As customers push for ever more complex shapes and faster turnaround on the labels and other cut parts they order, screen shops have begun relying on sophisticated laser cutting systems to meet their clients
By Bill Knotts
The “digital die cutter” term that is used interchangeably with laser cutting speaks to the advantage that toolfree cutting systems provide, especially when used in conjunction with digital printers. The combination of importing a digital image into a digital printing system, as well as into a laser cutting system, allows one to move from artwork to finished product in just a few hours, or even less for very short runs.
Why should we switch from a tool-based cutting system to a tool-free (laser cutting) system?
It’s not a matter of switching to tool-free cutting. Rather, it’s advisable to add laser cutting to whatever tool-based cutting systems you already utilize in your finishing department.
Whether you are screen printing flexible circuits, complex product faceplates (such as those used on mini cell phones), or intricate design labels, there will come a point when you run up against the very real limitations of any die-based cutting system—whether it is a rotary die cutter, platen press, opticallyregistered gap press, etc. Sometimes this limitation presents itself when handling ultra-thin, delicate substrates, where there is a difficulty making precise cuts with a mechanical die. Even with more substantial materials, tiny features, such as microperforations and especially design features including many small sharp angles, pose challenges to a tool-based cutting system.
Male/female dies face inherent constraints in creating corners that are less than 30º, even in higher-quality, toolbased cutting systems. Then there are the problems of adhesives that quite literally gum up the works of tool-based cutting systems. Or, consider the costly wear and tear on dies that make it nearly impossible to cost-effectively cut abrasive substrates.
Because they are tool-free, laser cutting systems do not have to contend with any of these challenges. Better yet, the costs and delays involved in tool fabrication are bypassed. For short runs especially, the costs and time delays for tooling are significant. That is why laser cutting systems offer such a clear advantage for prototyping.
However, it would be a mistake to think that laser cutting will replace the tool-based cutting technology used by screen printers. If part geometries are not out-of-reach of a tool-based cutting system, easier to cut substrates are used, hand labor is not required for parts extraction, and run lengths are long, a male/female die or steel-rule-die-based cutting system will frequently provide a more cost-effective solution.
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