Using a Digital Die Cutter in the Clay Studio

Digital die cutters are getting more affordable and have lots of potential in the ceramics studio!

digital die cutter

A digital die cutter makes short work of making custom stencils in the clay studio, and if you make complicated stencils, they are really a must. Craft die cutting machines are readily available at craft stores and aren’t terribly expensive. Plus, there are other uses for them besides stencils.

In today’s post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Linda Arbuckle explains how artists are using digital die cutters in creative ways in their ceramic work. I’m going to start saving my pennies so I can get one of these awesome tools soon! – Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor.

The Digital Die Cutter – A New Tool Opens New Possibilities

During a residency at the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana, in 2013, I saw Andrew Gilliatt using a digital die cutter to cut resist stencils for clay out of stick-on label material. These shapes worked with the shapes of his laser-printed decal images. I was fascinated, and although I didn’t really connect die-cut images with my studio practice, I wanted to learn more about this tool for pattern making.

In the studio, there are often many choices in tools. The specific tool can influence the end result. Tools have long been a part of making in clay—from objects pressed into clay for texturing to press molds, from turntables to kick wheels to electric potters’ wheels. In the 21st century we have new choices in digital tools, including printing laser decals, digital polychrome decal printers, 3-D printers, and digital die cutters or plotter cutters.

Plotter cutters have been around for some time, most often used by sign shops to cut vinyl for signs and commercial lettering, like the text you see on gallery and museum walls. The low-end, entry-level machine was in the $1000 range. Artists did use these for other purposes, but the cost and size of the tool meant a serious commitment before purchase. Clay artist Bennett Bean was an early adopter of this technology for use in creating his painterly surfaces. In 2007 he went from cutting all his stencils by hand to using a Roland Cut Pro for stencils and sandblasting resists.


digital die cutter

The Digital Die Cutter in the Potter’s Studio

Some of the most obvious uses of a digital die cutter are making stencils for use with slip or underglaze, templates for forms, and/or patterns for making texture on soft slabs.

Chris Pickett, resident at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach, Florida who is known for his double walled pottery, is using a digital die cutter to  cut 300-pound watercolor paper on his KNK Zing to make a form that is both a template for his handbuilt tumbler shape, and a tool for making a relief design when rolled onto a soft slab.

Minneapolis, Minnesota-based artist Kip O’Krongly is known for her layered slip work on functional earthenware with images of agriculture, transportation, energy production, and nature. She initially cut pottery stencils for her images out of plastic tablecloths with an X-Acto knife. While the stencils were re-usable, it was a slow process. O’Krongly now uses a digital die cutter to cut her designs from bamboo paper. Ordinary letter paper is too thin to cut well. O’Krongly’s solution was to use re-positionable spray adhesive to laminate together two sheets of bamboo paper together for cutting, then she peels them apart after cutting, like sticky notes, to create two cutouts of the same design. She uses the cut shapes as friskets to reserve the ground color when putting on more layers of slip.


digital die cutter

My own adventures with a die cutter have produced Tyvek stencils that I hold against raw glaze (adhesives don’t stick to raw glaze) and use to make shaped color areas in majolica. This helps me produce certain wide shapes or toothed edges that are difficult to do in one brushstroke. When asked to participate in the “Disaster, Relief and Resilience” cup show at Crimson Laurel Gallery to support the Craft Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), I used a different process with the die-cut stencils and slip on terra cotta.

digital die cutter

I’ve also used the digital die cutter to cut out sheets of solid-color decal material. Online, Chinese Clay Art and Held of Harrogate currently sell sheets of solid-color cone 017 screened china paint decals. Held also sells sheets of luster for hand or machine cutting. These are not stated as food safe. Ceramic ART Cart is developing a line of food-safe decal media color sheets, and I have cut some of the prototypes, and anxiously await commercial availability of food-safe, solid-color decal sheets.

There are many varieties, brands, and price points in plotter-cutters. As they say, your mileage may vary. Andrew Gilliatt and Kip O’Krongly use a Silhouette Cameo (, Chris Pickett and I both use a KNK Zing (, and Bennett Bean uses a Roland Cut Pro (

To Learn more about the history of die-cuttters and for a helpful list of resources, make sure to check out the entire article from the March 2015 issue of Ceramics Monthly.

digital die cutters - Chris Pickett's finished pieces.
Chris Pickett’s finished pieces.

Do you use digital die cutters in a way that was not mentioned above? Let us know in the comments below!

**First published in February 2015.
  • Marion Joy M.

    I have a Silhouette CURIO which can cut and etch. I have used it to cut balsa wood, which I pressed into soft clay, with great results. I also use tyvek paper.. very sturdy and strong, never rips .. and is absorbent, so it sits on the clay really well without the need for glue or adhesive

  • Genie Sue W.

    I draw on Craft Foam paper and get the same results….much simpler and I can get some very fine line drawings to imprint on the clay. I buy my Craft Foam at the local craft shop. I simply place the paper on top of clay that has run through my slab roller and roll it again. Presto.

  • Ada B.

    I have the silhouette cutter and have been experimenting with it.
    I find the best material for stencils to be newsprint but the cutter does not cut it very well. I tried tyvec paper and found it works if you cut twice. When the machine finishes the first cut., press cut again to make a second pass on the design. learning to create your own designs to cut is challenging using their program

  • Celia G.

    I bought a Silhouette Portrait last year – very inexpensive at £125 including delivery. I love it! You can find any image you like – photograph, digital images, text etc. and create a ‘cut file’ to make a stencil. I use photocopy paper for resist stencils and thin plastic (file pockets) or thicker plastic – file dividers, for negative stencils and templates.
    Great for templates for slab work and slip work.
    If you’re familiar with any of the draw programs you can soon learn how to convert an image into one suitable for a cut file.
    Definitely worth the investment if this is your ‘thing’. Loads of tutorials online and there’s absolutely no need to buy stencil designs, they’re so easy to make.

  • Kathleen K.

    I’ve had my eye on a Brother Scan n Cut whiuch seems to be the moist feature rich of thgthge domestic level die cutters. I’ve watched every available ‘how to’ video on YouTube and even joined a Facebook group. By the time I’ve saved up enough for the cutter, I’ll be an expert!

  • Lawrence W.

    “Arleen’sTack it over and over” does stick to raw glaze without pulling the raw glaze.

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