Digital Papercutters for Surface Design {Essential design kit}


Today, we have a lovely article from Susan Niner Janes of The Papercraft Post

Owning a digital papercutter is a bit like having your very own Fab Lab: concept to creation in minutes! One level down from a 3-D printer, this is an indispensable – and affordable – gadget that every surface pattern designer should have on his or her desktop or workspace. The technology is perfected. The price is right. And you’ll wonder how you every lived without one.


A digital cutting machine is an enabler. You can make something anyday, everyday. For instance, you can whip up a batch of all-singing, all-dancing business cards in under an hour, start-to-finish.

A digital cutting plotter – or digital die-cutting machine – is lightweight and compact. Your computer thinks that it is a printer. Instead of a printing head, a robotic craft knife cuts out paper and cardstock. Sort of a computer-driven pantograph with a cutting blade in place or a drawing point. This versatile machine can be used to make print-and-cut designs, intricate papercuts, or stencils. It is great for prototyping 3-D design ideas.


As a surface pattern designer, you will almost certainly be familiar with a vector graphics program. In which case, learning to operate a digital cutting plotter – and to design original cutting files – will be familiar territory.

A digital papercutter is capable of producing very fine work – just about as intricate as a work by Rob Ryan. If you input your design using a pen tablet in a vector graphics program, then you can produce designs with a handmade appearance that belie their techie origin.

Some brands of digital cutter – such as the Cricut- are tied to pre-designed cartridges and are for hobbyists, not designers. The Silhouette machine, distributed by Graphtec GB, has good support in the UK. There are two models to choose from – The Silhouette Cameo, which can cut 12inches wide (the size of a scrapbook page), or The Silhouette Portrait (which cuts A4). The machine comes with its own design software: Silhouette Studio. There is also an upgrade, Designer Edition, which has some more sophisticated functions.

Silhouette machines are strongly supported by its UK distributor, Graphtec UK. There is a friendly forum on UK Scrappers. Other brands suitable for designers include Pazzles and the Klick’n’Cut Zing.

For more sophisticated designing, you can design in your vector graphics program of choice – such as Adobe Illustrator or Inskscape – and save the file as an .svg. You can then open the .svg in the Silhouette Studio program, where you can select the cutting lines and printed areas – to make a cutting file. (Note: Silhouette does not permit you to sell .studio files at the present time.)

These are the mechanics of cutting: paper or cardstock is placed on a cutting mat which is covered with repositional adhesive. The mat is fed into the digital cutter, and the knife does its stuff.

With a digital cutting plotter you can design all sorts of papercrafted constructions and packaging ideas. Owning a digital cutter is enabling for the designer. You can go from concept to construction in minutes.

To make a print-and-cut design, the design, with registration marks, is printed on your printer. The print-out is then placed on the sticky cutting mat and fed into the machine. An optical eye reads the registration marks – this enables accurate cutting of the design.

If you are like me, you are in seventh heaven just thinking about the print-and-cut capabilities of a digital cutter. But if you think outside the digi-cut box, there is plenty more this clever machine can do:
• It can cut self-adhesive vinyl
• Make stencils for fabric printing or glass-etching
• Replace the cutting blade with a pen to create Spirograph-like designs
• Cut out fabric (must first be backed with iron-on material). Patchwork enabled.
• Rhinestone designs (different strokes…)
• Make-your-own stamps (a new kit for cutting foam is available)
• T-shirts


Digi-Cutters: A capsule history

Digital cutting machines – their earlier incarnations were called digital plotters have been around for about 30 years. The first cutters were used by the sign-making industry to cut self-adhesive vinyl. In about 2005, digital cutters were marketed to the general public – for use by model-makers and scrapbookers.

Expenses: there are some consumables relating to your new toy. Cutting blades need to be replaced (relatively infrequently), as do cutting mats (more frequently than blades.) Then of course, there’s all the paper – but as a designer, you’d be buying that anyway. I like to used 160gsm paper. American Crafts cardstock is printer and cutter friendly.

Commercial Possibilities

How can you use your digital cutting plotter for income-generating activity? You can produce CDs of cutting files. Or run an e-commerce website selling cutting files, like Patricia Zapata’s A Little Hut, or Shirley’s Cards. You can produce merchandise for an Etsy shop. With a digital cutter you can make it happen.


SusanNinerJanesPicSusan Niner Janes is a craft designer, author, and blogger.

She has designed over 30 papercraft templates for Hot Off the Press, as well as the Petal Pairs range of punches for Tonic Studios.

Connect with Susan here: Website

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

    Have any questions?