How To Use Metal Die Cuts: The Complete Guide

Die cutting is a beautiful craft, especially if you love scrapbooking. There are so many lovely die designs available nowadays that you can carry on creating forever. The type of die that you use is essential. They need to be of good quality too, and they need to be made for your die-cutting machine. Metal dies are excellent because they give you clean-cut results every time. So, how exactly do you use a metal die?

To use a metal die a “sandwich” must be built to run through a manual die cutting machine. Generally, a die cutting sandwich consists of a base plate, metal die (cutting side up), material, plastic cutting plate. Place the sandwich on the machine and turn the crank to feed it through the rollers.

It’s a very simple process but sometimes getting the sandwich right for the material you are working with and the type of metal die can be a bit tricky. I’ll explain how to properly use your metal dies so you get perfectly clean cuts every time.

thinlet thin metal dies for manual die cutting machines
ID 120255436 © Ignasi Soler |

What Are The Different Types Of Dies?

There are two types of metal dies, thin metal dies and steel rule dies. There are other tools to use with your manual die cutting machine like embossing folders but there are a little different than dies. Learn more about the difference between embossing and die cutting here in my article.

Thin Metal Dies

These are etched metal with cut-out centers. They have a thin raised area and flat back that traces the design and serves as a cutting edge. These dies are typically u The Sizzix brand makes popular ones called Thinlets and Framelets.

Sizzix TH Thinlits Skeleton Leaves, None
  • Sizzix Dies Tim Holtz Thinlits Skeleton Leaves
  • Sizzix Dies help eliminate all that tedious and time consuming hand cutting.
  • Use with Sizzix die-cutting machines, sold separately.

Steel Rule Dies

These dies have more cutting force and are much stronger than thin metal dies. They can cut through more rigid materials (leather or mat board) and even cut through multiple layers of materials such as fabric. Even though this die is more resilient, it can’t produce detailed designs like a thin metal die can, and they are also the more expensive of the two.

But steel rule dies can cut more types of material like craft foam and even thin metal. Learn more about cutting metals with steel rule dies in my article.

How To Use Metal Dies Step-By-Step

There are many different ways to die cut and many different dies that you can use. Today I will be taking you through the steps to help you make some beautiful designs.

How to Use Basic Dies

  • Select the metal die and paper that you want to use.
  • After choosing a die and paper, place the die face down of the paper and flip your metal die onto the base plate of your cutter, with the die in between the base and the paper. Make sure the face of the die is looking up at the paper.
  • Position your die at a slight angle on the base plate (this prevents the roller from creating a slight bump as you feed it through).
  • Place your cutting plate over the die and turn the lever so that it can start feeding through the roller.
  • Once the entire die is out on the other side of the roller, reverse the lever and let it go back through the roller to the side you started.
  • Next, you need to pop the paper out of the die through the release holes. The best tool to use for this is the Spellbinders Tool ‘n One crafting tool. Use the pointed end and gently pop the unwanted paper out of the design.
Spellbinders T-016 New n One Multi-Purpose Craft Tool, 1, White & Bronze
  • The New and Improved Spellbinders Tool 'n One is a crafter's dream - all your tools at your fingertips.
  • Now in the New White and Bronze colors that coordinates perfectly with our Platinum and Platinum 6 Machines
  • It is a portable tool that performs multiple craft functions, including piercing, paper removal and many more!

How to Use Intricate Dies

  • Place a piece of shim metal sheet on your base plate.
  • Place your die and paper on the base plate (with the face of the die looking upward and the paper on top of the die.
  • Place your cutting plate on top and this time, feed it through, then back, and then through again to ensure it makes a clean cut.
  • Use the roller brush on the crafting tool and simply roll it over the die to remove all the tiny pieces.
  • In case you do not have a shim sheet, you can use a precision base plate
  • Position the precision base plate upside down on your base plate.
  • Place your die with your paper over the die onto the precision base plate.
  • Place the cutting plate over the paper and the die, turn the lever and feed it through and back again. (Also, three times)

When doing intricate designs such as doilies, place a layer of wax paper between the die and the paper, then cover it with the cutting plate and feed it through. The wax paper helps you pop the tiny pieces out easier, preventing them from tearing.

Using Metal Dies To Cut Foam

  • Use 3mm thick foam instead of paper. Place your die on the foam and place it face down on your base plate.
  • Place the clear plastic board on top of the foam and turn the level to start feeding it through. You only need to feed foam through once; otherwise, it flattens the foam, making it easier to tear.

Using foam gives your product some dimension, and you can add layers to it.

What Are The Parts To A Die Cutting Sandwich?

There are various types of die-cutting sandwiches, all containing different combinations. Always read the instructions with your machine and dies to make sure you are using the correct layers in your sandwich.

Basic Die-Cutting Sandwich

This die-cut sandwich is the traditional and most reliable die-cutting sandwich. It is ideal for most projects and dies.

Sandwich Parts (In Order)

  1. Base clear cutting plate
  2. Die (cut side up)
  3. Paper or card
  4. Plastic/magentic shim (as required)
  5. Top clear cutting plate

Intricate Die Cutting Sandwich

This variation is slightly different from the basic sandwich and includes a metal cutting plate for crisper cuts.

Sandwich Parts (In Order)

  1. Base clear cutting plate
  2. Metal cutting plate
  3. Die (cut side up)
  4. Paper or card
  5. Plastic shim
  6. Top clear cutting plate

What to Do When You Dies Aren’t Cutting Well Anymore

If you find that your dies aren’t cutting clean anymore, it might be time to get a new cutting plate. This is the most common reason why dies stop cutting well.

Adding a small shim like a piece of paper can sometimes be enough to get a die to cut properly again. Learn more about how long dies last and how to get them cutting well again in my article Do Crafting Dies Wear Out?

Final Thoughts

Die cutting is a simple and fun technique that can be used with multiple hobbies like scrapbooking and quilters. I call it the ‘Scrapbooker’s Dream Machine’ because so many beautiful die designs are available for you to create some really impressive scrapbooks.

If you follow these easy instructions, you are well on your way to becoming a professional die cutter in no time, creating crafts that are to “die” for.

Diane Davies

Diane loves to craft and create. She enjoys experimenting with her Cricut Maker and Accuquilt GO! She also dabbles in jewelry making and crocheting. She is also passionate about sewing.

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