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Tooling Decisions for Gift Card Die Cutting.

Gift card manufacturers need to be equally versed in the different types of tooling used in die cutting gift cards..
Steel rule dies have the advantages of being relatively inexpensive and easy to obtain quickly. A steel rule die generally costs 95% less than a standard blanking tool. Gap presses that have better optical registration can automatically re-position steel rule dies. They also offer rapid job changeovers that are important to the short run niche. All of the features used in gift card designs to date-hole punches, score lines, perimeter cuts-can be made, but with far lower mechanical accuracy than would be possible with other types of tooling. This is due to the tendency of cutting blades to bend or deflect while cutting. Card manufacturers familiar with the financial card industry usually have little experience with steel rule dies as they are not up to the rigors of strict ISO standards for CR-80 dimension cards. However, steel rule dies are often the tooling of choice for less demanding gift card designs and mastering their manufacture and use is an important part of being competitive in the gift card manufacturing niche.
Male/female hard tooling can easily create gift cards that do not have internal features such as score lines or internal holes that are common in gift card designs. With these tools, the key technical consideration is the clearance between the punch and die and how far it penetrates into the die cavity. When cutting the thick materials typically used in gift cards (e.g. 0.76 mm plastics), there is a need for considerable clearance between the punch and the die. In most cases, the punch should be smaller than the die cavity hole diameter by as much as I/I0 the plastic material thickness. This general rule nearly always needs fine tuning and the more experienced die cutting equipment manufacturers will make adjustments in tooling design as a matter of course.
Progressive dies are essentially two or more tools built side-by-side that create all the cuts, internal holes, score lines, and perforations used in gift card designs in multiple sequential cutting stations. Here, too, the knowledge base of the gift card manufacturer is important, especially when it comes to considering tool progression (center-to-center spacing between two stations in a tool). Progressive tools must be very accurately built to match the step up, and artwork must be similarly matched to this dimension in the printing. Progressive dies cost about 50% more than ordinary male/female hard tools. Progressive dies can be troublesome in that printing must precisely match tool dimension, or station-to-station positioning will be off, and quality will be compromised. If there are cut-to-print registration problems, a progressive die will multiply the rejects. They are also inherently slower, because they involve cycling through multiple stations. For these reasons, compound dies have come into use.
Compound dies are essentially two or more tools built inside each other such that the gift card (including all its internal features and the die cut features of carrier for point-of-sale displays) can be created in one press stroke. This type of die has unsurpassed mechanical accuracy in a fast single step process. But one pays for this accuracy and throughput-generally at a 15% greater cost of a standard male/female die. They also are return-to-web dies, like steel rule dies, and those gift card manufacturers that have equipment with greater versatility in parts extraction and knockout systems have a distinct advantage.
Modular dies have been newly created to meet the need to produce high quality prototypes in competitive bid situations, and to find tooling for moderate run lengths for gift card products. These moderately – priced dies create the same edge quality produced by hard tooling, but at approximately 1/5 the upfront cost of hard tools and obtained in as little as 1/8 the time it takes to procure hard tooling up to the requirements of many gift card designs. These are often the tooling of choice for many gift card jobs with runs less than 500,000 die cutting cycles.