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Specialty Printing Guide: Die Cutting

Cutting millions of business cards into fancy shapes would take forever—unless you use die cutting. Print projects that use die cutting are unique, memorable, and are more likely to be saved from being tossed directly into the trash!


What is Die Cutting?

First invented in the mid-19th century, die cutting was created as a way to streamline the shoe-making process. Along with the die cutting process came the first standardized sizing for shoes! It's an automated way to cut consistent, uniform shapes from a substrate.

In printing, die cutting is a process that uses thin, razor-sharp pieces of metal that basically stamp out shapes from the substrate. It's like a cookie cutter for your project!


How Does Die Cutting Work?

There are two methods of die cutting: flatbed and rotary. Flatbed die cutters are used for lower quantities and large format projects, and use a large force to press a die down on the substrate. Rotary dies are used in conjunction with rolls of substrate and can be done inline on a web press.

Metal dies can be any shape imaginable. There are standard dies, like circles of various sizes, that are more cost-effective to use because they can be reused by many customers. However, it's also possible to have a custom die created based on your specific design. The possibilities with die cutting are almost endless!

In printing, the most common substrate used with die cutting is, of course, paper. But die cutting can be done on thin sheets of plastic, foam, leather, wood, even other metal as long as it's thin enough.

It's important to note that die cutting isn't always used to cut all the way through a substrate. You can also use dies to perforate or score the stock. Kiss cutting is used in label making to cut through the top (adhesive) layer but not the waxy backing.


How Can I Use Die Cutting for My Projects?

There are two ways that die cutting can be used to differentiate projects. Let's call these functionality and flair.

Functionality is a matter of necessity. Picture a door hanger, which needs a hole for the doorknob. Or a pocket folder, which needs to be printed flat and then die cut into the right shape to be glued together. Another common die is an envelope conversion die, which cuts out the envelope from a flat sheet and is then glued together.

Flair is a fun and eye-catching design that can be used for promotional purposes. Die cut projects stand out in a sea of rectangular paper products. Die cutting can also be combined with other specialty printing processes, like foil stamping and embossing.


How Do I Design for a Die Cutting Project?

Before designing your project, consider your budget. If you'll need a custom die, the costs will be higher. Work with your account representative to see if there is a standard die you can use instead.

Once you've decided on your die shape and placement, there are still a few considerations you should make.

  • Avoid small angles or sharp inner corners. This could be difficult to work with and your project could tear when removing the excess stock.
  • Avoid thin strips of stock between an outer shape and an inner die cut, like a hole. Again, this could tear when handled.
  • Include your die line in your artwork. Create a spot color that is not used elsewhere in your design and won't print, so that the dies can be created and the artwork can be used when registering the job.
  • Make sure you include 1/8" bleeds. Just like a regular cut, you need the printed area to extend past the die line in case the die is off by a hair.

Interested in die cutting your next print project? Remember, planning is key! Contact your account representative or click here to get all the details you'll need to plan an impressive and cost-effective print job.





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