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Die Cutting, Scoring & Perforating
Die cutting, scoring, perforating, foil stamping, and embossing are special finishing procedures that usually require some communication with the printer before designing a project. Additional materials and design considerations are also required.
Anything with a non-rectangular shape or cuts in the middle of the piece, with the exception of simple drilling or rounded corners, must be die cut. A die is simply a strip of metal embedded in a flat block of wood with one thin edge sharp enough to penetrate paper when placed under pressure. The wood has the shape of the die cut into it and the strip is pressed into the resulting slot. The block is then fixed into a die press, similar to the old-fashioned letterpresses, and the die is then stamped against the piece.
A die is denoted in a layout by a .25 (.003 inch) point line. Create an overprinting fifth spot color for the die so that it does not print on the ink-printing plates. An emulsion-up film positive is created from the die plate that the die-maker uses as a template to make the die. A die can be any configuration; a single slit within the piece, a non-rectangular shape on all fours sides, three sides of an outside edge of a folding piece, or part of a
- Wider margins: Die cutting requires a wider margin around the piece, especially if the die is enclosed (cuts around all four sides). Be prepared to pay a little more in stock.
- Intricacy limitations: Dies can be as elaborate as you can afford, but look at the illustration
at the right and see the possible limitations in the process. The die-maker must bend the metal into a smooth shape in all parts of the die. Therefore if you design tight curves in the die, it could be difficult and often impossible to create one for it. Also if there are too many loops like the one shown at the right, the pieces get caught up in the die and have to be removed by hand, slowing down production and costing you more. Dies can be designed with several cuts or one, it does not matter. What does matter is that the curves
be as loose as possible. Try to design your die-cuts with a minimum of 1/4" diameter curves.
- Multiple impressions: it is generally more expensive and wasteful to attempt to die cut impressions more than one-up. The larger the finished piece, the more difficult it gets. Anything larger than a post card is generally trimmed out first then die-cut one-up.
- Registering to printing: This is perhaps the most troublesome element ever designed into die cuts as well as embossed or foil designs. If you create a design with a 1/8" printed border that is supposed to trim out to the die exactly, it is usually workable but you will see some unevenness in the border in some of the pieces. If you simply must register the die with the printing, give as much room as your design sense will allow, preferably over 3/16".
- Composite Pieces: Composites, such as stand-up or pop-up designs, are almost entirely made of die-cut parts coordinated with hand assembly. Try to design the piece with as few parts as possible and keep your die cuts simple.
Scoring and Perforating
A score is a flat die that merely puts an impression in the paper to ease folding. It is generally only used on thicker stocks. A perforation is "dotted" and sharper so that it penetrates the paper to
ease tear-outs. The dies for scores and perfs are flexible and dull as opposed to a cutting die. With the exception of non-rectangular scores and perfs, which must be done with the die cutting method mentioned above, scores and perfs are done right on a lithographic press. You can pretty much design any score or perf,
but generally they all are composed of straight lines. Design your scores and perfs as with dies, designated as a fifth overprinting color so that it prints separately (if at all) and does not interfere with the ink printing. As with any trimming or stock finishing function, try not to design any scores or perfs too close to any final trim edge and allow room for error if it registers with any printing.
Foil Stamping and Embossing
Foil stamping and embossing is far too complicated a process to fully develop on this site, but we will list a few starting points and definitions. Don't sell your client on a foil stamp or embossed design until you contact your printer and verify it is even viable. These processes, although fairly expensive to begin with, are the most unique and startling designs and lend a true craftsmanship to your printed piece.
Foil Stamping, embossing, and combo dies are all done with a different kind of die. This is a thick piece of magnesium into which the image is literally carved. Depending on what kind of stamping die is used, it can be
fairly inexpensive or very costly.
The most common method of foil stamping is cold stamping. The image area is "raised" on the die and a strip of pre-treated material slides between the die and the printed piece. The pressure of the die
press bonds the foil to the paper. The disadvantage of cold stamping is that it generally only works with flat, solid areas. Fine designs or thin type "plug up" or break apart, making for a flaky appearance.
Hot stamping uses a different material that will only stick to the stock when subjected to heat and pressure. This makes for a cleaner die that can articulate details and fine type, but a special press is required. Both
cold and hot stamp dies are created from right-reading, emulsion up positives.
Embossing dies get a bit more elaborate. A simple single-level embossing die is just as it sounds: the areas to be
"embossed" (or DE-bossed, if the image impression is to recede away from the surface instead of protrude from it) are raised up from the surface of the magnesium die. The opposing surface of the embossing press holds the inverse mold of the embossing die itself and when pressed together, the two stretch the
paper into the shape of the die. Heat is sometimes used in embossing to create a cleaner die impression.
Multi-level or three-dimensional dies are a true work of art. The die-maker literally carves the images in three dimensions into the magnesium die. Three-dimensional dies require a great deal of communication, both with the
embosser and in your design comps and dummies. Often it is a good idea to build a model of the design to clarify what levels the image areas rise to.
Combo dies are a combination of any of the above, foil stamping and/or embossing/de-bossing. Sometimes two separate dies are made if the surface of an embossing die will not accept the foil (foil stamping must be
- Stock Choices: Stock is the most important choice you will make when creating die images. Obviously thin stocks will not work with embossing; the paper will literally stretch over the die in the embossing process. Coarse, fibrous stocks are not a good choice with foil stamping. They can cause rough and textured edges on the foil. A textured stock may work very well with an embossed design, however. The pressure and heat used to emboss the piece will often give the embossed area a
smooth, burnished appearance that contrasts with the soft texture of the un-embossed background.
- Registration to printing:
Special considerations must be made when the foil or emboss is to register to printing, or if the foil is to register to embossing. Poor planning can cause the foil to flake and crack if it stretches too much during embossing. As with all other special finishing techniques, talk to your printer before beginning.