What Does Die Cut Mean?

Die cutting is a broad term that you may have heard your label printer and converter throw around quite a bit, especially if you have uniquely shaped packaging or an intricate logo. While you certainly don’t need to be a die cutting expert – that’s what we’re here for – it helps to understand the basics of die cutting so that you know what you may or may not be able to do. Below, we’ll provide a basic overview of the die cutting process, its meaning, as well as some considerations for designing a label with a custom shape.

What is the die cut definition? Die cutting is a fabrication process that uses specialized machines and tools to convert stock material by cutting, forming, and shearing. In printing, die cuts are used to create custom shapes and designs for labels.

It starts with a part called, unsurprisingly, a die. A manufactured die is a specialized piece of metal tooling used to cut a specific shape out of a material. Think of it as a cookie cutter, but instead of a sheet of cookies, it is a sheet of label material. So the die cuts out the label, and excess material (called ‘matrix’) is removed. The ‘die line’ is the outline of where the die will cut, it is usually shown as a thick colored line in proofs.

Die cutting comes in many shapes and forms, some of which are better suited for labels than others. There are three major processes that you should know, so you can figure out what die cut process to use for your custom labels. The three processes that we’ll explore below are flatbed, rotary, and semi-rotary.

Flatbed Die Cutting
Flatbed die cutters use hydraulic presses and other lifting systems to press a die down on a sheet of material. Generally speaking, flatbed die cutting is used for low volume projects and larger sized products. Flatbed die presses tend to be better suited for heavier materials over 1/8” thick like felt, fiber, fabrics, and metals than for most label stocks.

Rotary and Semi-Rotary Die Cutting
Both rotary and semi-rotary use rollers to pass webs, which are long, flexible sheets of material through a machine so that a rolling die attached to a magnetic cylinder makes cuts to the material. However, we find that semi-rotary is better suited for cutting labels because its design makes it more capable of efficiently shearing custom labels.In the semi-rotary process, the cylindrical die rolls in a single direction, but the press moves the web back and forth while cuts are made. This movement allows a printer to use a single cylinder to make multiple cuts in a web. The process reduces the number of times the web needs to be run through a die-cutting system. That means that more complex cuts can be completed faster than in a standard rotary setup and quicker turnaround times for your printed items. After the web is cut, the excess material is pulled away, leaving only your labels behind.

Another important note for rotary and semi-rotary die cutting machines is that they can use either solid or flexible dies. While solid dies are steel cylinders with a design already built into the body of the die, flexible dies are thin sheets of steel that warp around a magnetic cylinder. This makes flexible dies less expensive, which is great for businesses looking for custom dies for their labels.

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