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Manual Die Cutting Tips


For paper craft enthusiasts, a die cut machine is one tool that is well worth investing in. Not only does it make fast work out of cutting multiple pieces of a shape, it also opens up a whole lot of creative possibilities, what with the wide range of die designs in the market today.

Here are some general tips to help you make the most out of your manual die cut machine, whether you use a Cricut, Sizzix, or Spellbinders model.

Know your machine. Read the manufacturer’s recommendations to find out what materials your die cut machine can handle. Some are designed to cut and emboss metal or cut fabric, aside from the usual paper and cardstock; others are not.

Before investing in dies, make sure that they are compatible with your machine. Some dies are oversized and made for specific models, and won’t work if you have a smaller machine. The same holds true for some cutting plates.

Follow the recommended “sandwich recipe”. A sandwich recipe refers to the order in which the machine’s platforms, shims, cutting plates, embossing mats and dies should be stacked before being fed into the machine, and differ from one model to another. Following the correct order will ensure that you don’t damage your machine, and that your paper is properly cut or embossed.

Take notes. As no two die cut machines are alike, even if they’re the same make and model, take notes on the paper/cardstock (in terms of weight), the dies, and the sandwich recipes you use so that you know what works well together. This will save you from guessing and experimenting in the future.

Don't force it. Here’s a cardinal rule when die cutting: Never, ever, force the sandwich into the machine! Doing so could break your die cut machine. If you find that the sandwich doesn’t feed properly, take it out and check that sandwich recipe is correct and that the stack is aligned. You may also want to substitute one of the shims with a thinner one, like a thin piece of cardstock or paper.

Easy feed. It’s easier to feed a sandwich through the machine if you place the die and paper an inch or two away from the front of the platform edge, instead of aligning it with the edge of the platform.

Tape it. If your die moves around on the platform, try using low tack tape to keep it in place.

To get a clean cut: Try placing your die and paper on the platform at an angle, instead of parallel to the edges of the platform. Pass it through the machine once and, without removing the paper from the die, rotate the die and paper on the platform and pass it through a second time.

You may also want to pass the sandwich in and back out again a few times to cut the paper well.

Try putting the die and paper nearer the side of the platform, where the machine rollers exert more pressure.

You can also try adding one or two pieces of thin cardstock under the die to get a clean cut.

Put your paper face down on the die so the smooth, rounded edges end up on the right side of the paper or cardstock.

Use wax paper when cutting intricate dies like those from Spellbinders. Put a piece of wax paper between the die and the paper before adding it to the sandwich and feeding it through the machine. The wax paper will make it easier to release the paper from the die.

Flip it over. Over time, the clear cutting plates will become etched and warped (or bowed) from use. This may cause uneven cutting pressure and result in your paper not being cut cleanly. While not much can be done with the etched surface, you can remedy the bowed plate by occasionally flipping it over before feeding it into the machine so that the curved part is on top (like an upside down U). You will eventually have to replace the cutting plates if they break; in any case they are readily available as spare parts from your dealer.

Oh, and one more tip: Keep your fingers away from the feeder! After all, paper crafting is no fun at all if you pin your fingers!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Mia C. Goloy. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mia C. Goloy. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Mia C. Goloy for details.

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