Cardmaking 101: Die Cutting

Die cutting is one of my favorite parts of cardmaking and there are so many components to it, so many different machines, die, tools, etc. I could never cover it all but I am going to try and just scratch the surface. Today I will be using my die cutting machine of choice, the Big Kick, which is a Big Shot, just renamed and branded a bit differently. I’ve had my machine for 7 1/2 years now, I bought it shortly after starting stamping and it’s still going strong. My machine is made by Sizzix and I’ve heard nothing but good things about their customer service, though I’ve never had to deal with them. Also, my machine is a hand crank. If you have any worries about being able to crank the machine through or that it might irritate a medical ailment, you might want to look into an electric machine like the Vagabond. It is a bit more expensive, takes up a it more space, and must be plugged in to use, but definitely worth it for some. Again, the machine is made by Sizzix and has the same “sandwich” that I will be demonstrating , but with the added bonus of no hand crank. Below you can watch the video to find out more about the different types of dies.


Starting with my machine. I use the Big Kick from Sizzix. It is the exact same machine as the Big Shot, made by the same company, it just has a different name because it is sold in stores and the Big Shot is available only online. As I stated above, these machines are hand crank, manual machines. If you need something that is a bit easier on your hands or wrists, you might want to look into the Vagabond, which is an electric machine, so no hand cranking anything, you simply push a button and the machine does all the work for you! Now these are not the only machines on the market, but I’ve never used any of the other die cutting machines myself so I can’t speak to their “sandwiches”, cutting abilities, etc. I will just be sticking with my Big Kick for today’s die cutting overview.


When you buy your machine it should come with a pair of cutting pads and multi purpose platform. I believe the Big Shot now comes with an extended platform, so it longer than the one pictured below. You will need both of these components for the machine to function.cutting-plates

As you can see in the photo my cutting pads are nice and cut up. I use my machine ALOT. You can buy new cutting pads as needed, they cost approximately $13, but they now are made with a tapered edge. Because of the tapered edge a few techniques are made a bit more complicated, especially partial die cutting (it’s not near as precise), so I’m holding onto my old plates as long as possible. If you find your cutting plates are collecting a lot of bits of paper that have been die cut in the grooves, these can be washed and air dryed and they will be nice and clean.


The multipurpose platform is essential for wafer thin dies, embossing folders, etc. This platform is not to be cut on, always make sure your cutting plates are on top and underneath your die, protecting your machine.  You can see it comes with directions for each type of die and as your flip through the tabs, it has more directions and sandwiches for more products. A few things about this platform, the newer Big Shot now comes with the extended version of the platform. While this does leave you with a larger cutting surface, I don’t like it for the simple fact it’s pretty large and hard to store, but this is personal preference. You can also purchase a magnetic multipurpose platform now. Again, this isn’t for me, I like to tape my dies into place, but this too is just personal preference, you may LOVE the larger cutting surface or a magnetic surface. It’s just about finding what works for you!!


The Big Kick/Shot die cutting machine works by putting pressure on the cutting plates and in turn the die so it cuts nicely through the paper. Here’s a look at the machines rollers and a closer look at the opening of the machine.


Now that I’ve covered the machine, let’s move onto the fun part, The Dies!!! There are so many choices when it comes to dies, but I will break them down into two main categories. The first is Steel Rule Dies. Steel rule dies are bigger and bulky but there is no cutting comparison to these types of dies. Because they are bigger and have an actual steel blade (it’s VERY sharp) embedded in the foam they are a bit more expensive. However, they can cut just about any type of material you might want to cut and if it’s just cardstock, they can cut several sheets at once! If I’m making favors or a lot of something I will try and find the die I need in steel rule just because the die cutting itself is done in a snap! Watch the video above to see how they cut just like butter!!


Here is a closer look at the very sharp steel blade embedded in this foam. These dies will cut little hands if they are held too firmly, so be sure to let your kiddos know the rules with these dies!!


I wanted to share a 3-D item with you, because like I said, they can cut any type of material like butter and if you just need to cut cardstock you can cut several sheets at once. Stampin’ Up used to have a large selection of 3-D items in steel rule dies, however, they have now switched over to wafer thin dies. The only brand that I’m aware of that still makes these dies is Sizzix (yes I know Sizzix made Stampin’ Up!’s dies).


Here’s a look at a few different steel rule dies, as you can see they do come in all different types.


Moving onto wafer thin dies. These are probably the most popular type of die on the market now. As you can see from the photo above, you are not limited on choices when it comes to these dies and they are my favorite because of the small profile and storage space needed. They cut very nicely and also cut a variety of materials, though you may need to run them through your machine a few times! I do want to go into a little bit more depth with these dies, because they are the most popular and I want to share a little glimpse at all the different types of wafer thin dies you can buy.nesting-dies

Nesting dies are very popular and come in a variety of shapes (circles, squares, rectangles, ovals, etc.). These are great die sets to build up a collection of. You can do SO many things with them I couldn’t even begin to list them all. Here are some links to just a few of the times I’ve used this particular nesting set. Lets Make a Tag – Coffee Lovers Blog Hop and Lunchbox Notes #5


The next group or category of dies I want to share is what I would refer to as shape building dies. These are a group of different shaped dies, but when put together they make an object. On  the left is a bookmark die, the middle is an award ribbon, and on the right is a cupcake.These dies are awesome to use for filling up an entire card, creating shaped cards and just creating fun little tags. There are so many more of these dies out there this is just a little peek at a few. Here you can see where I used the cupcake die to create a fun shaped card. Creating Fun Shaped Cards


Moving onto scene building dies. Now I have mostly landscape scene building dies, because that’s what I like, but there are so many different kinds. Again, this is just a tiny glimpse at all the dies that are on the market. Landscape building dies are such fun to layer up, add dimension to with distress ink, or cut from different materials for more texture on a card. stitched-dies

Here is a look at a special set of landscape building dies. These dies have a faux stitching added to them so when they cut your with your die, it leaves behind the stitch marks and it just gives your die cuts a little something extra. Faux Stitching is kind of the “it” thing in cardmaking right now. There are so many types of dies that have it added to them including nesting dies, shape builder dies, etc.


Along the lines of faux stitching, there are also dies that just add faux stitching and nothing else. They do not necessarily cut any shape, but just add a bit of the stitching. The dies shown in the photo do just that and are in a straight line. There are also dies that are shaped, rectangles, square, etc- that just put a faux stitched shape onto your paper instead of cutting the shape itself. These dies are fantastic for CAS cards where you may want just a little something extra to draw the eye to a stamped image.


A closer look at the faux stitching die. You can see nothing but the stitches are actually cut into the paper.


Onto border dies, these are exactly what they sound like, dies that either cut a shaped border on the edge of your paper or a die cut you can add to your border. As you can see from the photo you can buy either dies that simply cut a fun border on the edge of your paper – these are great for making fun shaped cards, cutting a fun edge with a coordinating cardstock peeking out from underneath, or create a nice fun decorative edge-or dies that cut the border out completely out – these are great for adding a fun border anywhere on your card or doing some fun die cut inlay! Both are great to have in your stash.


Word dies are an amazing thing. They are great to use for so many different techniques, but they always save the day when I forget about the sentiment until the last minute! Displayed in the photo above are two word dies and you can see they come in a variety of sizes and fonts so yes, you may just need the same exact word or phrase in a few different fonts (LOL).


While there are word dies that are completely stand alone quite a few also have a coordinating stamp set that you can purchase, either as a set or separately. This Happy Birthday die set is a great example. To the right you can see this stamp set coordinates with the die so incredibly well and allows you to either just say “Happy Birthday” or add a little something extra to your sentiment.


While I’m on the subject of coordinating set I want to show you another type that is not a word die set. Many stamp and die sets may simply coordinate or lend themselves to one another, but are not necessarily “matching” stamp and die sets. These stamp and die sets from Ellen Hutson are the perfect example. While the houses and trees in both the stamp and the die set match with each other the hearts and stars do not. There is also not a die for the wreath or the smoke stack. While matching die sets are great I think that coordinating die sets give you a few more options, but this can also depend greatly on the type of stamp set and how well the coordinating set is put together. stamp-and-coordinating-die

As I said above there are also matching stamp and die sets. This is different from the coordinating sets in that there is a die for almost every stamp that is included in the set. While I do love matching stamp and die sets I have to admit I don’t often purchase matching die set. Unless I can think of a few different ways to use the dies by themselves, which isn’t often, I don’t really bother buying them, I would rather stamp and mask my scenes as opposed to die cutting. This is personal choice and I have to say many people really enjoy matching dies and create some really cute and gorgeous card and projects with them. So purchasing these die sets is really going to depend strongly on your style, what techniques you enjoy most, etc.stamps-and-coordinating-dies

The photo above is the Wplus9 Milk and Cookies stamp and die sets. As you can see from the photo almost every stamp has it’s own matching die. The reason I bought this matching die sets was because, not only did it include some really simple shapes (circle, banner, the long rectangle for the straw) that can be used for other things, the milk bottle die offers many possibilities.


I have shared a few of Papertrey Ink’s cheaper mini stamp sets on my Youtube Channel and blog. These stamp sets often have matching die sets and often they come connected as pictured above. These, and any other die sets that have such a thick metal connection between them, are not meant to be cut apart. I have seen a few people who though that were supposed to be and I just wanted to add this into my post, just in case you were thinking about it.


Obviously you can die cut with your die cutting machine but you can also dry emboss with it as well. That’s where embossing folders come into play. Embossing folder are simply two pieces of plastic that are attached at the top to create a folder. Both sides have a pattern on them – one recessed, one protruding. You simply put a sheet of cardstock inside the folder and run it through your die cutting machine according to the directions of your particular machine and when you take out the paper, it should have a gorgeous pattern that has been dry embossed or “pressed” into the paper.


Obviously, not the best picture, but I played with the saturation, brightness and contrast until you could see clearly both sides of the folder. This gives you a better idea of how the folders work.


I want to share with you a few tools that I find really beneficial for die cutting. These are not “gimmicky tools” what so ever. These are very simple tools that I use EVERY time I die cut or that have no replacement.


The first tool I use every time I die cut is painter’s tape. You can substitute this for washi tape, post-it tape, removable tape – you get the idea. This is what I use – and prefer to use in place of the magnetic platform- to keep my dies in place, especially when using matching stamp and die sets or doing a technique were you really need to be precise. I found the magnetic platform frustrating and that my dies did shift a little bit so I just stick with my tape. If you’re having problems with your tape tearing your paper, just stick it to the back of your hand or your t-shirt a few times to remove some of the stickiness. This will leave enough tackiness to hold your dies in place, but will be easily released without tearing your paper. I also use tape if I have a particularly stubborn die cut that doesn’t want to come out of the die and to clean up little bits and pieces left over from die cutting. (Watch the video above to see both demonstrations)


The next tool is my Quickstik tool. I don’t use the sticky portion of this tool, the end that I use for sequins, for die cutting. However, the little pick on the end has a very sharp pointy end that fits perfectly into the little holes in dies so you can release your paper. I use this tool often for more than just die cutting and think it’s worth the $7, but you can also use a safety pin or a straight pin and achieve the same result (just be careful because the pins can poke holes in your paper if you push too hard). Also, Tim Holtz and Stampin Up both have craft picks that you can purchase and use for the exact same thing, I just happen to love my Quickstik, because it’s one tool for many different jobs.


The final really necessary tool for die cutting that I would recommend is a pair of wire cutters. In the picture above you can see I have a huge pair, but you most definitely do not need a big pair like mine and more than likely yours will stay much nicer looking than mine. (I use mine for all of my woodworking as well, so they have stain, rust, etc. all over them. And I often cut very heavy wire with them, so I need a very sharp big pair.) If you are not planning on use your wire cutters for heavy duty materials, like I do, I would highly suggest a pair – that I will link below – that has a small more precise snip on them. This allows your to really get into hard to reach and dies that are attached very close together. It also allows you to cut very close to the edge of the die, so you can get rid of all of those sharp little pointy edges.

There are so many other tools on the market for die cutting and if you really think you’ll enjoy them and they’ll make your die cutting experience more enjoyable I would suggest trying them. These tool are the ones that address the really basic needs of die cutting and that I use the most often.


Finally,  storing all these dies can quickly become overwhelming. The best solution I have come across is using the Ellen Hutson storage pockets and the magnetic sheets they sell as well. Now if you buy any of the Ellen Hutson Essential by Ellen die sets, they will come packaged this way, which is soooo nice. The pockets do not rip easily and the magnetic sheet inside (which you have to purchase separately) keeps the dies in place so you know none are slipping away.

I have just scratched the surface of die cutting here. There are so many options for dies and machines that I couldn’t possibly cover them all. The dies and accessories you purchase, like most stamping and cardmaking supplies, will depend highly upon your style. And machines are a very personal option too. I would suggest making a pros and cons list of the different machines you’re deciding upon – that’s what I did- and go from there. Try and think about what types of dies you’ll be using most, look at different customer reviews, and watch some videos of people who actually use that particular machine. By that time you should have a pretty good idea what machine you should invest in.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments here or YouTube and I will hopefully be able to provide you with an answer! I have created a very short supply list of the tools that I find most helpful and a few other things as well. I did not include any particular dies or die sets, because again, your purchases will rely highly upon your cardmaking style. Thanks for stopping by today! Happy Crafting!!

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