For a great way to “finesse” your finishing on an upcoming marketing campaign or corporate ID package, perhaps you’ll consider laser digital finishing, commonly referred to as “laser die cutting” as well as simply “laser cutting.” Last summer, I got an email from Allison Marten of LasX Industries, Inc., in MN. She’s the firm’s Marketing Communications Specialist. Their headquarters are in St. Paul, MN, with two additional locations in the state. LasX manufactures laser digital finishing machines for the commercial print industry and the flexible packaging industry -as well as for other markets, such as labels, medical device components, and electronics. Their Contour Creations (R) digital finishing division offers laser cut services as well.
I haven’t written about this process before, so I asked Allison a few questions to learn more.
1. What exactly is laser die cutting?
Laser die cutting, or laser digital finishing, is the direct, high-speed laser processing of flexible materials without the use of hard tooling. Laser processing systems are used to cut, score, etch, kiss-cut, and perforate roll- or sheet-fed materials with precision, flexibility, and speed. This non-contact process is an alternative to traditional die cutting and is especially ideal for applications that feature locations, tolerances, sizes, or material characteristics that would be difficult or cost prohibitive to process using a metal die.
2. Why would designers and print buyers be interested in this technology?
Laser die cutting adds an innovative, tactile element to printed pieces that simply cannot be obtained using traditional metal tooling. This finishing method accentuates printed design features while adding eye-catching details and functional elements to everything from promotional literature and direct mail to product packaging. Laser die cutting can be used to engage an audience or give visibility to a design to stand out amongst competitors. This finishing method creatively adds dimension and interest to everyday printed pieces, elevating them to new levels.
3. What differentiates this finishing process?
The laser digital converting process offers the versatility of unlimited cutting paths to achieving intricate, complex features without the shape restrictions associated with metal dies. Additionally, multiple processes (scoring, perforating, etching, and kiss-cutting) can all be performed by a single system in the same work area, eliminating the need for alignment during progressive die cuts and the downtime of machine setup encountered during pattern changeovers. Because this finishing technique is completely digital, modifying a cut design can be made on-the-fly without incurring the additional delays or costs of creating a new die. Other features, like the ability to process variable data for instant order changes, along with the use of barcode readers and vision cameras, also make this technology cutting edge. Laser die cutting is suitable for high-volume production runs but also makes small batches cost-effective because of its digital flexibility. Laser digital finishing systems are capable of matching digital printing speeds and can therefore be integrated in-line with digital presses for increased productivity.
4. Can you name some of the most common applications in graphic arts?
Common applications include marketing brochures, wedding and special event invitations, personalized business cards, corporate holiday cards, and specialty packaging such as decorative box wraps. The common thread amongst all these applications is the trend toward using laser die cutting in creative, innovative ways that enhance printed designs by adding a wow factor. This can include anything from incorporating intricate pop-up features into invitations, to laser perforating unique punch-out objects in direct mail pieces. The sky is the limit. And now, more than ever, it’s important for the print industry to stand out in new ways. Laser digital finishing equipment is capable of processing a variety of printed materials including papers, plastics, polyester, acrylic, vellum, and textiles. Because it’s a non-contact process, it’s also ideal for kiss-cutting pressure-sensitive materials to create labels and stickers, without the adhesive buildup that typically accumulates on metal dies.
5. Any rules of thumbs for designers/buyers who are preparing materials for laser die cutting?
Yes. Artwork must be created in vector file format. This includes Adobe Illustrator and PDF files. Manually draw the outline of everything that should be processed by the laser. Additionally, it’s important to keep in mind that laser-cut features require bridges/connections to keep the piece structurally sound. When designing, think of the piece in a stencil format. For example, the letter D requires a break to hold the center in place to prevent it from falling through. The feature-to-feature distance and break thickness should be no smaller than .75 millimeters.
6. Does it add time to the production cycle?
This method adds an additional step to the production cycle, but laser die cutting systems are optimized for high-speed processing. In general, the speed depends on the intricacy of a pattern as well as the material type and thickness. As a general guideline, high-end laser die cutting systems can process approximately 100 inches of die line per second in most papers and cardstocks.
7. What can you tell us about the cost?
It would not be cost-effective to replace traditional die cutting with laser die cutting if an application involves a simple design or shape that is repeated in high volumes. However, laser cutting is extremely cost-effective for intricate, personalized, or short run jobs. In these cases, often the cost and lead time associated with creating a new metal die would be impractical, whereas using a laser eliminates those issues because it does not require metal tooling.
The cost of our contract laser finishing services is determined on a project-by-project basis because it depends upon the quantity, the number of parts per sheet, and the amount of die line in a design. As the quantity increases, the price decreases. Purchasing a laser die cutting system is obviously a larger investment.
Allison, thanks loads. You’ve provided a terrific, in-depth look at laser die cutting. If anyone wants to learn more about LasX Industries, visit their site at www.lasx.com or contact Allison at 651.762.3355. I find their web site filled with lots of interesting information including videos. Have a look.
©2011 Margie Dana. All rights reserved. Your comments are encouraged. You’re free to forward this email to friends and colleagues. However, no part of this column may be reprinted without permission from the author.