Which Machines Make the Cut?
We tested nine die cutters for over 35 hours by comparing their ease of use, cutting force, the number of materials they could work with and each machine's software compatibility. To evaluate each machine, we tested the die cutters with standard vinyl and medium-weight cardstock, as not every die-cutting machine can handle every material. We looked for smooth edges on our cuts, whether cutting out shapes or letters. We also kept in mind that Intricate designs can rip easily if the die cutter doesn't achieve the correct speed or pressure. Here’s what we found:
Silver Bullet 13-inch Pro Series - Best Overall
This die cutter is precise and powerful. It can make thin cuts without ripping the material, and even though it's pretty expensive, it's worth the investment. The Silver Bullet has 1,250 grams of cutting force and can go up to 800 millimeters per second. Along with just simply making cuts you can make the machine draw something for you with a pen. There's also an embossing tool that works on paper, cardstock, chipboard and even soft metals. The engraving tool punches holes and distresses a variety of mediums including plastic, metal, glass, soap and even leather. The engraving tool has a diamond tip, which means you can cut precisely and for a long time. The Silver Bullet uses Sure Cuts A Lot software, which is easy to use. It also syncs with apps, including with Make The Cut. The machine is rather cumbersome and large though, so it's not very portable. That aside, you can cut almost any material with this die cutter.
Read the full review here: Silver Bullet 13-inch Pro Series
- Pro: It’s precise and versatile.
- Con: It’s expensive.
Cricut Explore Air - Best Budget
This affordable die cutter is not only inexpensive, it's easy to use. If you're new to this hobby, this is the machine to buy. The Cricut Explore Air can handle paper, vinyl, leather, poster board, wood and more and comes with many die cutters. You can insert a pen for drawing patterns or add a blade simultaneously so it draws the pattern first, then cuts it. You select which material you're cutting with a dial and the machine automatically adjusts the settings. If the material you're using is not quite paper but also not quite fabric, there are half settings to pick from as well. Old cartridges from other Cricut products work in this die cutter, and you can also use the company's free online software to find premade templates. Some are free but some you have to buy. The Cricut program can even take a JPG and turn it into a cuttable image. This machine isn't very portable as it lacks a built-in handle, but it's not too unwieldy or heavy. It's also Bluetooth compatible so you can send designs from your phone wirelessly. You get a lot with this die cutter for a reasonable price.
Read the full review here: Cricut Explore Air
- Pro: Free online software is available.
- Con: The companion app doesn’t work with Android devices.
Pazzles Inspiration Vue - Best for Novices
The Pazzles Inspiration Vue uses four wheels to keep your material stable as it moves through the machine. It's easy to use if you're new to the hobby, as there aren't any cartridges involved. You simply import images to the machine, which then turns them into cuttable designs. It can also draw out your design first before cutting it out. The Vue uses InVue and Inspiration Studio 2014 which can do kiss cutting, cut by color, mirroring and more. It has 1,000 grams of force and can take on a multitude of materials, including paper or vinyl. It can cut or emboss almost anything including leather, though it might take a bit longer on tough materials. If you’re really adventurous it can even cut cookie dough and other kinds of baking materials for beautifully-crafted treats. If you’ve never used a die cutter before, this is a good choice because of its muscle, easy-to-use interface and software. The only thing we didn’t like about it was the company’s customer service. In our tests they didn’t respond to our emails, but there is a lot of information available on the website and a live chat feature.
Read the full review here: Pazzles Inspiration Vue
- Pro: It’s easy to use.
- Con: It doesn’t run Sure Cuts A Lot software.
Sizzix eclips2 - Best for Scrapbooking
This die cutter can't engrave or emboss projects but works well if you're simply trying to cut paper, cards or other materials. It can apply up to 600 grams of force to the cutting blade so it doesn't work with thick material like leather, but it cuts precisely and quietly, making it great for design elements for a scrapbook, as well as cards and other paper goods. It also works on cloth for sewing projects. The included software, eCAL, is a version of Sure Cuts A Lot, so there's essentially no learning curve if you've used a die cutter before. You can design your own projects or use preloaded designs on your projects. There's the option to purchase more from the Sizzix eshape store online if you can't find what you want. This die cutter is also lightweight and easy to move around. A lot of the machines we reviewed were bulky and this model was an exception. It also has a scoring feature you can use to create seams on any material, like cardboard.
Read the full review here: Sizzix eclips2
- Pro: It’s fast and quiet.
- Con: It doesn’t have the bells and whistles other die cutters have.
KNK Zing Orbit - Best for Large Projects
This die cutter has 1,000 grams of cutting force and can tackle the biggest of projects. It can cut leather and engrave or emboss vinyl, fabric, plastic, Mylar and more. It's large and heavy, so you're not going to want to cart it around, but the KNK Zing Orbit is a great die cutter for use at home. It is compatible with Sure Cuts A Lot software, which you have to buy seperately. One of the most exciting parts of using this machine is the pinch wheels. You can adjust individually, and it comes with a removable flatbed to hold the project you're working on. This means you’re no longer held back by a stationary pinch feed assembly. A laser in the machine aligns with the corner of your sheet to make accurate cuts. The model we reviewed has a maximum cutting width of 15 inches but there is a 24-inch model available. You can connect the cutter to Wi-Fi for easy set up. You'll have to get used to not working with the old cartridge system, however. Customer support is available online, via email or on the phone.
Read the full review here: KNK Zing Orbit
- Pro: It has a maximum cutting width of 15 inches.
- Con: It’s expensive.
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, some engrave and emboss, as well as draw premade or custom designs. The lower the pressure, the better the die cutter is for thin material. Some die cutters 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. 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: 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.
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.
While all the machines we reviewed allow you to adjust blade depth, pressure and cut speed, keep an eye out for additional settings like piercing and embossing. Die cutting machines with pierce features can punch through materials to create patterns or designs, and those with emboss features can press patterns into materials to create a relief.
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 or cut designs into the paper or foam.
Automatic models are like 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.
Contributing Reviewers: Rebecca Spear & Anna Burleson