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Short-Run Rotary Die-Cutting: More Value and More Margin

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  • Short-Run Rotary Die-Cutting: More Value and More Margin

    By Richard Romano, Industry Analyst

    Printing today is about more than ink on paper. In fact, even saying “ink on paper” is an anachronism, given the bewildering variety of substrates that today’s equipment can print on. Today’s print customers are increasingly looking for ways for what they produce to stand out from other printed items, either in customers’ mailboxes, on store shelves, or any other environment where printed materials are jostling for attention. To that end, printers and their customers are placing an increased emphasis on specialty finishing—things like spot varnishes, digital embossing, variable-data finishing (there’s a term you’ve probably never heard before!), foil-stamping, die-cutting, and more—to create extremely high-value printed products.

    Of course, few of these finishing techniques are new; in the analog print world, many specialty finishing applications have been around for decades, if not longer. What is new about the modern incarnations is that they can support today’s shorter and shorter, often digitally printed runs. Print buyers have begun to see the advantage of these types of applications, and anecdotal evidence suggests that they are often willing to pay for them, so there are real advantages for companies that can offer these kinds of specialty finishing services.

    Enter the Standard Horizon RD-4055 Rotary Die-cutter, designed to complement both modern digital printing equipment as well as older offset presses. The die-cutter supports a maximum sheet size of 15.74 x 21.65 inches, and is well-suited for creating unique boxes and other forms of packaging, as well as greeting cards, birth announcements, wedding invitations, and other short-run “high-value” print applications, the short-run nature of which often precluded investment in a large die-cutting system. At the same time, today’s quick turnaround times don’t allow for sending work out to a trade bindery. The RD-4055 was designed to fit in this niche.

    Also unlike “traditional” die-cutting equipment, the RD-4055 doesn’t require any specialized knowledge about creating dies. It uses flexible die plates that can be easily designed, saved as PDF vector files, and sent to any of a large number of online die-makers, such as Kocher+Beck, Rotometrix, Electro Optic, and Wink, four of the most common die suppliers used by Standard Finishing customers, who can turn a die around—usually—in less than 24 hours. The dies also have a long life, and can often run for a million or more impressions. So a die made for a door-hanger can be used for hundreds of different customer jobs. After a while, a shop can accumulate a library of die patterns and can offer “standard customized” jobs. After all, individual job lengths may be dropping, but overall volume—the overall number of jobs—is increasing.

    Another important feature of the RD-4055 is its patented repeat register system, with which a user can buy a partial plate that has a single die pattern on it and repeat it four times down the length of the sheet. This cuts down on the cost of the die, while also giving users the flexibility to print even shorter runs on a small substrate and dial in the registration for each repeat if the spacing between repeat patterns is not the same.

    The RD-4055 is also designed for ease-of-use, and requires only a minimal amount of training, often less than a day even for unskilled operators. Dies can also be swapped out in less than a minute, an important feature for today’s shops that need to cope with the daily rapid turnaround of a large number of short-run jobs. The machine will also do creasing, perforating, kiss-cutting for labels, round cornering, embossing and de-bossing, as well as hole punching as part of the die-cutting process.

    In today’s print marketplace, jobs don’t end with printing. As Yogi Berra might have said, “it’s not done until it’s finished.” Unique embellishments like die-cutting are an important part of that finishing process, a way to add value to customers’ printed pieces, enabling them to realize a larger return on investment, while also allowing the shop to charge a premium for a high-value print application.
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