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Print Production Essentials: Embossing, Foil Stamping, and Die Cutting
Illustration by John Hersey

Die components


From:

Print Production Essentials: Embossing, Foil Stamping, and Die Cutting

with Claudia McCue

Video: Die components

If you're working on a project that uses embossing, where do those dies come from, and how are they created? Well, the first thing to consider is something called the profile of the die. Now, keep in mind that a die consists of the die itself, and then the counter. Now, all of the profile illustrations that you're seeing are for embossing. Meaning that the embossed area's going to push up above the paper. There's also something called debossing, where that shape gets pushed into the paper. Although, that's not used very often, the only difference would be essentially you would turn this little set of pieces upside down.

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Print Production Essentials: Embossing, Foil Stamping, and Die Cutting
1h 28m Intermediate Jul 02, 2013

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Adding a die cut or emboss to your print job can make a striking visual impact; it's a way of sculpturing and increasing a reader's engagement with your work. Learn about the various types of embossing and die cutting as well as the proper ways to set up your documents to achieve consistent results. Author Claudia McCue covers manufacturing concerns like cost, time, choosing the appropriate paper stock, and file formatting; preparing your artwork for embossing and stamping; and then designing your die-cut project in Adobe Illustrator or InDesign.

Topics include:
  • Understanding how dies are created: hand-engraved, machined, or photo-engraved
  • Preparing files for die-cutting
  • Choosing appropriate stock
  • Creating artwork for single- or multi-level embossing
  • Checking proofs
  • Examining a cutting die
  • Handling a complex bleed
Subjects:
Design Print Production Design Skills
Software:
Illustrator InDesign
Author:
Claudia McCue

Die components

If you're working on a project that uses embossing, where do those dies come from, and how are they created? Well, the first thing to consider is something called the profile of the die. Now, keep in mind that a die consists of the die itself, and then the counter. Now, all of the profile illustrations that you're seeing are for embossing. Meaning that the embossed area's going to push up above the paper. There's also something called debossing, where that shape gets pushed into the paper. Although, that's not used very often, the only difference would be essentially you would turn this little set of pieces upside down.

But for all of these illustrations, they're meant to show a die that's going to give you raised content on the page. So, for what's called a single-level die, it's just going to push it all up one level. So everything is going to be on one plain that's pushed up out of the paper. That doesn't mean it's just going to be a big circle or a big square. It just means everything's going to be uniform. So you'd use a die like that for borders or rules or, or line art. And you can see the shoulder of this shape is square, so it's sharp edges. Could that be an issue? If you're trying to make a deep emboss in some stocks you're going to find that they may be prone to tearing.

So there's always that sort of juggling act between the shape that you want the embossing to accomplish And the behavior of the stock. But then the people who create the dies can also help you judge how you're going to create your artwork for the die. And what the limitations of the embossing process are going to be. The multi-level die, as you can see. And you're just looking at it in cross-section. Can push the stock up to different levels. So not everything's going up to the same height. So this gives you an opportunity to add little more visual interest, a little more if you want to call it, a scultptural quality to it.

Round edge dies give sort of a soft transition from the base up through the embossed area. And that can be a good way to handle stock that's prone to tearing because it's sort of a gentle transition from The unembossed area to the embossed area. And here's another solution to that problem beveled edges. That has a more crisp edge than the round edge die does, but it's good for heavy stocks because it's that transition that little shoulder that pushes it up so it doesn't have a sudden move like the single die that you saw earlier. So that may be helpful again with stock that's prone to tearing. But for the really elaborate design, sculptured dies. Now those are often, hand created.

They might be started with some machining, but they're going to be finished with hand creation. Essentially they're engravings, they're carvings. An you can do some beautiful things, especially with blind embossing. An this is when you're really sculpting paper. An you're capable of extensive details. So trees, an fur, an fine letters, an things like that. Because of the work involved, you might expect they can be significantly more expensive than other kinds of dies. So what are dies made out of? Predominantly they're made out of three metals, magnesium, it's good for single-level dies, it's a soft metal.

It's easy to mill, most of the time you're going to find that it's created with what's called a photoresist and acid-etching. It's essentially a photographic process where a chemical is placed on the metal that is sensitive to light. And its exposed developed, and then where it remains behind protects the metal. And then where the acid hits it, it's going to etch away the metal and make, you know, little openings in the metal. And it's going to leave that original surface, and that's going to be the top of the die. One of the issues with magnesium is that, well because it's soft, it may expand slightly when heated.

And what does this mean to your design? Well, it might mean that if you want to register embossing with a printed sheet, magnesium might present a problem, it's good for 15 to 20,000 impressions. The production time is usually one to three days, of course that's going to depend on what other jobs are in the die cutting company at the time, as you might expect. Copper is a little bit harder than the magnesium. It's good for single-level dies as well and it can be created the same way using a photo-resist and acid-etching. Because it's a little bit harder than magnesium, it doesn't expand as much as magnesium.

It's good for jobs that require tighter registers. So if you did want to emboss a preprinted piece, you have a better chance of having that embossed shape line up with artwork on the printed piece because it's harder. It's also capable of longer runs up to a hundred thousand, and it's also a little bit more expensive than magnesium diesyes. And the production time might be a little bit longer than what you'd experience with the magnesium dies. And then brass good for single level or multilevel, you've seen that its good for sculptured dies. It can hold very fine detail.

Its hand-etched. Consequently, it's more expensive but it's very well-behaved. Very little expansion under heat so you have excellent register, so you can do fine detail. You can line up with previously printed paper and be sure that things are going to turn out the way your expect. Because it's harder, you can expect to have long runs. But, as with everything that's better than, you know, the other options, you can expect that your production time is going to be longer. And it's going to be longer still if you're creating a very complex die that has a lot of detail in it.

Keep in mind, this is very much like old-time engraving, there's a lot of hand work and this sort of die is created by craftsmen who understand how die behave on paper. But when you look at the possibilities, you have a wide range of options from fairly affordable to fairly expensive. But this covers the range of the sort of artwork that you might want to emboss. Who's going to make this decision? Well, this is going to happen as a result of conversations you're going to have with your printer. And if you deal directly with a finishing company, they can advise you as well. But all of this is conversation you should have early in the game, because these decisions really have a huge impact on the success of a job that involves embossing.

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