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Best Die Cutting Machines
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. We have determined that the Silver Bullet 13-inch Pro Series is the best overall die cutter. It 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 for beginners 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.
If you are looking for a more economical option, the Cricut Explore Air is the best budget pick since it costs less than its competitors and can also save you time by drawing and cutting projects simultaneously. This machine is an especially good option for beginners since it has a clearly labeled dial that adjusts the blades to work with various material types so you don't need to adjust the blades manually. It can work on over 100 different materials with the ability to cut over 60 materials.
The KNK Zing Orbit is perfect when working on larger projects. At 15-inches wide, it has the widest cutting width out of any other machine in our comparison. It's a good fit for custom and predesigned shapes. A powerful machine with 1,000 grams of pressure, it can slice through tough materials like leather and rubber as well as delicate things like tissue paper. In addition, it is easy to use. You can use this die cutter with Sure Cuts A Lot software to create stunning designs, it comes with several speed settings, and it boasts Wi-Fi and USB connectivity.
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, 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. 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: 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.
Best Manual Die-Cutting Machines
All the die-cutting machines we tested are electronic cutters that use software and mobile apps to generate design images. However, you may find a manual machine to be a more portable, budget-friendly way to create scrapbook crafts. Here are some of our favorite manual die-cutting machines:
The Sizzix Big Shot is a durable, portable die-cutting machine with steel rollers and solid steel gears. Sizzix has a huge selection of compatible dies, or you can use third-party dies to cut, emboss or stencil unique scrapbook pages or embellishments. The Big Shot cuts cardstock, felt, magnet and leather and comes with two standard cutting pads and an extended platform. It comes in three colors and weighs less than 8 pounds.
This manual cutter can’t handle thick materials like the Sizzix Big Shot can, but its foldable sides and compact design make it the most portable die-cutting machine available. It comes with a 6 x 8-inch A plate, two 6 x 8-inch B plates, an embossing folder and two metal dies. You need to buy a C adapter plate accessory to use this machine with dies made by Sizzix or other third-party systems. The Cuttlebug has a unique suction feature that engages when the sides unfold that keeps it from sliding around on slippery surfaces.
Contributing Reviewer: Rebecca Spear