A good die cutting machine is one of the key tools that a paper crafter can invest in, and it’s a very useful gadget if you are interested in card making. What’s more, they are the only real way to make use of the metal dies and plastic embossing folders that come with so many card making magazines.
If you are a beginner crafter, or very new to card making and want to understand what these machines are and what they can do, check out our What is a die cutting machine article. If you’re ready to invest in a die cutting machine for yourself and you’re wondering which is the best value die cutting machine for your needs, we’ve rounded up our favourites.
Best manual die cutting machines
- Tonic Tangerine
- Spellbinders Platinum
- Gemini Mini Die Cutting Machine
- Sizzix Big Shot Plus
- Sizzix Big Shot Foldaway
Best electronic die cutting machines
- Crafter’s Companion Gemini
- Crafter’s Companion Gemini Junior
- Sizzix Big Shot Express
- Brother Scan N Cut
- Cricut Explore Air 2
More than just a die cutting machine
- Create and Craft Todo
- Cricut Explore Air 2
- Brother Scan N Cut
Best manual die cutting machines
Manual die cutting machines tend to be cheaper and typically have a handle that is turned to feed the cutting plates through the machine. The following are all ones we have tested in our offices, and the ones we use in our everyday crafting.
This A4 die cutting machine from Tonic has a lovely slimline footprint, with a baseplate featuring suction cups that can be twisted out to stabilise when in use, or turned under the machine when stored. This makes it a surprisingly good portable option, though it is pretty heavy, and, although the handle can be removed with an allen key, this is not especially practical use to use. Its A4 cutting plates are all that most card makers will ever need, and their different colours and clearly-labelled functions make it clear and easy to understand when you are putting your sandwich together – though they do look a bit like they belong in the kitchen as chopping boards!
The fact that the plates feed through the centre of the machine is a great plus for the average craft desk – there is enough clearance underneath for stray rolls of washi tape or Stickles to sit beneath the moving plates. But it is possible to knock boxes or tubs of embellishments over, so keep this in mind – clearance is advisable.
We love the tangerine for its unique styling – it’s orange! – and the no-jargon accessories that make it easy to understand and simple to use.
The Platinum is a sophisticated and high-spec die cutting machine, with a wonderfully smooth cutting action. The manufacturers boast of a solid steel core construction and trademarked VersaCut™ technology for unsurpassed power, strength and durability. The machine in our office certainly saw a lot of use and after several years was still cutting beautifully, even after the plates were so battered they were practically opaque! Using Spellbinder Contour™ Steel Rule Dies with these machines lets you cut up to six layers in a single pass, and it even cuts thicker materials like cork or felt. This machine is a good choice if you are mass producing or looking to work with other materials beyond card.
The Platinum comes in both an A4 and a smaller 6 inch-wide cutting plate version (Platinum 6). Both options have sides that fold down when in use, then up into the body of the machine for easy storage and transport – the built-in carry handle at the top makes it look a bit like a suitcase when it’s folded. The handle can easily be removed with an allen key, but this is not usually practical on a day to day basis.
Gemini’s core machines are electric, but the mini is an ideal starter manual die cutting machine. It typically costs less than £30, which is hard to argue with, and the bijou cutting plates can accommodate mini dies and embossing folders up to 3 inches wide. This will work fine for lots of small decorative dies, including many that you get with card making magazines, but the aperture is too small to work with A5 embossing folders, and you certainly won’t be able to get a card blank through this machine.
We recommend this for card makers taking their first steps into the hobby, or for kids who like cardmaking as it’s small, light, portable and easy to use. But don’t expect it to do too much. It will barely take up any space on your craft desk, however, so could be good to keep on hand for cutting quick flourishes and it is adorably dinky to have on display!
Sizzix Big Shot
So many card makers swear by their Big Shot machine! The one shown here is the A4 version (Big shot Plus) but the machine that made the brand such a big name features an A5 cutting width. The A4 Big Shot Plus retains its great build quality, and one of the features that made a firm favourite among crafters is that – aside from its super sturdy build quality – the cutting sandwich layers are all tabbed together like a book, so you can’t lose different plates. The instructions for which ones you need are printed on the back plate, and you fold in the ones you need for your particular cutting sandwich. This can be a little awkward as the folded out, unused ones can flap around a little as you feed the sandwich through the machine but, all things considered, it is an ingenious feature and one that has been a big hit with crafters.
This is a weighty and sturdy machine with a 3-year warranty – it’s not something you want to be lifting in and out of cupboards all of the time, and it has a large footprint but is a wonderful choice for crafters with a large craft desk where it can live as your go-to machine. There is a handy storage caddy available that clips on the side without the handle for neat extra storage, too.
Sizzix Big Shot Foldaway
The Big Shot foldaway is the newest machine to the Big Shot family. It has the same A5 cutting width as the regular Big Shot – and you can use the plates from each in both machines – but the foldaway comes with separate plates, not tabbed together in the way detailed in the review above. This makes them smaller and easier to store, like the foldaway itself. In the picture here, the machine is positioned for storage with the sides folded up, and the handle twisted around to tuck neatly into the curve in the side of the machine – we love this feature! It is much lighter than the regular Big Shot and designed for people who want to to make the most of a smaller craft space or perhaps take their machines out and about with them. It also makes it easy to move and store this machine easily, if you don’t have a bespoke craft area for a machine to live.
The foldaway also has a little inbuilt storage area inside the fold-out platforms – plenty of space to store a collection of small dies or some go-to washi tape to secure dies in place when using the machine. It’s a very elegant option for the mid-level crafter.
Best electric die cutting machines
Crafter’s Companion Gemini
Electric die cutting machines are where it’s at if you have any hand mobility or strength issues – or if you simply feel like letting a machine do the work for you! The Gemini from Crafter’s Companion is highlighted as being a dual function die cutting and embossing machine, but all of the die cutting machines reviewed here will also emboss – you just need the appropriate embossing folders to work with your machine. A rubber mat is included in the box, which lets you use dies designed to add embossing details, as well as cutting shapes.
Unlike the other machines, the Gemini includes a magnetic shim in the pack, which is useful to help hold your die in place in the cutting sandwich – no washi tape required. Just make sure you assemble the sandwich as directed to avoid cutting a hole in the magnetic shim instead. Other precision plates (like a metal cutting plate) let you work with leather, foam, balsa wood, mount board and even thin brass sheets – this is one heck of a powerful machine. The original Gemini has a 9 x 12.5 inch cutting platform, so can easily handle A4 cards, and even has the space to accommodate several dies at once which, combined with its electric function, is very handy for mass production for all these craft materials (or batch making Christmas cards!).
The Gemini is whisper-quiet to use and feeds the sandwich through quickly and easily, providing precision cutting. It’s much harder to break an electric die cutting machine through user error as you can’t force incorrectly assembled cutting sandwiches through the metal rollers, as you can with the manual ones. This is a very valuable feature for many crafters!
Crafter’s Companion Gemini Junior
The Junior is a more compact and lower-priced version of the Gemini original. It has a 6 x 8.9 inch platform for cutting A5 card, and has the same plates and mats as the original, letting you cut different materials. Though the Junior is not recommended for leather and balsa wood – you’ll need the original for those – it can handle craft metals, thick cardstock and will cut up to six pieces of fabric in a single pass.
Because this machine is more of a fit for card makers, and thanks to its lower price, this is the cutting machine you see most often on craft desks and is the one that Crafter’s Companion are creating accessories for – their hot foil press system is designed to operate with the Junior rather than the original Gemini. Unless you are looking to cut thicker materials or need the larger cutting area, this is the machine we would recommend you buy of the two – why spend the extra money when you can get the same excellent quality at a lower price? As well as the standard white and purple, the Gemini Junior also comes in a rose gold version – we’re in love!
Sizzix Big Shot Express
Buy it now: Amazon (£169.99)
This machine is just like the manual Sizzix Big Shot, apart from the fact it has no handle to crank! Instead, there is an electric motor attached where the handle would be, which powers the cutting sandwich through the cutting rollers at the push of a button. And, if you don’t like the unbalanced look of the motor on one side, you can always balance it out by purchasing the Big Shot storage caddy to sit on the opposite side!
The plates are the same tabbed option as the original Big Shot, and it’s very straightforward to fold in and out the ones you need. Crafters will either love or hate this depending on preference, although it has never caused us a problem. We love that the plate you need is always to hand with this system! In our tests, the Big Shot Express was slightly louder on operation than the Gemini, although this is only a very marginal difference.
The Big Shot Express is a great choice for those who struggle with dexterity in their hands and want to take the work out of die cutting. But for about a 50 per cent increase in price versus the manual Big Shot, we reckon that most crafters would get better value for money by sticking with the manual version.
More than a die cutting machine
Brother Scan N Cut
Buy it now: Create and Craft (£399)
The Scan N Cut is not die cutting machine at all – you don’t need separate dies to cut shapes here, and therein lies the beauty of this machine. The cutting blade can cut any shape that you want! Choose from an inbuilt selection of shapes stored in the machine, download designer patterns, or draw your own in Canvas Workspace to sync with the machine. The Scan N Cut can cut up to 1.5mm thickness of material with the deep cutting blade, so you can cut super-thick cardstock, and thick material like denim, too.
Switch the cutting blade out for different tools and you can emboss detail, add rhinestones, add foiled details or use pens to draw and colour different patterns. Once you have tried out Canvas Workspace a few times and got your designs synching with your machine, you’ll see how versatile and easy to use the system is. We find the touch screen display a really lovely extra feature to take the mystery out of operation. There’s a wireless version, too, and the machine will automatically install updates so you will always have the most up to date version of the software without having to worry.
Serious crafters will be awed by the versatility and wide range of functions that this machine offers!
Cricut Explore Air 2
Buy it now: Amazon (£259)
Well, hello beautiful! Can we say how much we love the look of this machine, and especially the sunflower yellow version shown here. The Explore Air 2 is a slightly lower spec version of Cricut’s Maker and won’t work with thick fabrics, but is instead intended for cutting card and paper. It still cuts vinyl and iron-on fabrics, but won’t work with denim or leathers. So if you’re a paper crafter looking for a better, less expensive option with a significant cost reduction on the Maker, look no further! We love this machine.
You can use the intuitive Design Space software to create your own shapes and designs, then sync this with the machine to cut out your patterns. You can also swap out the cutting blade if you want to emboss a design, or even add a pen to the holder and have the machine write or draw for you. And it does this really quickly and quietly. It also comes in a white and mint version if you don’t fancy the yellow – but where’s the fun in that?
The Todo was created to be a multi-functional tool for card makers. As well as having a manual die cutting function, it can hot foil, letterpress, and emboss, too. It’s a very clever concept, and good price point for all those functions compared to the Scan N Cut and The Explore Air 2, but it will take up a significant amount of space on your craft desk. Instead of turning the handle and moving the cutting plates through the rollers, you’re moving the entire cutting mechanism itself, so it can be a hard workout for your arms. If you really want all these functions, we’d recommend spending the extra money and getting one of the two cutting machines listed above. Or be prepared to take some time in learning how to adjust the Todo to make the most of its functions.
Which is the best die cutting machine?
There are a few key factors to consider when you are choosing the die cutting machine that is right for you:
As well as the size of the machine (how much space have you got?), it’s the size of the cutting plates that will really affect how you can use it in your crafting. Will you just be using the machine to cut small decorative shapes, or will you want the option to use large kinetic card blank dies? If you want to use dies to make your own aperture cards, you need to consider the width of the cards you’ll be making, too – the card will need to be opened out to run through the machine.
Cheaper machines usually work fine in the short term. They tend to have plastic rather than metal parts in their rollers. Ultimately these do break so you can end up with areas of the machine that won’t cut dies, or sometimes that don’t work at all. If you anticipate being a long term card maker or are looking to make a high volume in a short amount of time, better to go for a machine with metal rollers that will last longer. This higher build quality will be reflected in the price tag.
This is where the size and weight of the machine is important! Typically a weighty machine uses quality metal parts, which make it easier and smoother to use as the machine keeps steady while the die cutting sandwich runs through it. But if you are going to be carrying the machine around with you or lifting into a cupboard for storing, a foldaway machine, or a lighter version may be more practical for you.