Whenever a sticker, decal or label is a shape other than a square or rectangle some type of die or cutting method is needed. There are several different custom cut sticker methods that can be used depending on the needs of a customer, the material, the quantity, the size, and the in-house capabilities of the manufacturer. Some cutting methods add no additional costs to a print job, some rotary dies may cost upwards of $1000. So what gives? Here I will try to unwind the mysteries of custom die cutting so you can make informed buying decisions and have a basic understanding of why cutting methods and costs can vary greatly.
There are five basic methods for making custom die cut decals, stickers and labels. I will cover these methods shortly. But first it is important to understand that even within one particular die style the costs can vary depending on complexity, size and grouping methods of your custom cut stickers. Many dies needed for common shapes will require no charges – circles, ovals, rounded corner rectangles, badges… many of these shapes will already have cutting dies stocked at the factory.
Different sticker companies, of course, can also chose to assign different profit margins to their custom die cutting methods. Some may wrap it into the overall cost of the custom cut sticker order (this may be fine on the first order but on subsequent orders you may be overcharged). Some companies may have no mark-up on dies and some may even take a loss on the cost of making a die (which may pay off for the manufacturer on subsequent reorders). And, as you will see below, some manufacturers may be using custom die cutting methods that don’t require making a die at all. There are obvious reasons it can be difficult to find information on cutting methods and costs from a particular sticker producer. In some cases where a smaller quantity is ordered initially and then later bumped up to a larger quantity, completely different cutting methods may be used for each production run.
So, let’s take a look at the most common dies and cutting methods:
Made of magnesium and coated with a non-stick surface these dies are actually heated up and with a combination of the heat and pressure the face of the vinyl (not backing sheet) is cut or burned away.
Common Uses: Usually used for “kiss-cutting” (not cutting all the way through) vinyl sheets. This method is also used for vinyl cut lettering and graphics when the production run is not suitable for plotter cutting.
Advantages: Cost effective at bulk quantities and intricate shapes are possible. This cut method also lends itself to better doming applications and it is easier to pick excess vinyl off of sheets on vinyl cut graphics.
Disadvantages: Limited to certain vinyl materials. Not cost effective on small runs.
Approximate Cost: Anywhere from “no charge” for simple, one-up vinyl cut jobs, to $200 for certain kiss cut sheets.
Steel Rule Die
Think of a steel rule die like a cookie cutter. The die shapes are laser cut into pieces of high grade plywood and then steel rule “knives” are bent to fit into the etched shape. A thick “black sponge” surrounds and protects the blades and when in use a great amount of pressure is placed on the die, compressing the foam/sponge, exposing the blade which cuts the material.
Common Uses: Commonly used to cut vinyl and polyester stickers, magnetic material, plastics and pretty much anything else. Depending on set up a steel rule die can cut completely through or “kiss-cut”.
Advantages: Very Cost effective at bulk quantities. Dies can be stored and maintained for long term use.
Disadvantages: Some limitations on shape complexity. Sharp points and handcrafted quality add to initial cost of building and maintaining die. Not cost effective on small runs.
Approximate Cost: Anywhere from “no charge” for existing sizes and shapes to $175. for new larger dies.
As the name implies, rotary dies are cylindrical in shape so they can roll with the material feeding through and be continuously cut. Rotary dies are used in the production of roll labels. The dies are customized to the material being cut, the size and repeat length and the press they are being used on. The die is manufactured from a solid piece of steel with the area that is not cutting milled away. There is also a cost savings in producing metal plates that can be wrapped around a reusable magnetic cylinder.
Common Uses: Used on all custom roll labels.
Advantages: Very fast and precise production process. Wide variety of size possibilities.
Disadvantages: More intricate custom shapes can be expensive.
Approximate Cost: No charge for existing shapes. Up to $1000 for very intricate shapes/sheets. The average at Websticker is about $350 for a metal plate rotary die.
Digital / Plotter Cutting
Similar to a dot matrix printer, a cut head moves back and forth across a web cutting one image at a time. Typically, this is only used for kiss-cut stickers and decals (not through cut individually).
Common Uses: This method is often associated with wide format printing as well as small runs of vinyl cut graphics.
Advantages: Cost effective for short run quantities. Very intricate shapes are possible.
Disadvantages: A slow process not suitable for large-scale runs. Intricate shapes can be very fragile when peeled away from liner.
Approximate Cost: No die costs. Cutting tool is built into the machinery.
Digital / Laser Cutting
As the name implies this cutting system requires no dies or blades but cuts with laser technology.
Common Uses: Kiss Cut labels on a roll.
Advantages: Fast and accurate cut method. Very intricate shapes are possible. Suitable for very small runs.
Disadvantages: Not all materials can be laser cut, including vinyl and other long lasting outdoor printed/material products.
Approximate Cost: No die costs. Integrated in machinery.
At Websticker we have access to all the above custom cut sticker methods and many different print options. Our goal is to utilize the material and print/cut method that best fits the goals and budgets of our customers.
As a disclaimer, I am not an expert in print machinery or custom die cutting production, I work on the front end with sticker design, marketing and sales. This article purposely does not go into too much detail and there are many variables at work. The purpose of this article is to give you a better understanding of different methods that may be in play from various sticker and label manufacturers and the knowledge to ask better question in confirming you are getting the best product and price for your particular needs.