Get into shape!

Die-cut, shaped printing

For sales and marketing collateral to make a good, memorable, first impression, one excellent design tool available to you is that of shape. Compared to the usual square-cut variety, shaped leaflets, brochures, postcards and business cards really stand out from the crowd. When designed well, they are innovative, add instant appeal, make the printed item more unique and, in a nutshell, add value to the printed piece. They also add a third dimension to marketing materials that would otherwise be two-dimensional, in perhaps more than one meaning of the phrase.

Simple but effective die-cut cardboard engineeringSpecially shaped printing does not necessarily need to be terribly complicated in order to look really effective. Even ‘simple’ can be very effective if designed and conceived well. This corporate greetings card is simply foil blocked once on one side of the sheet, then die-cut and folded. The result is a sophisticated, unusual, innovative and eye-catching piece with the foiled image appearing on all sides of the finished piece thanks to the careful planning involved at the design stage.

Cost considerations

Shaped print does cost a little extra due to the tooling required* and the extra process of die-cutting itself, but the extra ‘dimension’ will really make the printed item stand out and give an unforgettable first impression. In marketing terms, that’s well worth what can often be just a modest additional cost. Economies of scale also come into it. Once the initial set-up is complete, the cost to run on a few extra is usually considerably less per unit. In other words, the more your print and die-cut, the lower the unit cost.

Die-Cutting & Cutting Formes

* Irregularly shaped print usually requires a tool to be made, called a cutter or cutting forme. This usually takes the form of a rigid wooden board into which shaped blades are partly embedded, with the sharp edge upwards, each blade being meticulously bent to the exact shape required. Simple and reasonably complex shapes are possible with traditional die-cutting formes such as this, however the more complex and detailed the shape, usually the more expensive the initial cutting forme will be, because of the additional blades involved and time required to complete the manufacture of the forme.

So, once the job has been printed, the printed sheets are simply ‘stamped out’ (die-cut) by forcing the cutting forme blades into the printed sheets, under pressure and in close registration with the printed image. The result is a printed paper or cardboard sheet that is irregularly shaped rather than being the standard square or rectangular shape. As well as cutting, some blades can be set to crease or perforate at the exact same time the cutting blades cut.

Cutter Guides & Artwork

In terms of artwork required, graphic designers simply require a ‘cutter guide’ artwork for handing over to their printer. This is usually designed and made up in a programme like Adobe Illustrator or similar and the printer uses it as a guide for positioning the shaped blades within the cutting forme described above, or to set up the laserFinely detailed laser cutting cutter described below.

Laser Cutting

Extremely complex cut shapes, including highly detailed filigree type work, is possible without a mechanical forme being needed at all, as there are trade suppliers with laser-cutting facilities, which require no cutting forme at all and can cut detail substantially more complex than is possible using traditional cutting formes. You might have seen, for example, highly detailed greetings cards with amazingly complex shapes and details cut into the design. The give-away sign that such things were cut using the laser process is the slightly brown (burnt) edges to all the shaped parts of the sheet, although this is only noticeable on very close scrutiny and on card or paper sheets that are very light in colour. As you can see, the detail possible using laser cutting is astounding.

Simple, Rounded Corners

At the other end of the scale, rounded corners on business cards are a simple, inexpensive way to turn the humble rectangular business card into something a little more exciting to hand out. Business cards with rounded cornersThe good news there is that Firstpoint Print already has the tool for cutting the rounded corners, so you don’t have to worry about the expense of that – adding rounded corners to your business cards is therefore quick, easy and very inexpensive. What’s more, you don’t necessarily have to have every corner rounded. Cards can look even more funky and modern when some corners are square cut in the traditional way, with other corners being rounded. See the shaped business cards on the right — funky and contemporary!


Folders are another classic example of printing that benefits from being irregularly shaped via the die-cutting process. With this, pockets can be cut Folder with shaped flap and business card holderto shape and these can hold leaflets and brochures, for example, inside the folder. Simple slits can also allow business cards to be held securely inside. So you end up with a complete marketing ‘pack’ that you can hand over to your prospects and clients, or a full training pack to give to those on any training programmes you might be running.

Other Shaped Opportunities

More functional uses for die-cutting also include the building in of perforated areas on the printing, for example you could include an integral tear-off voucher, name tag or even a reply-paid postcard as part of a leaflet, flyer, postcard or brochure cover, which tears neatly to shape due to the multi-directional perforations stamped into the printed piece. So, to conclude, shaped items of print might include:

  • Die-cut packaging & labelsWedding invitations & stationery;
  • Shaped stickers (“kiss cut” so that they peel off a larger backing sheet);
  • Fancy, non-standard envelopes;
  • Swing tickets and other Point-of-Sale items;
  • Cartons;
  • Header cards with die-cut Euro slots and other types of product packaging;
  • Folders, brochures, booklets;
  • And, of course, stationery including business cards, letterheads and compliments slips.

Printing Services in Clerkenwell, London Bridge & Victoria

If you have any printing requirement, whether standard shaped or irregular, Firstpoint Print branches in London have a print set-up that covers virtually any printing need imaginable. With in-house graphic designers, digital printing facilities, lithographic printing presses, large format printing services and print management available from every branch, we have you covered.

For printing in London Bridge:
Contact the SE1 branch on 020 7378 6754 – or contact us here.

For printing in Clerkenwell:
Contact the EC1 branch on 020 7490 7588 – or contact us here.

For printing in Victoria:
Contact the SW1 branch on 020 7828 0515 – or contact us here.