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Die Cutting vs Laser Cutting: What is the Difference?

Shop Cutting Machines
by Winnie Li Posted on April 11, 2023

When it comes to cutting materials in the desired shape and design, everyone would love to get perfect and impeccable results. That is why users research the best machine they can use.

Die cutting and laser cutting are two different technologies that are used for cutting. They have different applications, limitations, advantages, and disadvantages. Before selecting any of the machines, it is a must to understand what these machines are and how they work.

laser cutting invitation cards

This article is a complete guide on Die Cutting vs Laser Cutting. We will discuss both in detail and compare their technology, features, and other aspects. It will help you select the right machine for your needs.

What is Die Cutting? How Does It Work? 

Die Cutting is a simple process of cutting materials in the desired shape and design by using a sharp-edged die. The die has an intricate pattern or design, and its edges are just like blades. It is placed over the material, and a uniform pressure is applied using the die-cutting machine. The pattern is cut due to the sharp edges of the die, and you get the desired shape of the material with perfection. 

It is a very simple technique that has been in use for centuries. It is usually used for cutting paper and cardstock, but you can also find die cutters cutting leather, vinyl, and cardboard. You can use any type of die you want and cut the material as you like. Due to the uniform die, you always get uniform cuts.

die cutting project

Image Credit: Freepik

Types of Die Cutting Machines

We can broadly classify die-cutting machines into two types: Manual Die Cutting Machines and Digital Die Cutting Machines.

Manual Die Cutting Machine

A manual die cutting machine has a lever or crank, which is rotated to move the material and exert pressure on the mold.

laser cutting and engraving acrylic products

Image Credit: sizzix.com

Firstly, the die is placed over the material, let's say cardstock. Now, one cutting plate is placed underneath the material, and another cutting plate is placed at the top. The plates ensure the die does not cut multiple layers and a uniform pressure is exerted on the whole die.

The plates with the material and die are placed on the die cutting machine. After that, the crank is rotated. It moves the plate forward and exerts pressure on the die. You can rotate the crank in the opposite direction to get the plate back to its place.

Finally, the plates are removed, and you get a perfectly cut shape of cardstock. It is quite simple, but you need to exert some force to move the crank. You can also find the electronic version of a manual die-cutting machine. The only difference is that there is no lever on it, but the motor moves the plates forward and backward.

Digital Die Cutting Machine

A digital die cutting machine is much different than a manual machine. It is more versatile, precise, and quick. Instead of the traditional die, it uses a blade cutting tool, which moves according to the program or file provided.

laser cutting and engraving acrylic products

Image Credit: silhouetteamerica.com

The machine comes along with software. You need to import digital files to it and then cut the desired shape. You can find digital files online or make yourself on any designing software. 

It is a much better option than a manual die cutting machine because you are not limited to the number of dies you have. You can make almost anything without limitations. All you need to do is change the blade once it wears out.

Advantages of Die Cutting

Identical Results

Due to the die, the die cutting process always produces identical results. It does not matter how many pieces you need; you will get exceptional results every time without hassle. This is quite difficult to achieve with other methods. 

Clean Cutting

Die cutting can produce precise and smooth cuts, as long as the die blades are well-maintained and sharp. Unlike other methods that may leave rough or uneven edges, die cutting ensures that the final product has a flawless and professional appearance. This is especially important for products that require high standards of accuracy and aesthetics, such as stickers, labels, cards, or packaging.

Exceptional Speed

Die cutting can produce the desired shape or pattern with just one press of the die. This process can take only a few seconds, depending on the size and complexity of the design. Even manual die cutting machines are relatively quick and easy to use, as they only need a simple crank to operate.

Affordable

Die cutting is an affordable option. Firstly, the upfront cost of the machine is reasonable, and almost everyone can invest in it. Secondly, it is a manual machine, so it does not need electricity. All you need is the die for cutting the pattern.

Limitations of Die Cutting

In manual die cutting, you are limited to the number of dies you have. For instance, if you have one die of floral design, you can only punch that design on the material. If you want any other design, you need to get the die. Thus, you must invest in die according to your requirements. A manual die cutting is suitable for a small-scale business only. It is fast, but you can only cut in small volumes. Die cutting machines can cut limited materials, such as paper and cardstock. Only a few machines can cut leather, thick cardboard, and vinyl. Moreover, you cannot cut thick materials, and if you try to do so, the die blades will wear off quickly.

Die cutting machines have some limitations depending on the type of machine and the material used. Some possible limitations are:

  • Material types and thickness:  Die cutting machines can cut limited materials, such as paper and cardstock. Only a few machines can cut leather, thick cardboard, and vinyl. Moreover, die cutting machines may not be able to cut through very thick or heavy materials, such as metal or wood. These materials may require more pressure or a different cutting method.
  • Material shape: Die cutting machines may not be able to cut materials that are not in a roll or sheet form, such as irregular or 3D objects. These materials may not fit into the machine or feed through it smoothly
  • Cutting precision: Die cutting machines may not be able to cut very intricate or detailed shapes, especially with manual machines that use steel dies. These shapes may require a higher level of accuracy or a different cutting method, such as laser cutting
  • Common Applications of Die Cutting 

    Die cutting has many applications in various industries and products. Some examples of applications are:

    Packaging

    With die cutting, custom shapes and sizes of cardboard, carton, foam, plastic, or other materials can be created for different packaging products. These products include mailers, containers, stickers, cushions, and more.

    Clothing

    Die cutting can produce patterns and designs for clothing items from materials such as fabric, leather, felt, cotton, or vinyl. Tops, bottoms, coats, and more can be made with die cutting.

    DIY Projects

    Die cutting can also be used for DIY projects. Die cutting can create vinyl decals that can be applied to wine glasses or walls for a custom look, or iron-on vinyl designs that can be transferred to T-shirts for a personalized style. Die cutting can also create paper shapes that can be used to embellish greeting cards or scrapbook pages with different themes, such as flowers, hearts, stars, titles, frames, or accents. Die cutting is a great way to add creativity and variety to your projects.

What is Laser Cutting? How Does It Work? 

Laser cutting uses powerful laser beams to cut a wide range of materials in no time. The beams come out from a laser source, which is housed in the laser module. The laser beams are directed in a specific direction through mirrors and lenses to make a focal point. The laser module is controlled through laser cutter software and moves according to the design file. With that being said, you can cut almost any type of design with perfection. All you need to do is upload the laser cut design to the software, and the laser machine will do the rest. 

Laser beams are quite powerful, and they burn or evaporate the material they come in contact with. They are compatible with cutting solid wood, plywood, acrylic, plastic, fabric, rubber, paper, cardstock, leather, etc.

laser cuttting projects

You can cut thicker materials, even wood, up to 20mm in only one pass, depending on the power of the laser. Besides, they cut materials at an exceptional speed, which can reach up to 400mm/sec or even more. The best part about these machines is that you can not only cut the material, but you can also engrave it. You can control the power and speed and get the desired results on the material.

laser engraving and cutting projects

Types of Laser Cutting Machine

All types of laser machines use laser beams to cut materials and are controlled through software. They are classified according to the laser beams they produce. On that basis, you can find Diode Laser Cutters, CO2 Laser Cutters, and Fiber Laser Cutters as the most commonly used laser cutting machines on the market.

Diode Laser Cutters

A diode laser uses a power diode to generate laser beams. It is the most affordable type of laser cutting machine available on the market. These lasers produce laser beams in the range of 450nm, which is excellent for cutting wood, acrylic, fabric, cardstock, and some other non-metal materials. They are also ideal for engraving and are compatible with wood, ceramic, acrylic, fabric, glass, and some metals.

You can easily find 5W to 15W optical power in diode lasers on the market, but xTool offers up to 40W for cutting materials like butter. If you want an affordable desktop laser cutter for hobby and small business, it could be an excellent option.

xtool d1 pro projects

xTool D1 Pro Diode Laser Cutter

xTool D1 Pro diode laser cutter

Price:

$899.00
$1,399.99
Learn More

CO2 Laser Cutters

These laser machines use a CO2 tube to generate laser beams. The beams are exceptionally powerful and cut materials like a pie. The wavelength of a CO2 laser is around 10,600 nm, which is suitable for cutting a wide range of non-metals, including wood, acrylic, rubber, leather, paper, and fabric. These can also engrave on the material and produce excellent marks.

laser cutting acrylic projects made by CO2 laser cutter

These lasers are a bit costly compared to a diode laser, but they are more powerful. They cut thicker materials in less time because their optical power is much more than a diode laser. The commonly used desktop CO2 lasers have a power of 30-40W, and you can easily find lasers having power in several thousand watts. xTool has launched its upgraded CO2 laser cutter xTool P2, which has a 55W laser power and is smarter and versatile.

xTool P2 55W CO2 Laser Cutter

xtool p2 co2 laser cutter

Price:

$4,299.00
$4,999.00
Learn More

Fiber Laser Cutters

Fiber lasers are ideal for cutting and engraving metals. Other than that, they can be used for welding, drilling, cleaning, and texturing. They are quite powerful as well as expensive. Therefore, they are usually used for industries and large-scale businesses. These lasers contain a special fiber optic cable, which is responsible for directing the laser beams in the right direction, amplification, performance, and distinct characteristics. The optical power can be 20W to several thousand watts.

The wavelength of these lasers ranges from 780nm to 2,200nm. It varies according to the type of rare-earth metal used for doping. For cutting metals, the wavelength required is different than cleaning, so these lasers are doped according to the application.

Advantages of Laser Cutting

Fast Speed

Laser cutting machines work at a very fast speed, even if the materials are thick. Thin materials like paper, cardstock, and fabrics are cut without any hassle. It can be used to cut materials in bulk and start a small business.

Works on Multiple Materials

The best advantage of using a laser cutting machine is its versatility. It can cut a wide range of materials, such as acrylic, solid wood, plywood, rubber, leather, fabric, etc. Thus, you are not limited to working on a few materials. With that being said, your inventory can be very diverse if you use different materials in your products and laser cutter projects.

Cuts Thick Materials

Laser machines are quite powerful. Therefore, they can even pass through thick materials in only one pass. For very thick materials, it might require several passes, but it can easily do that job as well.

Perfect Cuts

Due to the high precision and accuracy of the laser machines, you get perfect cuts. You get commendable results for intricate vector graphics, which is not easy to achieve by using other machines.

Limitations of Laser Cutting

A laser cutting machine can cut thin materials, like paper, but it can change the color of the edges. It happens because the laser beams are quite powerful, and they cut the object by burning and vaporizing the material. If you use an air assist, the result could be better, but the thin material won't be able to bear the powerful air blow. If you want to cut thin materials using a laser cutter, you should do it at low power and high speed to get the best results.

.Moreover, depending on the power of the laser machine, it can cut thick materials. For instance, if the optical power is 20W, it can easily cut basswood up to 8-10mm in only one pass. If you want to cut thicker materials using the same power, you need to increase the number of passes.

Common Applications of Laser Cutting 

Laser cutting machines are quite versatile, which is why they can be used for many applications. Here are a few of them.

Home Décor

Laser cutting machines can be used to make appealing home décor items, such as lamps, Christmas Trees, wall hangings, banners, wall clocks, organizers, etc. The files are easily available on Etsy and other platforms, and the users have to import these files into the software to cut the desired shape. You can make any type of home décor and sell them online. These are quite trending in the online market, and people love to buy them.

laser cutting wood wall art

Art and Craft

For art lovers and hobbyists, a laser cutting machine is a go-to tool to cut wood, acrylic, and other materials. They can easily cut the desired shape and pattern without any hassle and make their project flawless. It is a much safer option, and you can make intricate designs in no time. Artists and craft lovers can even make their whole project from scratch using the laser machine.

xtool d1 pro projects

Customization of Items

Laser machines can also engrave on various materials. With that being said, they are ideal for the customization of objects. You can customize tumblers, keychains, caps, pens, wallets, pendants, earrings, and a lot of things. Customized items are usually used for gifting. Not only common people but businesses also buy customized items for their clients and employees. Thus, you can tie up with any business and make customized items for them.

customized engraved wedding rings

Labeling

Laser machines are also good for labeling. They can engrave on non-metals and some metals. They can leave a permanent mark on the object, which is why they are preferred for engraving QR codes, company names, etc.

Comparison Between Die Cutting and Laser Cutting

Laser cutting machines are quite versatile, which is why they can be used for many applications. Here are a few of them.

Differences in Technology and Process

Die cutting is completely different from laser cutting in terms of technology. It is a very old method of cutting the material by using a sharp-edged die. There is not much innovation. However, digital die cutting machines use blades, and they have modern technology. 

In die cutting, the use of sharp edges and blades is essential. So, there is contact with the material or object, but in laser cutting, there is no contact. The laser beams fall on the object, increase its temperature to the boiling point, and the material starts to vaporize or burn. 

The laser machines use powerful laser beams that cut thick materials without making physical contact. With that being said, there is no problem with wear and tear to the object.

Differences in Precision and Accuracy 

The precision and accuracy of the die cutting machines depend on the die. If the die is perfect, there won't be any issues. But due to the die, the designs are very limited. In the case of blade cutting machines or digital die cutters, the precision and accuracy are great but not as good as a laser machine.

A laser machine offers incredible precision and accuracy. The engraving accuracy can be 0.0004 inches or even more. The repositioning accuracy can be up to 0.0007 inches. These values are incredible, and you won't find any difference or error in engraving and cutting. Even the tiny details will be covered with perfection. Secondly, the dimensions of the laser spots are minimal, so the Kerf width of cutting is also less.

A laser machine is more accurate and precise compared to a die cutting machine. It is controlled by computer software and the stepper motors ensure precise movement with minimal error.

Differences in Cost and Speed 

The upfront cost of a die cutting machine is less because it is just a punching or pressing machine. However, you need to invest in the die. For each design, you need a new die; thus, your options are limited, and you need to spend money constantly to upgrade the designs. Secondly, the die does not last for a very long time; wear and tear happen. When the blades are not sharp enough, you need to replace them.

The upfront cost of a laser machine is a bit higher, but it is worth it. You can make almost any design by uploading the desired file. Secondly, there is no need to worry about wear and tear. Diode lasers have a life of 25,000 to 50,000 hours, which is incredible. CO2 laser machines last for about 8,000 to 10,000 hours, and after that, you can easily change the CO2 tube.

You can make intricate designs and whatever you like using a laser cutting machine. So, it does not impose any limit. You can work on a wide range of projects and deliver everything according to the customers. Manual Die Cutting machines cost around $70 to $250 or more, depending on the size and features. Digital die cutting machines are quite expensive and can be up to $400-700. On the other hand, you can get a diode laser machine for $500-$700, which is a much better option. CO2 laser machines are a bit expensive and can be up to $3,000 to $5,000.

A manual die cutting machine uses a die. You just need to put the die and press it. It hardly takes a few seconds. But you are limited to the designs you have. Digital die cutting machines take more time because they follow the path or design from the software.

The speed of a laser machine is more than amazing. It helps you cut almost any design at a very fast speed that can be 400mm/sec or even more, depending on the machine. You can cut almost any design at a much faster speed than a digital die cutting machine.

Comparison of the Final Product Quality 

The final product of a die cutting machine is quite clean. But with time, the blade wears off, and you do not get the expected performance. Thus, you need to get a new die. The same is the case with a blade cutting machine or digital die cutting machine. The blades can easily cut intricate designs, but due to wear and tear and physical contact, the final result can differ. A laser machine always gives excellent output if you set the power, speed, and focus correctly. There won't be any problem with the final product. However, these machines may discolor some light and thin materials.

Which is Better for Which Application? 

If you want to cut cardstock, paper, or vinyl, the best option would be a die cutting machine. It is suitable for a small-scale business or hobby. But for a large scale, a digital cutting machine or blade cutting + laser cutting tool, such as xTool M1, is ideal. For cutting wood, plywood, and acrylic, the best and most affordable option would be a diode laser cutting machine. It can also engrave materials, including wood, acrylic, glass, ceramics, steel, leather, etc. But if you want to cover a wide range of non-metals for cutting, a CO2 laser is the right option.

vinyl t shirt cutter

If you want to start a small business at your home, then laser cutting machines are perfect because they are versatile, and you can make almost anything you like. There are tons of things to make, including home décor items, art & craft, toys, boxes, personalized items, etc. You can actually turn your imagination into reality.

Conclusion

Die cutting machines and laser machines are different. They differ in technology, limitations, and, most importantly, applications. We have discussed where you can use these machines and which is the best option for a certain material. Now, you can easily pick the right machine for your hobby or small business.

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