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Custom Printing: The Euclid IIIC Digital Cutter/Creaser

A colleague and friend sent me a press release this week for the Highcon Euclid IIIC, a digital cutting and creasing machine that accepts thick enough stock to be used for folding cartons and even fluted, corrugated stock.

Let’s look at what this means and at what it implies for commercial printing in general.

Cutting, Scoring, and Creasing

Up until recently, cutting (or die cutting) was done with metal cutting rules inset into flat blocks of wood, using a separate custom printing press (often a converted letterpress). If you’ve ever taken apart the glued pockets of a pocket folder and laid it flat on a table, you have seen that it is not a perfect, rectangular sheet of paper. Portions of the flat sheet have been cut away to create the pockets and the glue tabs that hold the custom pocket folder together. Metal die cutting rules are responsible for this ingeniously functional, irregular shape. The same goes for cosmetics boxes, food packaging, cartons for medicine, etc.

Unfortunately, creating custom metal die cutting rules costs a lot of money (hundreds of dollars, sometimes, for even simple cutting rules). It also takes extra time and is usually subcontracted work. Because of this, it is prudent to create a die cutting rule for only a long commercial printing run: not one copy or five or 100.

Now, what is creasing? Creasing, which is an alternative to scoring, presses a channel into the paper substrate, allowing for easier folding without breaking the paper fibers, causing a badly-placed fold, or creating any other problem that would reduce the precision of subsequent folds. Scoring is done on finishing equipment (often along with other operations, such as folding and gluing) using a rotary wheel, while creasing is done with a metal creasing rule. Creasing is more precise. It is also slower than scoring (https://graphicartsmag.com/articles/2011/02/folding-vs-creasing/).

Basically, all three operations–die cutting, scoring, and creasing–require custom made rules that must be individually created.

All of this is what has existed in the analog world. Now, with Highcon, we have digital cutting and creasing.

The Highcon Euclid IIIC

According to my research, Euclid was “the father of geometry,” and according to Wikipedia, “His Elements is one of the most influential works in the history of mathematics,”

So Highcon is clearly positioning the Euclid IIIC as transformative technology.

Over the past years I have read a lot about Highcon. Digital cutting and creasing is not a new technology for this manufacturer. What is intriguing, though, is that the Euclid IIIC’s ability to cut and crease larger press sheets (and thicker press sheets) makes it ideally suited for work on folding cartons and corrugated board. That is, the Euclid IIIc is perfectly positioned for package printing work.

To give you some specifics, the Euclid IIIC will work with “single ply paperboard, laminated stocks, and N, F, G, E, and B-flute corrugated from 1mm to 3mm in thickness (40-120 points)” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018). This directly addresses the packaging market by using the new equipment to create “small but sturdy boxes for cosmetics, consumer electronics, and home furnishings” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018).

How Does It Work?

The cutting and creasing functions of the Euclid IIIC are digital, not analog. That is, the machine does not require custom metal cutting and creasing rules. Rather it creates the creasing matrix from digital information using proprietary Digital Adhesive Rule Technology (DART) that involves jetting a polymer onto a foil base and then curing the material. The cured, jetted polymer forms a matrix of slightly elevated rules that can then be used to crease the substrate as it passes between the DART cylinder and a drum.

This is done in one pass. The second, separate process is the cutting, which is done with CO2 lasers, again based on digital information. Thus, both the creasing and cutting functions are driven by digital data without using metal cutting and creasing rules, so they can be infinitely variable. You can crease, change the creasing matrix with new polymer, and then cut subsequent sheets with the laser in infinitely variable ways for much less than the price of a metal cutting or creasing rule.

According to Tatro’s article, all of this can be done at a speed of 1,500 sheets per hour, using B1-sized press sheets. This means the process is done at a respectable speed (relative to analog finishing equipment—for instance, 5,000, 10,000, 15,000 sheets per hour for analog die cutting). It’s also very precise, and it can therefore be used for “special effects including variable cutouts, perforations, etching, and possibly others” (“Highcon Releases the Euclid IIIC,” by India Tatro, 03/05/2018).

Moreover, in 2015 Highcon installed a Euclid IIIC at LxBxHx in Kirchberg, Switzerland, and through box compression tests, it was found that the digitally produced boxes and cartons were actually stronger than conventionally produced boxes. This meant that less packaging material could be used to achieve the same strength at a potentially lower cost. Additionally, lighter boxes would reduce postage costs.

What Are the Implications?

Here are some thoughts regarding the Euclid IIIC’s implications for commercial printing in general:

  1. Package printing is a quickly growing arena of commercial printing, unlike publication printing, newspaper printing, and book printing. There will always be a need for folding cartons and corrugated packaging. The Euclid IIIC will benefit significantly from this market growth.
  2. Brands are demanding shorter press runs, quick turn-around, and personalization. The Highcon Euclid IIIC can produce even one item (a prototype, for instance) or a short run to support a seasonal product. If the prototype requires changes, these can be made quickly and inexpensively (unlike the analog die cutting and creasing process), and a new prototype (or the final press run) can be produced.
  3. The increased strength of the cartons made with the Euclid IIIC may reduce materials costs and shipping costs without reducing box quality.
  4. The Euclid IIIC will not supplant analog die cutting and creasing. These will still be appropriate for much longer, “static” print runs (those with no versioning or personalization), since for this kind of work analog cutting and creasing is faster and more cost-effective (i.e., once the cost of the cutting rules has been spread over the individual units in the longer press run).
  5. The Euclid IIIC eliminates the need to produce long press runs and store extra cartons (involving storage and inventory costs, as well as potential waste if the stored cartons become obsolete).
  6. The lasers can be used to etch serial numbers and other variable-data information on the cartons.
  7. Digital laser cutting is more precise and cleaner than the same analog process, which affords easier carton opening by the customer.
  8. The larger format (B1 and B2, or approximately 28” x 40” and 20” x 28” respectively) accepts sheets from conventional presses, making the Euclid IIIC fit nicely into commercial printer’s’ workflows.

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