What Is a Die-Cut Decal?
Digital Laser Router Cutting System
You’ve heard the term die-cut numerous times from different companies, but what does it mean? We’ll help you understand this term so you will no longer be mystified.
First, a very quick history of how die-cutting was invented and has progressed to current days standards will assist in your understanding of the process.
Brief History of Die-Stamping & Die-Cutting
The term die-cutting was derived from the term die-stamping.
A process that dates as far back as 800 B.C. Dies are cast from certain metals to the specified shape required. The metal used to form the die depends upon how many times it needs to be used.
The die is then placed in a stamping press that utilizes tons of pressure to press the die into the material to be cut or formed. A perfect example are coins that have strict requirements to be the same size and also have images stamped on them.
This process was invented in the mid-19th century by shoemakers who required a way to cut leather so sizes would remain consistent. In the early 20th century this process exploded as more and more uses were found for it. It is used to form or cut softer materials. Certain die-cutting processes still use similar machinery to die-stamping, but new techniques have evolved.
Die-Cutting in the 21st Century
Die-Cutting today in the print industry is normally performed by sophisticated digital laser cutting systems (as pictured above at beginning of article). These machines are controlled by software to either die-cut or kiss-cut decals and sticker products.
These systems were originally intended to cut only vinyl decals and stickers, however, with the addition of new blades or knives that fit into the machines they can now cut fabrics and other materials.
So now you are thinking – “Great! What is the difference between die-cut and kiss-cut?” We will get to this in the next section, however, it will help you to know a little about the materials normally used in the print industry.
All decal and sticker materials are manufactured in layers. The first layer is a coating placed on the material to provide the ink a receptacle surface for printing.
The second layer is the base material – normally vinyl – however, can be nearly any soft material.
The third layer of the product is the adhesive.
The fourth and final layer is the backing paper or what is called in the print industry, carrier paper, which has a wax coating on one side.
Die-Cut vs: Kiss-Cut
In the digital format print industry, this simply refers to how the decals or stickers are cut out from a larger sheet or roll of material. The rolls we utilize at Wallhogs are 150 feet long by 54” wide, so as you can imagine we can produce a very large number of stickers, or single larger decal, onto this much material.
After the material has been printed it is now ready for die or kiss cut on a laser plotter or router.
A process in which all four layers are cut into individual decals or stickers. They can be cut in any shape or size and the decal is cut right to the edge of the printed image or can have a small edging left around the printed image as shown below.
A nearly identical process, however, only cuts through the first three layers – leaving the fourth carrier paper layer intact. This is normally used where you may have several stickers on a small sheet or want to include additional information on the sheet with each sticker.
Let’s explore how these processes actually work.
How the Cutting Process Works
Prior to an image being printed or cut, the actual file must have a cut line inserted into the image. At Wallhogs we insert these for our customers as it is not a very easy task and requires high-end graphics software to perform. This cut line is what the plotters or routers will utilize to die-cut or kiss-cut the product. Note: the same cut line is used for both die and kiss cutting.
As well, a graphics team will set up the sheet or roll print file as it requires registration lines so the plotters or routers can recognize where each individual image to be cut is located on the larger sheet. Once the machine reads the registration lines it will move to each individual image and die-cut or kiss-cut.
The only difference in the actual cutting is that kiss-cutting requires less downforce pressure on the cutting blade so it only cuts through the first two layers of the product while leaving the carrier paper layer intact. Once all the kiss-cutting is complete the downforce pressure is increased so the smaller sheet of decals can then be die-cut from the large sheet.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Die-Cutting
- Very clean look allowing you to see exactly what the decal or sticker will look like prior to application.
- Cheaper than kiss-cutting due to the larger number of decals/stickers that will fit onto the sheet, as well as less cutting time required.
- Not intended for intricate fine detailed cuts that may rip or tear.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Kiss-Cutting
- Allows multiple decals/stickers to be placed on a smaller sheet.
- Brands, company names, contact information, etc can be added to the excess part of sheet.
- Great for intricate designs as the decal/sticker will be included on a small sheet.
- Slightly more expensive due to fewer on a large sheet and more cutting involved.
Same Results, Different Cutting
In any event, as you have learned, the absolute end product when peeled from the carrier paper backing will look exactly the same - a die-cut decal.