There are three label printing cutting options available today. 20 years ago, all labels were printed on a roll and then die-cut to the required shape. This process is still used widely today and despite improvements in digital label finishing technology, it still is the most reliable finish.
Die-cutting is the process where the labels are cut to the required shape. It is like a cookie cutter process because many cookies are produced that way. The cookie mixture can be put into a metal shape and cookies can be cooked in different shapes. The label printing process is similar but more complex. The great advantage of this process is that any movement can be avoided. If your product label has lots of colour and the printing goes right to the edge of the label, then the label will be exactly the right size and a good operator can ensure the label is exactly correct on its borders.
When it comes to cutting your printed labels to the right shape, and that is the key, you want your labels to be exactly as your artwork. Even a millimetre or less in variation can spoil the look of the product label. However, the big disadvantage of die-cutting labels is the initial setup cost. A die does not need to be rectangular but more often than not it is. There are literally an infinite number of possibilities for the sizes of these dies. The cost varies but is normally well over $200 per die. It is quite possible that you could have 1,000 dies. Over the years, this would come to a cost of over $200,000 and ultimately this cost is borne by the customer.
As well as accuracy, die-cutting your printed labels is faster than other processes as the rolls of labels can move over metal dies very quickly, i.e. at a similar speed to the label printing process.
Laser Cutting of Product Labels
Laser cutting of product labels uses a set of mirrors that redirects light around the cutting surface. The advantage of this system is that it is less expensive because it does not need the cost of expensive dies. However, laser cutting machinery is expensive so not a lot of label printing companies will invest in such technology. The process is quite fast and it can also be used at the same time that a laminate or varnish coating is applied to the labels. The machine can also strip away label waste and also slit and rewind the labels ready for use.
Laser cutting is accurate but not as accurate as die-cutting so you are more likely to use die-cutting for printed labels that are going to be machine applied. The disadvantage of the laser cutting of printed labels is that the cutting is done on an angle so the edges can be exposed. The pictures below show the limitation of laser cutting for labels with dark colours printed to the edge of the label. The second picture below shows a white keyline at the top and bottom of the label. They should not be there.
Digital Cutting of Product Labels
The digital cutting of product labels uses a knife which can cut labels into any shape. Again, there is no need for dies and the equipment cost is less than laser cutting machinery. The time to set up the digital cutting machine is quick too. This method of cutting printed labels also strips the wastage away, slits and rewinds in one quick process. You also have the option of adding a laminate to the process.
However, a varnish coating is not possible so this machine is not suitable for machine application of labels. The digital cutting of labels is not as accurate as the die-cutting of labels.
Whilst it is very important to get the right design for your printed labels, it is vital that your product labels are finished in the best way. Except for the case of printing on pre-die-cut labels, all printed labels need to be finished. Your label printing company will choose die-cutting, laser cutting or digital cutting. These three processes impact the quality and the price of the labels prepared for you.