Best Die Cut Machine for Beginners

So, you have decided to buy a die cut machine, and naturally have some questions before making your first purchase. Things such as manual or digital, how easy are they to use, and which one suits my needs the best? Don’t worry! I have you covered.

Before I get into my top 5 choices, it’s probably a good idea to go over in simple terms exactly what a die cut machine does.

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Primary a crafting tool, a die cut machine typically uses a small blade to cut intercut patterns and shapes from cardstock, paper, fabric, vinyl, or other types of material. Most people use a die cut machine to create crafting decorations and projects – think letters, shapes, and everything in between.

As mentioned above, there are different types of machines depending on your needs, which is why I created this best die cut machine for beginner’s guide. Below you will find my top recommendations (and a small write up as to why), and then a buyers guide that will help you navigate through the die cutting world.

In a hurry? This is our winner!

Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine Bundle Iron On Vinyl Pack Tools Pen Design Beginner Guide
  • MACHINE BUNDLE: Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine bundle with tool kit and vinyl in assorted colors. Air 2 die-cutting machine cuts variety of materials from paper, iron-on...
  • USER-FRIENDLY: Machine has built-in Bluetooth for wireless cutting, writing, and scoring. Smart Set dial adjusts to material. Upload images (.svg .jpg .png .bmp .gif) to...
  • ACCESSORIES: Tool Kit contains Spatula, Weeder, Scraper, Scissors, and Tweezers. 9x12 inch sheets (8) Cricut Vinyl (colors vary) and 9x12 inch sheets (2) Transfer Paper,...

Best Die Cut Machine for Beginners – Comparison Table

Best Die Cut Machine for Beginners – Reviews

Cricut Explore Air 2 Machine Bundle Iron On Vinyl Pack Tools Pen Design Beginner Guide
Our rating:

Cricut is basically one the most well known die cut machines on the market and is popular all over the world. This particular machine is one of their bestsellers, and as the Amazon ratings suggest, customers don’t tend to have much cause to complain.

This is a great one for beginners for several reasons, one of them being that it comes with a bundle of materials and tools to get you started, since as a beginner you may not have built up your craft stash just yet.

It’s also one of the most user friendly die cut machines on the market.

The bundle includes a lot of vinyl and fabric related materials, tools, and accessories, but please don’t be fooled into thinking that is all that the machine is set up for – it’s great for card making and papercraft too.

It’s good to know that it can cut through thick materials though, should you decide you want to use glitter paper, or super thick cardstock for example in any of your projects.

It has a smart set dial, where all you have to do is turn it to the material you want to cut, and the machine takes care of all the settings for you.

Included in the bundle are things like tweezers and pens, and although it can be operated via BlueTooth, there’s also a USB cord, should you have problems working the BlueTooth.

The other handy thing for beginners is the Getting Started Guide which can be emailed to you in PDF format, includes some great tutorials and projects to get you started with your first few projects!

All Cricut machines come with Design Space, Cricut’s free, easy-to-learn design software. You can personalize your designs any way you like since you can upload pictures in all your favorite formats. Design Space features a library of ideas to kickstart your creativity. Best of all, it’s all cloud-based so you can access your files from any device, any time.

To get the full break down on this versatile cutting machine check out my Cricut Explore Air 2 Review.

Pros
  • Well established brand
  • Best seller that customers love
  • Comes with a bundle of materials and tools
  • Super user friendly and easy to use
  • There’s a Getting Started Guide
  • Can cut through thick materials
  • Comes with free design software
  • Can connect via bluetooth
  • Access a library of ideas
  • Images automatically saved in the cloud
Cons
  • Premium product at a premium price
Silhouette Curio Starter Bundle with 24 Oracal 651 Sheets, Transfer Tape Roll, Guide, 24 Sketch...
Our rating:

This is a great little die cut machine from Silhouette. It may not be their most well known model, but this model is perfect for beginners.

This is a digital die cut machine, but it does a lot more than die cut – you can also emboss, stipple, sketch, and engrave. The range of what you can cut is phenomenal too, going beyond paper and felt to cover vinyl, leather, and even metal clay.

It comes as a comprehensive bundle, so in addition to the cutting mat, you also get a Pixscan mat, an embossing mat, sheets of vinyl, sketch pens, cutting and embossing tools and so on. Best of all for beginners, there’s a project tutorial book.

Included in the price you also get Silhouette Studio software, which is a great piece of kit and is compatible with both Windows PCs and Macs. You also get 50 exclusive designs, so any beginner not quite ready to design their own images can make a start with ready made designs.

And as if all that wasn’t enough, you also get a month’s free subscription to the Silhouette design store, which is worth $25 in downloads. And that gives you a lot to get started with, seeing as many of the designs available are less than $1 each.

My favorite place to buy Silhouette machines is from Swing Design. They have amazing bundles for Silhouette machines including the “Ultimate Silhouette Curio Guide” plus have spectacular customer servive.

You can read more about why the Curio is the runner up to the Cricut Explore Air 2 in my comparison article, Silhouette Curio vs Cricut Explore Air 2

Pros
  • As well as die cut, you can also emboss, stipple, sketch, and engrave
  • Use a wide range of materials, from paper through to leather and metal clay
  • Comprehensive bundle
  • Beginners project tutorial book
  • Silhouette Studio software
  • Month’s free subscription to the Silhouette design store, worth $25
Cons
  • Premium product at a premium price
Sizzix Big Shot Starter Kit 661500 Manual Die Cutting & Embossing Machine for Arts & Crafts,...
Our rating:

If you’re looking for something a little more affordable, you should check out this manual die cut machine from Sizzix. It comes in at less than half the price that you’d pay for some digital die cut machines.

It flies off the shelves and customers love it. It’s popular with beginners and experts alike.

Not only does it do die cutting, but it does embossing as well. You can cut and emboss anything from paper, vellum, and cardstock to felt, cork, and even balsa wood. So in addition to using it for papercraft scrapbooking, and cardmaking, you can also use it for quilting and fashion embellishments.

One reason this machine is so good for beginners is that it comes as a bundle, so not only do you get the machine but you also get some popular die sets, textured embossing folders, and some really nice card stock. And with the instruction book too, you can start crafting away as soon as your product arrives.

One of the reasons it’s so popular is due to its compatibility with the other die cut and embossing products. Not only will it work with the massive Sizzix product range but also with dies from other manufacturers like Spellbinder and Accuquilt.

You can find their wide range of Sizzix dies available on the Sizzix website and even have dies custom made.

As it’s a manual die cut machine rather than digital, you don’t have to worry about learning how to use any fancy design software. But you will have to purchase dies which are like cookie cutters for your material.

You can get the Big Shot on its own or with a starter kit. But there are other models available as well. If you want a machine a little more portable you can get the Big Shot Fold Away who’s sides fold down. Or if you need to cut larger items the Big Shot Pro is another favorite, it’s actually my recommendation for cutting fabric and felt.

The machine allows for die cuts up to 6″ in width. That may sound at first like it’s a little on the small side, but it’s good size for most papercraft, card making, scrapbooking etcetera. In fact, I would argue it’s an ideal size for detailed craft embellishments.

For the full details read my in depth review of the Sizzix Big Shot manual die cutting machine.

Pros
  • Affordable
  • Popular
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Does embossing as well as die cutting
  • Versatile
  • Compatible with other manufacturers dies
  • No design software to learn
  • Fold away version available
Cons
  • The size may sound small at first, but it’s actually plenty adequate
  • Need to buy dies to use with machine
Brother CM350E ScanNCut 2 Cutting Machine with Scanner, Make DIY Vinyl Wall Décor, Custom Stickers...
Our rating:

Brother is perhaps better known for their sewing machines and printers, but this die cut machine they’ve created is just great too.

It works differently to other die cut machines in that there’s a 300 DPI built-in scanner. There’s also 631 built-in designs, including 100 quilt designs, and 7 lettering fonts.

But you’re not limited to these 600 plus designs, you can use images from your PC or mobile device for your creations. You can make something truly unique.

Beginners may also prefer using the free design software, CanvasWorkspace, which is an easy to use cloud-based software. Here you can access hundreds of free logos, clip arts, borders, etcetera. There’s plenty of projects on there, all with step by step instructions and videos. There are so many images and designs available you may not ever want or need to buy more.

Its color LCD touchscreen allows you to set your settings right there on the machine, you don’t even need to hook it up to your PC or device unless you want to use a unique image.

Despite being called ScanNCut, you can also emboss with this machine. To see all the options and how easy this machine is to use, read my review of the Brother ScanNCut2.

Pros
  • 300 DPI built in scanner
  • 631 Built in Designs, Including 7 Lettering Fonts
  • Make unique designs with your PC or device
  • Free access to CanvasWorkspace
  • Projects have step by step instructions and videos
  • Easy to use color LCD touchscreen
  • As well as die cut you can draw or emboss
  • No subscription fees
Cons
  • Premium product at a premium price
  • Only file formats supported are FCM and SVG
Cricut Joy Machine - Compact and Portable DIY Machine For Quick Vinyl, HTV Iron On and Paper...
Our rating:

Our final pick is the Cricut Joy machine. What makes this machine the perfect option for beginners? Simplicity, and price. While it doesn’t have some of the features of the above machines, it essentially does two things; cut and write. And it does them exceptionally well.

The ability to cut and write on over 50 different materials up to 5.5 inches wide makes it perfect for cards, labels, shapes, and decals. You can also create long banners up to 4 feet long using Smart Materials or even 20 feet long if using a repeating design. The Joy is the first Cricut machine that works with Smart Materials. These are special materials with thicker backing, allowing you to cut without a mat.

Using it is a breeze. While it doesn’t have any physical buttons, it’s controlled from Design Space, Cricut’s design program, and connects remotely via Bluetooth to your smartphone or computer. Design Space is available for Mac and Windows as well as in a more limited app version for iPad, iPhone and Android.

Overall, it’s not as sophisticated as some of the other machines. But it’s cheap, high quality and perfect for beginners to get started with. If you’re low on space, then the Joy takes up hardly any room too.

There are a few negatives to consider. The biggest one is that you will need to purchase additional accessories to get the most out of the machine. While the machine itself is cheap, picking up the accessories can soon add up.

One of the major selling features of the Joy is its ability to use Smart Material, but this is also a negative as the material can be quite expensive. Fortunately, you can also use standard materials with the help of a cutting mat.

Finally, you will need to use Design Space. As mentioned above, there are no physical buttons on this machine. While Cricut is continually updating the program, some people still find it buggy and not great to use. But this issue will occur with any Cricut machine from the Joy to the Explore Air 2 to the Maker.

Pros
  • Well established brand
  • Cheap and cheerful
  • Perfect for beginners
  • Small size
  • Can use Smart Materials
  • Can cut up to 20 feet long with repeated cuts
Cons
  • Very simple
  • Only cuts and writes
  • Must use Design Space
  • Accessories can be expensive

Best Die Cut Machine for Beginners – Buyers Guide

In the following paragraphs, I will walk you through the different things you might like to think about before buying your first die cut machine.

To get a full overview of die cutting machines, check out my article Introduction to Die Cutting Machines.

Purpose

Deciding what you’d like your die cut machine to do should be one of your first considerations.

Some die cut machines will simply do no more than cut your card or craft material, but others can also provide a raised impression on your card stock known as embossing. Embossing can provide a very unique look to your project which can’t be as easily achieved via other methods such as with embossing powder and heat guns. Even scoring boards rarely come with all the designs you’d want.

If you want to start with die cutting and later try your hand at embossing, you don’t want to end up paying twice. A machine that does both die cutting and embossing is ideal.

What machine you ultimately come down to also depends on what materials you’re planning to cut. All die cut machines will cut paper and vinyl, but if you wanted to cut felt, or multiple layers of fabrics or thicker materials, then you’re going to need a more heavy duty machine than your standard manual or digital die cut machine.

Manual or Digital

As to whether to go for manual or a digital die cut machine, both have their merits and their drawbacks.

Digital die cut machines, as you might expect, tend to be both faster and a lot more accurate than their manual counterparts. Digital cutters do not require steel dies because they have a blade inside the machine that cuts the material.

But their primary drawback is their cost. They are considerably more expensive than manual machines.

Furthermore, digital die cutters are also heavier than their manual counterparts and therefore are less easily portable. That may not sound like much of a big deal if you plan on doing all your die cutting at home, but if you wanted to take the machine to a craft class, it would set you back.

Also, while many manual die cutting machines are capable of doing embossment, this is a function that not all digital machines can perform.

Manual die cut machines do have less of a learning curve since there is no computer involved so if you aren’t particularly computer savvy manual may be the route to go.

Ease of use and clarity of instructions

For a beginner, how easy a die cut machine is to use can make the difference between enjoying your hobby and having it feel like a chore.

If you decide to go for a manual die cut machine, then there’s little to worry about in this regard.  Most manual machines are so simple to use that even a child can operate it with supervision. In fact, you can start using manual ones right out of the box.

The digital ones, on the other hand, are only as easy to use as it’s compatible software. In most cases, however, the user interface is generally quite intuitive. And there are many tutorials and courses available for free or purchase

Value for money

Die cutting machines tend to vary quite a lot in price, so once you know what sort of machine you want then there’s no harm in shopping around for a good price. If you’re specifically looking for as affordable a machine as possible, my recommendation is to go for my Number 2 pick.

To get really good value for money, my recommendation is to look out for a bundle deal so you get both a die cutting machine as well as a variety of materials to try and compatible dies or tools.

Brand

A manual die cut machine has a very simple job to do and there’s not a lot of technology involved in using one. However, the reason I bring up brands as something to consider before purchasing is that the dies you want to use need to be compatible with your machine. The more prevalent the brand of die cut machine you use, the easier it will be to find both compatible dies and accessories. Sizzix is compatible with the most amount of the dies available on the market.

If you were to opt for a digital machine, you don’t need to worry about finding compatible dies (as they won’t be needed), however with the better known brands, you tend to get some really good software which can include your favorite images from the big screen. Cricut and Silhouette are the two big brands available for digital cutting machines.

Final Thoughts

Which ever die cutting machine you pick make sure you’ve made a list of what your needs are versus your wants and also waht your budget is. It’s helpful to keep an eye out for sales so you can get the best bang for you buck.

For more information on die cutting machines, I highly recommend checking out my Introduction to Die Cutting article to help you get familiar with all that these machines can do.

Picking the best die cut machine when you are a beginner can seem overwhelming. Deciding what materials you want to use, like vinyl, wood, fabric, or paper, or if you want a digital or manual cutting machine can be confusing. We've found the best craft machines for beginners from Cricut, Silhouette, Sizzix, Brother, and Spellbinders. Plus we've included a detailed buyers guide, with all our tips and tricks, to help you buy the best machine for you.