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In the packaging industry, one of the premier manufacturing techniques is die-cutting. This process relies on a die that cuts softer materials into an endless variety of sizes, shapes, and designs.

Die-cut packaging is a great choice for companies that need huge amounts of custom packaging. That’s because it is so easy to mass-produce. Compared to other manufacturing techniques, die-cut packages are easier to produce, require less time to make, and generally are more cost-effective.

In this article, we’ll explore topics such as:

  • What are die-cutting boxes?
  • How cutting dies are made.
  • Various die-cutting techniques.
  • The packaging categories.
  • An array of finishing options so you can customize your die-cut boxes.

How Does the Die Cutting Process Work?

Have you ever used a cookie cutter? If you have, then you already understand the basic principles along which die cutters operate. The cutting die is a lot like an oversized cookie cutter. It can be pressed into softer materials to form the shape that the manufacturer wants to use.

Initially used by cobblers at the time of the Industrial Revolution, die-cutting has become far more technologically advanced than it once was.

After being used to make shoes, innovators discovered that the die-cutting process could be used for the production of packaging.

The process is so versatile that it can be used to make packaging of nearly any pattern, design, or shape. Custom steel dies can be made to fashion unique packaging for your products, and because die-cutting makes such precise shapes, it’s easy to mass-produce.

How Do You Make a Cutting Die?

Many high-tech processes go into the making of all die-cut boxes. Today, packaging designs almost always originate with the use of Computer-Aided Design, which also is known as CAD.

CAD is a lot like a drawing in digitized form. Once the drawing is complete, it can be transferred onto a die board, which is a sturdy piece of hardwood.

Die-cut box designers may select a burning process to transfer drawing designs onto die boards. A state-of-the-art laser cutter ensures a high degree of accuracy and precision as the drawing is transferred.

The cutting die relies on steel rules, which also may be referred to simply as “rules.” These strips of metal are formed into the appropriate shapes using a rule bender, which is a tool that is capable of bending, cutting, and notching the steel rules into the needed shape.

Several different steel rules may be used in the process of manufacturing a die-cut box. Each one of these rules performs a specific function. Among the most common steel rules are:

  • Perforating rules: These rules indent a line of holes on the material. This design is not separate from the material, but it does allow for each detachment along any lines of perforation.
  • Through cutting rules: These rules cut all the way through the packaging material.
  • Creasing rules: When a creasing rule is used, it makes it possible for the material to be bent inward through the creation of two stress points that run in parallel. Thanks to having dual stress points, the material is made far more flexible.
  • Scoring rules: These rules don’t go quite as deep as creasing rules. They do not cut all the way through the material, but the scoring rules do leave a partial cut or impression indent on just one stress point.

Each rule for a specific design is made with the flute size and thickness of the material in mind.

The manufacturer hammers each of the prepared steel rules by hand onto the die board. Additionally, certain rubber and foam pieces may be affixed to the die using glue. These rubber and foam pieces help the die to bounce off the corrugated board, which is the packaging material, throughout the production process.

Next, a die-cutting machine firmly presses the die into the corrugated board, resulting in a cut-out shape that’s reminiscent of a cookie being cut out with a cutter.

What the corrugated board looks like now depends largely on how complex the packaging’s design is. A more complex design may have numerous folds, lines, and creases that can then be used by a worker to finish the package by hand.

The die-cutting process inevitably leaves behind some excess material, though steps are taken to ensure that this is minimized as much as possible. Any of this material is gathered up for recycling and reusing.

As you might imagine, making new dies for a package is relatively costly. However, the good news is that this is a one-time cost. Once the dies are designed, you don’t have to buy new ones unless or until you want to design new packaging.

Various Die-Cutting Techniques

As you can see from the description above, the die-cutting process isn’t all high-tech. The CAD program definitely is on the cutting edge of technology, but the rest of the process generally is performed by hand or using specialized tools that don’t involve much in the way of computers.

Nonetheless, the die-cut process remains a fast method for mass-producing custom packaging even if it does involve manually building a die.

Two die-cutting techniques remain the favorites for packaging. These are flatbed die-cutting and rotary die-cutting.

Flatbed die-cutting involves the use of a die board, which is simply a rectangular-shaped, flat piece of hardwood. Using a flatbed machine, the cutting die is firmly pressed into the corrugated board. This die-cutting technique is best suited to smaller packaging designs because of the relatively small blank size. This process can still make extremely intricate and highly detailed designs that may involve features such as slit scores, tight cuts, and tiny cut-outs.

By contrast, rotary die-cutting relies on a cylindrical press that is rolled over the corrugated material. In general, this is a much faster process than flatbed die-cutting, so companies that need to mass produce a simple packaging design may prefer this method.

It is even possible for rotary die-cutting machines to serve multiple functions at once, such as cutting while also providing lamination or embossing.

Entering the Digital Age

While the techniques described above remain the most popular and commonly used for making die-cut boxes, some manufacturers are embracing the digital age.

Manufacturers using these techniques rely on state-of-the-art machines that are controlled by computers. Lasers usurp the role of steel rules, but so far this manufacturing technique still has serious limitations.

If your company only requires low to medium order volumes, this may be a viable option. However, if you need a large amount of die-cut packaging fast, then the traditional techniques remain the best choices.

Customizing Die-Cut Packaging

Die-cutting is extremely versatile, making it possible for companies to design unique packaging with a variety of functions, materials, and folds.

Corrugated material is available in commercial sheets and rolls that are ideal for protecting glass as well as in slot-type boxes that are made of one piece of corrugated material with a taped, glued, or stitched joint. Packed flat, these boxes are sealed by hand.

Other options include telescope-type boxes that consist of many pieces of corrugated material. Typically, they have a lid and perhaps a bottom that can telescope over the main component of the box.

Folder-type boxes and trays are another option. Made from a single piece of corrugated material, this box has a hinged bottom that forms all of the box’s walls and its cover. This style is a great selection for incorporating handles, panels for display, or locking tabs.

Ready-glued cases are a popular option for companies that need a packaging solution that is easy to assembly. Made from a single piece of corrugated cardboard, these cases are shipped flat and can be assembled in an instant.

Putting Finishing Touches on Die-Cut Packages

If you want to make a really sophisticated and elegant impression with your packaging, then consider incorporating a finishing process like embossing, UV printing, or hot stamping.

The embossing process causes the printing on the box to be raised higher than the packaging’s surface. Embossing adds texture to the packaging to make it feel more luxurious to the recipient.

With UV printing, ultraviolet curing technology is applied during the printing process. The package passes through a printer, wet ink is applied and this is immediately exposed to powerful UV light. This causes the ink to instantly dry, resulting in a vibrant and sharp finish.

Hot stamping is used to produce custom boxes. Performed at high temperatures, dry paint or foil is glued to the packaging in a desired design or shape. A die may be used to press on the finishes, and hot stamping may be performed with embossing.

Ask Mid-Atlantic Packaging for Guidance

If you want to explore all of the possibilities that are available with die-cut packaging, just ask Mid-Atlantic Packaging. Our many years of experience in the packaging industry have equipped us to help you meet all of your packaging needs.