Digital die cutting has become a popular method among scrapbookers, paper crafters, card makers, and the general DIY community. They add plenty of versatility to the creative process and open up a whole new realm of possibilities. Die cut machines, also known as paper cutter machines and craft cutting machines, help users cut out immaculate designs, shapes, and fonts from a variety of materials. Not everyone can cut out perfect-looking letters with a pair of regular scissors! While the machines themselves appear complicated and can be a little intimidating at first, once you dive in and start using one, it quickly becomes one of your most-used crafting tools.
While Cricut is probably the brand name most people will recognize, there are many different die cut machines on the market today. This review of the best die cut machines of 2021 goes through the ones that, in our humble opinion, are the best of the best.
Our Top Picks
Here’s a quick summary:
|Best Overall: Cricut Explore Air 2|
From the name brand you trust, this small but mighty wireless die cutter can handle over 100 different materials.
|Best Budget: Spellbinders Platinum|
If you’re looking for die-cutting on a budget, then this little manual machine is for you.
|Best Manual: Sizzix Big Shot|
Sizzix is the other major die-cutting brand, and their manual Big Shot is one of the most popular machines on the market.
|Best Die Cutting and Embossing: Gemini Twin-Function|
While most die cutters can also emboss, the reviews are in, and none do it better than the Gemini Twin-Function.
|Best Starter Kit: Silhouette Cameo 4|
For those just getting started in the world of die-cutting, this starter kit comes with everything you need to go from opening the package to die-cutting in no time flat.
A Closer Look: Best Die Cutting Machines
1. Cricut Explore Air 2
The best die cutting machines overall
Brand: Cricut | Plate Size: 8.5″ x 8.5″ | Weight: 14 lbs | Type: Electric/Wireless | Price: 💰💰💰
This little die cut machine packs a big craft punch. Cricut is pretty much the name brand when it comes to die cutters, and their Explore Air 2 is the most popular right now. Embedded with Bluetooth technology, you can wirelessly upload designs from your smartphone or computer via the convenient online software or app. The Explore Air 2 is generally considered the best die cutting machine for vinyl and can cut over 100 different materials, including vinyl, iron-on, cardstock, faux leather, adhesive foil, specialty paper, poster board, and more! This Cricut embossing machine is also great for non-cutting projects.
Starter Kit: Explore Air 2, Premium Fine Point Blade and Housing, 12” x12” LightGrip Adhesive Cutting Mat, Black Fine Point Pen
- Cuts through pretty much any craft material you can think of
- Compact design is easy to store and doesn’t take up too much table space when in use
- Effortlessly upload or create your own designs on your computer, smartphone, or tablet
- No internal storage, so all designs are hosted online, and you have to have a wireless connection to operate
- It takes some time to learn the ins and outs of creating your own designs and getting them framed correctly
2. Spellbinders PE-100 Platinum 6.0
The best budget die cut machine
Brand: Spellbinders | Plate Size: 8.5″ x 11.75″ | Weight: 13 lbs | Type: Manual | Price: 💰
Die cut machines are notoriously expensive, and paying for the original name brand will cost you even more. So if you’re looking for a die cutting machine on a budget, check out the Spellbinders Platinum. This compact machine can effortlessly cut up to 8 layers of most crafting materials in a single pass, making it a great bulk production option. The manual design means you’ll also have to stock up on dies, but luckily, you don’t have to go name brand with those, either.
Starter Kit: Platinum 6.0 Die Cutter, 2 Clear Cutting Plates, Standard Platform, Embossing Plate, Embossing Mat
- Affordable price at under $150
- Collapsible handle and fold-up sides for more compact storage
- Powerful cutting can handle even heavier craft materials like leather, wool, crat metal, and Balsa wood
- Some users had faulty machines that had trouble cutting
- The manual operation requires some elbow grease that electronic cutting machines do not
3. Sizzix Big Shot Cutting and Embossing Machine
The best manual die cut machine
Brand: Sizzix | Plate Size: 6″ x 12″ | Weight: 7.5 lbs | Type: Manual | Price: 💰
The Sizzix Big Shot is probably the most popular manually operated hand crank die cutter. One of the reasons the Big Shot is so popular is the consistency of results. It can handle multiple layers of thin material at once too. Furthermore, it can cut essentially anything that scissors can: felt, foam, fabric, paper, card stock, and even leather.
Many reviewers argue it’s the best die cutting machine for fabric and certainly, the best die cutting machine for card making. In addition to cutting, the Big Shot is also a great hand crank embossing machine.
Perhaps more importantly, when you purchase the Big Shot, you can access the entire Sizzix product library. That means the whole Sizzix ecosystem is at your disposal with plenty of embossing and die-cutting tools. Of course, these extras are sold separately, but it is impressive that there are thousands of different dies and embossing folders that are available for purchase.
Starter Kit: Big Shot Die Cutter, 2 Standard Cutting Pads, 1 Platform, 1 Thin Die Adapter
- Lightweight, compact design
- Cut and emboss a range of materials with just a little elbow grease
- Steel outer housing and core roller system for long-lasting durability and cutting power
- Many reviewers noted that the bottom plastic plate is not very durable and may warp or cut along with your material
- Though advertised as compatible with most dies, some reviewers feel the machine doesn’t work well with non-Sizzix accessories
4. Gemini Twin-Function Cutter and Embosser Machine
The best die cutting and embossing machine
Brand: Gemini | Plate Size: 9″ x 12.5″ | Weight: 19 lbs | Type: Electric | Price: 💰💰
Most die cutters are capable of embossing. But if you’re wondering what is the best die cutting and embossing machine? Then your answer is the Gemini Twin-Function Cutter and Embosser. While there doesn’t appear to be anything special about its embossing function if you read the description, the Gemini is the one to beat, according to reviewers. This deceptively small device uses higher pressure than other models, which allows it to cut through heavier materials, including genuine leather, when die cutting.
Starter Kit: Gemini Twin-Function Machine, 2 Clear Cutting Platforms, Metal Cutting Platform, Plastic Shim, Rubber Embossing Mat, 3D Embossing Folder, Selection of Dies, User Guide
- Kit comes with a range of dies to get you started
- Electric operation means no pulling a hand crank – just push a button!
- With edge-to-edge cutting, you can do more comprehensive designs than other machines allow
- Some reviewers found the machine noisier than other models
- The higher cutting pressure takes some getting used to but is great once you know how to handle it
5. Silhouette Cameo 3 Starter Bundle
The best die cut machine starter kit
Brand: Silhouette | Plate Size: 12″ x 12″ | Weight: 11.1 lbs | Type: Computer | Price: 💰💰💰💰
If you’re just getting started in the die cutting world and need a kit that has it all, then the Silhouette Black Cameo 4 Starter Bundle is the answer. This digital model plugs directly into your computer so you can feed it your custom designs, designs you find online, or any of the more than 50,000 pre-designed shapes and fonts in the Silhouette Online Store. You’ll find this machine can cut through most craft materials with ease, including heavy-duty cardstock and faux leather. On top of all this functionality is the frankly startling accessories included in the kit, like plenty of vinyl sheets, a range of tool adapters, and two-dozen sketch pens.
Starter Kit: Cameo 4 Die Cutter, 38 Sheets of Premium Oracal Vinyl, 12 Sheets of Premium Transfer Tape, 6 Sheets of High Durability Swing Design Heat Transfer Vinyl, 24 Sketch Pens, Cutting Mat, Autoblade, 4 Tool Adapters
- Comes with access to necessary computer software
- All-inclusive kit has everything you need to get started
- Powerful cutting pressure can handle most craft materials
- Some reviewers found the noise level too high and even concerning
- A few reviewers had issues with the associated software and had to uninstall and reinstall it once or twice to get everything working
6. Brother ScanNCut SDX125E Electric DIY Cutting Machine
The best electronic die cut machine
Brand: Brother | Plate Size: 11.7″ x 11.7″ | Weight: 10.4 lbs | Type: Electronic | Price: 💰💰💰💰💰
When it comes to digital electronic die cutting machines, the Brother ScanNCut is the best. Brother, as a brand, has a great reputation among printer and scanner competitors for bringing office quality products to the home. Their ScanNCut is the perfect blend of scanning technology and what you need to make perfect arts and crafts. Its built-in scanner allows you to scan your own designs and then cut them, making it one of the best custom die cutters. The 4.85″ touch screen display allows you to customize designs and control your die cut machine easily. With the free cloud-based app, you can create new projects, browse your gallery, and start creating wonders. The large cutting area can handle papers up to 12” x 24”.
Starter Kit: ScanNCut Die Cutter, 12” x 12” Standard Tack Mat, Black Pen, Pen Holder, Touch Screen Pen, Spatula, Accessory Pouch, 76 Patterns, Auto Blade, Auto Blade Holder, Getting Started Guide, 1 Piece Sample Cardstock
- Automatic material sensor technology detects material thickness and adjusts accordingly
- The only die cutter with a built-in scanner so you can scan and then cut your custom designs with ease
- Powerful machine can cut through 3mm thick materials, such as leather, Balsa wood, chipboard, foam, and felt
- Definitely on the more expensive end of the die cutting machine spectrum
- Most reviewers agree that, while it has incredible capability once you get the hang of things, the interface can be confusing to figure out
7. Cricut Joy Machine Starter Bundle
The best compact die cut machine
Brand: Cricut | Plate Size: N/A | Weight: 3.9 lbs | Type: Electric/Wireless | Price: 💰💰💰
Cricut is, predictably, on our list again with their Joy Machine Starter Bundle. This little cutting and writing device is one of the most compact machines on the market, making it easy to bring with you for crafting on the go. It can handle over 50 different standard craft materials, so you aren’t sacrificing much functionality in the name of size. You also don’t need a cutting mat with this one!
Starter Kit: Joy Machine, 5 Smart Vinyl Sheets, 3 Piece Starter Tool Set
- Weighs less than 5 pounds and is about the size of a tissue box
- Comes with a 3-piece toolset for working with vinyl, stickers, and more
- Bluetooth wireless technology eliminates the needs for dies and makes travel crafting a breeze
- This model is not compatible with other Cricut accessories, pens, etc
- The loss of cutting power to handle thicker materials may not be worth the price for some
What Exactly is a Die Cut Machine?
A die cutting machine is a device used to cut out intricate patterns, letters, and more. Usually, they employ a small blade to cut out elements from card stock, vinyl, fabric, or other common materials. You can use a die cut machines to cut out letters, shapes, numbers, and even custom designs. You can then use these cutouts for many projects, from crafts to party decorations, scrapbooking, and everything in between. Businesses and teachers will even use them as an aid to construct bulletin boards and create supplies for school room activities.
What Can I Cut?
While die cutters vary from brand to brand, many can cut more than just one material. Many of the best paper cutting machines will do many other materials. Some of those may include:
- Metallic Card Stock
- Magnet Paper
- Sticker Paper
- Fabric (backed with interfacing)
Types of Die Cutters
There is a range of different die cut machines out there to choose from. Some experienced in the ways of arts and crafts may have a machine from each category, but for the casual crafter, you’ll probably just need one.
Manual die cut machines typically use a hand crank to operate. Pulling the crank presses the die, which is the design template, through your material of choice (usually paper). This action cuts the desired design out of the material (or embosses it if you use an embossing plate).
Manual die cutters are generally less expensive than electronic ones, making them more accessible to the DIY community. But to use them, you have to have physical dies to insert. These can get costly if you want to have various designs and take up a decent chunk of storage space.
On the plus side, manual die cutting machines are easier to bring to new places because you don’t need to have a computer or Bluetooth device handy, and you don’t have to plug them in. Don’t mistake that with them being portable, however. They are generally pretty heavy because the manual hand-crank mechanism has many moving parts and only gets bulkier depending on how many dies you want to bring with you.
Electronic die cutters require a power source, be it a battery or a power cord. They use an internal cutting mechanism to carve out your designs on your chosen material.
More straightforward electronic machines are cartridge-based. Cartridge-based means you can buy data cartridges that plug into your device (kind of like a USB). Then you can scroll through the designs on the cartridge. Some models may allow you to plug in a USB, stick, SD card, or other storage cartridges, so you can use custom designs or designs you found online.
Fancier electronic machines are wireless/Bluetooth enabled. They can connect directly to your smartphone or computer, allowing you to send designs to the machine. This connectivity eliminates the need to purchase (and subsequently keep up with) cartridges. These are, of course, more expensive than cartridge-based models.
The next level of die cutting machines is the WiFi-capable ones. These devices connect to the internet themselves, and you can search for whatever design you want. Some models may connect wirelessly to the internet, while others may need to be wired to your computer and operated with software from there.
The benefit of electronic machines is, of course, the sheer magnitude of their capabilities. The drawbacks, however, include a steep learning curve and how expensive they tend to be. It can take some time and practice to get used to operating an electronic die cutter, whereas a manual one just takes the pull of a crank. Standard cartridge die cutters are on the more affordable end of the electronic die cutter spectrum, while those WiFi-enabled and host internal storage are on the expensive end.
Hybrid Die Cut Systems
Recently, hybrid systems have hit the market that incorporates both cartridges and software. You can import your designs via WiFi or Bluetooth and use cartridges when you don’t have that capability. Though they are more expensive, they offer the best of both worlds.
What to Look For
So what is the best die cutting machine? Unfortunately, there’s no real one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your needs. To help you figure that out, here are a few important considerations to keep in mind:
- Manual vs. Electric – which do you prefer?
- Cutting Capability – can it cut the material you want it to?
- Portability – how big and heavy is the machine?
- Plate Size – how big a design can you do in one go?
- Power Source – for electric machines, is it battery-powered, or does it have to be plugged in?
- Accessories – what does the machine come with? What accessories is it compatible with for future reference?
Resources for Your Die Cut Machine
Whether you decide to stick with a simple model or purchase one with all the bells and whistles, both serve as a handy tool for arts and crafts.
If you are worried about learning the ins and outs of a machine, Craftsy.com has some classes that may interest you, including a complete course on Creative Die Cutting with Cricut. Lesson 1 “Cutting Foundations” is an excellent introduction to the Cricut Expression Die Cutter’s most essential features.