Digital Flatbed vs Rotary Die Cutters

Pros, Cons and Recommendations
Die cutters have earned and continue to earn their spot in progressive print shops because more and more printers are realizing that they need to differentiate themselves from their competition. And creating products — not just print — is a great way to increase margins and add value for their customers.
But from a raw buying perspective, it can be difficult to understand the differences between digital flatbed and rotary die cutters, and which one is the right one for your business. In this article, we'll outline a few pros and cons, and give you our recommendations. 

Digital Flatbed Die Cutters

Digital flatbed die cutters are relatively new to the market when compared with rotary die cutters. They're ideal for short runs and incredibly versatile - capable of running kiss cuts, through cuts, perforations and creases. In addition,
  • No dies are required - Thanks to digital die lines, you don't need dies which reduces your cost and turn time.
  • Every job can be different - Because the machine doesn't use a physical die, you can quickly and easily run different jobs without die changeovers.
  • Registration issues are non existent - Because the registration marks are printed along with the image, registration is no longer an issue because the die cutter registers itself and cuts the die line according to the print and not the physical sheet.
  • Job set up is easy - Set up is as simple as loading the job into the machine and recalling the job either from a USB drive or QR code.
  • You have a lot more flexibility in terms of materials - Digital flatbed die cutters will let you cut pretty much anything that you can print digitally; from paper, all the way up to chip board. 
On the other hand, compared to rotary die cutters, there are a few drawbacks:
  • Speed - With digital die cutting, although the machine is capable of processing the die line at up to 1200 mm/s, the speed is dependent on the file's complexity. Rotary die cutters can process sheets at a fixed cycle speed regardless of the die design.
  • Not designed for long runs - In a offset environment where you're running long runs, you're better off using a rotary die cutter.
  • Software learning curve - Every digital die cutter uses different software, which sometimes adds to the learning curve and potential hiccups over time. 

Rotary Die Cutters

Rotary die cutters have had an established place in the market for years now. And they continue to play a very important role, especially in offset production environments. Here's why:
  • Speed - Rotary die cutters are remarkably faster than digital die cutters, which will significantly increase your production rate
  • Ideal for long runs of static jobs - Like we mentioned, rotary die cutters are ideal in offset environments where the job is static
  • You get true matrix creases - Unlike with flatbed die cutters where the creasing tool simply applies pressure from above, with physical dies in a rotary die cutter, you get true crisp, sharp matrix creases. 
On the flip side, there are a few disadvantages that you should be aware of:
  • Registration issues - If you're a digital printer, you may have registration issues because the die is registered to the sheet, and not to your print. So if your print has shifted, your die cuts are going to be off.
  • Dies are expensive - Dies will typically cost you upwards of $250 depending of the complexity and length of the die, and this makes rotary die cutting expensive for short runs. This is why we typically see this used in offset environments over against digital production environments.
  • File design & set up is affected - When designing and setting up a file, you must take into account the layout and how the die will affect it and vice versa.
  • Adds to job turn time - Because the die has to be made, which typically takes at least 24 hours, rotary die cutting will add to your turn time. But once the die is made and at your production facility, the rotary die cutter makes quick work of the job. 

Our Recommendations

As digital production grows, we're seeing the market shift more towards digital die cutters because of their flexibility, ease of job set up, etc. However, it's pretty evident that rotary die cutters still have their place in primarily offset environments where their speed far surpasses digital, and the cost of the dies is better spread over the high volumes.
So, in essence, it depends on your shop. But we hope this article was a good starting point for you.

Let us know if there's anything that we can help with! We carry both digital and rotary die cutters, and would love to help you if we can. 

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