By Olivia Cahoon
Adding a new finishing device helps digital print providers expand service offerings. Die cutting presents a quick and consistent method of creating unique shapes for applications such as business cards, mailers, packaging, and stationary.
While some print providers outsource die cutting services, solutions are available that make it more cost effective to bring it in house. Additionally, for print providers new to the concept or with a limited budget, small footprint options that require little training are available.
Before selecting a digital die cutter, print providers should consider the total cost of ownership and return on investment (ROI).
Above: The SEI PaperOne solution from SEI Laser/Matik is a CO2 laser system for die cutting microprints, die and kiss cutting, and engraving.
Getting into Die Cutting
Die cutters offer a variety of advantages by providing access to a new, value-added service—custom shapes and cutouts.
“Die cutting is an extremely versatile way to create, cut, shape, and form products from a sheet,” shares Kevin Chen, product manager, Duplo USA Corp. It also provides additional benefits such as quick turnaround time, consistent die cut pieces, and machines capable of handling multiple jobs.
Bringing die cutting capabilities in house is a great method for controlling quality, improving lead time, and adding revenue to a print environment. “We often find that when printers start looking at the amount of fuel charges they are being charged by the finishing companies, it easily dwarfs the machine payment,” says Kevin Moll, VP, B&R Moll Inc.
With an in-house die cutter, print providers keep revenue under one roof and target new customers. A rotary die cutter gives printers and in-plants the ability to increase the scope of their finished digitally printed pieces.
Russell Carter, director of marketing and product development, Martin Yale Industries, believes that as customer demand continues to rise for high margin and small production runs that feature unique and differentiating pieces, a die cutter meets and fulfills that market need.
Short-run and on demand printing and finishing fuels the need for newer die cutting technology. “No longer just printers, many shops position themselves as full-service solution providers,” says Don Dubuque, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems.
Modern die cutting solutions are quick to setup, easy to operate, require minimal makeready and floor space, and are efficient on all run lengths. Dubuque believes combining these efficiencies with advances in inkjet and digital print technologies opens a new market in short-run and specialty printing, packaging, and labels.
An assortment of applications are well suited for die cutting—from greeting cards and invitations to coasters, door hangers, labels, packaging, and tags.
While a digital die cutter can certainly handle jobs requiring only straight line cuts, Carter believes its true value is realized when elaborate finishing touches are requested. Examples include invitations with ornate borders, laminated library cards with punched out key ring holes, or uniquely designed product packaging.
“A lot depends on what a print provider is hoping to achieve with the addition of a die cutter,” shares Dubuque. For example, the most common applications created on Standard’s die cutters include bottle labels, business cards, coupons, playing cards, and pocket folders.
Designers also benefit from the flexibility of die cutters, which allow them to work with customers to create different applications and pieces that stand out and get people to take a closer look—leading to increased work and profitability, adds Dubuque.
He believes print providers are most successful with die cutting when they take the time to explain to their customers all of the applications die cutting can produce, and how a nice looking die cut piece can help them achieve their business goals.
Pricing, Selling, & Concerns
Print providers selling a new die cutting service or bringing it in house for the first time need to price products accordingly. Not only does die cutting allow them to offer a custom finishing option, but it also increases the margin of their printed pieces.
For example, business cards typically have a traditional straight corner edge. With a die cutting unit, print providers can produce different types of shapes such as clamshell, round corner, and scallop. “Since producing these special shapes is considered a customized job, the business card that you are selling for $9.99 can be sold for as much as $29.99,” explains Chen.
Price increases are similar for additional applications like greeting cards and postcards. “Die cutting allows you to produce endless specialty shapes on all sorts of different applications,” adds Chen.
When pricing die cut products, print providers should consider the total cost of operation. Every unique die cut job requires its own matching die, therefore the initial cost of the die is normally billed as a separate line item or built into the per piece price in the first order. “With the relatively low cost of flexible dies, this upfront cost is held to a minimum when quoting a customer,” explains Carter.
Although dies may be inexpensive, one of the main concerns print providers have is the time it takes to order and receive a die plate. Flatbed and rotary die plates are constructed in an extensive process to create each plate. Since all die plates are custom made, Chen says it typically takes two to three days to receive. “We often encourage customers to keep a catalog of die plates in stock so they can grab the die plate that needs to run in an on demand process,” he suggests.
In terms of functionality, print providers look to die cutting devices to avoid challenges and maintain a short turnaround.
Cutting styles should be matched with the target application. Two of the most common cutting styles are flatbed and rotary die cutting.
Flatbed cutting processes thicker materials, which are only available in sheet form. It is also a more practical option than rotary dies when only producing single or small distribution, shares Chen. “If the die is continually used to produce a particular product, a rotary die ends up being more efficient and economical.” Flatbed dies are usually less costly for small orders.
Rotary die cutting is frequently used for thin materials, larger orders, and orders that require extra kiss cutting. Rotary steel dies have the ability to run more pieces with greater speed and cut accuracy. Although a flatbed cutting style is typically cheaper to purchase, Chen says a rotary die might be more cost effective overall.
In addition to cutting style, it’s important that a quick die changeover is achieved for production to continue moving. Moll feels that select systems do so by not having to move any downstream equipment to place dies on the magnetic cylinders.
The ability to store jobs in memory and recall them at the touch of a button is also useful for repeat work. According to Dubuque, job storage memory allows customers to request die cut work on demand.
Higher degrees of automation are increasingly valuable to print providers as experienced and skilled operators diminish. “Machines with high levels of automation are generally easier to train operators on,” admits Dubuque.
It’s also essential that the die cutter is capable of producing products without error or damage. “In today’s market customers look for nick-less products, especially in the high-end packaging world,” adds Moll.
Laser cutters are also available. These machines use a high-speed laser to cut through substrates. Laser cutters produce the same applications as traditional and digital die cutters.
According to Steven Leibin, president, SEI Laser/Matik, Inc., digital laser cutting enables smaller print providers numerous advantages such as cutting one to one million items, a digital finishing workflow, on-the-fly job changes, same day printing and finishing, unique finishing capabilities, personalized finishing, and eliminated die costs.
“Pricing is based on labor time, materials, and overhead costs since hard tooling dies are not required per job,” he explains. “This is a big selling advantage, plus being able to complete jobs in one day.”
Investment & ROI
Once cutting style and features are determined, print providers can start shopping for a die cutter. When in the market for a new solution, it’s important to look at investment price, training, and ROI.
Training and price varies according to each device. In terms of training, the machine’s automation level has a significant impact on training times. “Older machines and manual machines require more investment in training and oftentimes require a specialized operator,” says Dubuque.
Machines with greater automation allow for easy job changeover and simple operation, even for non-specialized operators. As with any equipment purchase, Dubuque suggests print providers evaluate if and how a new investment will increase profit, improve control over current volumes, and create new revenue opportunities.
Price varies by device. Carter warns that just because the die cutter has a higher price tag doesn’t mean it offers better features or functions. Print providers compare competing rotary die cutter models with similar specifications to determine if the retail values are similar.
For example, at Duplo, Chen says 300 customers experienced ROI six to seven months after purchase. “With the increase in profit margin the ROI is more attainable.”
Rose Press Inc.
Established in 1986, Rose Press Inc. is a leader in the commercial printing industry for the tri-state area. It operates sheet-fed presses, an electronic prepress department, and a full bindery in Mount Vernon, NY.
The print provider recently expanded to include a 21,000-square foot mailing and fulfillment facility for a total workspace of 35,000 square feet. It also added a wide format division that produces large scale materials. Rose Press Inc. partners with a full-service design studio that creates work for functional and effective branding materials.
Five years ago, Rose Press Inc. added cutting capabilities to its in-house services with the Zünd G3 L-3200 cutter. In the past year it expanded its cutting abilities with the addition of a Moll Flexcut System for commercial die cutting.
“The commercial printing industry was shrinking, customers budgets slashed. We had to create revenue for ourselves and employees in order to keep them employed,” admits Ralph Mondesando, VP, operations, Rose Press Inc.
Today, nearly 20 percent of the print provider’s work is die cut. Die cut applications include brochures, hang tags, kiss cut labels, pocket folders, and point of purchase displays—the majority of which are elaborate designs.
Die Cutting Efficiently
The Moll Flexcut System is a die cutter, folder, and gluer for sheet-fed applications in the printing, and packaging markets. It also handles kiss cutting and scoring for a variety of shapes and sizes including substrate thicknesses up to 24-point paperboard.
According to Mondesando, Rose Press Inc. selected the Moll Flexcut System for its versatility and solid build. The print provider also uses the Moll Versa Fold attachment with its die cutting system.
For additional digital die cutting, the company utilizes the Zünd G3-L3200. Rose Press Inc. purchased the G3-L3200 after viewing it at SGIA in 2015. It helped the print provider break into large format printing while at the same time satisfying its need for digital die cutting.
With die cutting services in house, Rose Press Inc. provides its current clients with higher valued products. The company works with a range of big-name customers such as Disney, MGM Resort and Casino, LEGOLAND Discovery Center, and several museums and universities.
“We don’t have to farm to outside vendors. We keep our jobs in house. Digital die cutting gives us more opportunity for our sales force to grow into our existing customer base,” comments Mondesando.
Its printing equipment includes Heidelberg sheet-fed presses and the Ricoh Pro 7100 and Pro 9100. With digital services, Rose Press Inc. takes on more projects than ever before. “Using digital printing means more accurate counts, less waste,” shares Mondesando. “It allows for customization with variable data, which can improve customer relationships and make your campaigns more distinctive and effective.”.
Die cutting has the ability to turn commodity items like business and greeting cards into high-value printed pieces. With the availability of small footprint digital die cutting solutions, it is easier than ever for print providers to enter this space.
Oct2019, DPS Magazine