Thursday, 10 November 2016

ScanNCut Basics 4b: Test Cutting: MATS: All about mats

Evening. It's cold and damp here, very autumnal. I'm snuggled up with the cats and a duvet on the sofa watching my mats drip drying hanging from the curtain rail.  Whilst I wait for them to dry seems an ideal time to talk about mats (we'll come back to the drip drying mats in due course).

Let's start by sorting out what different mats there are, and what sizes they come in, and which machines you can use with them:
  • There's TWO kinds of mats for the Brother ScanNCut. One kind you cut on (and draw and emboss and foil, and scan to cut) and one kind you don't (they're only for scanning, nothing else).
  • The cutting mats are LOW TACK, MEDIUM TACK and STANDARD TACK. With these goes an Accessory called the HIGH TACK FABRIC SUPPORT SHEET. These mats, and the sheet are Consumables. You will have to buy more, but there's ways of making them last longer. Not all countries sell all mats - the most common ones are Low and Standard mats, I'm not sure we can even get Medium mats in the UK.
  • The mat you don't cut is called the SCANNING MAT. So long as you don't mistreat it, this is a once only purchase and will last forever.
  • There are 2 sizes for mats - 12x12" and 12x24".
  • The original generation of ScanNCut (the ones that can only use a USB stick and not cable to computer or Wifi) - you can CUT using either 12x12 or 12x24 mats, but you can ONLY SCAN using 12x12 mat.
  • The new second generation of ScanNCut2 (the ones that can use USB or a cable or WiFI) - you can BOTH CUT AND SCAN on BOTH 12x12 AND 12x24 mats. I don't have a second generation SnC, so I don't know which models (if any) this may not apply to. Check your paperwork that came with your machine! 
  • NB: there's more other sorts of consumable sheets that are used with Premium Packs - like with Rhinestones and Stamp Making and Embossing and when it's released, the new Foiling Kits - I'm ignoring these for now.
 VERY IMPORTANT - EVERY CUTTING MAT COMES WITH A LOOSE PROTECTIVE COVER. KEEP IT! USE IT! It is there to be put onto your mat when you aren't using it so that loose fibres and dust don't stick to it and make it become less sticky.


When Brother first designed the ScanNCut it was aiming to be a machine to cut fabric. As we know, over the last few years, it's turned into a far more versatile machine than this!  So as Brother has added different functionalities, they've added more mats designed to be better at certain tasks.

That said, it should be obvious to us all, that the mats primarily have a sticky surface, the more you use that surface, the less sticky it becomes, so, over time, the distinctions between the types of cutting mat become pretty much irrelevant, so it is entirely possible that you can do everything you ever wanted to do with a single STANDARD mat. Though some things will be a hot mess, ie tissue paper, if the mat is brand new and still super sticky!

This is what I've gathered from my research into the Mats on the interwebs:

LOW TACK MAT  -  Has a BLUE footer. This is primarily designed for delicate and thin papers, such as tissue paper through to 80gsm copier paper. Papers which are 0.1mm to 0.3mm thick.  Because it's designed for delicate materials, it has a lower 'stickiness' from the start, but I've found personally that it stays useable for just as long as the Standard Mat with the right 'delicate' materials it was designed for.

MEDIUM TACK MAT - Has a PINK/RED footer. This is primarily designed for other papers that aren't so delicate, again between 0.1mm to 0.3mm thick. I don't own one, I'm not sure you can even get them in the UK, I think they were shipped with some machines as part of the initial purchase. No-one says anywhere but I assume it is the same base material as the Low Tack Mat with a Standard Tack stickiness to it. Personally it seems rather redundant to me, but maybe people who own it and know more can set me right!

STANDARD TACK MAT - Has a PURPLE footer. This mat (allegedly, but I've only read it in one place on the net) is a more robust base material than the Low Tack Mat, because it is made to carry thicker materials that are harder to cut. This mat is for cutting fabric, and thicker papers and card as well as handmade papers. This mat is for cutting media that are 0.3mm to 1.5mm thick.

Well, Brother say that the STANDARD blade is for materials that are 0.1mm to 0.8mm thick. And the DEEP Blade is for materials that are 0.5mm to 1.5mm thick. 

NOTE: When Brother talks about 1.5mm thick, it means INCLUDING your cutting mat! Which isn't terribly helpful. Anyway just be aware something that's already 1.5mm before you put it on the mat, is putting strain on your machine, if it'll go through at all.

Back to Blades and Mats - so from Brother's perspective you ONLY use the Standard Blade on Low and Medium Tack Mats, but whether you use the Standard or the Deep Blade on the Standard Mat depends on what you are cutting.

In the previous post about Blades, you'll recall that the Gentleman Crafter's Test Cutting PDF recommended changing over to the Deep Blade at 400lb watercolour paper, I think maybe use your common sense and bearing in mind the Standard Blade is much finer than the Deep blade, consider not only the density of the material you are cutting but also how deep it is!

So, is it reasonable to conclude that you only need a Standard Mat and not the others? Yes I think that's a fair conclusion -  with the caveat that a brand new Standard Mat is going to rip any delicate paper you put on it. So either wait until it's lost some stickiness or use a Low Tack mat for your easily rippable papers! (The issue of lost stickiness I'll come back to later on in this post).

Well, the purpose is to ensure the fabric is well adhered to the cutting mat so that it doesn't shift when cutting. Why is this necessary? Paper generally has a pretty smooth surface, it has been 'pressed' so it's pretty much flat & level and therefore there's even adhesion across the entire sheet. It's malleable in that it's bendable, but also has a tensile strength because all the fibres that create the sheet of paper are going in the same direction, that keeps it where you put it. (I'm going to do posts on the characteristics of paper and card later in the series)  Fabric on the other hand has a warp and a weft - horizontal threads and vertical threads are interwoven. Even if they are very tightly woven, they do and can flex against each other, so by it's nature, fabric moves more than paper if you push something, say a blade, against it. To counteract this, Brother designed the High Tack Fabric Support Sheet. The main purpose of it is to get a better cut and protect the cutting mat underneath.

There are some downsides to using it - I'm pretty sure it's not 12x12 in size (The one I got with my machine certainly isn't), you have to put it on, cut, then remove it to do other things if you only have one mat, which is tedious, and if you have a look around the web, many users don't bother with it.

In a sense it is a consumable, in that it will wear out quicker than a mat, but it's for multiple uses, unlike the iron on support sheets they also sell which are single use only and 'fix' the warp & weft of the fabric permanantly essentially making it easier to cut, but you might not want the fabric to be fixed, hence the High Tack Sheet.

There's lots of different ways of stiffening fabric - using iron on sheets, starch solution or spray starch as well as products such as Terial Magic. How the machine behaves with different sorts of fabric is a whole set of other posts, which will come in time! For now, I'm sticking with paper - and for paper, you DON'T need this High Tack Fabric Support Sheet. Just keep hold of it if you own it until you want to cut fabric!

 Ok that's cutting mats covered.

What about the SCANNING MAT?
 Why would you bother with a scanning mat? After all, you can use a Cutting Mat to scan with. On balance I'd say it's an optional extra, depending on what you will use the SnC for.

There's a couple of key differences between the Cutting and the Scanning mats
  1. You can only put items through with the Scanning Mat for a total of 1mm deep. I don't know why, that's what Brother says. With the SnC2 second generation machines I understand this is now 1.5mm, and that the Second Generation machines can take up to 2mm for cutting, but I don't own one, check your paperwork for yourself.
  2. It has an integral protection sheet that you sandwich the thing to be scanned between it and the actual mat. Sometimes this results in a cleaner scan.
  3. It has no blue measurement lines unlike the Cutting Mats. 
  4. It has no stickiness to it (hence the protection sheet).
  5. It is a one way mat. With Cutting Mats you can use both ends. With the Scanning Mat you always put it in the same end.
There's a couple of occasions you might prefer to have the Scanning Mat
  • You want to use the ScanNCut for scanning of items that have nothing to do with crafting. For example, documents or photos. These may be fragile and you don't want to stick them to a Cutting Mat. You can do Scan to Save. Same way as you would with a scanner attached to a printer.
  • You want to scan in a diecut or design that has holes or gaps in the image, say for taking to Canvas. Using the Scanning Mat means that you will get a clean image without any cut lines or blue measurement lines or bits of gunk showing up on the scan, so that when it goes into Canvas, it comes up with the image you want and not a lot of 'background noise' you have to delete bit by bit.
 When wouldn't you use the Scanning Mat?
  • If you want to cut out the thing you are scanning in. For example, using Background Scan or Scan to Cut. Why? because it's not a cutting surface. Also, if you want the machine to know exactly where to cut, for example if you are fussy cutting stamped images, then you need to scan using the cutting mat, leave the mat in, and then the images will be where the machine has registered them and will cut them out accurately. If you scanned and took the mat out again then put it in again, or used the scanning mat, it won't work.
I'm going to cover Scanning later in the series, so that's enough on scanning for now. Let's go onto keeping your mats sticky.


Don't cut right through your mat!
Ok the most obvious way to keep your mat in good shape is to NOT cut through it so it has holes. That's down to you having the right Blade depth (which I covered in the previous post HERE), with the right Blade depth the blade will make very very shallow cuts visible in a certain light, but no more than this. Mats are supposed to have marks on them from when you cut. You are not supposed to see cutting marks on the back of the mat.

What if I did cut through my mat?
If you do cut all the way through your mat, you can fix it using strong parcel or similar tape. ON THE BACK. Sticking all the cutout bits back in the right place as you go.  However, it then runs the risk of getting caught up inside on the little wheels, so consider buying another one and NEVER repeating your mistake! If all you've done is made a few lines that have cut all the way through, but it's mostly in reasonable shape and there's no actual holes, so long as there's no mat bits that could catch, you can probably get away with not taping it.

My Low Tack Mat (second hand machine) has Baby cut into it. The top of the B and the bottom of the Y went through the mat, as single lines, I'm still using it, untaped. Though I do have other mats so I don't use it all the time.

Keep the mat covered when you aren't using it and Store it so it doesn't bend or warp
The next most obvious way to keep it in good shape is to look after it when you aren't using it.

Each mat comes with a Protective Sheet as a dust cover. Use it! This will help maintain the stickiness level.

I don't have space to keep my mats flat, so mine are kept hanging up in their original bags, with a bulldog clip (padded with a piece of folded up copier paper so it doesn't mark the mat) hung on a nail bashed into the side of my craft cupboard. This means they are kept vertical, not ever knocked into so they won't develop bends or cracks or end up folded.

Use BOTH ends of the Cutting Mat
The final obvious way to keep the mat in shape is to vary where the cuts are made on the mat.

The mats are double ended. You can use both ends. You should use both ends. If you use paper that's smaller than 12x12 or 12x24, try and remember to position it in a different place every time so every area of your mat is (relatively) evenly used 

Less obvious ways are as follows: Cleaning and Resticking your Mats

Clean your mats after each use Baby Wipes (alcohol free)
Use ALCOHOL FREE baby wipes (check the side of the packet mine are dead cheap ones from the pound shop) to take away the little fibres that end up on your mat, either from the paper surface itself, or in the slight cut marks from cutting.  Leave it to dry for 10-15mins then put the protective cover back on and put it away. Be careful you it's dry and regained it's stickiness before you cover it back up.

After a while, just swiping with baby wipes won't be enough - particularly if you use papers (like sugar or construction paper) that sheds fibres very easily.  I have found laying baby wipes to cover the whole mat surface with spread out wipes and leaving them for 10-15mins softens the fibres that are stuck to it, and I get a better return to stickiness when I then use those wipes to 'scrub' away the fibres.

Eventually your mat will lose it's stickiness even with baby wipes. So what's next?

Clean your mat with warm water and washing up liquid
Aha! We've finally reached my drip drying mats that I mentioned at the very beginning! 

I use eco friendly washing up liquid (for washing dishes by hand) and warm water. I use the flat of my hand (and put the mat on a super clean kitchen surface) to move the washing up liquid around the mat, with a tiny bit of water. After a little while, the fibres all lift away, and start to make little pills or lumps under your hand. Rinse these off with clean warm (not any more than hand hot) water. Then shake the excess water off, and hang to dry vertically or lay them super flat. If you use very hot water the mats could warp, so be careful!

This has restored my mats to pretty good condition so far, it gets all the fibres out from the little cut marks and makes them nice and clean looking again.

What if I've got a deadline and my mat isn't sticking and I don't have time to wash it?
 You can use tape to temporarily stick your paper to your mat.

First though you have to look carefully at your machine. We all know there's 2 rubber wheels - one at each side- that pull the mat through the machine. But there's also 2 rubber wheels underneath in the same places (which run along the slightly rough surface columns on the bottom of the mat). And, crucially, there's also three more little wheels on top - on my machine they are roughly at 3.25inches, 6 inches and 9.75 inches along the top of the mat.

So, when I'm using tape to stick down my paper, so that it doesn't run the risk of getting caught in the wheels, I put a piece diagonally on each corner, one or two pieces on each side so the main side wheels run over them with a bit of tape at each side, and I make sure I don't put tape where those 3 top wheels are at the top and the bottom!

I use cheap decorators masking tape. Some people I've seen on the web using red artist's tape.

Whatever you use, bear in mind there's a RISK of you getting tape caught in the machine AND of the tape not releasing your paper nicely. So it's at your risk!

And finally, for when your mat totally loses all stick and even tape doesn't work anymore - you can either buy a new mat OR you can restick your mat:


It is entirely your choice whether or not you totally de-stick your mat before resticking. But I wouldn't restick it without at least washing it first!

Wash it with Washing Up Liquid - Some people on the net merely wash theirs (as above) then restick once it's clean & dry.

Destick it with a product - Others de-stick theirs - using a solvent and a scraper, such as an old credit card. Goo Gone is recommended in the USA and Elbow Grease is recommended here.
IT WOULD BE SENSIBLE to keep away from the blue margins with measurements in case it lifts some of the colour.

Kathleen Driggers has a good guide on her blog of how to DeStick and Restick your Mat HERE

She uses Goo Gone and an old credit card to scrape off the old glue and then resticks using Zig Jumbo Glue Pen. She also talks about using Aleene's Tack It Over & Over (diluted 50:50 with water) instead. Other people use basting spray or repositionable spray on the mat or the paper itself.


Here's a few pros & cons about the different ways of resticking your mat:

Brands available:
-Zig Jumbo Glue Pen (USA pen is the same size head as the UK, but contains more actual glue than the UK one on Amazon or Ebay),
-Tonic Studios Nuvo Glue Pen Large (UK available from Create & Craft UK & other places), there are also other glue pens that may work

Look out for ones that are permanent when wet and repositionable when dry, otherwise known as Two Way Glue Pens.

Pros and Cons of a glue pen? It's not messy, it's quick to do and easy to control. It's not hugely runny but still dry it flat.  but it is expensive for the amount of glue you get.

Brands available:
-Aleene's Tack It Over and Over Fabric Glue (expensive in the UK)
- Crafty Products Sticky Mat Adhesive HERE.  This is one I've not seen anyone mention anywhere online, and I've not used it though I'm intending to try it, I found it during a web search for temporary/ repositionable glues. They make a manual cutting tool and have developed this glue to accompany it. It is primarily for self healing mats. It's a form of PVA so I have no reason to think it wouldn't work, and it's especially designed to be a temporary glue that holds paper for cutting. They also do a high tack sheet for people cutting things like balsawood. I'll be trying it myself in due course. Crafty Products say you can remove it with White Spirit (just be careful of the printed borders of the Mat).

 Pros and Cons of Liquid Glue? It's messy, very runny and not that easy to control. You need to be mean with it, just a very thin coating, and to leave it to dry super flat so it doesn't run away. However, you get a lot for your money! Have a look at some videos online to see how people use it. YOU MUST mask the mat edges or you'll end up with glue all over the borders, which is a diasaster! Leave it overnight to dry and you may need to do another coat to have it evenly applied.

Brands available:
- Basting Spray (for Quilters)
- 505 temporary glue spray

Look for a TEMPORARY NON PERMANENT spray glue.

Pros and Cons of Spray Glue? You will need to mask off the borders, and wear a mask and spray it outside or in a well ventilated area. Make sure you aren't spraying the rest of your craft room. It's very quick to do, once you have the hang of it, it's easy to control how much you are putting on, and you can use it pretty much immediately. Just make sure it's well masked off, glue on the borders of the Mat is a disaster! The spray glue (depending on the amount on the mat and the porosity of what you are cutting may leave residue on your paper.

Same glues as you'd use on a Mat itself.

Pros and cons of Spray Glue on the Paper itself? The glue is applied to the paper, so it will be covered it in after cutting out. Not ideal if you aren't using it immediately or aren't planning to glue it to anything. That said, as long as you wear a mask and spray your paper NOWHERE NEAR your mat or craft area, this is the quickest and easiest method of attaching your paper to the mat once it's lost it's stick.

CAUTION - If you a bit heavy handed with the glue you use to restick your mat it will be SUPER STICKY. And anything you put on it, just won't come off in one piece! To make it less sticky - get a clean lint free cloth (like tshirt jersey or similar) and lay it onto the mat, press it down evenly, then lift it off again. This should absorb a fair amount of the excess stickiness and leave behind a fine film of teeny weeny fibres that won't stop your paper sticking irretrievably to the mat. If in doubt, take a small piece of whatever you are thinking of using, apply it to the mat, and try and take it off again. If it works fine, if not, apply either with less pressure (no spatular just your palm of your hand) or destick a bit with tshirt cloth again.

As you use the mat, the stickiness will decrease, and you'll have to use wet wipes/ washing up liquid and eventually restick as above.


Can I use a mat from another manufacturers machine? You can't use any other manufacturers mats with the Brother Scan N Cut. So that's a no, you can't use your Cricut or whatever mat in this machine. They are different specifications and sizes - in terms of depth and composition of material.

However you can make your own mats, with caution. It will invalidate your Warranty. But once your Warranty has run out....

Making your own mats - sort of...
There's certain characteristics the Brother mats have, some of which are crucial and essential, others are not (apparently). A mat will need to be the right size, the right base material and also have the right registration marks so the machine will recognise it (that's the dots and arrows at each end of your mat).

There's a guy on ebay UK who sells and embossing tool and an embossing mat. He makes his own Mat.  I have bought both.  They work well (now I've used a bit of masking tape to stop the embossing tool wibbling around in the Brother Pen Holder - not the Universal Pen Holder).

I can see that his mat, he has in some way laminated or printed the 'registration marks' so the machine can recognise the mat, in the right places and has used what feels like a very similar plastic (weight and flexibility) for the mat and then glued a foam sheet onto it. I can confirm this mat works in my machine. It lacks the slightly rough columns of texture on the bottom of the mat that's on the Brother Cutting Mats. But that doesn't seem to bother it. That said, I've only used it at Speed 1 - a higher speed may make a difference, it may shift and jam the machine.

Do I know what he used? No. Do I know how he picked the right materials? No. Could you do it? I have no idea, I'm just telling you it's obviously possible. Then again, just because you can do something doesn't mean you should!

IF you have an old exhausted Brother Mat, I don't see why you can't stick a foam sheet on it yourself to use as an embossing mat, so long as you understand the machine's tolerances as to height (1.5mm including the mat and material and anything else on it). Jen Blausey of Jam Sessions on You Tube has made her own embossing mats in this way use the search word - embossing to find them.

I've also seen videos and discussions where people have taken a flexible plastic chopping board, and glued that to their actual Brother Cutting mat - according to them, it works very well, and the underlying Brother mat remains pristine and the flexible plastic chopping board is the one that gets munched by the blade. I would imagine if you use low speeds (which you should anyway) of 1, that your blade wouldn't break. I don't see that it would damage the machine, given it's supposed to be able to cut stiff items such as balsa wood or chipboard, so the additional change in flexibility of adding another board (trimmed to fit the cutting area) should, in theory, only be like making a half cut on a thick material (whereas you actually are cutting a thin piece of material on top of a thick one).   Yes there's a danger of shifting, but not if you apply ReSticking glue techniques - and in fact Brother themselves uses two layers on occasion - for example the High Tack Fabric Support Sheet - which whilst made of entirely different base material is using the same principle.  Anyway it's something I've not done, though I may well try in the future, and it's at your own risk!

Proceed with caution with those 2 hacks!!!!!!!!

One thing I've not seen at all is people making their own mats to cut on. I suspect this is because it's a rubbish idea that doesn't work and breaks the mat or the machine or whatever you are trying to cut out. I would say, you have spent hundreds of pounds sterling or US dollars or whatever your currency is on the machine, given you can extend the life of the official mats considerably - I just don't think it would be worth it! Stick to actual Brother mats, or something that someone else has made that you can sue on if it doesn't!

I think that's it for mats, next post will be actually making Test Cuts and knowing if they're successful or not HERE.

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