CB21-067 - how does die cutting work

How does die-cutting work?

Die cutters are an incredibly efficient way to cut similar shapes in paper, cards, and other thin materials. But, how does die-cutting work?

How a die cutter works will depend on the die cutter’s model. 

Most die cutters will use a roller set-up. You start by placing your die onto a sheet of material. The material and die are then surrounded by cutting sheets. This ‘sandwich’ will then be fed through the roller system, providing enough pressure to cut the material in the shape of the die. 

Some die cutters may work in ever so slightly different ways. 

Let’s go into a bit more depth on this. How the die cutter works will vary based on the tech behind it.

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What are die cuts used for?

Die cuts are used to cut shapes out of thin material like paper. The paper is run through a die-cutting machine to create the desired shape. These shapes are then used in paper crafting or decorating for most hobbyists.

Can you use a die cut without a machine?

It is possible to use a die cut without a machine. The machine provides enough pressure to push the die cut through your material. Therefore, all you need to do is use the die cut on your material with an alternate source of pressure.

How Do Manual Die Cutters Work?

Manual die cutters work by placing a die on the material you want to cut. The material and die are then sandwiched between two sheets which are then fed through the die cutting machine. The pressure from the machine cuts the material into the shape of your die.

The common and often the cheapest die cutters will be manual die cutters. They require absolutely no power. Instead, the user will have to turn a crank to keep the rollers spinning. 

Manual die cutters will require you to make something known as a ‘sandwich.’ This means that you will be putting the die on top of the material you want to cut. The sandwich will then be fed through the die-cutting tool. 

The cheaper die-cutting machines on the market will have a manual crank. Others will have an electrical component that will do the hard work for you.

There are other options for manual die cutters, although these tend to be used in big industrial applications where the same shapes are being cut repeatedly.

The alternative option will be to have the dies loaded onto one roller. The thin material will then just be fed through the system. As the die-cutting roller turns, it will cut through the material. This is often the shape that is used when sheet metal is cut. This is known as rotary die-cutting. 

It is very rare in products designed for the consumer. After all, most consumers will want to produce multiple shapes. 

How Do Computer Die Cutters Work?

Computer die cutters don’t use a die, but rather, cutting blades that are built into the machine. Depending on your machine, you can design your own custom shapes to be cut. The material is then fed into the machine where your cuts are made.

If you are serious about your die-cutting, then you need to get yourself a computer-controlled die cutter. They work entirely differently from a manual die cutter, and they often provide you with a lot more options. 

The main benefit to computer die cutters is they cut a whole lot faster. Although, do bear in mind that the cost is going to be significantly higher.

There won’t be a die in sight with a computer die cutter. Instead, a series of cutting blades will be built into the machine. 

From your computer, you will be able to select the shape that you want to cut. The cheaper computer-controlled die cutters will have limited options. The better ones will allow you to create pretty much any design you want. They will even come with the software to enable you to design patterns from scratch. 

Once the computer-controlled die cutter has been set up, you will feed your material through. The machine will do the hard work for you.

Can You Make Your Own Die Cutter Dies?

You cannot make your own dies for paper crafting or for off the shelf die cutters. However, some people do make their own metal dies for other applications. Companies like Sizzix will make custom dies for you.

Believe it or not, dies have been around a lot longer than die cutter machines. Well, we know you knew that, but some people seem to think that picking up a die-cutting machine is the only way to make dies. People were cutting paper and thin materials a long time before that. 

You can make your dies out of metal. All it will be is a metal stamp that you can hit with a hammer. For some of the more intricate designs, you will probably need to have a small amount of knowledge of metalworking. However, for simple designs, just bending and shaping the metal is all you need to do.

Admittedly, this is going to be a whole lot slower than if you are using a machine, though. This is because you will have to stamp everything individually. Still, it does mean that you can end up with far more intricate designs.

Do Die Cutters Need To Be Sharpened? 

Many companies that produce die-cutters claim that their products do not need to be sharpened. However, most die cutters will start to dull over time. The best way to fix your die cutter is to buy another.

Some die cutters can be sharpened, which is best done with a fine diamond stone. However, you need to remember that you will ruin their shape unless you know what you are doing. Be delicate when you sharpen the cutting side of the die cutter. 

That being said, it is unlikely that you will ever get to the point where a die gets blunt. They can often cut hundreds, if not thousands, of holes before they dull.

What Materials Can You Cut With a Die Cutter?

Most die cutters are designed to deal with thin materials. This means paper, card, and sheet plastic. However, assuming that the rollers are powerful enough, and the blades tough enough, you can cut many materials.

While it is rare to get them for home use, many of the top manufacturing facilities that deal with sheet metal will have die cutters. It is the easiest way to stamp out shapes in sheet metal. 

When you purchase a die cutter, it will give you a rough idea about the types of material you will be able to cut with it. You should ensure that you stick to the recommendations only. Under absolutely no circumstances should you attempt to cut material thicker than what the machine is designed to deal with. You will break the rollers and the die cutters. 

Which Companies Make The Best Consumer Die Cutters?

Cricut and Sizzix make the best die-cutting tools on the market, at least for use around the home. Silhouette is a company that isn’t too far behind.

When looking for a die-cutter, we suggest that you look at the wealth of different dies available for the product. This will give you an idea of the shapes you can expect to cut.

You may also want to pay attention to the cost. For example, Cricut products are a touch more expensive than Sizzix products.

Summary: How does die-cutting work?

As you can see, die cutting is a very simple process. Place your die on the material you want to cut and sandwich them between the cutting sheets. Feed the sandwich through your die cutter, which cuts your material in the shape of the die.

Most die cutters come with a hand crank. However, you can find die cutters that are electric or as a computer die cutter.

Unfortunately, you cannot make your own dies for off the shelf die-cutters. You could make your own dies out of metal for cutting thin material.

Most dies will dull over time. The best thing to do is replace a dull die. However, you can try to sharpen a die with a fine diamond stone