Finishing up Bobst: Getting Into Shape

The hit movie Avatar has broken all box office records and sold DVD’s faster than any film in history. Of course it’s a great movie, but at least part of Avatar’s success can be attributed to it being screened in 3D, the up and coming technology of film and television. Any medium which shows us another dimension always draws our attention. While it could be something where aliens fly right out from the movie theater screen, it could also be something as simple as a dinner menu cut to the shape of that same alien.

When it comes to the print we produce, it doesn’t matter if it’s destined to lie on that restaurant dining table, hang on a hotel doorknob, or land on our doormat, a shaped product delivers form and function, drawing the consumers attention to it while at the same time delivering a degree of usefulness. So how do we get shape into our print products without having an army of scissor wielding, origami folding enthusiasts at our disposal? Perhaps the easiest way is to die cut our print using a high accuracy flat-bed die cutter and then, possibly, fold and glue it on a specialty folder-gluer.

When it comes to die cutting, many of us are familiar with converted cylinder presses, most of which have been around since Dick Clark was a boy. However, these are not going to deliver the lightness of touch or speed of production needed to accurately and economically make products that stand out. Using a flat-bed die cutter means that complex and simple shapes, holes, and slits can all be cut quickly and easily, allowing the designer to create exciting shapes and layouts and the operator to achieve great productivity. Because a good flat-bed die cutter is also incredibly versatile, those products can also be creased, embossed, or debossed at the same time in a single pass, allowing for the super efficient manufacture of multi-fold products and products with an element of visual depth and tactility.

Before your customers and designers get too carried away, it’s important to bear in mind that the layout of shaped products may have an effect on downstream processes such as foiling, folding, stitching, or fulfillment, so it’s always worth consulting your in-house specialists to get their input as to how the proposed materials, varnishes, layouts, or quantities may impact their processes.

As for the die-cutting kit to use, whether you plan to die cut in-house or outsource, it’s worth considering how flat a travel path your sheet will have through the machine. Especially on lighter materials, the flatter the path, the less turbulence is created. This turbulence not only leads to machine stops and wasted product, but also tempts the die-cutter operator to put in larger nicks, which may affect the look of your product once finished.

A good flat-bed die-cutting press can be set up in minutes, using center aligning technology, will run consistently without stopping and without the need for large nicks, and will have a smart feeder that allows the machine to run at speed on substrates from light papers, through card and corrugated board, to synthetics. Oh, and if you’re shaping a product (die cutting or embossing), then great cut-to-print accuracy is a must. Using one of the new dynamic register systems which provides the power to register die cutting to print perfectly for every sheet will certainly enhance your efficiency as well as your quality.

Of course, like Avatar, it’s possible to create something that looks three dimensional, but isn’t. Holographic foils, laid down using a hot-foil stamping press can create the impression of shape and depth. The technology for applying them is straightforward, but ensuring that the hologram is in exactly the right place can be tricky. This is where dynamic register systems come in again. Dynamic systems can identify the exact location of the holographic image on the reel of foil and locate precisely where it should go on the printed sheet, regardless of where the sheet edge is. This is particularly useful if your print register tends to drift (yes printers, I’m talking to you), if you’re using a composite sheet such as a litho-laminate, or if your stacks of incoming sheets aren’t perfectly straight and square.

If you are considering applying holograms in-house, there are now high accuracy die cutters available which can very quickly switch between die cutting and foil stamping. This provides the capacity and economical advantage of performing both processes with just one machine and needing only one crew.

Truly adding a third dimension, such as when making something like a presentation folder, generally involves folding and gluing your die-cut product. This is where a specialty folder-gluer comes into its own. With its origins in the packaging industry, more and more commercial printers are now using a folder-gluer to manufacture presentation folders and to also produce CD/DVD sleeves, tip-ons, and direct mail inserts, as well as any light packaging jobs they may pick up—which seems to be a growing trend.

A good specialty folder-gluer will be able to create a wide range of folders from a couple of millimeters in depth to over half an inch and will do so at speed. Alongside the quality of the cutting and creasing on the blank as supplied from the die cutter, the accuracy of the feeding of the folder-gluer determines the quality of fold on the finished product. A good, modern, folder-gluer will feature an accurate feeding device designed to ensure the blank is in perfect position when it starts its journey through the folding and gluing process. Other factors to consider are how well the folder-gluer can cope with varnishes and with light or synthetic substrates.

What’s the best bit about having the capability to run shaped products? Well they’re increasingly popular and you can charge a premium for them—with or without aliens.

Chris Raney is vice president, Folding Car-ton products for Bobst Group North America, Roseland, N.J. He is responsible for the Folding Carton Business Area for the North American market. Email him at