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.

27 thoughts on “Introduction to Die Cutting – A Complete Guide”

  1. My friend in Israel wants a manual die cutting machine. What is available in her area without costing a lot in shipping costs?

    • Hi Susan, will you be cutting your own designs? A manual die cut machine like the Big Shot might be best if you just want basic shapes like flowers. If you want to create your own designs from scratch, then something like the Cricut Explore will work.

  2. I an looking for a machine that can cut my own designs in felt material. I was interested in the hand die cuts at it says its better for fabric and felt and I expect cheaper than digital, except you seem dependent on others designs is that right? I’m starting my own craft business using felt so I’m looking for something that can withstand a fair amount of use but I also dont have alot of spare cash.

    • I just bought a Cricut Explore Air 2. It can cut felt and fabric. The Cricut Explore Air is supposed to be the same machine, but just slower. It is a lot less expensive than the Air 2, if you don’t mind the extra cutting time.

  3. I have never used a die-cutter before, but am interested in one that allows me to create custom designs (primarily in vinyl). What would you recommend?

    • HI Annie, pretty much all the die cut machines are able to cut Vinyl. Are you looking to create your own custom designs? If so, I would look into the Cricut Explore. The Cricut Explore is one of the most popular machines and is easier to use compared to some of the other machines on the market.

  4. I’m looking for a machine to cut out fan patterns for my specialized fans. What machine do you recommend?

  5. Planning a wedding and have decided that it may be cheaper, and more fun, to make my own invitations, signs, menu cards, etc. so am looking at purchasing a die cut/embossing/printing machine. I want the invitations to be the type with cut design sides that fold over the middle. What do you recommend? Is there one that can cut the wrap and print the inside card with embossed print? Can any do a gold foil embossing as well?

    Thank you!

    • Hi Sandy, sorry for the late reply! Did you end up picking out a machine?

      I’m thinking a manual die cut machine might be best. The only thing is, you’ll need to make sure there are dies and embossing folders for the designs you want. It seems like you’ll want to cut the invitations and emboss them after they are cut? If so, you’ll need the die and embossing folder. Typically, you can use the same manual die cut machine for both these tasks.

      If you are making a lot of invitations, a manual die cut machine will be a lot quicker compared to a digital die cutter. The advantage to a digital die cutter is that you’ll able to make your own custom designs.

      Hope this helps!

  6. I am starting out with paper craft, I need a macine to cut paper fancy edges shaped edges of pages etc I am a complete novice do I need a scan n cut machine or something like a Cricut. Or is there a cheaper alternative? As I said I am a newbie and want to make products look professional from day one but have not got a big budget. Also are the dies sold separately and from where . Thank you hope you can help me.

    • Hi Anna, has the blade been used a lot or is it newer?

      Another possibility is that the blade is fine but something is wrong in your settings. Make sure you have the right material. You can also try reducing pressure settings gradually and see if that helps.

    • Hi Mike, I have not heard of any die cutting machines on the “craft” level that will do a bevel cut.

  7. Any suggestions on the best machine for cutting designs for leather. I’m very new the the whole die cut/ cricket world. Thanks kindly.

  8. I’m trying to compare machines but am trying to find the best machine for engraving metal for personalized jewelry. What would you recommend? Thank you.

  9. Just started looking into getting some kind of machine that i would like to be able to create design and use pre made one to cut Vinyl with that I could use with something like the Cricut Easy Press 2 6×7. any advice would be greatly appreciated! thank you.

  10. I have a Scan N Cut2 and I absolutely love it! I have all of the “extras” that are purchased separately, except the Rhinestone Kit. But I love the dies that I see from like Tim Holtz etc… and now I’m wondering do I need a separate manual die/embossing machine for this reason? Still new to this type of crafting but am loving learning all the new things I can do with this category of crafting. I am a self taught crochet and I sew and hand and machine embroider so this is uncharted areas for me. Still on the fence about a separate manual die/embossing machine 😞

  11. Hi I want to make customized favor boxes and paper flowers I was wondering if I can do this with sizzix big shot plus I live in Uganda and I want something low maintainence that won’t need constant maintaining thanks

    • Hi Denise, Cricut Design Space will only work with Cricut machines. Same goes for Silhouette Studio, it will only work with Silhouette machines. There is other software available like Sure Cuts a Lot, Make the Cut and Inkscape, that work with other brands of die cutting machines but I’m not familiar with the Glowforge 3D Laser Printer.

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