die cutting machine

Tips, Tricks, & Faves of Die Cutting


By Jane Rudolfo Shouse

Special for CraftyChica.com

Hi there! My name is Jane and as a crafter, creative and maker, I am Juanitas Casita!

Juanitas Casita

I’m going to tell you my top ELEVEN tips, tricks and faves of die cutting!! But first, because I hear this a lot – electric die cutting machines and electric cutting machines…….what’s the difference??  “Can I use my metal dies or those Maker’s Movement metal dies with my Cricut?” And what are hand crank machines?


I see answers to these questions in social media crafting groups all the time. To someone new to the die cutting world or even the electric crafty cutting world, an ”electric die cutting machine” means a Cricut, right? Nope. Here’s the difference.

An electric “die cutting” machine (above) is a machine that uses pressure to cut shapes in conjunction with metal dies. All hand crank and electric die cutting machines use a “sandwich” plate system. Clear plates, magnetic mats, non-magnetic mats, metal shims, embossing rubber mats, A plates\B plates\C plates. They can also just emboss using embossing folders (squeeze and press images into cardstock and vellum). Some brands or companies switch the names slightly but they all pretty much do the same thing. They help to build the right “sandwich” to create the pressure needed to die cut and even emboss simultaneously.  

Here is an example of embossing with an embossing folder.  

die cut machine pads

Electric die cutting machines:  Empress by Anna Griffin Inc. or the Gemini by Crafter’s Companion.  

Makers movement Crossover II
Example of hand crank machine by Maker’s Movement

Hand crank models: Big Shot by Sizzix, Sidekick by Ranger, Tonic has the Tangerine, The Maker’s Movement has the Crossover II, Diamond Press has the Marquise and there are so many others! 

die cutting machine
Hand crank machine by Maker’s Movement.

An electric cutting machine (Cricut, Scan N Cut, Silhouette) uses a sharp blade and usually a sticky mat of some type, and it must be used with software or online design app. You can either design something yourself to have the machine cut for you or you can use a file in the manufacturer’s program system or machine app.

For the example here I’ll use the Cricut Explore Air 2 and the Maker because that is the brand I’m experienced with. You can connect your machine to your computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone via cord or bluetooth. You download and install the Cricut app called Design Space. From Design Space you can create and send your project to “cut” and the machine does the work. Other machines similar to the Cricut family brand are the Silhouette Cameo, and my wish list item, the Brother Scan and Cut. It is possible to use the Scan and Cut without a computer. It has the ability to scan an image like the shape of a heart or a car and other things and then can cut it out of vinyl, paper and other materials.  

Cricut air

Also, yes, an electric cutting machine can emboss metal and score paper, can draw and write and a bunch of other things using additional tools that you usually have to purchase separately.

Okay, mira! Look, now I’ll get to my tips, tricks and faves when using an electric die cutting machine. For my example I am using the Empress by Anna Griffin Inc. This is the larger machine of the two the company currently offers.

cutting machine

My fave = it’s electric…….boogie woogie, woogie!!

Sorry, I couldn’t help myself LOL. I sometimes make 40 to 80 cards for a holiday and all from scratch. Yes, that means cutting all my cards and bases myself, 5×7 or 4×6 or 6×6 or 5×5 or whatever….plus ALL those die cuts – gasp!! Hand cranking was the way I did it all and it took me forever and yes I had sore palms and wrists and shoulders. But then I discovered the power of the electric die cutting machine.

cut heart-2

You push a button to turn it on, you push a button to start the movement. Or in some cases, you only push one button (see Crafter’s Companion Gemini)!! Now you can craft for hours and only worry your back and legs are killing you from standing hours on end instead of your shoulder and you telling yourself, “mira, estas vieja” “look, you’re old”, and that being the reason – well it could be, but I’m just saying.

My Fave = the embossing will BLOW YOUR MIND!  Okay, yes, when I used a hand crank it would emboss and it was great but with the electric machine, the pressure that the machine creates and delivers in the squeeze is definitely more powerful in my opinion and more consistent than I could ever be when I was hand cranking. Sometimes during turning the lever, I would have to stop and take a break or be like “dang, this metal die is like no joke, I gotta break it in and it’s taking forever to make these 36 5×7 filigree layers”.  Nope, not any more! The electric machines produce really neat and detailed and also gorgeous results. The more intricate the better and now many companies are coming out with “3D” dies and embossing folders for even more detailed cuts and embossing impressions.

Many of these machines let you cut with your die face-side down. 

Mira, Juanita, look, what does that mean?  It used to be the sandwich configuration for die cutting in the machines was generally clear plate on the bottom, next metal shim or not (depends on how much pressure you need), then cutting mat or magnetic mat, then metal die facing up (will cut up into the paper and other plate), then your paper facing down on to the die, then 2nd clear plate on top….then run it through your machine.

Okay, fab! But wait, you need to emboss too?? Okay so now you’ll need to remove the metal shim if using one, and the cutting mat (magnetic or reg), got it? Okay good, now add the rubber embossing mat to the top of the die with the paper STILL IN IT, don’t let the paper move or slip because you won’t like what happens, clear plate back on top, now run it through again. Presto, gorge-wahhh (my way of saying gorgeous and awesome!).

cut and emboss

Now enters the updated way to die cut and emboss in one pass (I realize there are a few tips in this one section…hmmm).  Yes, you can die cut and emboss in one pass without having to do all those steps.  Try this sandwich configuration: clear plate on the bottom, then metal shim, now the “magnetic” mat, next cardstock facing UP (meaning the pattern you want people to see), now metal die “facing down” and onto the cardstock, clear plate on top.  Run it through and presto x2 = you have now die cut and embossed in one pass and you didn’t need to do that other sandwich configuration with removing and adding pieces!

cutting plates

 Tip: Cutting with the die face up will cut into your clear plates causing your plates to get scratched or engraved with the image of your metal die. Totally normal. These plates and mats are consumables meaning….you use them, they wear out, you buy new ones again.  If you are a mega crafter or power craft through a holiday, then you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Again, totally normal, don’t freak out.  

Trick: If these etched clear plates are causing you some distress, then die cut with the die facing into the magnetic mat (HELLOOO, cut and emboss in one pass). Yes, your magnet mat will also get worn out, you’ll have to replace them. But you know what lasts like foreverrrrrrrrrrrr (well, for me at least)?  The metal dies and the rubber mats, and metal shims…..those things I have not replaced in several years.

Tip: Running your sandwich and plates through your machine will cause you to hear cracking and popping…..and you’ll be thinking you’re killing or breaking something.  Nope, totally normal again.  What you are hearing is the tremendous pressure being created by your machine and your new plates adjusting to the metal dies and all that wonderful magic going on in that machine!!

Tip: OMG my clear plates are warped and bowed, what in the heck happened?? Again, totally normal (I feel like a broken record).  Maybe this is a trick, IDK….but what you want to do to help and minimize the bowing and warping is to rotate your plates.  Now, depending on the type of machine you have, the size of the plate system it can accept, also taking into consideration the size of your plates, you could do rotations in every direction for every side but not all machines can accommodate the longer plates and those can only go in one way.  For those with limited rotation options, the side that went in first now goes in last, flip your plate upside down and around.  Almost like even coverage is what you’re going for.  Doing all of this will help keep your clear plates more on the flat and straight path.

cutting plates tips

Trick: could also be a tip, IDK…BUT KEEP ONE plate for the bottom ALWAYS and never use it as a “top” plate.  Why?? Okay so what I’m saying is keep at least one clear plate from getting scratched, etched up and engraved by your metal dies. Why?  Sometimes (or all the time, I don’t judge because I’m extra too) you want to die cut buttery matte foil or shiny mirror-like foil and guess what will happen if your cardstock is larger than your die or if there is an open space or negative space on your die and you’re cutting into your mat?? The etchings or scratches in your clear plate will actually emboss into your yummy cardstock! NOOOOOO!! Yep, it’s happened, and I was down to my last pieces and I was heartbroken…but wait, you can always fix it with dimensional ephemera….well, sometimes. So again, keep one plate pristine and so when you have to do some “special, do not mess up my paper” die cutting you have at least one plate that you can use that won’t mess up your paper.  And no, the etched plate will not harm your regular cardstock or patterned paper…..  This trick is just for foil or finish-sensitive papers.

Trick: “My magnetic mat looks all icky, bent and warped”. Guess what? Straighten it out by taking your warped magnetic mat and sticking them to your fridge or metal doors or better yet, your hot car hood or doors.  I did mine at night so the hot Arizona sun wouldn’t do something crazy to my car’s hood.  If you don’t feel comfortable with that, try it out on your grill!! Make sure the magnet sticks to your metal whatever and leave it there and it will straighten out. Just be sure the surface is smooth and straight otherwise you might end up with more warping.  I learned this tip from a crafting company and I love it!

Tip: Why I love magnetic mats….also, get one!!  Okay so you don’t have to use magnetic mats.  It wasn’t always the way.  It was just “a cutting mat” in the beginning. The neat thing about magnetic mats is that they hold your metal die in place during cutting. This helps minimize die cutting mistakes, ruining that last piece of out-of-print cardstock or out-of-stock paper. I highly recommend crafting with a magnetic mat in your electric die cutting machine.  It is a game changer!!

A Tricky Tip: whatever, I can’t decide which category it falls into! Okay so let’s say you have a metal die that is like super intricate and has a lot of embossing details, or maybe your paper is a thicker cardstock with lots of chunky glitter pieces. Sometimes die cutting down into the mat doesn’t quite do it, and it may require multiple passes through the machine.  BTW, sometimes multiple passes are needed; it all depends on your paper and the pressure + shims. A great way to increase the pressure of the cutting without adding more shims that your machine may not accept is going back to die cutting with the metal die facing up and cutting into your clear plate. Yes, it will etch your clear plate; yes, that can be a normal thing; no, it will not emboss in one pass. BUT, the cut will be a really nice cut because it is cutting into something that is unyielding. That clear plate is like plexiglass and doesn’t want anything to push against it giving you that nicer cut.  Die cutting face down into the softer magnet material still gives you a nice cut and will emboss at the same time, but when it’s super chunky glitter cardstock…go face up! Recap on this one; if you need more detailed embossing, cut side up or down, but then follow up with the die facing up and then add the rubber embossing mat (remember to remove the appropriate mats\shims) and clear plate and run through the machine. If you are cutting something thicker and don’t want to mess around with your cuts, cut facing up\die facing up and paper facing down. Got it? Good!

Okay, there you are!  My top 11 tips, tricks and faves that I use and follow every single time I turn on my electric die cutting machine!!  Do you have any tips or tricks or favorite methods you have for when using your electric die cutting machine?

Shopping list:

Maker’s Movement Crossover II (handcrank)

Anna Griffin Electronic Die Cutting Machine

Cricut Electronic Cutter

Give me a follow on Instagram! @juanitascasita 

Jane from Juanitas Casita

Love & light,

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