Die-cutting can be quite a confusing to get your head around, but it is a really simple craft technique to start using. It can be used in multiple craft projects, from papercraft to soft craft to furniture upcycling.

If you’re looking to start using die-cutting, we’ve put together a complete guide on everything you need to know to get started, from how manual die-cutting machines work, to what you can do with them and how to use the different die technologies.

What is die-cutting?

Die-cutting, in crafting, is the process in which you use a die-cutting machine to cut out multiple shapes without the need for a craft knife, scissors or stencils. You can create the same shapes, with the exact same dimensions, multiple times usually with one pass through the machine. It saves lots of time and makes you cut-outs look professional and consistent every time.

What is a manual die-cutting machine?

The best way to describe a die-cutting machine is to compare it to a mangle or a press. The machine has two rollers which apply large amounts of pressure to the die and the material that is being rolled through the machine. The machine is controlled by a handle on the side, which moves the ‘sandwich’ of material and die, allowing the rollers to evenly spread pressure across, cutting through the layers of material. Some machines can also be bought with a powered component which will move the die and material through the machine for anyone who may struggle with mobility in their hands.

Big Shot Foldaway Die-Cutting Machine

What is a die?

A die is the ‘shape cutter’ that is rolled through a die-cutting machine with the material to be cut. A good way to visualise how a die works is to think of them as a cookie cutter, which cuts out a precise shape. There are two types of dies for crafting, Steel Rule dies and Wafer-Thin dies, which cut through different materials.

Steel Rule Dies

Steel Rule dies can cut through *multiple materials, from cardstock to fabric and leather and are recognisable as being set inside a block which is covered over with foam. These dies are designed to cut through thicker materials, cutting through multiple layers of the same material at a time. They are perfect for crafters who are looking to create more projects than just papercrafting, like soft crafts including quilting, home décor projects and sewing.

Steel Rule Die

*Only one type of material can be added to a machine at one time, dies will only cut through multiple layers of the same material.

Wafer-Thin Dies

Wafer-Thin dies are more intricate than Steel Rule dies and can only cut through paper and card. You may be able to cut through fabric and other thin materials, but this would might affect the life of the die, which is designed for papercraft projects. These dies are usually very intricate and are small metal shapes that have a flat side and a raised side. They are perfect for creating very detailed designs and work well on cardmaking, scrapbooking and other intricate papercraft projects.

Wafer-Thin Dies

What are the different uses of a die-cutting machine?

Die-cutting machines can be used differently by each crafter, it depends on your style and preferred techniques! There is a common misconception that die-cutting machines are only for makers who enjoy papercrafting, when actually Steel Rule Dies can be used for multiple making projects! Die-cutting is perfect for makers who are looking to do projects including papercrafting, scrapbooking, cardmaking, home décor projects, sewing, softcrafts, upcycling, gift making and quilting. The range of materials that can be cut with die-cutting machines allows for crafters to be really creative with how they use the machines.

What do you need to get started?

The majority of die-cutting machines come with what you need. Some come with a selection of dies and some don’t. For manual machines, the basics include the machine, a platform and two cutting pads. The platform is to be used with the Wafer Thin dies, but doesn’t need to be used with Steel Rule dies, as they are already thick enough to fit through the machines. The cutting pads are what create the sandwich, think of them as the two pieces of bread, either side of the die, platform (only used with Wafer-Thin dies) and material. This is all you need for standard die-cutting, there other accessories available to help that can be added on, like precision base plates.

What is embossing and can you emboss with Die-Cutting machines?

Embossing is a way of adding a texture to your material - it usually works best using cards and papers. Embossing is something you can easily do with die-cutting machines, you simply use an embossing folder instead of a die. The material that you want to emboss should sit within the embossing folder, which is added into the ‘sandwich’ and passed through the machine.

Die-cutting top tips:

Bent Cutting Plates

  • Cutting pads will bend, crack and mark. Don't worry, this is perfectly normal as they take a large amount of pressure. If your cutting pads are bent in one direction, turn them upside down and roll through the machine to straighten them. You only need to change your cutting pads once you have got a lot of use out of them.
  • Be careful when handling steel rule dies, they may be covered in a foam, but they are really sharp.
  • Use magnetic sheets to store your wafer thin dies, as some of them can have very small parts.
  • It’s recommended to always have the die facing upwards with the material on top of the die for the best cut.
  • With very intricate dies, roll through twice to ensure all delicate piece have cut through.
  • Always refer to the instructions that come with your die-cutting machine to ensure you really know what you're doing.

See our collection of die-cutting machines here. For all dies available, visit the website here.