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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Custom Printing: Digital Diecutting Transforms Product Packaging Workflow

For decades, diecutting has been a labor-intensive, materials-intensive, time-intensive, post-press finishing process. Commercial printers have had to wait for outside vendors to create the cutting dies and then set up and operate a letterpress or diecutting press to accomplish the cutting work. Even the die-makers have had to store raw materials–wood, metal, and rubber–in warehouses along with the finished dies themselves, which are kept for future work. So the die-makers must absorb the extra storage expense, insurance expense, and other costs of holding inventory.

But this is changing. A new company founded by two former HP Indigo employees has brought the diecutting process into the digital age.

First of All, What Is Die-Cutting?

Unlike a beautiful custom printing job, a good die-cutting job is meant to be invisible, or to at least not draw attention to itself. If you see the results, something went wrong.

But you actually do see the results every day. A pocket folder has to be diecut after the commercial printer has printed the press sheet. And every product package in the grocery store, department store, and drug store also has to be diecut after the custom printing work is complete.

Diecutting is the finishing process (i.e, a process following the custom printing run) in which unused portions of a press sheet are chopped away and discarded. It is part of what is called “conversion,” turning a flat press sheet into a box.

For instance, a carton containing four sticks of butter was once a flat press sheet comprising numerous flat carton images printed side by side by a commercial printer. On a letterpress, metal diecutting rules inset into sheets of wood chop the press sheets into flat but unassembled boxes in much the same way as a cookie cutter chops dough into cookies. These flat boxes can then be folded, glued, and assembled into finished product packaging (i.e., converted).

The Packaging Market Is Huge But Segmented.

Product packaging is a huge market. Almost everything you see in all the stores you frequent requires product packaging of some sort, usually including some sort of diecut paper or board. The custom printing on this packaging involves branding and other marketing design work that will hopefully turn shoppers into buyers. So in the simplest sense, packaging influences buying, and packaging is therefore a large and lucrative market.

But the market is also segmented. More and more, marketers focus their product design on smaller segments of the buying populace. That means more custom printing runs (and diecut finishing runs) but also smaller press runs and diecut runs. This is problematic, because making the dies in the traditional way involves time, preparing the letterpresses to actually do the diecutting involves time, and doing the diecutting itself involves time. It’s a labor-intensive, time-intensive, and materials-intensive process.

But What If You Could Cut the Paper with a Laser?

“Direct-to-Pack” is a term coined to describe laser-based cutting. Lasers score and cut the press sheets that are then converted into product packaging, pocket folders, or any other formerly diecut product.

Two former HP Indigo employees have founded a company called Highcon and created a digital scoring and cutting machine that takes digital data from a design workstation to draw a digital dieline (pattern of cuts to be made on the press sheet) on a rotating drum. The image on the drum drives a laser that cuts away the unused portions of the press sheet to prepare the blanks that can then be glued and assembled into cartons—all without dies.

Digital diecutting is a potentially huge development, since it does not require the inventory of wood, metal, and rubber of which dies traditionally have been made. It also emits less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and uses no tree wood (important considerations in light of increased governmental regulation). The process requires fewer operators, minimal makeready (minutes rather than hours), and no storage of dies. Therefore, short runs are possible (even one prototype).

And this makes good business sense, since product packaging can be be ready for market faster, and since printing companies can produce more varieties of packaging for less money to target more markets in a more focused manner.

The new machine is called The Euclid. It can economically score and/or cut anywhere from one item to 10,000 items.

One Response to “Custom Printing: Digital Diecutting Transforms Product Packaging Workflow”

  1. admin says:

    Thank you. Keep visiting the PIE website.


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