Die cutting – how and when to use it

Die cutting is a way of creating innovative marketing collateral to really make your brand stand out. We can cut, and Crease materials with precision, from pop-up elements to more detailed punch-outs

June 13, 2018

Think of a piece of paper and you think of a flat, rectangular plane - look around your desk and you’ll no doubt have a few examples right in front of you. Paper is usually just viewed as a passive, 2D canvass but advanced print and finishing techniques can make the actual paper an integral part of your marketing message, giving it an extra dimension and an interactive element people can engage with.

Die cutting is a way of creating innovative marketing collateral to really make your brand stand out. We can cut, and Crease materials with precision, from pop-up elements to more detailed punch-out features. Here’s where to use it for maximum effect:

Drawing Attention to a specific element
The obvious candidate for a bit of VIP treatment is your logo – give it an instant makeover with a clever die cut. If the logo is strong enough to print in a solid color and still retain its effectiveness, then it should easily translate to a successful die cut design, more complex logos might not work as well.

A well-executed die cut can also showcase a specific image, drawing the viewers focus and inviting them to use their sense of touch which leads us nicely to . . .

. . . . the Fiddle Factor
They say that the devil finds work for idle hands so it’s a good job that people love a fiddle. Whether it’s a playing with a pen, a ring or a fidget spinner, people like tactile interaction. A clever die-cut engages sight and touch making a more lasting impact with your audience. This technique is often used for business cards which will actually feel different in the customer’s hand, differentiating it from the rest.

Die Cut Business Cards

Shaping your product or message
Sometimes you can use a strong footprint that immediately identifies and complements your brand or product, an elegant and efficient design feature.

Flower Brochure

Perceived Value
When you invest a die cut element to a print it can elevate your collateral. People recognise the additional thought and creativity you’ve put into your collateral and associate it with brand quality.

And now for something completely different
It’s a jungle out there, everybody is competing for attention and trying to get their collateral noticed. Some of these examples show just how eye-catching an innovative die cut design can be, cool designs can even be shared with colleagues.


A cheeky die cut in the right collateral is definitely a good investment in your brand, with modern techniques and pre-format dies it won’t be as expensive as you might think, so get creative and get noticed.

Die cut products are definitely worth the expense. They help you to get your message across while enhancing your singular product or perspective.
Source: behance.net

The Die Cut Window
This technique creates texture and depth whilst integrating text and image. This is especially effective when used on front covers, though it can be utilised throughout a brochure.

Clever die cutting can compliment the leaflet subject whilst introducing an original footprint. A combination of Die cuts and folds lifts print out of the 2D plain and gives your collateral a greater presence.

Die Cut Cover

Add another dimension to your print
Think of a piece of paper and you think of a flat, rectangular entity - look around your desk and you’ll no doubt have a few examples right in front of you. Paper is usually just viewed as a passive canvas for the text or images but advanced print and finishing techniques can make the paper an integral part of your marketing message giving it an extra dimension - an interactive element people can engage with.

Cover Design

Creative inspiration – Die Cut Brochure Design

Die-cutting can have a functional purpose when it comes to print, for example, creating a window on an envelope so that contents or a recipient’s address are visible once the envelope is sealed. Die-cutting is also used on presentation folders and brochures to create tabs or slits to hold your business card.
But where die-cutting really comes into its own is when it is used for promotional purposes. It can add a whole new dimension from pop-up elements to more detailed punch-out features. Die-cutting offers a way to break away from the mould of the usual shapes when it comes to your marketing collateral and really create a point of difference and help your brand stand out from the competition.
Die-cutting can be used to create new shapes, contours, holes, tabs etc to attract the attention of your customers and prospects and increase the visual appeal of your promotional pieces. Business cards, labels and other promotional pieces can be produced in a variety of custom shapes or simply rounded corners. Business presentation folders look particularly good with die-cut pockets and attractive sculpted edges.
Promotional brochures particularly lend themselves to die-cutting to add an interesting dimension to your design. Whether it’s your company logo or name cut from the cover or simply a window on the front to provide a teaser of the contents or special offer inside, die-cutting can be used to create some visual interest.

Die-cutting is typically used on the cover of brochures but in fact, can be applied anywhere to create the overall shape of the brochure itself or add interesting visual and tactile elements. Great design with a special finishing touch such as die-cutting can contribute to the success of your overall brochure. Let’s take a closer look at how die-cuts can be used as part of a brochure design.

How to make your marketing stand out from your competitors
There is so much a business can do to set themselves apart from the competition. Here we look at just one print finishing technique – Die Cut.

Why is a Die Cut Brochure so powerful?
- The product stands out in more ways than one. It’s an attention seeker.
- It captures interest and its excitement propels it go viral.
- Die cut brochures are more likely to be shared.
- It demonstrates that you are ready to invest in your product. It gives over the sensation that you are top of the class in service/quality.
- Die Cut Brochures gives you massive scope for originality.
- ‘Too nice to discard’ – the brochure will be read again and again.

Die Cut Logo

Die cut products are definitely worth the expense. They help you to get your message across while enhancing your singular product or perspective.

1. Reinforce a Logo
Die cutting acts like a target for your audience’s eyeballs. When a person experiences a piece of die-cut media for the first time, they are automatically drawn to the areas that have been highlighted by the cuts.
And nothing is more deserving of the audience’s attention than your company’s logo.

Die Cut Slip Case
Source: behance.net

Die cutting to emphasize a logo helps to show its unique shape and bring it forward so that the audience immediately recognizes it.

It also means that the audience has a chance to experience the logo using their hands, which means a stronger sensory connection to the brand you would like to promote.

There are a number of die-cutting techniques that you can use to enhance and highlight your logo.
The most common technique is to cut around the contours of the logo, letting the canvas itself highlight the shape.

You can also cut the logo shape directly into the stock so that the logo is formed through the use of negative space. For multi-page print jobs, you can cut a die cut window on one page in the shape of your logo and use another image on the next page, so that the logo is created from the color showing through.

Don’t underestimate the importance of shape when it comes to branding — after all, the best brands have logos with unique shapes. Consider the fact that you can know what kind of car someone is driving by the shape of the hood ornament or the laptop they’re using by the shape of the logo on top.

A good and successful logo design considers how the logo will look printed in only one color, which means that many logos strive for a unique shape or silhouette that can be immediately recognized.

If the logo is strong enough to print in a solid color and still retain its effectiveness, then it should easily translate to a successful die cut design. More complex logos, or poorly designed logos, might not work as well.

2. Encourage Tactile Interaction
Designers are often so focused on how something looks that they forget about the other senses people use to experience the world around them.

Printed media is physical, so people experience it as much with their hands as they do with their eyes.

When a design affects two senses at once, it creates a stronger memory in the recipient’s brain than if they had experienced it with just sight alone.

You can use custom die cuts to manipulate the way your physical media feels, which creates a stronger sense memory.

When you hand out regular business cards to potential clients, the touch sensation isn’t very strong because the client is most likely used to it; your card may be no different than any other. A die cut business card, on the other hand, will feel different in the customer’s hand, which makes them more likely to hang onto it because it feels more special than the rest.

However, you do have to be aware of how your die cuts will feel in a person’s hands. For example, you’d want to avoid sharp edges and points on the right and left sides of a die cut presentation folder because it would feel uncomfortable whenever someone tried to hold the folder or open it.

3. Highlight an Image
Die cutting makes it possible to eliminate unnecessary white space, which helps you to highlight pictures and designs more effectively.

Sometimes one single image can sum up a brand’s identity — such as a photo of your product, location or spokesperson — cutting around that image makes it the sole focus of the media.

Die Cut Leaflet
Source: wingless730.deviantart.com

Coffee Business Card
Source: behance.net

It’s not necessary to cut completely around the image — cutting just part of the picture can enhance even the simplest of images. The business card above, for example, has a circular die-cut outlining the cup and saucer, making them look more realistic and life-like.

This technique is also especially effective on a brochure, folder or other multi-page project. It allows the image to lead the viewer into the media and forces the reader to touch the shape of the image when they turn the page.
Check out what Jason Lynch did for the 2012 TED prize informational packet below.

TED Brochure
Source: behance.net

Using a die cut on an image also helps to draw focus to the most dominant visual elements. You might have a design with a lot of visual components, but adding a cut around the most important components allows the design to look less busy and have a natural focus for the eye.

4. Form an Identifiable Object
Sometimes, the shape of your canvas alone can be a strong enough visual to sustain the design. Creating a template in a shape that ties into a brand’s identity gives you something concrete to base the design around.

Consider how little space you have for visual elements when creating a business card or postcard — by transforming the space itself into an interesting visual element, you can make the most of what little you have.

Identifiable shapes can come from any aspect of the brand. The shape can have an associative connection, such as a box of popcorn for a movie theater, or a teddy bear shape for a pediatrician’s office.

Source: lemongraphic.sg

You can create shapes of the actual product that the brand sells, such as a bottle-shaped business card for a brewery. If you are offering services, such as financial consultancy, you can use a line graph.

Source: lovelystationery.com

You might even create the shape to tie into a particular marketing campaign — for example, a leaf-shaped business card or package design to show how eco-friendly your business is.

5. Use Die-Cutting as Typography
Prominent, creative visuals are not always appropriate for every brand and many clients may prefer designs that are text-based instead of image-based.

Die cutting is a good way to make text-only designs more dynamic. It’s hard for the audience to fully appreciate a design that is purely text, but giving them the chance to feel the shape of that text creates a stronger impression.

When you trace the outline of a word or message, it creates an effect where it looks like it’s popping off the page.

You can also shape the canvas itself into a word, allowing that word to tie into your brand. For example, you might shape a coffee shop’s print collateral into a word like "Brew" or a phrase like "Cup of Joe."

You can also create letters using die cut windows, which are internal cuts made in the stock. In the case of multi-page print collateral, you can put a color, pattern or even an image behind these cut letters to create an interesting visual effect.

6. Create Functional Die-cuts
Die cuts aren’t just for aesthetics; they can also serve as a functional improvement.
For example, media with rounded corners is more durable because square corners are easily bent and dog-eared. Rounded corners have a practical purpose as well as also adding a unique visual component to the design.

Functional cuts can also make organization easier for both your client and the customers they want to attract. Custom tabs allow the media to be easily stored in a filing cabinet or drawer. Die cut business card slits allow your clients to easily create complete marketing kits. And just because these cuts are functional doesn’t mean you can’t also make them look dynamic and memorable.

7. Highlight a Message
The most important aspect of a marketing campaign is a central message that the brand wants to make about itself. Your job as a designer is to create a design that reinforces this message, which is when custom die cuts can really leave an impression.

You can use die cuts to draw attention to a message by cutting around it, cutting the letters themselves or even putting the message behind a die cut window. You can also create cuts that visually tie into the brand’s message — the booklet above places the phrase "Amazing things happening here" behind an arrow-shaped window.

Stoke College Prospectus
Source: dot-design.co.uk

This both emphasizes the message and encourages the recipient to open the booklet in search of what those "amazing things" might be.

Making the Cut
The shape of your medium is often an overlooked design element. When we think about design, we often think about the color and images we see on the canvas, not the shape of the canvas itself.

Unique die cut designs allow you to manipulate the physical shape of your marketing material, which in itself becomes part of the design.

Think of a Wendy’s hamburger—their patties are a special square shape that makes them unique over other fast food restaurants.

The square hamburgers are an instantly recognizable part of their brand. One look and you’d know exactly what you were about to eat.

Shape might be an underrated design aspect, but a unique shape makes your marketing collateral stand out above the crowd. They make your marketing materials stand out

Although presentation folders, binders and other materials come in a wide variety of styles and sizes, they’re awfully similar if you look only at their shape. In that respect, they’re a little like cars. Cars are a fairly diverse product that practically everyone in this country owns, but most of them look similar enough that when you see a car with a truly unusual body structure, you take extra notice of it.

Similarly, breaking away from the standard template gives your brand the leg up over those who use “fill in the blank” designs. A unique shape commands greater attention from your audience because it’s in stark contrast to what they’re used to.

This custom-cut report cover commands attention because it’s a shape you wouldn’t immediately expect.
People are also more likely to hold onto custom-cut marketing materials because they stand out over the rest of the junk that accumulates in their lives. It’s easy to accidentally toss out marketing collateral when it feels no different than any other piece of paper cluttering your desk. A business card or postcard that’s uniquely shaped, on the other hand, feels significantly more important; it’s more likely to go on a bulletin board than into a wastebin.

They build word of mouth
If you have close relatives with access to the Internet, you’ve probably received funny or unusual pictures in your e-mail or on your Facebook wall from time to time. That’s because when people discover something cool or interesting, they’re naturally compelled to share it with others.

The person who receives a cool die cut business card is likely to show it off to other people they know.
You can take advantage of this fact with print media as well. Marketing materials with an unusual die-cut are more likely to get passed around at the office or between friends because people naturally want to show off unique things they discover. Creating unusually shaped media is one way to give it “viral” potential in the real world.

They create an opportunity to be creative
With die-cuts, you’re not just applying a new artistic idea to a canvas; you’re creating an entirely new canvas to work with. Considering a unique shape for your materials opens up many more design possibilities for making them true works of art.

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