Updated: Mar 19, 2019
Digital Die Cutting machines have made their way from the crafting industry into the quilting and sewing industries and are growing in popularity among quilters, artists and creators. Ever since incorporating the use of a digital cutter into my quilt making process I honestly couldn’t imagine cutting fabric shapes any other way. But just what is a digital cutter? And why would a quilter want to use one?
Generally there are two categories of die cutters: Manual die cutting machines and Digital die cutting machines. Most manual die cutters are portable, require no electricity or computer to run them. They use various types of metal dies which you purchase separately and are used to cut uniform shapes out of multiple layers of fabric. They basically work like cookie cutters to mass produce cut shapes. The dies come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and designs. Digital cutting machines require electricity and in most cases will need software to create a design and a computer to electronically send cut designs from the computer to the cutter. There are some stand alone models that don't require a computer. Digital cutters use digital files which basically tell the cutting machine what to cut. The cutters physically look a lot like a home printer and are hooked up using USB and power supply cords. They also use a small blade seated in a blade holder and cut shapes out of one layer of material positioned on a cutting mat.
There many fabulous advantages for using a digital cutter in your quilt making process.
You can cut intricate fabric shapes often difficult to cut by hand
You can cut multiples of the same shape with perfect accuracy
Most software’s come with numerous free built in designs
For convenience you can purchase premade digital designs online 24/7
You can also upload an image to your computer and use trace features to turn a drawn image into a cut file
But the BIGGEST ADVANTAGE is… You can create your own custom designs! You can draw any shape you desire, resize if needed and then cut it!
If you are a quilter like me, this is the number one reason I own a digital cutter. I love the flexibility of creating my own custom designs and shapes. You can cut a simple applique shape, your favorite fonts, or thousands of intricate fabric shapes. And in each instance the cutter will cut the shapes cleanly and with incredible precision. When you use a digital cutter you open the door to endless possibilities. Pretty cool stuff!
As the demand for digital die cutters in the quilting and sewing industries increases so has the variety of digital cutter manufacturers we now have to choose from: Cricut, Janome, Silhouette, Brother, KNK and Sizzix to name a few. And the price of these cutting machines has also become more affordable too. Manufacturers have also stepped up the quality, features and accessories. Most digital cutters not only cut fabric but they can cut all sorts of materials such as vinyl, freezer paper, chipboard, felt, craft foam, fusible, cardstock, stencil plastic, thin leather and metal and more. The software can range anywhere from simple to a little more complex but once you start working with it you will quickly realize the benefits of having powerful editing tools and you will appreciate the multiple applications available to cut, print and cut, draw, emboss, engrave, and create embroidery and rhinestone designs.
I use my digital cutter as a tool to design and cut my quilt designs and I am always pleased with the quality, speed and precision every time I use my cutter. It’s truly a piece of professional equipment that enhances my quilt making process. And when I’m not quilt making (which is rare!) I use my cutter to make home décor accessories and personalized gifts. It’s nice to know is that I have at my disposal a versatile tool to use to make my quilts with and anything else I can dream up.
Let’s take a look a few things you need to know about quilting with a digital die cutter:
#1 – Durability and Quality
I have countless hours using my digital cutting machine and I have cut literally thousands of thumbed sized, intricate fabric shapes, considerably more than I think an average quilter would use their digital cutting machine. Therefore I feel it’s safe for me to say when purchasing a personal digital cutting machine you’ll want to look for quality and durability. Metal components and a powerful motor are valuable features and increase your success using a digital cutter. However, heavier grade materials can increase the overall size or weight of a cutter. Personal digital cutting machines weight anywhere from 3lb to 20lbs and the dimensions of cutters vary but most machines just need a table in your quilt room to allow the cutting mat to freely move in the front and in back of the cutter.
#2 – Cutting Force
Cutters vary greatly in this area and this is probably one of the most import factors to consider when looking at a digital cutter. Cutting force is amount of pressure being applied to the material that it is cutting. This means how well the machine can cut through the thicknesses of selected materials and ultimately determines how good or clean the cut will be. Cutting force is measured in grams of force. Personal digital cutters can range anywhere from a low 200 grams of force upwards to a high 1,200 grams of force. A higher cutting force is used for thicker materials such as stencil plastic and certain types of leather and a lower cutting force is used for paper, vinyl etc. My digital cutter provides 750 grams of force which I find is more than sufficient for cutting fabric backed with fusible which is primarily what I use it for. I have also cut other materials with it such as freezer paper, cardstock, felt, Kraft-Tex, plastic and craft foam sheets all with no problems.
#3 - Price
Digital die cutting machines range anywhere from around $200 up to $1,000 or more. In my opinion, you’ll spend anywhere from $300 to $500 for a decent quality digital cutter to use to quilt with. You also need to factor in the cost of replacement cutting mats and blades. You can spend considerably more if you venture off into researching industrial cutters verses personal or home use cutters. Typically, a more expensive the cutter means quality components, a powerful motor and more features and are all things to consider to achieve successful and professional cut results.
How you plan to use your cutter plays an important role in determining the type of cutter you’ll choose. Are you creating simple applique shapes or intricate quilt designs? Do you want to make home decor accessories, sewing projects or just craft with it? Are you a small business owner who needs to make large quantities of specifically cut designs to fill orders. You’ll need to determine how you want to use your digital cutter to find one that best fits your needs and your budget.
Here is list of other things to consider before purchasing a digital cutting machine:
Ease of use
Set Up & Installation
Where to Buy
What’s included in the Box
Support & Warranty
Size and Portability
Various Blade Types
Cutting Widths of Machine
Auto Blade vs. Fine Tune/Adjustable Blade Holders
Supported file types