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Die Cut Basics: Tips and Ideas

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

Craft dies make the perfect layered projects for your paper crafting

Craft dies make the perfect layered projects for your paper crafting

Die Cutting: A Popular Part of Paper Crafts

How many dies do you have in your craft space? If you are like most of us, you probably have a growing collection. Every time I go on the internet, I find a new must-have die set.

Dies come as a single set, or as a set that comes with stamps. The dies/stamp sets can be a little pricey, but they are so much fun to use.

I have seen the dies from really inexpensive sources. However, my experience has been that they take a long time to get from China or other long-distance sellers. The other thing I see about them is that they are not made as well as ones from sellers that I know. I also think that it would be hard to get customer service form these places. Give them a try if you want, but for me, I prefer to give companies I know and trust my business.

One of the newest dies that I have seen recently is called "Build A Scene" die sets. These are manufactured right now by Crafter's Companion. It has a lot of dies in the sets that you can create scene cards with.

So how many dies do you own?

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 forms 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: the focus of the card or actual card form
  • 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!

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 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
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.

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 Edgeable 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.

They are often delicate and beautiful. They take your projects from ordinary into extraordinary in one cut

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.

The newest edgeable dies are words. SO now you can add words on the edge or your cards or anywhere you please.


Edge Die Project Ideas

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
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. They are less portable than the manual machine.
  3. Digital machines are priced higher than 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 and 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 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 larger 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 are 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.

Die Cut Machines Information and Comparisons

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

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.

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 sandwich 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.

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.
Beautifully stamped and die cut butterflies

Beautifully stamped and die cut butterflies

How to Cut a Stamped Image

It can be frustrating when you are trying to die cut a stamped image. We have all been there, trying to cut that stamped image just right. When I found this idea, I was not sure it would work. But I was proved wrong. Here is the technique to get the perfect cut on a stamped image.

  1. Line up your stamped images and dies on your manual die-cut machine cutting mats.
  2. Take a Post-it Note and press the sticky side down over your die, adhering the die to the stamped images.
  3. Cover your dies and paper with the remaining cutting plate and run through the machine.
  4. Gently peel back and remove the Post-it Note from the die. The cut image should release with ease, as the Post-it adhesive is not strong enough to rip or tear the paper, but it’s strong enough to hold things in place while you run things through the machine. You will be left with a stamped image that has been die cut with a perfect border!

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.

Hassle-Free Die Cutting

More Die Cut Techniques

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 overseas. 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

Question: Why is the paper adhering to the die cut?

Answer: It depends on the pressure of the die cut machine that you are using, Remember that the paper is being pushed into the paper with a lot of pressure to complete the cut. So it is not unusual with the amount of pressure applied for the paper to stick to the die. The electronic die cut machines apply enough pressure to be able to cut multiple layers, but you may have to separate them. Taking them apart is easy enough and well worth the effort.

Question: What type of die is used for self locking sweet boxes?

Answer: Sizzix makes the best line of sweet boxes that would fit your need. These are larger dies, so you would need a larger platform than the standards, I know the full-size Gemini would work for these dies. Otherwise, you would have to have an extended platform.

© 2018 Linda F Correa

What Has MoreBeen Your Experience With Craft Dies?

Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on April 11, 2019:

Like you, I find other ways to use die cuts. I use them on art journal pages and scrapbook pages. I also use them in Bible journals. The world is open with these techniques. Enjoy the journey !

Sheilamarie from British Columbia on April 10, 2019:

This sounds like a fun project. Hand made cards are still treasured. I can think of lots of other ways to use die cuts as well. I haven't tried them yet, but you've gotten me thinking . . . Thanks for introducing me to using die cuts.

Linda F Correa (author) from Spring Hill Florida on April 22, 2018:

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

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on April 20, 2018:

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.