How Does a Die Cutter Work?

Die cutters have become so precise and versatile, that they can cut a single tissue paper or fondant for decorating cakes and pastries.

The term die cutter is used for a press or machine that cuts material in a specified shape. From huge industrial cutters for furniture, to the small hand-rolled machines used for cutting office supplies or cute paper cut-outs, die cutters are of varied types.

The cuts made by a die cutter are sharp and precise – plus, it hardly requires any skill. All you have to do is place the material in the machine, and press it. Another advantage is that it saves an enormous amount of time – even complex shapes like those required for making a gift box can be cut in a matter of seconds, once the machine is set.

Portable cutters do not require a computer or net connection, while others do, and much like a printer, they take the input from the PC, and offer many more features. Their cutters are also much more customizable and detailed, allowing for any shape to be cut. Some of them also offer features like cut-to-print, creasing, and embossing.

The Basic Principle
Die cutting is actually a very simple process. Just imagine a cookie cutter cutting through cookie dough – as you apply pressure from above, the blades of the cookie cutter tear through the dough and cut it. In case of a die cutter, a hydraulic press pushes sharp blades down into the material, with just enough pressure to cut it, but not the underlying sheet.
The exact mechanism varies according to the type, intended materials, accuracy, and complexity of the cutting required.
Clicking Cutters
Clicking Cutter
This is the mechanism that is utilized by the first and most basic of the die cutters. It employs dies made from sharp blades, which are then pressed onto the sheet that needs to be cut. Clicking cutters are usually manual cutters, and can be recognized by a handle which has to be pressed down to put pressure on it. Although, clicking cutters can also employ electricity or hydraulics to be used.
Rotary Die Cutters
Rotary Die Cutter
These die cutters have a cylindrical die which is mounted on heavy anvils called a rotary press. A sheet of paper or any other material to be used is fed into the machine. The die moves with the sheet to cut the shape as the sheet moves through the cutter. Rotary dies can be used in any kind of cutter, and the results are much more precise as compared to the clicking cutters.
Laser Cutters
Laser Cutter
Laser cutters are used where precision is the key, such as when cutting machine parts or very intricate designs. The user/operator generates a design using CAD. A highly focused beam of light is used to cut the material in the exact shape of the design. For homes, generally a CO2 laser is used, whereas for industrial applications, neodymium or neodymium-yttrium-aluminium-garnet lasers can also be used. The beam is generated in the cutter itself, by stimulating a lasing material with a lamp or electrical discharges. Its power is increased using mirrors, and then the high-powered beam is focused on the area that needs to be cut, using either fiber optics or mirrors.
Water Jet Die Cutters
Water Jet Die Cutter
These, like the laser cutters, use CAD to guide a stream of water through a material. The material is cut due to the pressure of the water that is flowing at a speed two and a half times the speed of sound. It is usually used for industrial processes, where precision is important, and the material can get damaged by the high temperature of lasers. It is also referred to as cold cutting, and can be used for materials ranging from textiles to various metals.
Flatbed Cutters
In these cutters, the cutting is done of a flatbed. The sheet of the material stays stationary, and the cutting head is brought down on it in an up-down action.
Kiss Cutting
This type of cutting is very precise when it comes to the amount of pressure being used and the depth of the cut. The cutter is capable of cutting through a single layer of material, and is usually used for making labels, stamps, or stickers – the cutter will cut only through the sticker, while leaving the adhesive backing as it is.
Besides these, cutters can also be divided into types depending on their intended use, such as –
The Portable Machine

A portable die cutter doesn’t require it to be attached to a computer, enabling it to be carried anywhere and stored after use. It can be either manual or electronic. Manual die cutters employ dies, i.e. sharp blades arranged in a specific shape, which are then pressed on to stationary or a rolling paper. The resulting cutouts are called blanks, as they are presumed to be decorated and customized as per the desire of the user. A die usually only cuts a single shape, it also requires the handle to be moved in a circular or up-down manner, so as to apply uniform amount of pressure. Manual die cutters can be of rotary or clicking types, which have been described above.

Electronic die cutters do not require a computer to operate, but need electricity. These machines employ a pre-programmed cartridge, which when plugged into the cutter, direct a cutting tool to cut in the specified shape. The cartridges usually feature several shapes of a particular theme, for example letters or numbers. Electronic die cutters do not use dies and do not require pressure to be applied manually.

Computerized Machines
In a computerized cutter, the user can customize shapes using a computer-aided design (CAD) software, which is then cut using a laser. Die cutters usually use CO2 lasers, in which gas is heated to a high temperature and focused onto the area to be cut using mirrors. The lasers vaporize the targeted material, resulting in precise, sharp cuts.
Industrial Die Cutters
The die cutters employed in factories are designed keeping in mind the material to be used, such as wood or steel. They need to be much more powerful and precise; but also need to have minimal wastage. They can employ the traditional stainless steel dies with a hydraulic press or lasers such as CO2, neodymium or neodymium-yttrium-aluminium-garnet; but the mechanism is the same. A few of the industrial die cutters also employ water-jets aided by CAD, especially for textiles.
From simple, manual cutting, to the ones using latest technological advances, die cutters have evolved quite a bit. The various mechanisms make them very versatile, and they are being employed to cut just about anything – from a thin sheet of tissue paper to various metals.
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