Crafting With Die Cut Machines

Are you thinking about adding a die cut machine to your paper crafting tools collection? If so, you’re not alone! Because they allow crafters to cut custom letters and shapes from scrapbook paper, cardstock, vinyl, chipboard, magnetic sheets and other supplies, these machines are very popular. Die cuts can be used to embellish many different projects, including handmade cards, scrapbook layouts, gift bags and tags, wall art, altered home decor, and even quilts.

Every crafter has different needs, and fortunately, there are many models with different features to fill those needs. However, because there are no “one size fits all” machines available, it can be difficult weighing the many options to find the best model for your projects. That’s where we come in! We help you to sort through the different die cutting machines to find the perfect one to add to your tool collection.

Electronic Die Cut Machines Guide and Key

Below you will find an interactive chart that provides an overview of the most popular die cutters currently available. To provide our ratings for this chart, we aggregate rankings from many different sources, to provide an average rank of 1 (low/least satisfied) through 5 (high/most satisfied)

ImagesDie Cut MachineOperationSize (inch)Weight Price (USD)Rating
Silhouette CameoSoftware-based using Silhouette software and third party programs20.9 x 6.5 x 56.5 lbs$299.994.8
Cricut ExpressionCartridge-based; digital designs using Cricut CraftRoom21.5 x 7 x 7.512.6 lbs$199.994.5
Cricut E2Cartridge-based; digital designs using Cricut CraftRoom21.5 x 7.5 x 7.511.5 lbs$299.993.8
Sizzix eclipsCartridges and software; digital designs using eCal22.5 x 5 x 7.516.5 lbs$499.994.7
Cricut MiniMust use Cricut CraftRoom to access cartridge designs16.1 x 7.3 x 3.695.5 lbs$129.993.8

Manual or Electronic?

The first decision you will need to make is whether to purchase a manual or electronic model. Manual models use actual dies to cut cardstock and media. With most manual models, you place the die and your paper between plates and use a hand crank to feed them through your machine. Electronic machines, on the other hand, use a blade to cut digital designs from either cartridges or computerized images.

Overall, comparing manual and electronic die cutters is a bit like comparing apples to oranges - there are just too many differences! For that reason, this website exclusively focuses on electronic models. However, if you are in the market for a manual die cut machine, has a helpful comparison page, “Manual Die Cutting Machines: Compare Before You Buy.”  Their article has links to videos, forum posts and project ideas for many different models, including the Cuttlebug, Spellbinders Wizard and Sizzix Big Shot. Overall, it’s a great resource for not only prospective owners, but current ones too!

Traditional Dies vs. Digital Designs

Electronic models cut images from digital designs. There are several advantages to using digital designs instead of actual dies:

  • Storage: Digital designs are much easier to store than actual dies. Based on the type of machine that you have, the designs will be stored on small, portable cartridges or on your computer hard drive.
  • Cost: Because of the materials needed to manufacture actual dies, they are more expensive. Digital images can be purchased for a fraction of the cost, and many times, you can even add to your library of images with free online downloads.
  • Selection: Digital designs are more widely available, and depending on the type of machine you have, you may even be able to create your own designs.
  • Customization: With traditional dies, what you see is what you get, and your customization options are very limited. With digital designs, you can modify your cutouts in many different ways, including re-sizing them to fit your project, welding them with other images prior to cutting, and more.

Computer-Based or Cartridge-Based?

One of the most important decisions you will need to make before you purchase a die cut machine is whether you want a computer-based or cartridge-based system.

Examples of cartridge-based models include the Cricut Expression, the Sizzix eclips and the Making Memories Slice. With these machines, the die cut designs are available on small cartridges that you load into the machine. Many of these models can also be used with special software on your computer. For example, you can modify (re-size, weld, flip, etc.) many of the Cricut cartridge designs using ProvoCraft’s exclusive CraftRoom software, although you must own the cartridge (or purchase the designs from Cricut), and you will not be able to cut SVG files or fonts already on your computer. On the other hand, with the eclips, you can cut SVG files and true type fonts using the optional eCal computer software.

The main advantages to using cartridge-based systems are:

  1. You can use them without being tied to a computer;
  2. Because you do not have to learn a new software program to use them, they are considered easier to learn how to use; and
  3. Because it’s not necessary to have them hooked to a computer, they are easier to take “on the road”.

Computer-based systems, such as the Silhouette Cameo and eCraft, do not use cartridges, but instead, hook into your computer (typically using a USB cord) to cut digital designs from your hard drive. The designs can be purchased, found free online, or you can even create your own. These machines generally work with compatible software programs to cut the images to your specifications.

The main advantages to using computer-based systems are:

  1. Because you can make your own designs, they give you greater creative control over the die cuts that you make.
  2. Cartridges can be costly - you can save money by purchasing only the images that you want or by finding free online images and fonts to cut.

Other Capabilities

Do you want your machine to cut only paper and cardstock, or are you interested in cutting thicker media, such as craft foam and chipboard? Would you like to be able to cut around designs that you printed on your computer? In addition to cutting, would you like your machine to also draw? How about emboss? Be sure to visit our review pages to learn about the unique capabilities of each die cutter.