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Packaging 4 min read

What is tooling? Print Plates and Cutting Dies

By Rand Whitney November 21, 2023

Oftentimes when you order something custom there will be a startup cost associated. In the world of custom corrugated packaging, this is called tooling. So, what is tooling and why is it necessary? Tooling is the different pieces input into a converting machine to manufacture custom packaging. There are two types of tooling; print plates and cutting dies. Without both the only box that would be possible to run would be plain shipping boxes. Tooling allows us to customize the shape and print of packaging to fit customer’s needs.

Print Plates

Print plates are the aptly named tooling that helps you… print! The two main forms of printing are flexographic and lithographic printing. Different types of plates are used for each. The cost of these plates is determined by a few different factors; complexity of design, number of colors, and size of graphics. 

Flexographic printing is the most used method in corrugated packaging. It is more limited than litho but has a much lower tooling cost and is better for high volumes. Flexo print plates are made from a rubber-like substance. Plate makers remove the negative space to only print the design. A different plate is required for each color. However, colors can be changed at any time. The plates are mounted to cylinders and printed on to boxes like big stamps.

Lithographic printing is a little different. Instead of rubber the plates are usually made of hard plastic or metal. The plates collect the ink of the image and then pass them on to a rubber blanket, which is then used to apply the final image onto a label, that is then adhered to a corrugated box.

Cutting Dies

While print plates are what give packaging custom graphics, cutting dies are what gives packaging custom structures or shapes. If you only need plain RSC or shipping boxes, a cutting die is not required. Since it is the most common box style, there is a machine called a flexo folder glue that makes these without any tooling. For any other style of box, tray or display you will need a cutting die. These are crucial to making corrugated packaging a viable option for any and all industries. The flexibility of structural design to improve both presentation and protection is owed to cutting dies. Cutting die cost is attributed to both the size and complexity of the structure.

All cutting dies are made of wood with a combination of sharp metal blades and rubber pieces adhered to the board. The blades are used to cut the shape of the box and any holes it may need. The rubber pieces are there to place scores. Scores are the dented creases that allow boxes to fold easier. There are two styles of cutting dies: flatbed and rotary. Flatbed die cutters are used when extremely precise cutting is needed at the detriment to run speed. Rotary die cutters are much more common and run at far greater speeds. As you might guess, a flatbed die is a flat piece of wood. Rotary cutting dies are shaped like two half circles that are mounted to a cylinder.

Good tooling is crucial to the quality of packaging you have. It ensures both crisp accurate printing and a well-formed box. A bad print plate can lead to smudged or smeared print. A bad cutting die can lead to excess scrap, weak scores, and inaccurate cuts. We made sure to find only the best vendors to craft this tooling, so our customers receive nothing but the best quality.