just need a little die-pick to remove the paper if it gets stuck.

Die cutting basics  – Before you purchase any die, please ensure that it can be cut on your machine. Not all dies are can be used with all machines. This is particularly true with manual machines.

What You Can Use Your Dies on?

  • CORK
  • Paper
  • Fabric
  • Leather
  • Thin Metal
  • Wood
  • Chipboard
  • Foam

If you are die cutting a complex die, the advise is to cut two of them. Then if some reason outside of your control, you make an error, you have an extra one

So What Are Nesting Dies?

Die Cutting Basics
Nesting dies are a Full set of the same shape in different sizes – check out the latest prices below

Nesting dies are in essence the same die shape in graduating sizes. They come in different sized shapes. This ensures that you always have the design in the exact size that you need.

You can also place each shape on top of the other. You are also able to offset them to create a more unique  look. These are perfect for when you are just starting out die cutting, because they give you a lot for your money. They also come in basic and complex shapes.

Die Cutting Basics :When cutting multiple dies at the same time, try putting the dies towards the edge of the plate rather than the centre. You will get a better cut.

So What Are Corner Dies?

die cutting basics
Corner dies are often complex, stunning additions to your paper craft projects – check out the latest prices below

Corner dies can be used to create complex corners along for any cardstock or paper project. They normally come as a pair of the same dies. They are great for adding a bit of flair and class around photos. But, their function does not end there. They can be layered up on greeting cards. They can also add a lot of class to scrapbook pages. Wherever you see corner you can always add some jazzed-up edges.

What Are Edge Dies?

Edge dies create a unique style to your paper crafts
Edge dies create a unique style to your paper crafts

Edge dies create a fancy edge to any paper craft project. They can be used in almost every type of card style. They are especially useful on stand up cards. You can use them to create a simple edge or a very fancy multiple-edge piece. They can be used on greeting cards, journals, photo mats, and more.

A sandwich recipe refers to the order in which the machine’s platforms, shims, cutting plates, embossing mats, and dies should be stacked before being fed into the machine.

What Are Die Cut Machines?

die cutting basics
The cuttlebug is a typical type of manual die cutting machine. It uses a crank to move the plates, paper and die. The plates are sandwiched in the machine which then forces the die onto the paper and thus making the cut.  Check out our review of the best die cutting machines below

the best die cutting machines 2018

For the unfamiliar, there are lots of different types of die cutting machines. However, they are broken down into 2 types,  electronic machines and manual machines. Each machine has its own  distinct advantages.

In essence all machines work the same way. They pass plates through a series of rollers. The paper is sandwiched against a die which then cuts the design.

Advantages of Manual Cutting Machines

  1. No electricity is required
  2. They are Portable
  3. The tend to be More affordable

Advantages of Electronic Cutting Machines

  1. There is No hand cranking needed
  2. They tend to have a programmable screen and can store designs
  3. You can carry out Multiple die cuts in one pass
  4. Can cut many layers of the same die in one pass

Some manual machines now have the added option of a bolt on electrical feature. it is worth checking with your manufacturer first to see if your machine has that added feature.

Die cutting basics
The Gemini cutting machine in one of the electronic die cutting machines described above. Check out below our review of this range 

best electronic craft cutting machines

What to Think Of When Buying a Die Cutting Machine

When buying a die cutting machine it can be a serious investment. Here are a few die cutting basics that you should consider before taking the step of buying or replacing your current one.

The first thing is to consider which machine is right for you

  1. Manual cutting machines are generally the most affordable die cut machines. They are also very portable. They have a manual hand crank that allows plates that hold the die and paper . Then it is pushed through the machine that presses the die into the paper to make the cut.
  2. Electronic cutting machines are normally priced higher than the manual machines. In subsitute of a hand crank, these machines are electric. They tend to follow a similar design, but these machines pull the paper, die and plates through the machine. However, they are less portable than the manual machines.
  3. Digital cutting machines are normally priced higher than the electronic or manual machines. They do not use physical dies. Instead they use cartridges or computer programs to generate the die cuts. The paper is placed on a stick mat. You select the cut an the machine cuts and or embosses the image. The other advantage to the digital machine is that the cuts can be sized and customized. They do not use physical dies, but rely on cartridges or programs.
  4. The Cost of the cutting machine  is a huge factor to consider. Machines can cost between $50 up to $1000. Where possible you should consider a higher quality machine if you are planning to craft for a profit. In most cases you can get machines in what is called a kit or a bundle. These bundles often includes some dies and /or tools. The bundle generally has a bargain price.
  5. The size of cutting area is another consideration. In the manual machines there is a smaller area which to cut. But the electronic and digital machines have lager surfaces which means that you can make multiple cuts at the same time. You need to consider the size of the plates and work area as well as the kind of projects that you will be doing.
  6. What materials  you want to cut. If you are looking to cut only paper then you have lots of different options. If you are planning to cut vinyl, material , chipboard and other thicker materials, then you need to consider a machine that will best suit your needs.
  7. The space you have to work in. Some machines are very small but very efficient. Other machines are bigger and take up more space. Consider the work area that you have for your die cutting machine.

Die cutting Basics:- It can be helpful to read the reviews on machines, if they are available. Read the best and the worst as well. They are generally written by crafters themselves. They will give you information on how well a machine might work for your needs

The Cricut Air 2 is one of the many types of digital cutting machines
The Cricut Air 2 is one of the many types of digital cutting machines

Know The specifications of your Die Cut Machine

Make sure you check out the manufacturer’s specifications before buying a die cutting machine. Not all machines are the same! Try to understand the size of the space that the machine will cut in and the type of material it will cut before you buy.

Materials You Can Die Cut

You will be surprised at the amounts of material you can die cut

  • Chipboard/Cardboard: Go ahead and cut if the manufacturer says it’s ok. Take care when cutting it. If it feels forced, always stop.
  • Paper: Consider using heavier paper to get the crispest cuts. Anywhere from 50 lbs to 110 lbs is best ( you can find the paper weight on the outside of the packaging).
  • Vellum: Vellum can be die cut, but special care must be taken. It can be cut the same way that paper is cut, but be careful when removing it from the die.
  • Felt: Felt is a great material to die cut because, unlike fabric, it does not unravel. Try not to pull on it too tightly, so it does not tear.
  • Foiled Paper: Foiled papers are one of the hottest trends. It has beautiful detail when die cut. Take care not to scratch it.
  • Glitter Paper: It’s hard to add glitter to very fine intricate die cuts. Glitter paper takes the mess out of die cutting when you want a glittered look.
  • Vinyl: Though overlooked, vinyl can be cut with a die cut.

To pick up tiny pieces, try using a QuickStik tool. This tool has a gum-like substance on the end that will temporarily stick to the smallest of pieces that are difficult to pick up or position with your fingers.

Die Cutting Basics : What to Avoid When Die Cutting

It doesn’t matter what machine you’ll be using, there are a few things to avoid when using your dies.

  1. Always use the correct sandwhich or plate configuration that is recommended by the manufacturer. Not doing so can cause damage to your machine.
  2. At any point if you feel that you are having to force the plates through, stop at once. Forcing plates through will cause damage to the machine.
  3. Try to die cut away from the center of your platform, which is where the weakest amount of pressure is.

Die Cutting Basics Hints & Tips

  • If you are cutting a very complex die, you will need to run it through the cutting machine more than once. When you do so, ensure that you rotate your plates to  180° so the pressure is equally applied to the whole plate.
  • If you see that you are not getting a clean cut first time, then try adding a magnetic shim. It will give you a little extra force and keep the die from moving.
  • If you do not have a cleaning special tool for your die cuts, a safety pin and a foam board will work nicely.
  • Use waxed paper when cutting complex dies like the ones from Spellbinders. Put a piece of waxed paper between the die and the paper before adding it to the sandwich and feeding it through the machine. The waxed paper will make it easier to release the paper from the die.
  • Rubbing a dryer sheet on your die and/or pressure plate will keep the die cut from sticking.
  • Use faux stitching dies to create even more dimension around words and sentiments.
  • Use sticky notes or tape to hold your die on the plate.
  • You can use a sticking roller to remove tiny bits from your die.
  • Make sure to clean your machine regularly. Removing all of the small bits of dirt and grime will help the performance of your die cutting machine.

Embossing Die Cuts

Some dies have a built in feature that allows you to emboss ( a raised design on the die cut) a die in one step. They make a crisp cut and an even design.

You should normally use an embossing mat when you do this technique, This is a rubbery mat that will be used in your sandwich ( stack of plates, dies, paper)

These dies tend to be a little more expensive, but are a sizeable step up in style.

What Should You Do If Your Die Cuts Don’t Work

Most of us have had the bad and upsetting experience when our die cuts are simply not working the way we expected them to. There could be a problem in the manufacturing of the die. There could have been some complaints from fellow crafters who have ordered inexpensive dies from over seas. So, what can you do when your die does not work? Well you could…..

  • Use a craft mat and cut the die manually with a craft knife
  • Use thinner materials like vellum, parchment or copy paper to die cut
  • Use them as templates or stencils

If you have any comments or questions on this Die Cutting Basics Post. Then please don’t hesitate to contact us below


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