How do you find the best die cutting machine? And just what are these things good for anyway?
Cutting machines are great for a variety of craft projects. You don’t have to spend too long on Instagram searching craft hashtags to find the amazing projects folks use cutting machines to create: greeting cards, stickers, vinyl decals, banners and more. Software that lets you download a myriad of projects add to the fun.
The only bummer: die cutting machines can be expensive.
But there is good news: among our 2 million parent readers, we have a large number of serious crafters. We surveyed these folks to get their advice—what die cutting machine is best for beginners? For big projects with different materials like vinyl or leather?
We took these suggestions and then got to work, doing hours of additional research on features, limitations and durability. As always, we look for the best bang for the buck. Yes, can spend a wad of cash on a machine, but this article focuses on folks who may be first-timers (die-cut curious?) and intermediate-level crafters.
For the best die cutting machine for a variety of projects, we think the best bet is the Cricut Explore Air 2.
Cricut helped invent this category when they debuted their first machine in 2014. The big innovation: easy-to-use software that downloads patterns via Bluetooth from a smartphone (or USB from a computer).
The Explore Air 2 is good place to start if you want versatility—it can cut over 100 different materials, from vinyl to foil, cardstock to leather.
What We Liked
• Easy to set-up.
• Learning curve is easiest to master. Cricut has the easiest to use software, in the opinion of our readers who’ve tried different brands.
• Includes two-week free trial of Cricut Access, which has 100,000 images, typefaces and so on.
• Can easily shift between cutting and writing. For the newbies out there, die cut machines can do more than cut. Many can use a pen for lettering (helpful for homemade greeting cards). But not all die cut machines can switch easily between cutting and drawing—this model does.
• Lots of included extras: 100 free images, 50 free projects, sample card stock, cutting mat, blade and so on.
• Integrated tool holder.
• Fast mode = 2x times faster cutting. Or use Precision Mode for intricate cuts.
• Includes software for Windows and Apple computers.
• Great for intricate projects like paper lace.
• Large DIY Cricut community—you’ll note on Instagram there are quite a few Cricut users out there, so there is a lot of support/inspiration out there if you need it.
What Needs Work
• Cricut Access runs $10 month after free trial. Now, you don’t have to use this project library—you can create your own projects with the included software (which has 370 typefaces, for example). However, after forking over the bucks on the machine, some folks are miffed that there is also a monthly charge to continue downloading from Cricut Access.
• Must manually adjust machine for different materials (some die cut machines can do this automatically).
• Dropped connections via Bluetooth or USB.
• Customer service from Cricut could be better. While most folks are happy with this machine, if something goes wrong, we see quite a few reports of folks who are frustrated when dealing with this company’s customer service. Let’s just say there is room for improvement there.
• Sometimes the blade must be reset.
• Limited size projects. This machine only works for projects smaller than 6.75″ by 9.25″. That’s pretty limited compared to other models. Need a die cut machine to handle bigger projects? See our next recommendation.