MTC vs SCAL: Which is Better for You?

Make the Cut and Sure Cuts A Lot are two popular choices for designing and cutting files to digital die cutters. In the past year, I’ve been frequently asked which better. The answer is, “They’re both good programs, similar to one another with different strengths and weakness. So it depends on what you need.” Thus, it’s important for customers to understand the differences so that they can pick which one is best for them.

I recently published a post at Personal Die Cutting which outlines these strengths and weaknesses, listing the assets of each program in various areas, such as text, designing, user interface, cutting, etc. I urge you to read this article in order to understand what the two programs offer and where they are lacking.

I then came up with the idea of a checklist for users based on their specific needs and planned applications. The lack of a smiley face doesn’t necessarily mean the program is incapable of handling that particular function. It just means that the other program is better suited.

Application MTC SCAL4 SCAL4 Pro Comments
I own a Mac   The MTC version for a Mac, which runs via a Wine emulator, has restrictions: cannot change printer settings, only cuts to a few types of cutters, requires tweaking a throttle setting to prevent stops during cuts.
I prefer to work in metric units   SCAL’s options are mm, cm, and inches. MTC main display, including the virtual mat is only in inches. You can enter settings in metric units, but the main display is always in inches.
I cut lots of different materials   SCAL offers the ability to add presets for storing settings on both materials and blades.
I design and cut stencils SCAL has a Stencil Bridge function for easily connecting child shapes to the outside area. In MTC, one can use the Erase tool.
I design and cut rhinestone templates   MTC comes to a crawl if editing rhinestone patterns with more than a few hundred circles.
I design and cut HTV projects   SCAL has a Knockout function for quicker designing of projects where layers cannot overlap.
I cut small designs from vinyl SCAL4 Pro has cut by color and the ability to assign a layer to cut with every color and be used for aligment.
I cut large designs from vinyl   Regular SCAL4 is limited to 72″ long cuts and there is no tiling option. You would need either MTC or SCAL Pro for these capabilities.
I do print and cut applications   In SCAL layers can be assigned as Print-Only or Cut-Only. SCAL also offers customizable registration marks and Scan to Cut for some cutters.
I make boxes and other score and cut items   SCAL works with dual head cutters and has a prompt option to allow tool changeout on single head cutters
I design and do engraving patterns   SCAL has a Line/Hatch Fill option for filling in shapes.
I draw with pens in the cutter   SCAL has a Line/Hatch Fill option for filling in shapes. It also has a prompt option to allow tool changeout, if needed.
I prefer to design my own files Both programs have excellent designing capabilities.
I prefer to buy cutting files or find free ones Both programs import a wide range of file formats.
I design in KNK Studio     You can copy/paste directly from KNK Studio into MTC. Using SCAL means you’ll need to export as AI, EPS, or PDF from KNK Studio and then import.
I design in Inkscape     You can copy/paste directly from Inkscape into MTC. Using SCAL means you’ll need to save as SVG in In kscape and then import.
I like to freehand draw     MTC offers fat path (versus thin line only) and you can draw with various patterns of dots and dashes

I also made a printable version of this table. Further, you can check out the user manuals for either program by visiting the Zing Air user manual page. The software part begins with Chapter 3.

Please feel free to post any questions you might have about these programs! I’m always happy to answer.

Metric Workaround Solutions in MTC


Make The Cut wasn’t originally targeted for anyone living outside the United States. It was a basic vector program written by a brilliant guy for his wife who owned a Cricut and happened to scrapbook! Fast forward a few years and now Make The Cut is owned and used by thousands of customers around the world who are still attracted to its simplicity but also hooked on its functionality. Not only does it have easy-to-learn auto-tracing functions which rival those of far more expensive programs, but some of its other features are just plain COOL to use! I’ve covered a lot of these in other prior posts here. Just look up MTC in the Category feature on the left column here.

The main problem for the non-US owners is the inability to easily work in metric. The main display for shape dimensions and location remain in inches. It’s my understanding that adding a metric version would require a huge re-write and that’s not on the table right now. So, last spring a member of the MTC forum (Lesly Holliday) came out with a handy template file that had ruler shapes and a grid drawn to metric dimensions. For the past few months, I thought about what if anything might still pose a problem when using this file. I came up with some modifications and decided to start from scratch by designing longer rulers to reach the full 12″ boundaries of the KNK Zing mat and also put the rulers and the grid on their own page for several reasons which I’ve covered in detail in a video linked below.

Before we get to the metric mat template and video, note that there are several existing metric workarounds already present in MTC:

(1) The dimensions of a shape can be entered in either cm or mm in the W: and H: fields by simply adding the units after the values. For example to re-size a shape to be 15 mm wide, enter the value like this:

Metric Resize

(2) While the display will convert the sizing to inches, the dimension can be verified by using the Measure tool under the Node Edit menu. I’ve previously made a video on using this feature after being contacted by someone cutting rhinestone templates which are, traditionally, designed in metric:

Determining shape dimensions in metric units

(3) Newer features in MTC have metric options already. For example, if you are shadowing a shape, doing nested duplication, drawing with the Fat Path opton, or using the Erase Tool. All of these will either require values to be entered in mm or give you the option of in, cm, or mm.

Now, back to the metric template, download the file from here and open it in Make The Cut. You’ll see that metric rulers and a metric grid have been set up on their own page and the file is ready to use. You might want to immediately save under a new name so that you can preserve the original. Now you’re ready to watch the video where I explain how best to use this file:

Using the Metric Mat Template File

Be sure to note how you can switch between Portrait and Landscape, why you might want to set up a Tiny Mat, and why it’s important to leave the metric rulers and grid on their own separate page. Most importantly, please provide suggestions using the Comments section below for any enhancements which might make this metric template more usable for your needs! 🙂

I Love the Erase Tool in MTC!

Reason #20: Erase Tool
Reason #21: Inverse Erase Tool

These are two more reasons to check out Make The Cut software! The ability to simply drag the mouse to erase parts of a vector image and, equally handy, to add to a vector image provide easy modifications to your cutting files. The eraser size can be anything from 0.03 mm thick (we’re talking eyelash on a ladybug thin!) to, basically, unlimited.

And not only can the Erase tool be used to erase or add to images, but the 0.03 mm provides a great tool for slicing and dicing shapes. While there is a Knife tool available for this purpose, I personally prefer using the Erase tool in most cases, because it results in a closed shape, rather than leaving it open. Here’s the difference:

The Knife tool always does a straight line cut. The Erase function has the option of a freehand movement or you can hold the Ctrl key while using and achieve a straight line erase, as show in the right heart above. Of course there are situations where the open path resulting from the Knife tool could be exactly what is needed. The nice thing is that you have a choice!

As always, videos are the best way to show you how these cool tools work! So, have a look at how the Erase tool was put to use in several different ways in these two demonstrations:

Erase and Inverse Erase

Using the Inverse Eraser to Edit a PNC Trace

If you have any questions, feel free to post a comment here. As always, MTC is available for sale in my online store here. Also, be sure to check out other free MTC videos available at this link, as well as the downloadable user manuals for MTC, which have been recently updated!

Closing Open Shapes

One question that I occasionally get from a customer is what to do when closed shapes are not actually closed. Sometimes, it’s a case of just two nodes not being connected. Other times, it can be dozens of gaps on a single shape. In both KNK Studio and in Make-The-Cut, when a shape is not closed, it will not fill with color, as shown with the left reindeer above. In KNK Studio a shape will be dashed lines if Fill is turned on and the shape has a gap between two nodes. In Make The Cut, the shape will be a solid line and filled with the background of the Virtual Mat.

One thing to remember is that even when a shape SHOULD be closed, it often won’t change the results when you cut because the disconnected nodes are SO very close that the cut completes. If, however, the gap between the nodes is significant (say, more than 1/16″), then certainly you will have a problem with your shape not separating from the waste. Also, if there are numerous gaps, then the cutting won’t be as smooth since the blade will be raising at the and of each path where a break occurs and then coming back down at the next node.

I made several videos showing the various options users have in both KNK Studio and in Make-The-Cut for closing open shapes:

Closing Shapes in KNK Studio

Closing Shapes in Make-The-Cut

One thing not shown in the MTC video is how to quickly identify the location of a broken path. As I mentioned above, the blade will always start and end at the disconnected nodes. Thus, if you use the Measure Tools (bottom icon on the Node Edit menu), and then hover your mouse over the shape, a large blue or green arrow head will pop up indicating the cut direction and starting node for that particular path. Also check to see if the entire path has turned red:

If part of the path is only red, then you have another break on another part of the shape. Hover the mouse over another part of the shape to locate the break in that one. The following screen shots show that the outer shape has two breaks:

Thus, in this case, the closing would need to be applied in both locations. But as you can see from the video, it’s an easy process and you even have choices on how to close! Pick the one you like best and go with it!

Feel free to post if you have any questions…

Designing a Stencil Edge Card

Free videos today to teach you how to make a stencil-edged card, such as the one I made above. There are other variations on this card and I want to thank the various members of the MTC Forum who shared their ideas. I liked Liz Ackerman’s because I immediately saw how it would work in KNK Studio, as well. So, that’s why my readers get TWO videos today… one showing how to design a stencil edge in KNK Studio and one showing how to design the same exact thing in Make-The-Cut.

Designing a Stencil Edged Card in KNK Studio

Designing a Stencil Edged Card in Make The Cut

If you would like to download the cutting files for this design, select the file type format you need:

Stencil Edge Tulip Card in KNK Format

Stencil Edge Tulip Card in MTC Format

Stencil Edge Tulip Card in PDF Format

Post if you have any questions!

7 Reasons to LOVE Make-The-Cut’s Tracing Function!

It’s been months and months since I posted about the 25 reasons to look into buying Make-The-Cut (MTC). Thus today, I’m catching up a bit by posting more reasons, all of them related to the auto-tracing functionality and why I prefer it over that in KNK or ACS Studio… or, for that matter, any of the other vector programs I’ve tried. This is one of the major reasons a lot of cutter owners have chosen Make-The-Cut and I have to tell you, in two simple words, “It Rocks!”

We last left off with #12 in my countdown to 25… which now will probably extend to 30 since I’ve had time to explore and discover more cool functionality available in MTC. So, we start the numbering of these seven new reasons with #13. Note that I also made a demo video to cover these 7 reasons, in case you prefer to just watch versus read! Also, there are additional details on the Pixel Trace function in the MTC user manuals here at this site, as well as in my free MTC training videos covering tracing.

Reason #13: Single Icon Access

In MTC, you only have to remember one location to activate the tracing, whether you are importing an image already saved as a file on your computer, scanning an image directly into MTC, or pasting an image that has been copied to your Windows Clipboard. The Pixel Trace function is located on a toolbar at the top of the MTC screen, easily accessible. If you prefer shortcut keys, then Ctrl+Shift+T will also activate Pixel Trace. Or you can activate in the File>Import menu. But again, what I like is that one window opens with three options available, as shown below:

My favorite method for finding images is to Google what I’m needing, click on “Images” on the left side of my browser window, click on an image I want, right click to select Copy, and then paste that image into MTC using Option 3 above. It doesn’t get any faster than that!

Reason #14: Preview of Results Before Accepting

After clicking on Open in the window above, I see the next reason I prefer to use MTC over KNK Studio: immediately the tracing I will get with the default settings appears. The blue lines show the path being traced while the green fill indicates what would be cut out using these settings. To the left, in black, I can also see the trace results, using the current settings, on the main MTC screen:

Further, as I modify settings to refine the trace, I can continue to see the effects of these settings without accepting the results. While this is standard in many vector programs, it is still the case, in KNK and ACS Studio, where you must accept each change in settings, leave the tracing functions, and move the original image away from the trace, before being able to see the results of that trace! Talk about tedious!

So, in this example, if I reduce the Threshold and increase the Resample in order to capture more detail of the flower, I can see the effects before accepting:

Reason #15: Viewing Settings

There are three settings which do not affect the trace in any way, but can be quite handy. First off, there is an Alpha setting which changes the visibility of the original graphic. Scroll to the far left and none of the original image shows and the user can better see exactly what will be cut. Scroll to the far right and more of the original graphic is visible in order to better see the fit of the trace lines around and within the image:

There is a Zoom function so that the user can zoom in on specific spots on the image to check the tracing. There is also a box to mark if the user wishes to view the nodes that would be produced with the current settings:

Reason #16:Useful Info about Imported Image and Traced Image

The lower left section of the Pixel Trace screen contains information about the original imported graphic, as well as the tracing itself:

The most useful data for me is noting the number of nodes and then the number of shapes. If there are thousands of nodes, then the file will take longer to cut. To reduce the nodes, the Resample setting should be decreased. If there are numerous shapes then I know I should increase the Despeckle to filter out tiny paths that are not necessary to my cut.

Reason #17:Texturize and Blackout Options

There are two typical situations in which I’m using the Pixel Trace function: (1) I need just a quick die cut shape or possibly a paper piecing of an image and (2) I want to perform a print and cut in which the original image will first be printed to my home printer and then my KNK will cut it out. In the second situation, I will typically be needing the original graphic to be imported and I only need the outside of the image traced. This is where the Texturize and Blackout options are useful.

The original graphic will not be imported unless the Texturize box is checked. Note how the original image now appears inside the tracing lines, to the left, in the main screen:

The Blackout option is used to delete any interior (child) paths contained within a larger path. Now, in this particular example, applying Blackout would delete the interior parts from being cut, which may or may not be wanted. But the nice thing is that the option to do this is there, if needed. Note that if you forget to do it, there’s a second Blackout tool on the Magic toolbar at the bottom:

Reason #18:Separate Tracing Option for Images with a Transparent Background

Images with transparent backgrounds can be more difficult to trace using the standard method in MTC. In the following example, a PNG file has been imported for a print and cut application. The default threshold is far from acceptable and even increasing it up to 200 still fails to complete trace this big cat! It was necessary to increase it up to 250 to get the best tracing:

But not to fret! Simply click on the Alpha tab and often the Default setting for the Threshold will give much closer desired results:

How does one know when to use this tab? Again, it’s applicable with files having transparent backgrounds, as found with many PNG files and especially when there are pale colors (such as yellow, gray, and white) next to the background.

Reason #19:Two Color Tracing Options

Most vector programs now have the option to provide color tracing, as well as monochrome tracing. But the uniqueness of MTC is that you have TWO separate color tracing options AND the ability to employ both of them, as well as the regular monochrome tracing, all during the same trace! Trace any part of your image, import it, and when asked if you want to trace more layers, answer, “Yes.” You can then stay with the same tracing option or click on another tab to use another tracing option! VERY cool!

Now this probably isn’t necessary for the majority of the tracings being done, but as I tell my students, “When tracing, you never really know what you’re going to need!”

The two colored options are the other two tabs in the Pixel Trace window, labelled “Palette” and “Color”. First let’s look at Palette in which the 16 most prevalent colors are identified and users can choose to select one or more at a time to be traced. In the following example I show two situations. In the first, only two of the four pink colors are marked. The pixels closest to those two colors are selected to be incorporated in the trace. In the second, all four pink colors are marked, resulting in more of the flowers being traced. Note how this results in a merging, of sorts, so that larger paths, incorporating more of the image, are created:

The Color tab allows one to use an eyedropper tool to move around the original image and then click to select a color to use in the tracing. The Tolerance setting is adjusted to then select how much of a similar color to include in the tracing. Below, the lighter pink is selected, but note the difference in what gets traced based on the whether the Tolerance is left at the default of 5 versus being lowered to 3:

Once the pink layer is imported, another color is then selected using the same eyedropper tool and then the Tolerance adjusted. Again, you can continue using this same Color method or switch to the Palette method! Either could be used for the black background OR the original Pixel tab could be employed instead. Or one could even use the Shadow function after leaving the trace window to create a background option! So many choices… so much fun!

Below are the results of the Palette trace and the Color trace, along with the original image… in some order? Can you tell which is which?

Make-The-Cut sells for $58.36 and will cut to a wide range of cutters, including the majority of the KNK models. Feel free to email me if you have any questions about using it with your particular cutter.