Die Cut Basics: Tips and Ideas

Updated on August 25, 2018
linfcor profile image

Professional scrapbook artist, paper crafter, and author, I have taught people how to make family memories into legacies for 20 years.

Dies for crafts come in all kinds of shapes and sizes for almost every craft project
Dies for crafts come in all kinds of shapes and sizes for almost every craft project

Getting Started With Die Cutting

Die cuts are one of the most popular form of paper crafting. Even with the wonderful new and upgraded cutting machines, basic die cutting remains as widespread as ever. They can be used in so many versatile ways.

Here are a few ideas to use die cuts:

  • Scrapbooks: embellishments, titles, photo frames
  • Cards: focus of the card or actual card from
  • Art journals: decoration
  • Planner: dividers, decorations, and accents
  • Mixed media artwork

When you explore the world of die cuts, you'll see that there are simple shapes, intricate flowers that are 3D, butterflies, card shapes and forms, and embellishments. Think of any shape or form, and there is a die cut for it. Some crafters even make a hobby of collecting them!

Invest in a glue pen with a very fine nib so you can be very precise when applying glue to your cut die shapes.

What Are Dies?

Dies are metal shapes, words, or alphabets that can cut images. They are usually made of metal and come in various sizes and shapes. They are generally made to cut into paper, but some of them can also cut into fabric, making them multi-use.

Some dies are made to be used directly out of the package. Others are connected by little wire connectors. In this case, you will need a little wire cutters to cut off the extra pieces.

  • One side of the die is smooth, and the other side of the die has ridges. It is the ridges that will actually cut the paper into the shape of the die. So you always want the ridges of the die facing the paper.
  • You will also notice little holes in the die. The reason for the holes in the die design is to allow you to loosen the paper if it gets stuck in the die. The holes will not show on the paper design. You will just need a little die pick to release the paper if it gets stuck.

Before you buy any die, make sure that it can be cut on your machine. Not all dies are compatible with all machines. This is especially true with manual machines.

What Can Dies Work?

  • Paper
  • Cork
  • Fabric
  • Leather
  • Foam
  • Thin Metal
  • Wood
  • Chipboard

If you are die cutting an intricate die, cut two of them. That way if for some reason, you make a mistake, you have an extra one

Nesting dies are a complete set of the same shape in different sizes
Nesting dies are a complete set of the same shape in different sizes

What Are Nesting Dies?

Nesting dies are simply put the same die shape in graduating sizes. They come in sets of different sized shapes. That way you will always have the shape in the exact size that you need.

You can also layer the shapes on top of the other. You can also offset them to create a different look. They are perfect when you are just starting out because they give you a lot for your craft dollar. They come in basic and intricate shapes.

When cutting several dies at the same time, try placing the dies towards the outer edge of the plate rather than the center. You will get a better cut.

Corner dies are often intricate, beautiful additions to your paper craft projects
Corner dies are often intricate, beautiful additions to your paper craft projects

What Are Corner Dies?

Corner dies create intricate corners along any paper project. They generally come in sets of two of the same dies. They are handy for adding design around photos. However, their use does not end there. They can be layered on greeting cards. They can add a lot of style to scrapbook pages. Wherever there is an edge, you can always add some jazzed-up corners.

Edge dies create a unique style to your paper crafts
Edge dies create a unique style to your paper crafts

What Are Edge Dies?

Edge dies create a fancy edge to any paper craft project. They can be used in almost every type of card style. They are especially useful on stand up cards. You can use them to create a simple edge or a very fancy multiple-edge piece. They can be used on greeting cards, journals, photo mats, and more.

A sandwich recipe refers to the order in which the machine’s platforms, shims, cutting plates, embossing mats, and dies should be stacked before being fed into the machine.

The cuttlebug is one type of manual machine. It uses a handle to move the plates, paper and die. The plates are compressed in the machine which forces the die onto the paper.making the cut
The cuttlebug is one type of manual machine. It uses a handle to move the plates, paper and die. The plates are compressed in the machine which forces the die onto the paper.making the cut

What Are Die Cut Machines?

While there are many types of die cut machines, they are broken down into two types, manual machines and electronic machines. Each type has its own advantages.

Basically all machines work the same way. They pass flat plates through a set of rollers. The paper is compressed against a die which cuts the design.

Advantages of Manual Machines

  1. No electricity required
  2. Portable
  3. More affordable

Advantages of Electronic Machines

  1. No hand cranking
  2. Multiple die cuts in one pass
  3. Can cut many layers of the same die in one pass

Some manual machine now have the option of an added on electrical feature. Check with your manufacturer to see if your machine has that added feature

Gemini cutting machine in an electronic die cut machine
Gemini cutting machine in an electronic die cut machine

What to Consider When Buying a Die Cut Machine

Buying a die cut machine is a serious investment. There are a few things that you should consider before taking the step of buying or replacing your current one.

The first thing to think about is the type of machine that is right for you.

  1. Manual machines are the most affordable die cut machines. They are also generally very portable. They have a hand crank that allows plates that hold the die and paper . Then it is pushed through the machine that presses the die into the paper to make the cut.
  2. Electronic machines are priced higher than the manual machines. Instead of a hand crank, these machines are electric. They use a similar system, but the machines pulls the paper, die and plates through the machine. The are less portable than the manual machine.
  3. Digital machines are priced higher than the electronic or manual machines. They do not use physical dies. Instead they use cartridges or computer programs to generate the die cuts. The paper is placed on a stick mat. You select the cut an the machine cuts and or embosses the image. The other advantage to the digital machine is that the cuts can be sized and customized. They do not use physical dies, but rely on cartridges or programs.
  4. Cost is a factor to consider as well. Machines can cost between $50 up to $1000. You should consider a better quality machine if you are planning to craft for profit. Many times you can get a machine in what is called a bundle. This bundle often includes some dies and /or tools. The bundle generally has a bargain price.
  5. Size of cutting area is another consideration. In the manual machines there is a smaller area which to cut. But the electronic and digital machines have lager surfaces which means that you can make multiple cuts at the same time. You need to consider the size of the plates and work area as well as the kind of projects that you will be doing.
  6. The kinds of materials that you want to cut is important to consider. If you are planning to cut paper only then you have lots of options. If you are planning to cut vinyl, material , chipboard and other thicker materials, then you need to consider the machine that will best suit your needs.
  7. The space that you have. Some machines are small but very efficient. Other machines are larger and take more space. Consider the work area that you have for your die cut machine.

It can be helpful to read the reviews on machines, if they are available. Read the best and the worst as well. They are generally written by crafters themselves. They will give you information on how well a machine might work for your needs

The Cricut Air 2 is one of the many types of digital cutting machines
The Cricut Air 2 is one of the many types of digital cutting machines

Know Your Die Cut Machine

Be sure to check out the manufacturer's specifications when you are buying a die cut machine. Not all machines are equal! Understand the size of the area that the machine will cut and the kind of materials it will cut before you make your purchase.

Materials You Can Die Cut

You will be surprised at the amounts of material you can die cut

  • Chipboard/Cardboard: Go ahead and cut if the manufacturer says it's ok. Take care when cutting it. If it feels forced, always stop.
  • Felt: Felt is a great material to die cut because, unlike fabric, it does not unravel. Try not to pull on it too tightly, so it does not tear.
  • Foiled Paper: Foiled papers are one of the hottest trends. It has beautiful detail when die cut. Take care not to scratch it.
  • Glitter Paper: It's hard to add glitter to very fine intricate die cuts. Glitter paper takes the mess out of die cutting when you want a glittered look.
  • Paper: Consider using heavier paper to get the crispest cuts. Anywhere from 50 lbs to 110 lbs is best ( you can find the paper weight on the outside of the packaging).
  • Vellum: Vellum can be die cut, but special care must be taken. It can be cut the same way that paper is cut, but be careful when removing it from the die.
  • Vinyl: Though overlooked, vinyl can be cut with a die cut.


To pick up tiny pieces, try using a QuickStik tool. This tool has a gum-like substance on the end that will temporarily stick to the smallest of pieces that are difficult to pick up or position with your fingers.

Things to Avoid When Die Cutting

No matter what machine you will be using, there are several things to avoid when using your dies.

  1. Always use the correct sandwhich or plate configuration that is recommended by the manufacturer. Not doing so can cause damage to your machine.
  2. At any point if you feel that you are having to force the plates through, stop at once. Forcing plates through will cause damage to the machine.
  3. Try to die cut away from the center of your platform, which is where the weakest amount of pressure is.

If you find that you are using die cuts for your project, you may want to invest in a Xyron machine. It applies edge-to-edge adhesive to the backs of the most intricate cuts.

Die Cutting Tips

  • If you are cutting a very intricate die, you may need to run it through the machine more than once. When you do, rotate your plates 180° so the pressure is equally applied to the whole plate.
  • If you find that you are not getting a clean cut the first pass through the machine, try adding the magnetic shim. It will provide a little extra pressure and keep the die from moving.
  • If you do not have a special tool to clean your die cuts, a corsage pin and a foam board will work nicely.
  • Use wax paper when cutting intricate dies like those from Spellbinders. Put a piece of wax paper between the die and the paper before adding it to the sandwich and feeding it through the machine. The wax paper will make it easier to release the paper from the die.
  • Rub a dryer sheet on your die and/or pressure plate. It will keep the die cut from sticking.
  • Use faux stitching dies to create even more dimension around words and sentiments.
  • Use sticky notes or washi tape to hold your die on the plate.
  • You can use a sticky roller to remove tiny bits from your die.
  • Make sure to clean your machine periodically. Removing small bits and dirt will help the performance of your die cutting machine.
  • If your machine has one, use the magnetic shim to hold your die in place. It will give a better and more accurate cut.
  • If you are using a very intricate die, you may have to run it through the machine more than once. Rotate the sandwich 180° before running it through the machine.

If a die does not seem to be cutting properly, add a shim or two of paper to add increased pressure. Cover the entire die with additional shims as needed. This is not as much a problem with the electronic die cutting machines. Take a post it note and add a notation on the number of shims you used for future reference.

Create self-adhesive die cuts by attaching a sheet of Stick It before running it through the die cut machine. Simply peel off the backing and attach your die cut to your base card.

Embossing Die Cuts

Some dies have a built in feature that allows you to cost and emboss ( a raised design on the die cut) a die in one step. They make a crisp cut and an even design.

You generally use an embossing mat when you do this technique, This is a rubber mat that is used in your stack or sandwich ( stack of plates, dies, paper)

These dies are generally a little more expensive, but are a definite step up in style.

Adhering Die Cuts

Many of your die cuts have small or have thin edges. You will want to choose the right adhesive to complete your designs.

  • Spray adhesive is one option. Make sure to spray it in a well-ventilated area!
  • Fine nozzle glue is another option. You can purchase it or you can buy the bottles and fill them yourself.
  • Stick It Adhesive Sheets: Stick It is one of my favorite adhesives for intricate die cutting. It is a double-sided adhesive sheet. I simply apply a piece of cardstock to one side of the sheet and cut the excessive sheet away. Then, I die cut the piece. Once the cut is made, I remove the backing and place the die cut on my project. Simple and clean. No glue residue or stickiness.
  • Liquid adhesive has the advantage of being able to be moved if your placement is not perfect. You can use a micro-brush to put the glue on. Then lift it with a pair of tweezers. This technique is perfect for intricate designs.
  • Glue pens have very fine-tipped ends and work just fine.
  • Thin foam tape or tacky tape. Specifically made for paper crafts, the tape comes in different widths, depending on your need.
  • If you are doing a large die cut with very little detail, a tape runner, glue stick or liquid glue is ok to use.
  • Glue pens are preferred if the die cut is intricate with a lot of holes in the design.
  • For border die cuts that are longer and thinner, try a double-sided adhesive tape or a tape runner.
  • If you are using a really small die cut that is layered on top of another, glue pens or glue dots are your best choice.

A toothpick can be used to apply small amounts of glue to the reverse of a die-cut shape.

Hassle-Free Die Cutting

Always keep your die cut cutting surface up facing you! This is especially important with very intricate dies.

What To Do If Your Die Cuts Don't Work

Most of us have had the experience where our die cuts are simply not working the way we expect them to. Could be that there was a problem in the manufacturing of the die. There have been some complaints from crafters who have ordered inexpensive dies from over seas. Could be that they die has just worn out or suffered from use. Could be that the machine exerted too much pressure on the die, causing it to wear faster. So what can you do when your die does not work?

  • Use a craft mat and cut the die manually with a craft knife
  • Use thinner materials like vellum, parchment or copy paper to die cut
  • Use them as templates or stencils

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Linda F Correa

    What Has Been Your Experience With Craft Dies?

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment

      • linfcor profile imageAUTHOR

        Linda F Correa 

        6 months ago from Spring Hill Florida

        I love die cuttting ! I always add some extra dimension to all my projects

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        6 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

        I've never thought about using a die cut machine in crafting. It sounds like a wonderful idea. Thank you for sharing the information and the tips.

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, feltmagnet.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://feltmagnet.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)