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Die Cuts-Quick Tips

Die cutting has been popular for so many years! I cannot imagine any of my paper crafts where die cutting does not come into play. Between scrapbooks, cards , gift bags, and so much more, I use my dies almost daily.

Basically what any die cutting machine does is to put pressure against a die which then cuts the paper to the shape of the die.

Manual Die Cutting

A manual die cutting machine is one where you are the power to move the die through the machine. This is usually done with a crank on the machine.

Wafer thin does are the most popular kind of dies. They are very thin and easy to store. They are more economical so that you can get a lot more options for less. 

The smaller versions of these machines have about a 6 inch cutting platform area. 

Most of the machines come with everything that you need to die cut , but there are no dies with it. The exception to this is when you buy one of these machines in a bundle. Often in a bundle they may include some does and some embossing folders.

These machines will generally have all the plates and/or platforms that you need to operate the machines. They will also have directions how to use the machine. They will show you how and what plates to use when you use your dies (and your embossing folders, The way the plates and sies are placed is often referred to as a sandwich. 

You can however in most machines cut several dies out at the same time, depending on the size of the platform on the machine you are using.

The cracking noise that you hear with any die cut machine is perfectly normal. IT is the sound of the paper being cut !

Digital ( Electronic )Die Cutting Machines

Rather than using a hand crank and dies, these machines use digital cutting files to create projects and cut images. The first thing to know about these machines is of course they use electricity and are less portable. The second thing to know is that with all the bells and whistles, the price of these machines is much higher. However, for the most part there are a lot of cut files available on the internet, many of them free. And those that you pay for are very reasonably priced. 

The digital cut files tell the machine how and where to cut the materials that you are working on. Although some machines still use cartridges where these files are stored, for the most part these images are now either stored on your computer or on a program that is used by the machine that coordinates with the cutting machine. Others offer cloud storage so that you do not take up precious space on your computer.

Another advantage to the digital cutting machine is that because these are not physical dies, you are actually able to change the size and even sometimes the shape of the cut.

Instead of platforms, digital die cut machines use mats to hold the paper or other material to make the cut. These mats have a stickiness that allows the material to be cut to stay in the place it is put. The mat is then fed into the machine and the material is cut. The mats can be renewed and last for a good many cuts. Mats will often be included in your machine purchase. Make sure to check the list of materials that comes with the machine you are considering.

While different machines have different functions, they all have certain features that are common:

  • Each has a blade housing which is where the cutting blade sits. Some machines have a manual depth changer ( how deep the blade cuts) while other have settings for specific materials that tell the blade how deep to cut. 
  • On a manual setting, if you set the blade too deep, it is very possible to rip the material you are working on. Always check the manufacturers recommendation. Even on a manual setting machine, there may be prompts to tell you where to set the blade.
  • Most machines have two cords- a power cord and a USB cord that attaches your machine to a computer
  • Different companies offer different software for designing. You should become familiar with any machine that you are considering purchasing by looking at You tube videos of the software.

Buying A Die Cutting Machine And Dies

  • Before you buy a new die cutting machine, consider the type and size of the cuts that you will want to craft with. How big the largest cut that you want to work with should be one consideration, The second is the size of the machine and where you will keep it in your craft space
  • Manual or electric? That depends on where and how you will use it. Manual machine are easier to take to crops and classes. Electric machines often make better cuts and don't require cranks. But they are not as portable.
  • Before buying a die, make sure that it can be used with your machine
  • Manual machine come in a wide variety of sizes and platforms. You need to decide your needs and your budget when you consider which machine is best for you. 
  • Another consideration is space. Some machines like the spellbinders platinum and the Cricut manual fold up while others do not. 

Shims And Sandwiches

  • Always make sure that your sandwich is in the correct way,  before inserting it into your machine.
  • Never force any plates through a machine. If it does not want to go in, check the stack and thickness.

Cutting Plates

  • There are generally two cutting plates for every machine. One is for the top and one is for the bottom.
  • It is very normal to see cut marks on your cutting plates. As time goes on, you will see a lot of marks. But the cutting plate is still useable.

Types Of Dies

Dies are simply a tool that has a blade used to cut shapes out of paper or other materials. The cutting blade is pressed into the paper by the pressure that the die cutting machine exerts. Always make sure that the blade in facing the side of the material that you want to show on your project.

Start out with basic shapes like hearts. rectangles, circles, and flowers. They can be combined together to create all kinds of looks and features

You will note that some sets of dies come connected. Just bend them back and forth till they give, or snip them with a pair of scissors.

Nesting Dies-a set of dies that have repeated the same pattern in different sizes. Are generally wafer thin die sets. Great when you are starting out. You get more bang for your bucks. The greatest thing about nesting dies is that you can layer them in different configurations that make them very versatile. 

Wafer thin dies are also framlits are very thin delicate dies They work best with things that are not very thick. They are probably the most popular dies. Almost every company that makes dies, has a large collection of these dies, there is a variety of different shapes and sizes. Start with general shapes and then add to your collection

  • Though generally used for paper, these dies can also cut through felt and craft foam
  • Always place the cutting side down.
  • You can store these dies in their original packaging in a file type system. They can also be stored on magnets or on sheets made for storing these.
  • When using these dies use a small piece of washi tape to hold the die when cutting

Steel-rule dies are sharp and protected with foam or plastic material (for your safety). They are typically more durable as they are designed for cutting thicker materials, or multiple cuts all at once. For things like complete alphabets, you will need extended cutting pads. They generally have a foam covering that protects the cutting blade. These may not fit in all machines, so if you interested in purchasing and using them, check with the machine specifics before purchasing a machine.

  • You can add paper on top of chipboard by covering a piece of chipboard with tape runner, placing the paper on top and running it through. Make sure to press it down before running it through
  • Make sure that if you are using patterned paper, that the paper side is laying on the plates so that the image appears as you want it
  • Generally speaking, when using steel rule dies, the die replaces a platform on your machine. You would still use the lower and top plastic plates

Sentiment Dies-Are words or phrases that are cut with the die. Generally, you will want to use liquid adhesive to place them on your projects, They are delicate and can rip. They generally are wafer thin, but can be steel ruled too. 
  • You can glue a craft foam with a spray adhesive. Allow to dry a bit. Then use your die to cut through to get a layered look to your sentiment.
  • Layer several words or phrases to give more dimension
  • Use vellum as a shadow layer to make a dimensional look
Stamping and Die Cutting Sets- sometimes sold as a set or singly, these stamps and die sets compliment each other. They also add a lot of detail to your project. They can be used together or individually to create a lot of different looks to your projects. You simply use the stamp to make your stamped image. Then you line up the die and cut the die. 
Embossing Folder and Die Cutting Sets-these are coordinating sets where you emboss a background and have a die that matches your design. Often these are sentiments. This project is made in two steps.

Cutting The Die

  • If you are cutting a very intricate die, you may need to run it through the machine more than rotate your plates 180° so the pressure is equally applied to the cut
  • If you are having problems cutting a new or intricate die, you can try lightly rubbing the die with baby powder. Use a cosemetic brush to "dust " the die
  • Attach the die to the surface with washi tape or other removeable tape so that it does not move
  • Always make sure that your die is within the inside of your cutting plates or sandwich. If any part of the die is outside of it, it will not cut.
  • If you are only cutting one or two small dies, place them on the outer edges of the plates. That is where the most pressure is
  • Depending on the thickness of your paper, it can sometimes be hard to remove the cut from the die without ripping it. One solution depending on the size of the cut is to use a pokey tool to push it out of the die. Gently use the tool to poke through the holes in the die to push it out.
  • If it is an outline die and has no holes in the back to help release it, just gently lift the paper off the die with the tool.
  • On slid color materials where you are cutting more than one die, move them around so that you get the most use of your material
  • Most machines will allow you to cut more than one die cut at a time. Check with your manufacturer as to the specifics of your machine

Enhancing Your Die Cuts

  • Layer your die cuts-either use the same die cut in various sizes or layer different shapes
  • Run a stamp pad along the edges of your die cut to add dimension
  • Use foam dots to add more dimension to your cuts
  • Curl up the edges-especially on flower dies
  • Layer sentiment dies to add more dimension
  • Offset your sentiment die cut to create a mirror type of image

Die Cut Accessories For Manual Machines

Most manual machines come bundled with accessories. What comes with your machine, is up to the manufacturer. For the most part you can expect to receive the platform (if one is needed) cutting plates and shims. Things like embossing pads may or may not come with your bundle, but generally these can be purchased separately.
Here are some common accessories for your manual die cut machine:
  1. Embossing Pad- this is used to emboss a design on a die cut as a second step
  2. Magnetic Platforms or Pads-these hold your dies in place
  3. Letterpress Platform-allows you to press letters as raised images on your paper. It is compatible for most manual machines.
  4. Tool In One by Spellbinders- a must have for all paper crafters. Used to eject small pieces of paper from your dies, the brush is very handy. It also has a paper piercing tool. You can also purchase additional tools like brayers, application pads and more.
  5. Craft Tweezers- used to pick up small die cuts that have glue on them so that you do not get your fingers and your project dirty.
  6. Die pick up tool-helps you find those dies scattered on your work area.
  7. Rollaway tool or lint brush- helps you pick up those tiny pieces of paper, glitter or embossing powder.

Die Cut Accessories For Electronic Machines

There is so much more that you can do way beyond the standard die cuts that you think about with just paper and paper type products. These machines open up a whole new world where die cutting goes beyond just making paper crafts
  1. Vinyl And Vinyl Start Up Kits- Many electronic machines give some vinyl products as part of your bundle when you make your purchase (most Cricut bundles include some of these). Others like silhouette offer vinyl start up kits that are sold separately. Either way, you can actually die cut vinyl into shapes, phrases and projects . 
  2. Your Mats- Again most machines include one or more mats with your initial purchase. Over time, your mats will become worn and need to be replaced, even if you are able to recondition them.
  3. Extended Mats-These are generally not included in your bundle, but these mats allow you to do larger projects. The standard mats are 12" by 12". These extra extended mats give you more options to make things like banners and large flowers.
  4. Replacement Blades- It is difficult to say how long your blades will last. But at some point they will have to be replaced. Their life depends on the type of material you are cutting, how often you use your machine and how many cuts you make. Some machines also have specialty blades available to cut specific projects like fabric. 
  5. Tool Kits-Every machine has a tool kit which ,may or may not come with your machine. Some have limited tools available with your purchase. Others have an extra purchase option for the tools. Either way, it is important to have these tools available to get the most from your machine. Most of these tools help you remove die cuts from your mat, help you measure and assist you in getting the most from your machine,
  6. Sketch Pens-Some machines use pens attached to their housing units. Other color from an internal program.

Get Started With Dies