Die cutting machines are a valuable piece of equipment for crafters of all levels.
They look like printers but they don’t print. They do, however, cut your pattern shapes out for you according to your craft, whether that’s working with delicate paper, vinyl, heat transfers, card, or fabrics, etc. Some cut leather, balsa wood, or even fondant and more.
They’ll also draw, score and emboss your projects for you.
Some are more suitable for arty people who like to draw their own designs and others are better for creatives who aren’t so much into art.
All of the machines in this guide have abilities beyond the features crafters choose them for. But their simple basic looking design doesn’t tell you much about what they can actually do.
Don’t worry this guide is here to help you choose the right one.
Our Top Picks for the Best Die Cutting Machine
|Our Top Pick – Best Overall||Cricut Explore Air 2|
|Our Runner-Up – Best for Working Offline, Scanning and Artists||Brother ScanNCut SDX125E|
|Best for Leather and Fabrics||Cricut Maker|
|Best for Designers and Cake Makers||Silhouette Cameo 4 Starter Bundle|
|Best Budget – Best for Paper Crafting and Quiltmakers||Sizzix 660425 Big Shot Machine|
Our Top Pick – Best Overall: Cricut Explore Air 2
Our Top Pick | Best Overall
This is our cheapest electric die cutting machine and it could have been our budget choice but it’s just too good.
It’s user-friendly and capable of cutting more than 100 different materials with speed and accuracy. It’s also ideal for all skill levels and that’s why it’s our top pick.
If you are arty, you can create your own designs from scratch and upload them to cut out from Cricut’s free Design Space software. Or you can subscribe to Cricut Access to choose a design from their library of over 100,000 images and fonts.
This machine will connect to your computer, laptop, tablet or phone through Bluetooth. It’s Mac or Windows, iPhone or Android compatible and as long as you have an internet connection, you can design on the go with Cricut’s cloud-based software. You can also work on your own designs offline and upload them when you’re done.
The software is user-friendly and more simple to use than the Cameo’s Silhouette Studio, (we’ll be looking at the Cameo later in this guide). With Design Space, however, you can pretty much dive straight in without having to master the software first.
The Explorer Air 2 comes with a premium fine point blade and a black fine point pen that can write, score or cut more than 100 different materials, including, iron-on and htv (heat transfer vinyl) for t-shirt printing, paper, and cardstock, adhesive foils, faux leather, and more.
You also get a light-grip adhesive cutting mat which is perfect for fabrics, making it one of the best fabric cutting machines around. It’s also great for vinyl and htv projects.
Although we would not recommend a die cutting machine on looks alone, if aesthetics are important to you, you’ll love its sleek, minimalist design and it even comes in a range of pretty pastel colors. It wouldn’t look out of place in the chicest homes.
You can see it in action in the video below.
What We Like:
- Dual Carriage | Holds and works with two tools simultaneously.
- Widely Compatible | Connects to your iOS, Android, Windows, or Mac and you can work on your phone while you are on the go if you get inspired.
- Cuts Over 100 Materials | It’s perfect for all paper and card-based project and it’s a great option for cutting all types of transfers for t-shirt printing. If this is something you’d like to do, you should invest in a heat press machine, they can be quite pricey, but there is a good Cricut version at an easily affordable price.
- Design Space | It is a user-friendly program and it’s less complicated to use than Cameo’s Silhouette Studio.
Buying Factors to Consider:
You will need an internet connection as the free to use software is cloud-based. But you can still work offline and upload when you’re done. You’ll need a subscription if you’re more crafty than arty to access Cricut’s vast library of images.
I just want to also say if your internet connection isn’t the best you should go for the Silhouette Cameo or the Brother SDX125E instead, both of which allow you to work and cut offline.
Check the latest price and color options for the Cricut Explore Air 2 on Amazon.
Our Runner-Up – Best for Working Offline, Scanning and Artists: Brother SDX125E Electronic Cutting Machine
Our Runner-Up – Best for Working Offline | Scanning | Artists
The Brother SDX125E isn’t a printer though it could easily be mistaken for one. It even has a built-in 600 dpi scanner.
This is a good choice for arty types and crafters alike because you can scan virtually anything you like, including hand-drawn designs, photos, home decor patterns or other creative images and finds.
You don’t need an internet connection for this one to work, it’s a stand-alone machine with more than 600 free built-in images to choose from.
You can select your favorite images directly from the interactive LCD display, and it’ll cut them for you at a touch. If you have offcuts don’t throw them away, simply scan them in and the ScanNCut SDX125E will allow you place and resize your image to fit your offcut. So nothing goes to waste.
If you prefer to work with software, it has a free to use one, called CanvasWorkspace in which you can create your custom cutting patterns or choose from hundreds of ready-made images, fonts, logos, and projects, there are step-by-step instructions with videos tutorials to help you. No annual fee or subscriptions is needed.
Alternatively, you can import an SVG file from your own Adobe software using a USB cable.
The thing that impresses me most, though, is its auto blade knife. It detects the thickness of your material automatically and cuts it accordingly.
That something Cricut machines don’t have, and it takes all the calculating out of adjusting the knife depth yourself. If you just want a kiss cut (one that doesn’t cut through the backing material, think of a sheet of stickers, for example) it will do that too.
And lastly, this one great for midnight crafters, because it’s whisper quiet. Quieter than either the Cricut or Silhouette. Here’s a super quick look at the ScanNCut the video below.
What We Like:
- Auto Blade | Detects the thickness of your material and automatically adjusts to that depth.
- Stand Alone Die Cutting machine | There’s no need for internet connection, software, or any additional purchases to get you started.
- Scanner | It’s great for those who prefer to hand-draw their designs or take inspiration from found-objects to scan. You can also scan your offcuts for accurate placing of your design. So there’s no waste.
- 600 Free Built-In Images | With this many free images and the ability to scan, this stand-alone machine could be all you’ll ever need.
- Built-In Roll Feeder | For rolled vinyl and heat transfers, etc. allowing you to create larger designs.
Buying Factors to Consider:
There’s are no downside to this machine. It’s pretty amazing. The only thing I would say is that if you want to cut wood or other very thick materials the Cricut Maker we’ll be looking at next is better for that. The Cricut Maker also has more images available if you’d like to have access to huge amounts. But it doesn’t have the Auto Blade feature or the scanning capabilities of this one.
Check the latest price for the Brother SDX125E on Amazon.
Best for Leather and Fabrics: Cricut Maker
Best for Leather and Fabrics
This one does everything our top pick can do and more…
It comes with the black pen, and the fine point blade, but you also get a rotary blade.
This gliding, rolling blade will cut almost any fabric with ease and precision, without the need for backing material. It makes it ideal for cutting and marking patterns for sewing projects. It cuts and you just sew.
But it’s not just good for sewing projects. It cuts over 300 different material types, from delicate fabrics and paper to matboard, leather and balsa wood.
But what’s most impressive about this machine is the ability it gives you to buy add-on tools to expand its range of capabilities.
If you want to cut thick materials there’s a compatible knife blade that can cut to a depth of 2.4 mm. A scoring wheel will make razor-sharp creases in cardstocks etc. And for those that want to cut fabric for sewing projects, there’s a compatible, washable pen, for marking up your pattern pieces.
It comes with two 12″ x 12″ cutting mats and 50 free ready-to-make projects, including 25 sewing patterns with access to hundreds more.
Like Cricut Explore Air 2 we have looked at above, you can work offline in programs like Illustrator and Photoshop and then upload and cut your own designs directly from Cricut’s cloud-based software. It’ll connect to your computer, laptop, tablet or phone through Bluetooth and it’s Mac, Windows iPhone, and Android compatible.
With this machine, you are limited only by your own imagination.
Take a look at the video below to see more of what it can do.
What We Like:
- Widely Compatible | Again, it connects to your iOS, Android, Windows, or Mac and you can work on your phone while you are on the go if you get inspired.
- Expandable Tools | Allowing for advanced capabilities including cutting depth, pattern markups, and deeper scoring.
- Rotary Blade | The gliding, rolling blade will cut just about any fabric with ease without the need for any backing material.
- Design Space | It is a user-friendly program it’s less complicated to use than Cameo’s Silhouette Studio.
Buying Factors to Consider:
This machine has a wider range of capabilities than our top pick but it does cost more and may even do more than you need. To be honest this is the only reason it didn’t win best overall.
And again, I just want to also say, if your internet connection isn’t the best you should go for the silhouette Cameo or the Brother SDX125E instead both of which allow you to cut offline.
Check the latest price and pretty color options for Cricut Maker on Amazon.
Best for Designers and Cake makers: Silhouette Cameo 4 Starter Bundle
Best for Designers | Cake Makers
This machine is great for larger projects, and that’s because it has a built-in roll feeder for rolled vinyl and heat transfers, etc.
You’re not limited to the standard 12″ design. It can cut from rolls up to 10 feet long.
It’s the only die cutting machine that’s food safe too, so if you’re a pro cake maker this one is great for cutting fondants, etc.
If you’re an artist or graphic designer, however, this is where it comes into its own. The free downloadable Silhouette Studio software is more comparable with professional design software like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop than Cricut’s more basic Design Space. It’s more focused on giving you additional features, but you’ll need to take time to get familiar with it.
Unlike Cricut which lets you upload your own designs for free, you’ll need to make a 1-time purchase to get the Silhouette Design Edition, but it’s downloadable, so at least with this option, you can work and cut offline.
That means, if your internet connection’s not great, this is a much better option for you.
The Cameo Silhouette is more comparable to the Explorer Air 2 than the Cricut Maker in terms of what it can do.
However, it does have one feature that the Air 2 doesn’t, and that’s the auto blade feature which means the blade automatically adjusts to match your material so you don’t have to know what setting you need, yourself.
It doesn’t come with a rotary blade but if this is something you’d like, you can choose to buy one separately.
What We Like:
- Silhouette Studio | It’s downloadable. You can design and cut offline, it’s also a more sophisticated program than Cricut’s Design Space.
- Food Safe | Great for fondant cutting so if your skill is in cake making, this is a great choice for you.
- Built-In Roll Feeder | For rolled vinyl, and heat transfers, etc. It will take on larger designs.
- Built-In Cross Cutter | To trim your rolled vinyl, etc.
Buying Factors to Consider:
The software is more complex than the Cricut’s easy to use Design Space. You can’t upload your own designs for free, but it is a 1-time purchase and you can work offline. So if you’re arty or you’re internet isn’t great, this is the one you should go for.
Check the latest price for the Silhouette Cameo on Amazon.
Best Budget – Best for Paper Crafting and Quiltmakers: Sizzix 660425 Big Shot Machine
Best Budget – Best for Paper Crafting and Quiltmakers
This is a manual die cutting machine. It’s ideal for smaller crafting projects and if you already make your own cards, this little machine will make life so much easier for you.
It may be petite but it can cut like a true pro and that’s why it made our top list.
If you know how to make a sandwich, you can use this machine…
It’s a totally different concept from our other picks in that it has no cutting blade in it. You have to think of this machine as more of an old fashioned mangle or pasta maker.
If you choose this option, you will find yourself collecting any number of beautiful dies. Dies are like cookie cutters. To make your cutout design you simply sandwich your die over your card, in between two cutting mats, and wind them through your Big shot machine.
To be honest, on paper, it kinda sounds like a kid’s toy so it’s probably best to show you an example. Take a look at the kind of results you’ll get bellow.
The deer and flowers are made with Thinlits dies and the circles are made with Framelits dies. Thinlits are shapes and Framlits are frames.
The Big Shot can cut through, all types of paper, card, felt and more. It can even cut through six to eight layers of fabric at a time without leaving frays. This makes it an ideal choice for quiltmakers.
But it isn’t just good at cutting, it’s perfect for embossing too. There are literally hundreds of embossing folders to choose from – it’s compatible with other brands too. And just so you know, embossing folders are just as straight forward and easy to use.
The machine will take dies up to 6″ wide. Included in the box are, 1 extended multipurpose platform and 1 pair of cutting pads.
You can see the Big Shot in the video below.
What We Like:
- Professional Results for a Budget Option | You don’t need to buy an electric machine to get professional results. If you’re a paper crafter, this machine may be to the only one you need.
- Low-Tech Use it Anywhere | No power supply, internet, computer or frustrating software. Set it up anywhere you like.
- Expandable Library of Dies to Collect | The possibilities are endless from complete designs to individual details so each project will be unique.
Buying Factors to Consider:
The dies and embossing folders are all sold separately so that will increase the cost but the dies often come in sets which makes them more versatile and more economical too. Many of the cutting dies that you can use with this machine are only around the $3 mark.
Check the latest price for Sizzix Big Shot on Amazon.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do die cut machines work?
Die cut machines can be electric or manual and each work in a different way.
Electrical die cutting machines work a bit like a printer but they don’t print. They have pens and cutting tools instead of inks. They take an image or design and cut out it for you with exact precision, or if you want them to emboss, score or draw a design they’ll do that too.
You tell them what you want them to do through their software. Simply choose your designs from their library of images or use your own software programs like Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop to create your designs from scratch, then importing compatible formats in.
In stand-alone machines like the Brother ScanNCut series, you can select your design directly from the machine’s LCD display or even scan in your own artwork.
Manual machines don’t have blades, they instead use dies. Dies are like cookie cutters. You sandwich your material along with the die, in between two mats, and then roll them through the machine by hand to make your cut. You can emboss with them too.
What are die cutting machines used for?
Die cutting machines are an indispensable tool for crafters of all skill levels. They can cut, score, draw on, or emboss, hundreds of different materials – from delicate paper to leather or balsa wood.
Some are even food-grade so you can use them to cut fondant for cake making.
Just a few examples of what they are used for:
- Papercrafts for card making.
- HTV vinyl and heat transfers for printing t-shirts.
- Leather crafts
- Fondant cutting for cake making
- Fabric cutting for quilting
- Pattern cutting for sewing
- Wood crafts
- Home decor projects
- Scrapbooking projects and much more…
What is kiss cut?
A die cut, completely cuts out your design for you, whereas a kiss cut is simply a cut that doesn’t go all the way through to the backing material that it’s on.
The effect is a bit like you get with a sheet of stickers. It’s perfect for cutting vinyl or heat transfers for t-shirt making or indeed anything that you want to weed out by hand. The sticky backing sheet holds everything in place for you while you work.
What is the difference between a Cricut and a Silhouette?
Cricuts and Silhouettes are both excellent machines. It’s unlikely anyone could tell which machine was used by the finished result. But they do have features that may be an advantage or disadvantage to you as a user.
The major differences are in the software but there are also some tool differences too.
The software for the Cricut is much easier to use, you could complete a project without knowing much about the software you are working with. But it’s all online. You can’t download it to your own computer. That means you’ll need to de connected to the internet to complete your project.
Silhouettes software is downloadable, but it’s more complicated to learn, so you need to take some time to get familiar with it.
The main tool differences are in the types of blades used.
Unlike the Cricut the Silhouette has an auto bade feature that automatically detects the material you’re working with and adjusts itself accordingly.
The Cricut Maker comes with a rotary blade. It glides and rolls, cutting almost any fabric with ease and precision – without the need for a backing sheet.
Other Ones We’ve Reviewed:
These are the products that didn’t quite make our top picks, but they’re still pretty good so you might like to take a look:
This one is designed specifically for quilters.
- Compact and foldable.
- Comes with dies to get you started.
- 6″ x 12″ mat.
This works just like a manual but it’s electric, saving you from cracking a handle.
- Wide cutting area, 8.5″ x 11″.
- Forward reverse and pause button.
- High pressure for thicker materials.
Another one from Sizzix but it’s an eclectic one.
- Compatible with all Sizzix thinlits and framelits.
- Foldable and fun vintage case.
- Comes with extended Platform, thin die Adapter and 1 Pair of Cutting Pads.