Which Machines Make the Cut?
The top performers in our review are the Silver Bullet, the Gold Award winner; KNK Zing Air, the Silver Award winner; and Pazzles Inspiration, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a die-cutting machine to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Die-Cutting Machines: What Makes the Cut?
It can be difficult for quilters, scrapbookers and crafters to make precise cuts on fabric, paper and other materials. Handheld tools like hobby knives and scissors can be unwieldy and tedious for large or complex projects. If you find yourself frequently cutting small, intricate pieces or you need many pieces of a similar shape, you may want to consider adding a die-cutting machine to your crafting kit. These machines come in a variety of sizes, with different prices, power levels and capabilities, which can make it hard to choose the right one for your needs.
Die cutters work best for cutting cardstock and paper across the board, but tougher models can cut low-strength materials. Even the simplest die cutters can cut and emboss, but more advanced models can draw, print, weld and scan. If you're the crafty type, check out our reviews on other crafting supplies like sewing machines and scrapbooking software. For even more about these machines, take a look at our articles about die-cutting machines.
Die-Cutting Machines: How to Choose
There are several criteria to consider when selecting a die-cutting machine. Die cutters come at a wide range of prices; they can be simple rolling presses or advanced models that print, scan, cut and more. Because of this, consider how frequently you craft, as well as how detailed and customized you want your designs to be.
Automatic vs. Manual
Both automatic and manual die cutters work well with a variety of materials, so the type of machine you choose really comes down to convenience and what you plan on using it for the most. Manual models are composed of a rolling base connected to a side crank. You turn the crank and the base moves like a conveyer belt under the die cutting press and blade. With these models, you put paper under metal dies that press, cut or emboss designs into the paper or foam.
Automatic models are similar to printers or scanners. Your materials sit on a sheet of light adhesive paper to keep them stable while the die-cutting blade carves your designs. More advanced models let you create designs on a computer, then send them to the cutter. While it is common to use these machines for cutting vinyl lettering and paper for scrapbooking pages, today's machines can do much more, such as engrave and emboss a wide variety of materials like sheet metal, fabric and leather.
Die cutters are often used for labels, stamps, stickers, card pieces, quilting and scrapbooking. The best die cutters can create delicate lace patterns that are extremely difficult to cut with a knife or scissors. Each piece of paper or cloth you insert into the die cutter should return with your design cut neatly and uniformly.
Depending on the projects you like to work on, pick a die-cutting machine that cuts the type of materials you use most. The most common materials are paper, vinyl and fabric, but some die cutters can also cut materials such as rubber, fiber, foil, cloth, fiberboard, paperboard, plastic, foam, leather and even sheet metal. Quilters need more advanced die cutters to handle fabrics of different textures and thicknesses, while scrapbookers can get by with most models.
Using a high-end automatic machine, you can create your own designs and store them as templates for later use. Simple press models typically are limited to cutting designs from premade metal dies that press into the crafting material.
Die-Cutting Machines: What We Tested, What We Found
To evaluate each machine, we tested the die cutters with standard vinyl and medium-weight cardstock, as not every die-cutting machine can handle other materials. We looked for smooth edges on our cuts, whether cutting out shapes or letters. Intricate designs can rip easily if the die cutter doesn't achieve the correct speed or pressure.
A die cutter’s most important specification is its cutting force, or the amount of pressure it applies to the materials it is cutting. This determines how well the machine can cut through a given material, leaving clean lines or only scored edges.
While the main purpose of die cutters is to cut, they can also pierce, engrave and emboss, as well as draw premade or custom designs. The lower the pressure, the better the die cutter is for thin material. Products like the Silhouette Curio have a low cutting force, making them ill-suited for tough materials like leather but a good fit for cardstock and other paper. We awarded machines with high cutting forces, 900 grams of force or greater, higher scores because those that use less pressure aren’t as versatile.
Ease of Use
While all die cutters are easy for most crafters to use, we took into account each machine’s weight, the setup and software installation process, and the overall ease of operation. The Cricut Explore, Brother Scan N Cut and Silhouette Cameo received top marks for portability and convenience because of their lightweight housing and simple controls.
We also considered whether the die-cutting machines come with the required software, as well as if they are compatible with the most common stand-alone software for die cutting. If the machine can be operated without the use of software, we gave it the same score as if it had software included.
Cutting width also impacted our ranking of the best die-cutting machines. All but one machine in our review has a cutting width between 12 and 15 inches, which is ideal for scrapbooking pages and wide enough for most other materials. Die cutters with narrower cutting widths limit the size of letters or images you can cut.
The best digital cutters have quality customer service behind them. These machines take some getting used to, even if you have used other die cutters before. The best manufacturers provide easy access to customer reps through telephone, email, FAQs and tutorials. If you're new to crafting, the best die cutters come with online copies or prints of ideas and patterns.
Die-Cutting Machines: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The purchase of a digital die-cutting machine represents a significant investment for most folks. The units that made the cut with us offer a great deal of versatility and value. Our favorite die-cutting machines can help you reach new artistic heights for years to come and won't be outclassed by up-and-coming cutters anytime soon. Like crafters, the best die-cutting machines are powerful multitaskers. They are able to manipulate a wide variety of materials, are easy to use and come with great customer support in case you need it.
The Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner is the Silver Bullet. This die cutter has the highest cutting force of any of the models we reviewed. Able to apply up to 1,250 grams of pressure, the Silver Bullet can cut materials ranging in thickness from thin tissue paper to tougher materials like sheet magnet, wood and leather. This die cutter is admittedly hard to use compared to its competitors because it has so many features. Beyond cutting, the Silver Bullet can weld, draw, pierce, emboss and engrave premade or custom designs into materials.
The KNK Zing earns our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award because it's a good fit for custom and predesigned shapes. While it produces less cutting force than out top choice, it can still slice through tough materials like leather and rubber. In addition, it is easy to use. You can use this die cutter with Make the Cut software to create your own designs or operate it independently of your computer.
The Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award goes to the smooth operating Pazzles Inspirations Vue. This die cutter has four wheels to stabilize cutting under the high force of the blade. The Inspirations Vue produces up to 1,000 grams of pressure to the material, but it has problems cutting tough material like sheet metal. This is an especially good die cutter if you have a crowded craft room. It's light, easy to use and comes with tool storage for small pieces and extra material. In addition, it comes with design software to create custom crafts all your own.