Think of die cutting as industrial-strength cookie cutting: sharp-edged dies act as cookie cutters, creating uniform shapes in plastic, metal, wood or paper. Small-scale die-cutting -- such as for scrapbooking -- can be done manually with a hand-held die cutting tool or a tabletop electric-powered machine, while large-scale and industrial die-cutting is done on heavy machinery.
Die cutting creates multiple identical forms, based on the shape of the dies. Cutting out shapes around the edges results in more variances, rather than identical pieces. Uniformity is important for most mass production applications, including cutting out cardboard box forms, cutting plastics for forming toys and electronics, and creating vinyl lettering.
Since a die cutting machine can create a shape in one punch, it has the ability to make many identical forms very quickly. Even a manual die cutter creates shapes far faster than cutting out shapes by another method, making intricate shapes that could take hours by hand in very little time. Industrial die cutting machines may cut dozens of identical shapes simultaneously, and sheet metal or plastic can be fed through the machine in quick succession, making production especially fast.
Other methods of cutting require the use of multiple tools or machines; die cutting can be less expensive because only one tool or machine is needed to create the shapes. With intricate die-cutting, making pieces is much more efficient, saving labour time.
Die cutting leaves less waste material around the shapes than other cutting methods, because the dies can be lined up very closely. Reducing waste also saves money and is better for the environment.