Hello everyone! I’ve been wanting to do some Back to Basics posts for a very long time. I’ve tried to include some step photos in my posts but my blog is probably not a beginner-friendly site. I am grateful that some of you emailed me your questions and made me realize that I should cover some of the basics at some point. I can’t promise how often I will be posting in this category but today I’m going to answer the most frequently asked question I get:
“Should I get a manual die cut machine or an electronic die cut machine?”
Since an automatic die cut machine (e.g Vagabond - $119.99) cuts the same way as a manual die cut machine, I will just compare the differences between a manual die cutter (e.g Big Shot - $69.99, Cuttlebug - $56.99 and Evolution - $104.49) and an electronic die cutter (e.g. Cricut Expression - $199.99, Silhouette Cameo - $269.99). – All prices and links are found on Amazon as of Nov 25, 2013.
If the machine price is a consideration for you (i.e. to give as a gift), and you’ve decided on an electronic die cutter, both Cricut and Silhouette have smaller format machines available. A Silhouette Portrait - $119.99 takes letter-sized paper (8″x11″) and works the same as a Cameo (12″x12″). Usually, you can get 40%-50% off buying a manual die cutter at your local Michael’s or Jo-Ann (which is about the same price as listed on Amazon).
However, I don’t think the machine price is a big factor for choosing the right die cutter for you. Because the manual and the electronic die cutters work in completely different ways and the cost of dies and accessories will affect your overall cost heavily.
Generally speaking, I’ve found more stampers / card makers prefer a manual die cutter and more paper crafters / scrapbookers prefer a electronic die cutter.
I was a paper crafter before I started stamping. I bought my manual die cutter to use coordinating dies with my stamps and bought my electronic die cut machine to test and share my own craft templates.
Pros of a Manual Die Cutter
I was hoping that my electronic die cutter would replace my manual die cutter. Because most metal dies are at the range of $10-$30, while a electronic die design costs about $1. However, I’ve found myself buying more metal dies after buying the electronic cutter due to four main reasons:
1. The Finished Look.
Metal dies give us the nice beveled edges created by pressing metal blades into paper.
I was very disappointed with the cuts of an electronic die cut machine, of which the edges are slightly curled up because of the way the blade goes in. (As seen in the picture below, the white core of the paper is showing up at the edges.)
I was even more disappointed when I found out that the score lines are actually perforated on an electronic die cut machine. The perforated lines have rough edges and tend to fall apart easily. (As you can see at the folds in the picture below.) There are ways to fix this but still…
* Please note, some metal dies have perforated lines at fold lines as well.
2. The Ability to See Where You’re Cutting.
As I mentioned above, one of the main reasons that metal dies are popular with stampers is that we can die cut our stamped images with coordinating dies. Some stamp companies are starting to provide coordinating digital cut files for their stamps but we need to cut the shape first and then try to align the stamp to the shape, which I personally try to avoid at all cost.
Also, manual die cutting allows us to see exactly where we are cutting so we can purposely use a certain part of a paper design for a certain part of our project. I will explain more on this use of metal dies next Tuesday, Dec 3rd.
On an electronic die cutter, we basically assume where it will cut on a computer. There is a Print & Cut function to cut around what you’ve printed. But it has always been a hassle to me.
3. The Materials Available.
When we make cards or scrapbook layouts, we deal with paper most of the time. But incorporating different materials/media into our paper projects is one of the most interesting things to do! e.g. fabric, canvas, felt, cork, chipboard, and thin wood paper…
Although some electronic die cutters say that you can cut more than paper with them, it is often recommended to use a separate set of cutting blade and mat for each material as well as the material specific accessaries. (e.g. we will need to iron an interfacing to the fabric to make it cut clean.)
But on a manual die cutter, all you need is to adjust your sandwich so that the right pressure can be applied to the material. (e.g. I usually put a piece of card stock as a shim when cutting from felt.)
4. Getting Away from the Computer.
When I was introduced to a computer 18 years ago, I didn’t know that I would be spending 80% of my awake hours in front of it. It is so nice to get away from the computer and hold something tangible, like a piece of paper, in our hands. I simply prefer to spend more time with paper and stamps than a computer software.
Pros of a Electronic Die Cutter
After all above, I’m still using my electronic die cutter: Silhouette for following occasions: (Some points do not apply to a Cricut machine.)
1. When I Need a Box/Container.
This was one of the main reasons that I bought my Silhouette. I love all kinds of boxes and gift containers. I use the machine to test cut my own box templates before I share them on this blog. It saves a lot of my time and effort. But I’ve found out that there are many box patterns available online (free or at a very low price) for electronic die cutters, while a metal die for a box could easily go up to $40-$50. I can justify the cost of the metal die if I’m making 20+ boxes but more often, I just need a few.
2. When I Need a Specific Size.
With a electronic die cutter, I can cut a shape at almost any size I want (as long as it fits on the paper). I’ve enjoyed making shaped cards from a small label die shape and cutting the same butterfly shape at different sizes to create a 3D embellishment. (Details here)
3. When I Need a Special Shaped Card
Electronic die cutters have made some of the impossible shaped card designs possible to a home crafter! As you can see in the picture below, all the little pieces of the snowman was cut by Silhouette. There is just no such a metal die available.
As Seen in PC Nov/Dec 2013 Issue
4. When I Need a Certain Design
One thing I like about the Silhouette, is the ability to draw my own designs. Like the Circled Background I’ve shared a few days ago. The card design can be easily re-produced without too much work. I would like to share one of my favorite cards of the year to show you some of the possibilities of designing your own cards. (Details Here!)
The bottom Line
- If a professional finished look is what you are looking for, get a manual die cutter.
- If you like coordinating dies for your stamps, get a manual die cutter.
- If you like to experiment with different materials without too much work, get a manual die cutter.
- If you prefer to spend more time with paper than a computer, get a manual die cutter.
- If you like to try many different designs at a low cost, get an electronic die cutter.
- If you want to have the ability to customize a die design, get an electronic die cutter.
- If you enjoy learning and exploring computer programs, get an electronic die cutter.
To me, I have collected enough basic shapes on both my manual and electronic die cutters. I am only buying metal dies that are well designed and I can come up with at least 3 uses for. I don’t look for new electronic dies unless I have something very specific in mind and I am running out of time – because designing is part of the fun for me.
I hope that my post provided some idea for you to consider while choosing your first die cut machine. And welcome to the exciting paper die cutting world! Happy Crafting!