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Self Healing Cutting Mat Buying Guide: How to Select and Maintain Cutting Mats

What is a cutting mat? How do you choose the right cutting mat for the job? Here are a few things to look for when selecting quality cutting mats and how to properly care for them.

Types - For every project where you use either a utility knife or a rotary cutter, you also need a cutting mat. They protect the work surface from damage, and prevent your knife blade from dulling quickly. Cutting mats are described as either hard-surface or self-healing (soft surface). Hard-surface (self-sealing) mats are more rigid and more rugged, since the blade skims over the mat surface without cutting into it. Self healing types are thinner and more flexible and usually have a thin layer of colored vinyl on the cutting surface. Cutting blades create tiny scratches in the mat surface that reclose afterward; thus the description "self-healing." Both types are appropriate for designers, sewing, quilting, signmaking, printing, hobbies, crafts, and many other uses.

Size - In general, choose the largest mat that fits the work and storage areas available. If using a rotary cutter to cut pattern pieces, a full-size cutting table mat is ideal. For quilting, a fabric cutting mat 24" or larger permits cutting strips across the fabric width with only a single fold; providing greater accuracy. The largest self healing cutting mat we offer is 4' x 8' (48" x 96"). Any size larger than this will require one of our oversize Rhino large cutting mats available from 24 by 48 inches up to 6 feet by 12 feet.

Thickness - Self healing cutting mats are generally either 2 millimeters (mm) or 3 mm in thickness. 2 mm mats have more of a plastic texture and are often either too smooth or too rough. 2 mm mats are often referred to as "hobby craft mats" and are not suitable for straight knife use. 2 mm mats generally have thin cores which makes them much more susceptible to cut-though. 2mm mats are more of a "hobby grade" mat and are not a professional-grade mat. A sign of a poor-quality cutting mat is one where the laminations have separated.

Our professional-quality self-healing cutting mats are 3 millimeters thick and made of 3 plies. The outer plies are .75 mm thick and give the mat self-healing properties. The inner core is 1.5 mm thick and prevents mat cut-through and extends blade life. We have self-healing cutting mats up to 48" x 96".

Larger Sizes - Need a large cutting mat or custom size cutting mat to fit your production table? We have a great selection of tough, long-lasting, 3/16" thick, polyethylene, self-sealing large cutting mats up to 6 ft. by 12 ft. We are happy to custom cut your mats at no extra charge. Optional grids are available for all our large, oversize, and custom-cut mats. (See second photo above.)

What Tools Can Be Used? - When looking for a cutting mat, make sure it is suitable for both rotary and straight knives. Most 2 mm "hobby" mats are not suitable for straight knives. All of our cutting mats are suitable for both rotary cutters and straight knives. To prevent leaving cut marks in a self healing cutting mat, always make sure your knife is sharp. Change blades often. Remember that most any plastic surface will leave a knife mark when used with dull knives. Don't spend big $$$ on a cutting mat and skimp on knife blades.

Surface Texture - Texture and glare are important. Too smooth a texture and the items you are trying to cut have a tendency to slip. In addition, some mats are shiny and reflect light. Too much texture and it affects the consistency of your cut. The mat should have a medium "tooth" made of a non-glare surface; one that is not too slick or too rough. Thin, 2 mm mats and hobby-grade mats have a tendency to have either too little or too much tooth. All of our pro-quality, cutting mats have a medium tooth and non-glare surface.

Measurements - You should look for a mat that is graduated and fully numbered on all four sides of the mat. Hash lines should extend past the board of the mat on all four sides. The hash lines and full graduations on all sides help with alignment.

Our self healing cutting mats are graduated on all four sides. Hash lines extend outside of the border. Mats are hashed to every 1/8-inch and graduated to every 1/2" with every inch marked with a heavier line. Every 5th grid has an extra-thick line. This is useful for sewing and quilting. Also make sure the mats have lines for cutting diagonals. Tip: For the most accurate measurements, use a ruler as your guide. The lines on a cutting mat are generally thick, which reduces accuracy, and they are also subject to wear and distortion over time.

Our Rhino large and custom size mats are available with optional 1" grid underlay for alignment purposes.

How Long Will It Last? - Cutting mats eventually wear out, they do not last forever. Most of them are designed to last for years, depending on how they are used. All of our products can take repeated cuts without gouging; they are made for heavy professional use. However, most any material will show a knife mark unless it is made of stone or hard metal. Do not be alarmed if you can see the knife marks. Performance and longevity are dependent on several things:
  • Type of material being cut
  • Type of knife being used
  • Sharpness of cutting blade
  • Cutting pressure by user
  • Sharpness of knife blades
  • Always use sharp, new blades when cutting and change blades often.
  • Rotate your mat often to avoid frequent cuts in the same area.
  • Lighten up! Don't apply heavy pressure on your knife.
  • Do not try to cut too many layers of material at once.

Storage - It is best to store all cutting mats flat; do not roll them. Most of our self healing cutting mats have a convenient hanging hole for easy storage. These are made from plastic materials that are heat sensitive. Improperly stored mats will warp and are impossible to repair. Keep your mats away from heat such as direct sunlight to prevent warping. Don't leave it in a hot car and do not store it in an attic. Avoid storing in a cold room to prevent brittleness and cracking. Most of our larger mats are shipped rolled. Remove rolled cutting mats from their packages immediately. Do not store them rolled.

Cleaning - To prolong the life of any cutting mat, keep it clean. We recommend using your favorite all-purpose household spray cleaner or warm water and mild detergent. Avoid abrasive cleansers and solvents that can damage the mat or remove the printed markings. Use a lint roller or a napped lint brush to remove surface lint and fabric crumbs. A nylon net scrubber can be used to loosen any stubborn dirt or debris on your cutting mat. Microfiber cleaning cloths/towels can also be used to remove tiny fibers from knife cuts on your cutting mats.