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11 Reasons to Own a Digital Die Cutting Machine

Pink Silhouette Cameo 4

It’s a lot of work to make cards and scrapbook pages, and much of that work involves cutting out shapes, either with paper punches or a manual die-cutting machine. Not only is all that punching and cranking hard on your hands, but the shapes are limited by the punches and dies you’ve spent a small fortune on. What if there was a better way? What if you could design all of the shapes you want on your computer screen and then punch them out with the touch of a button? With this amazing craft tool, you can. Here are 11 reasons to own a digital die-cutting machine.

First of all, what is a digital die cutter?

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Digital die cutters, (also known as “electronic cutting machines”) are a fancy-schmancy version of a manual die cutter. You know, the kind you crank by hand to force cutting plates and dies through a press. Manual die cutters are perfect for one-off shapes, but they’re not very handy for cutting multiple shapes, and you can’t do any design work with the metal dies. You have to take what the die manufacturers create. So your creativity is quite limited.

Digital die cutting machines look like a small home printer, but instead of using ink, they use a small blade to cut paper, cardstock, vinyl, fabric, and more. Each machine uses its own software and connects to your computer. Then, you design your digital images in the software of your device. This electronic cutting tool can cut any shape that can be drawn on paper, including intricate shapes that are impossible to cut with traditional tools.

The digital cutting tools are much faster than traditional tools because the blade automatically adjusts to the thickness of your material, so you’ll never have to adjust it by hand, which can take up precious crafting time.

Digital die cutters take the guesswork out of designing and cutting so you can focus on your creativity.

What kind of digital die-cutter should I get?

In this article, I refer to the Silhouette Cameo 4 as that is the machine I use. But other digital cutters are just as efficient. Please do your research before purchase as they all have different capabilities. I’ve included several models in this article.

Digital die-cutters (aka electronic cutting machines) are electrically powered and operate using dedicated software. Steel dies are not needed because the shapes are cut by a tiny moving blade inside the machine. 

These software-based cutting machines require you to use their own software, the price of which depends on which software you get. (None are expensive, all are worth it.) They connect to your computer with either a USB cord or wirelessly with a preinstalled Bluetooth adaptor.

The software is required to design your layouts; however, they are yours to keep forever once created. Plus, they can be adjusted for size and shape. Here are a few machines to compare.

Digital die-cutters work with vinyl, paper, cardstock, chipboard, poster board, fabric, and more. All you need to do is adjust the blade accordingly to cut through different materials.

Now that you have a quick background on what makes digital die-cutting machines tick let’s see what these fantastic digital tools can do for you and why they’re considered the workhorses of the craft room.

11 Reasons to own a digital die-cutter

1. You’ll save money—tons of it.

I know what you’re thinking. 

If you’re a regular crafter, then you know that die-cutting machines can be expensive. Like, sometimes REALLY expensive. But think about that for a moment, and let’s tally up the cost of “cheaper” hand-crank manual models. (Sorry, Big Shot, I’m about to diss you here.)

Most manual die cutters cost between $40 and $150, while a steel die set for a manual cutter costs between $10 and $25. For one die set. It’s easy to spend hundreds of dollars on a manual die cutter and just a few dies because you need to find the right size and shape for your projects. Hundreds. Of. Dollars.

If a die-cut (the shape produced by a metal die) is too large or too small, you’re out of luck. And while you can trim some basic shapes to size, most come out looking homemade. (Have you ever tried cutting a 2-inch square down to 1 1/2 inches? It never comes out as crisp and even as the cut version.)

In short, your crafting mojo is stifled with hand-cranked die-cuts because you have to adjust your projects to the size of your die cuts when you use a manual die cutter and metal dies. With a digital die cutter, you control the shapes, thereby controlling the project from start to finish. Because you can adjust the shapes to your projects, you don’t become a slave to the metal die. I made this graduation card with one metal die, the flourish. The stars and the sentiment were cut with my cutting machine.

Graduation card featuring stars and greeting cut with a die cutting machine
Same star shape cut in three sizes with my digital die cutting machine. The greeting, too.

Don’t get me wrong; I LOVE my Sizzix Big Shot manual die cutter in those times when I need a single die cut right now! But for creativity and flexibility, my digital cutter can’t be beaten.

Something else to consider: if a steel die gets bent even slightly or develops a rough spot (called a burr), it’s ruined, which means you have to buy another one. And many of the designs become obsolete with time, meaning you might find one on eBay or Etsy, and you might pay a premium for it. Cha-ching! 

Not so with a digital cutting machine. Your design stays in your computer’s software, and there’s nothing to bend or be destroyed. Plus, you don’t need storage for your designs, either. (Metal dies take up tons of space.)

Budget tip: Instead of throwing dull blades out, save them for cutting through thicker materials.

2. A digital die-cutter saves time (not to mention your paws)

Have you ever tried cutting out 30 of the same shape? Or 300? 

It takes forever. Paper punches and manual die cutters take elbow grease. Multiply all that punching and cranking a few dozen times, and your hands and wrists are ready for a carpal tunnel brace (ask me how I know).

With a digital die-cutter, it’s easy to design and cut 30 – 300 of that exact same shape in minutes because at the touch of a button, the machine does all of the work, not your hands and wrists. This is especially great when you’re creating projects such as Halloween treat bags, gift tags for the family, or any time you need a whole bunch of shapes at a time. Check out this beautiful heart garland I made last Valentine’s Day. Each heart-shaped unit consists of 3 hearts, layered, then sewn together. That’s 66 hearts total. My digital die cutter cut them all in about 5 minutes (there were several pages).

String of vintage paper hearts cut on an electronic die cutting machine
Three layers to each heart, 66 hearts total, all cut with an electronic cutting machine in a few minutes. Imagine punching these out by hand!

You can do so much more with a digital die-cutter that you can’t do with a manual die cutter. For example: (bullet list)

My Silhouette Cameo will design and cut printed objects in specific shapes, such as these cute unicorn cupcake toppers. My Big Shot can’t do that. (I’ll explain more in a moment.)

Unicorn cupcake toppers cut on a digital cutting machine
Printed first, then cut with the digital cutting machine

The only way to cut multiple shapes at the same time with metal dies is if all those shapes are all on the same die. But with a digital die-cutter, you can cut out hundreds of the same shape in seconds. Or different shapes. And if your creative juices are flowing and inspiration strikes, it’s far less time-consuming to adjust your design on your computer than it is to fiddle with changing dies and papers on your manual cutting machine.

You can cut all of the components for a single card or scrapbook page in a single pass on a digital cutting machine, even if you use a variety of papers. A manual cutter can’t do this – you have to change out the dies and papers for each component.

When I create projects with my manual die cutter, I always spend more time cutting out everything by hand than designing on the computer. But most of my designs are finished within an hour with my digital cutter – almost all made digitally!

3. You’ll create like a pro in no time

Some people think there’s a vast difference in quality between die cuts made by digital die cutters versus those created with metal dies.

This is somewhat true, because a wafer-thin blade cuts digital dies whereas the cutting edges of metal dies are thicker. 

Think of cutting a piece of delicate cake with a razor-sharp kitchen knife and then cutting another piece with a butter knife. There is a difference, depending on the cake. (Now I want cake.)

If you’re cutting thick materials with your manual cutter (you know, thick cake, butter knife), the blade can sometimes tear or mangle the die cuts. This happens because the smooth metal edge of the die can’t “grab” the material and hold it for a clean cut. A digital cutter grips the material on a sticky base, so there’s no shifting.

Another factor in clean cuts is the blade itself: thicker materials require different blades. You can change the blades on a digital cutting machine, but you can’t change the edges of metal dies, thereby limiting the materials they’ll cut.

Professional results aren’t always about crispness. You’ll find that your die cuts made on a digital die-cutting machine are more precise than those made on a manual machine. This allows you to stack die cuts precisely on top of each other – essential for multi-step projects like pop-up cards.

4. A digital cutter lets you release your inner control freak

Digital die cutting machines come with dozens of shapes built in. From basic to elaborate, the software has you covered. But say you want a shape the software doesn’t feature? You can create your own! Take the fishtail tag shape below. By combining a rectangle and a square in my Silhouette Cameo’s design area, I created a tag shape in minutes. And once completed, I can change the size of the finished tag to any dimensions I want. This ensures complete control and perfect uniformity for projects. This isn’t possible with a manual die-cutting machine, where you’re limited to the dies you own or can purchase.

Sample design on the Silhouette Cameo
Combine shapes to create your own – the possibilities are unlimited

If you want to reduce the size of shapes cut on a manual cutter, you could try to cut them with scissors. But that’s not always possible on specific shapes (like whole word shapes). And there’s no way to enlarge a shape once it’s cut. A digital cutter lets you create any custom shape in any custom size that fits within its maximum cutting area.

And don’t get me started on word dies. I don’t own a single one. Not one! That’s because I create all of my word die cuts on my Silhouette Cameo. Using the machine’s software, you can change the size, shape, and even the font on a cutting machine. You can’t do that with a metal word die. All of the greetings below were sized and cut on my cutting machine. Talk about complete control!

Square card featuring text sized on the digital cutting machine
The greeting letters are cut with one of my die cutting machine
Custom Happy Halloween text from a die cutting machine

There are scores of free and paid cut files to use with your machine – your only limitation will be deciding which one to use! The paid files cost a fraction of what metal dies cost (literally pennies on the dollar), and their uses are far more adaptable, considering you can adjust their sizes and shapes.

5. A cutting machine saves space

If you have a large enough craft space, you could leave your manual die cutter out, but manual cutters are pretty clunky, not to mention heavy. Mine is tucked into a closet, and sometimes I don’t want to lug it, the plates, and the metal dies out, just to choose which die might (or might not) be right for the project at hand.

My Silhouette Cameo sits on my desk’s extension, right next to my computer, in all it’s pretty pink glory. (Don’t worry, they come in white and black, too.) I merely swivel my chair to access it. It’s sleek, streamlined and looks nice out in the open, making it quite handy to use.

My pink die cutting machine, a Silhouette Cameo 4
Digital cutters are small, compact and easy to place. And they’re so pretty, why hide them away?

6. Need some extra cash? A digital die-cutting machine can make you some serious moolah.

Did you know you can make some big bucks with a digital cutter? Or at least a nice side income. You can create a whole library of printables, including tags, labels, stickers, and more. And a digital die cutter not only cuts the shapes but also can design them for printing. This is known as the “print and cut” feature. You first design your product, print it on your home printer, then use the die cutter to cut the shapes exactly to size. No measuring involved.

If you’re creating stickers, a digital die-cutter can cut them to the proper depth with the “kiss cut” feature. This means it will cut through the top printed layer but not through the bottom base layer. You get a professional page of “peel and stick” stickers every time. Never order address labels again – print and cut your own! And what child doesn’t love to have his/her own personalized stickers? You’ll never run out again.

I create all sorts of digital products and sell the files in my Etsy shop for others to use in their digital cutting machines. Two of my most popular products are printable stickers and printable tags.

7. You’ll create more crafting options.

A digital die cutter can do so much more than cut shapes. It can cut cards, gift boxes, signs, wood, fabric, vinyl and even emboss. You can use it to create custom stencils that you can then use in the home. The possibilities are endless, especially for crafters who like to be more hands-on with their projects

8. You’ll be able to cut dozens of materials with interchangeable blades

The higher quality die-cutting machines have interchangeable blades that let you cut through different materials. This is great because you can switch between using thicker materials such as felt, thin leather or even balsa wood, or thinner card stocks by simply changing cutting blades.

Here are some of the materials my Silhouette Cameo 4 can cut, and the blade it uses:

  • Standard Blade: card stock, patterned paper, printer paper, sticker paper, vellum, iron-on heat transfer material
  • Rotary Blade: cotton fabric, balsa wood, felt, leather, chipboard, cork.
  • Kraft Blade: craft foam, burlap and acetate.

Your craft options are almost limitless with a digital cutting machine.

9. A digital cutter is easy to use

Digital die-cutters are easy to use. You can learn the ins and outs in no time at all. My Silhouette Cameo 4 is fairly intuitive, and the learning curve is very short. The company’s support team is amazing, and my favorite online resource for all things Silhouette can be found at Melissa Viscount’s blog, Silhouette School.

10. Can’t draw? This machine will do it for you.

Some digital die-cutting machines come with dual carriages (the gizmo that holds the cutting blade), one for the blade, and one for, get this, PENS. And the best part is, you don’t have to have specialty pens, you can use your own (with a Pen Adaptor, how cool is that?) You can use fine point pens, chunky markers, or whatever fits into the adaptor. Too cool for old school is what I say.

11. Digital cutters make organizing fun

This one’s a no-brainer. You already know you can print and cut on sticker paper, yes? Well, if you’re big on decluttering and organizing, why don’t you cut your labels from either vinyl or sticker paper and apply them to your organization containers?

Here are some spice jar labels I made for my (homegrown) spices on the left. These were print and cut on paper (and I sell them in my Etsy shop). On the right are grilling spice jar labels that my friend Kathy Peck made with her Cricut digital cutter.

Spice jar labels cut on my die cutter using paper
Spice jar labels using vinyl cut on a die cutting machine

These labels are only the tip of the decluttering iceberg. Perfect locations to use die cut labels include:

  • pantries
  • kitchens
  • kids’ bedrooms
  • bathrooms
  • the garage

The possibilities to make organization fun and pretty are nearly endless! Organizing and decluttering will take on a whole new meaning when you decorate your projects with die cuts.

FAQs

What can I make with an electronic cutting machine?

Here’s a great list of just some of the things you can make:

  • Custom stickers for treat bags, envelopes, spice jars, and more
  • Custom labels – great for organizing your pantry or closet
  • Gift tags
  • Whole-word die cuts in your choice of font, size, and layout (vertical or horizontal)
  • Address labels
  • Shipping labels
  • Custom bookplates
  • Bookmarks
  • Money envelopes
  • Craft embellishments
  • Party supplies
  • Flowers
  • Gift boxes
  • Gift card holders
  • Treat boxes (either with or without windows)
  • Banners
  • Custom business cards
  • Fancy fold card bases (no more endless measuring and marking)
  • Custom wording for creating t-shirts, handbags, mugs, etc.
  • Wall art
  • 3-D ornaments
  • Greeting cards
  • Teacher gifts

What’s the downside to owning a digital cutting machine?

Of course, with almost limitless design flexibility comes a couple of pesky, minor annoyances.

  1. The initial investment. Purchasing a good-quality electronic cutting machine costs a chunk of change, there’s no getting around it. But when you factor in the cost of a manual die cutter, the steel dies and their replacement if they get bent or become obsolete (or you get bored with them), then the cost factor becomes less of a problem. And when you consider the enormous design opportunities that a digital cutting machine provides, then the cost becomes even MORE reasonable.
  2. It can be cumbersome if you need a lightning-quick die-cut and you already have the die. I use a certain metal flourish die all the time, and I love it so much I haven’t bothered creating a flourish in my Cameo’s software, clunkiness be damned.

The upside to digital die-cutting is longer than your arm: high-quality cut, speed, accuracy, interchangeable cutting blades, unlimited design possibilities, unlimited projects, and pen compatibility with a large range of pens that can fit into an adaptor.

How do I get started?

If you’re new to digital die-cutting, check out Melissa Viscount’s blog for Silhouette beginners. She has all sorts of video tutorials and helpful tips. She is my go-to when I have questions.

Why investing in a digital die-cutting machine can change your crafting life

Are you still on the fence when it comes to buying yourself a digital die-cutter? If you’re looking for a way to expand your crafting horizons without breaking the bank, look no further than one of these babies.

With this easy-to-use tool at hand, there are so many craft possibilities out there waiting to be explored! And best of all? Not only does a digital cutter save time and money, it offers design flexibility that can take your crafts from ordinary to extraordinary in seconds. 

Your craft room isn’t complete without one!

Pinterest cover

Some fun projects using die cut machines…

Christmas Side-Step Card
Halloween Side Step Card – Sweet Kitty
A Genius Card Making Hack for Faster, Better Fancy Cards
A Cute Birthday Card Using Two Fun Techniques
A Side Step Card Full of Color, Texture and Fun!
DIY Decoupage Wood Christmas Block
Vintage Printable Patriotic Gift Tags

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