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What Is A Die Cutting Machine

What Is A Die Cutting Machine

So, after an intriguing get-together with a creative hobbyist friend who’s opened her own successful store on both Etsy and Zazzle to market her embossed leather goods, you’ve decided to invest some time and effort at developing your own crafts for fun and profit.

Checking out some online avenues for your own piece of the crafts marketing pie, you come across a couple of Pinterest lists that pique your curiosity, find like-minded friends on a few Facebook groups, and even investigate arts and crafts Instagram feeds for inspiration.

And did we mention scrapbooking – from home memorabilia to elaborate pop-up designs for parties and corporate events?

No matter your goals, many crafts created on various media sold commercially demand exact replication from unit to unit.

Whether the pattern is to be embossed or cut into decorative leather or paper stock for cards or posters, cut on or through fabric for quilts, towels, t-shirts or other wearables, impressed on felt, metal foil, tissue paper, greeting card stock, cloth, thin plastic sheets, or other flat or impressionable, flexible material, like vinyl decals, refrigerator magnets, and plastic stencils ‒ you will require accurate and precisely repeatable patterns.

That’s where a home or workshop – sized die cutter comes in as an essential piece of equipment to get exact results from a pattern, ensuring your clientele receives just what they ordered – whether one or one hundred copies – in the pattern and size they require.

Decades ago, such pieces of commercial equipment were prohibitively expensive, and commonly only available as bulky industrial-sized machines, like you’d see in a clothing mill or on a factory shop floor.

But, with the advent of affordable and easy-to-use tabletop die cutting machines and easily ordered and set up dies and die cartridges; along with online shopping, marketing, and low-cost customer fulfillment methods, what was once a personal craft sold in a few brick and mortar boutiques, can now be sold and shipped worldwide.

What Is A Die Cutting Machine

While the dies themselves are often custom made per item to be reproduced, die-cutting machines themselves – whether manual hand-cranked, electrical, or printer-like digital versions – work on a cookie-cutter method, inscribing, pressing or slicing through the material in a regular, repeating pattern.

There are a wide variety of tabletop die cutting machines, including versions that work via software connected to a PC, tablet or smartphone. Some make acceptable disk-on-key pattern and instruction input, while others are WiFi-enabled.

Standalone versions offer their own internal operating software and simplified operating screens.

Hand-crank models, while more limited in range and materials they can accept due to generally smaller apertures and overall size, are, on the other hand, more portable, and might suit someone who’s working in tight spaces, or on a part-time or occasional project basis.

Some larger, more elaborate models have options for interchangeable pens and cutting blades, while other models can accept upwards of six to eight sheets of materials, making shorter work of larger production runs.

Prices for die-cutting machines range from just under USD 100 for elemental hand-cranked devices, to several hundred dollars for more feature-rich machines, to upwards of over eight thousand dollars for desktop gear rivaling commercial cutter-printers.

Sewing and embroidery site,, has a useful comparison chart of leading devices, including 26 of what they consider top-rated devices, from inexpensive but sturdy hand-cranked models like the Cricut Cuttlebug Die-Cutting and Embossing Machine to far pricier feature-rich gear suitable for small to medium-sized operations – like the Brother CM350 Electronic Cutting Machine, which features a 300 DPI built-in scanner, allowing you to scan in and then print and cut your own design from scratch, with its PC-compatible software and connectivity.

Several notable die-cutting and crafts websites put in good reviews for the simple-to-use, hand-cranked Sizzix Big Shot, which sports a 6-inch wide opening that is suitable for home and small production runs.

Over at the top-end of the home and small business range is the Roland VersaStudio BN-20. According to the manufacturer, the 20-inch inkjet offers printing and contour cutting capable of “printing t-shirt graphics, decals, stickers, signs, and posters.”

Meanwhile, between the pricing and feature set extremes are the Silhouette Curio and Silhouette Cameo die-cutting machines, running, respectively, USD 249.99 and 299.99 MSRP, according to a comparison review over at

The main differences, according to the manufacturer, are in their capabilities and size: the Cameo is capable of intaking materials measuring 12 inches by 10 feet, while the smaller Curio is limited to 8.5 inches by 12-inch runs.

However, the Curio can handle a wider variety of materials and functions, like embossing and etching.

What Is A Die Cutting Machine

The Curio’s smaller accessory tools can fit in the larger brother’s shell – although the makers don’t recommend that particular customer-inspired hack.

The Curio’s features include: metal and foil stippling, metal etching, dual carriage multitasking (multiple tasks in one pass), embossing score, print, and deep-cut capabilities such as leather, foils, and foams, among others, and allows for using thicker materials as project surfaces, such as stencils sketched directly onto wood up to 5mm thick, according to the manufacturer.

For those unable or unwilling to pony up any of the prices for the latest bright and shiny device, or would prefer to prepare their projects “old skool” for after the zombie apocalypse, there are a wealth of self-made videos and instructionals about using rolling pins, and similar heavy objects to impress, emboss and cut through assorted materials.

The Frugal Crafter blog, for example, suggests simply using brass or plastic stencils, embossing and texture plates that would also be used in a mechanical, electric, or electronic die cutting – type device.

Together with various-sized rolling pins, styli, and assorted impression tools, she manages to get convincing, professional-looking results in minutes.

And finally, Instructables offers a do-it-yourselfer’s dream: a home-assembled, laser-cut, 3-D printed MDF die cutter! While not of the “spit-and-rubber-bands” school of design ‒ the project expects the builder to have access to a laser and 3-D printer ‒ the plans include full instructions, a parts list, and software codes for the 3-D printer.

James M. Rai has been screen printing T-shirts and other textiles professionally and as a hobby for more than 15 years. During that time, he owned and operated a small screen printing shop in northern California for more than 7 years. More recently, James has gotten involved with Cricut and other cutting machines.