Introduction to Die Cutting – A Complete Guide

If you’re brand new to die cutting or electronic cutting machines, it can be a confusing world at first. Questions like, “what is a die cutting machine?”, “how does a die cutting machine work?”, and “what can die cutting machines cut?” This article will give you an introduction to die cutting.

What is a Die Cutting Machine?

A die cutting machine is a machine designed to cut materials, such as paper, fabric, or metal to a specific shape. While industrial and commercial cutting machines exist in manufacturing, smaller more personal machines are also widely popular among crafters.

These personal die cutting machines can cut out shapes that can then be used for a variety of projects including scrapbooking, t-shirts, homemade cards, quilts, or decorations for a party.

The great thing about die cutting machines is that you are able to cut the same exact shape over and over again, saving a lot of time and mistakes.

Die cutting machines usually comes in two types:

What type of machine you get will depend on your needs. Let’s take a look at both types.

Manual Die Cutting Machines

manual die cutting machine

Manual die cutting machines are die cutting machines that work like a cookie cutter. Just like a cookie cutters there are different shaped dies to cut your material. This means for each different shape you want to cut, you’ll need to purchase different dies for that shape. There are even companies that will make custom dies to order.

Manual die cutting machines are very easy to use and don’t require a computer. These machines come in different costs and budgets. Small machines are good for embossing and cutting smaller projects while larger machines can cut multiple pieces of fabric at once.

Another advantage of manual die cutting machines is that they can also use embossing folders. Embossing folders are a piece of hard plastic that imprint or emboss a design onto paper or cardstock. Learn the difference between embossing and die cutting in my article, What’s the Difference Between Die Cutting and Embossing?

Learn the basics of manual die cutting machines in my article Getting Started with Manual Die Cutting. You can also compare some of the most popular manual machines in my Guide to Manual Die Cutting Machines.


  • Easy to use and doesn’t require a computer
  • Easier for kids
  • Cut multiple pieces of fabric at once
  • Use a variety of embossing folders


  • Requires different dies for each shape
  • Can’t easily create your own designs

If you want my quick opinion, the Sizzix Big Shot (read my full review) is my favorite die cutting machine that is currently available. You can use a ton of different dies, even ones from other manufacturers plus is relatively compact.

Sizzix Big Shot Starter Kit 661500 Manual Die Cutting & Embossing Machine for Arts & Crafts,...

Digital Die Cutting Machines

Cricut Maker Review

Brother ScanNCut2 Review

Digital die cutting machines are die cutting machines that connect to a computer. These machines are also called electronic cutting machines, desktop cutting machines or vinyl cutters, though some vinyl cutters only cut vinyl.

When using a digital die cutting machine, designs are either created from scratch or imported in design software, then sent to the machine to be cut.

In the early days, die cutting machines didn’t connect to use a computer, but instead used cartridges. These cartridges contained multiple designs that could be selected using the machine’s onboard display. While cartridges are still used in older machines, they are now considered outdated technology and aren’t made anymore.

A digital die cutting machines offers a lot of advantages. Along with being able to create your own designs, many desktop cutting machines also are able to draw, etch, and engrave designs as well as cut.

CutCutting is a standard feature on electronic cutting machines. Some machines can cut shapes as small as a few millimeters
Cut-by-colorSome digital die cutting machines can trace colors and cut around them.
DrawOn some digital die cutting machines, the blade can be replaced with a type of marker to draw instead of cut.
PiercePiercing involves making holes in the material.
EngraveEngraving involves carving or cutting designs on a hard surface.
EmbossEmbossing is a standard feature on manual die cutting machines. It involves creating raised designs on a surface, giving the design a “pop-out” effect.


  • Create any design you want
  • Share design files with other crafters
  • Draw, etch and engrave


  • Requires a computer
  • Requires more technical knowledge
  • Can’t cut many pieces of material at once

Right now my favorite digital cutting machine is the Cricut Maker (read my full review). It can cut over 300 different types of materials and has some great additional tools and blades. It a little pricey but it is made by one of the top brands available on the market.

Cricut Maker - Smart Cutting Machine - With 10X Cutting Force, Cuts 300+ Materials, Create 3D Art,...

Die Cutting Machine Applications

One can make a variety of items with a die cutting machine. Here are a few ideas:

  • Scrapbook designs
  • Stencils
  • Magnets
  • Stickers and decals
  • Homemade cards
  • Fabric cutouts
  • Fun foam designs

Choosing a Die Cutting Machine

There are several factors to consider when buying a die cutting machine:

  • Type of machine – Manual or Digital
  • Cost
  • Materials and Capabilities
  • Ease of use – Software and Support
  • Size and Portability

If you are interested in purchasing a die cutting machine, the Manual Die Cutting Machine Guide and Digital Die Cutting Machine Guide sites will help you compare the most popular models on the market.

You can also check my article Best Die Cutting Machines for Beginners if you are new to the space or my article Best Die Cutting Machines if you want to know what’s the best of the best.

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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