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Metal Matrix vs. Plastic Matrix

What is matrix?

Matrix is a product that locates on the creasing rule of steel rule die. It then transfers onto the cutting jacket of a die cutting press. Once on the jacket it will become the female channel for the male scoring rule. It will form the bead on the folded parts such as pocket folders, folding cartons or any finished product with folding creases.

Metal backed matrix was the first and still most widely used creasing matrix. It is great on short runs and is the most cost effective matrix. Most people are familiar with the different sizes. These sizes are referred to as 32,40,50,etc. or as colors as buff, white, yellow, etc. Plastic matrix is a fairly new product. It has a lower profile than metal, which allows for faster press speeds. The biggest benefit of plastic is the ease of trimming. It can easily be cut with scissors. It can also be trimmed to thinner profile to fit between double scores.

We highly recommend shops to carry a supply of both matrix types. For shops that can not change score heights, changing matrix can raise or lower the score heights by .005”. We welcome the opportunity to help our customers develop a matrix plan. We are an authorized supplier of Shreiner Creasing Matrix.


Clear Base Dies

Have you ever seen a steel rule die on a clear base? We create many dies on Lexan/polycarbonate bases. The clear base is needed for die cutting expensive material such as leather or expensive gasket material on hand fed die cutters. Because you can hand place the die on the material, there is very little waste. It can also be used to register to print on small jobs. These dies are more expensive since lexan is 15x more expensive than wood. The lexan must also be hand-jigged with a saw due to its hardness.It is not a material that can be laser cut. If you have an application that may fit, give us a call at A&A Die.


Old fashioned know-how

Many times in the die business we receive art files that are very intricate and have some areas that are just impossible to make happen with steel rule and wood. Most customers understand when we call and tell them that to build the die, some slight adjustments have to be made. But occasionally, we have customers question, “Don’t you have lasers and auto-benders?” This question is asked because it is a misconception that you just push a button and the auto-bender spits out a piece of intricate knife that is completely ready to drive into the wood.

While the auto-benders are wonderful and do help us out tremendously, they can’t do everything, That’s where the skills of the die maker comes into play. On intricate dies with a lot of very tight bends the auto bender can get rule bent very close.Then the die maker can use his bench tools to true up the piece so that it can be driven into the die board. With some dies that are so very intricate, a skilled die maker has to do all the of the bending by hand. These dies here separate the die makers from the the “rule drivers”.

There are very few of these “die builders” left. Young people today are not wanting to learn these type of skills if there is not a computer involved. Working with your hands is not as popular as pushing buttons on a computer. Keep in mind that I am one of these old surviving die makers and learned from some very skilled men a long time ago. You can send your work to a shop with lasers and auto-benders and get some very nice quality dies but for the very intricate dies, send them to a shop with the old guys!

Hug your die maker today!


Copper vs. Magnesium Emboss

Copper dies are the gold standard for foil stamp dies. Copper has the greatest retention of heat of any metal. Heat and pressure are the most significant factors in foil stamping. It holds fine line type very well because the metal is very hard and it etches close to straight up and down. The metal also expands very little when heated to high temperatures. The only real downside to copper is it’s cost.

While magnesium foil dies is an inferior product when compared to copper, the emboss dies may be a better product. The most important factor is that magnesium bevels can be altered in the etch much easier than copper. Remember that copper etches straight up and down. This is great for foiling but not good for embossing. The straight edges tend to die cut when embossing. With magnesium, we can create bevels that are much gentler when embossing paper. This single factor is why I think magnesium dies may be a better choice on emboss dies. The fact that magnesium is softer and does not hold heat as evenly does not matter as much while embossing. We are a now pouring, pre-cast counters for our magnesium dies. If you have never tried a magnesium emboss die, give it a try. I think you will be impressed!


New Bendable Microperf

A new innovative product is now available, bendable microperf. Normal perforated rule is difficult to bend. Because the small teeth are fragile the rule has to be very hard. The trade off is that the hard rule is very brittle and cracks when bent. We are able to make moderate bends with perf but are limited on sharp bends. But the new bendable microperf is a game changer. We can bend the new rule on even small bends. Give it a try on your next perfing project!


Rule Supports

We have several high end tag and label customers. Their die cut products can never show any nicks. Nicks can come from poor rule joints or faulty mitres. Sometimes rule joints click apart because of too much pressure or from the rule being too tight. To avoid these types of nicks we always check to see if the joints are clicking and adjusting rule lengths. To make sure the rules can not click out of alignment on press, we use rule supports. Rule supports are basically plastic wedges to hold rule joints in place. One support on each side of the joint. We burn square cavities in the die board and insert the supports after knifing. We use this technique along with micro-nik.

If you have a project that would benefit from these techniques, contact us at [email protected] or call us at (770) 458-7528.


Getting Started-Die cutting cheaply

Recently we have had a lot of customers who want to die cut but don’t have a press. They want to have the ability to do short run die cutting without spending lots of money on a press. The solution-AccuCut GrandeMark roller die cutter, for around $300-$400 you can be die cutting. My daughter is a school teacher and I purchased an AccuCut for her. I was very impressed with the quality of the press. I built her a complete alphabet and number set with several font styles and lots of other shapes. She loves it an it is very easy to use. It weighs about 40 pounds and is very portable. It is a great press for teachers & crafters but can also be a great tool for small business.

The press is very easy to use for blank stock. Place the paper on top of die and cover with the protective plastic sheet and crank the handle. You can even cut with multiple dies at the same time. But what if you are trying to die cut a printed stock? By using retractable pins or rubber blocks you can register the diecut to print.

These presses are great for letterpress shops and wedding planners. They are also perfect for small print shops–offfset and digital.  They are perfect for scalloped invitations and envelope liners. Check out some videos on our website or call Rod at 770-458-7528



How small?

We are often faced with complex designs on dies. Many times rules are very close to each other. We have to alter art often to make dies possible. How close can 2 rules be to each other? 2 pt center bevel is .028” thick. The cutting edge is in the center. If you placed 2 rules together, the cutting edges would be .028” or about 1/32” apart. The problem is that we could not get any ejection rubber in the void and eventually paper would build up and blow out the rule. We must have a minimum of 3/32” spacing between rules to get sufficient rubber to eject. Many times we can place rules together much closer but the die will not hold up on press.

How small can a slot in a steel rule die be? 3/32” width is the smallest slot that can be out of cutting rule. We can purchase slots as thin as 1/16”.

What is the smallest punch-The smallest punch with a spring is 3/32”. The smallest side out punch is 1/32”.



Micro Nik

We had a customer that came in today with a huge project and a huge problem. They had 104 up of a round cornered label, that had to be cut completely out without nicks. How do you get this out of the press? I see a lot of jobs that customers flare corners and make the final cut on the guillotine. This never looks good. Cutter pull always leaves a nasty edge that is unacceptable. Customers also use round corner machines which is a painfully slow process. So what was our solution?  –Micro Nik.   Micro Nik is pre-nicked rule that has microscopic nicks. If you hold up a single card the nicks are almost invisible. The nicks can be seen in a lift of cards. Even though the nicks are tiny, they are close enough in proximity to hold the individual parts in the press sheet as it travels through the press.  The rule works on cylinder presses, and high speed presses.

We have several high end tag companies who use Micro Nik and have used it many times with great success. Next time you have a project that requires it to be cut all the way around–let us build you a die with Micro Nik.


Cutting Rules-Long Bevel & Side Bevel

There are many different bevels of cutting rule used in steel rule dies. It is very important to use the appropriate rule for cutting stocks and to achieve the desired end product. We are going to discuss two of the bevels today.

Long bevel is a common rule used in cutting dies. It is also referred to as double bevel and extra sharp. Long bevel has a fine bevel that is about 3/16” long. The results are a super sharp knife, that has a small profile. The negative is that the knife is more expensive and slightly more difficult to work with, especially on mitres. It is also more tender and easier to dull. More care must be taken on make readies. It is also more expensive.

Long bevel rules are ideal for plastic stocks and thick materials. It works great on vinyl for kisscuts. It also works great on styrene, polyethylene and chipboard. The thin profile easily penetrates thick stock without distorting the material.

Another common rule is side bevel rule. It is also available in long bevel, side bevel. One side of the rule is beveled and one side is straight up and down. Side bevel rule is perfect for very thick stocks. May thick plastics, foam boards, gasket material and even corrugation will deform when cut with a beveled rule. By placing the bevel to the scrap, the straight side will be toward the finished product and it will not deform. files must be offset to account for the bevel. This rule us much more difficult to work with and far more expensive than traditional center bevel rule.


What is the life of a steel rule die?

How many impressions can or should be expected on a die? Wow, this is a loaded question and there are many variables that determine the answer. Most people think it mostly has to do with the hardness of the knives, when actually that is usually never the determining factor. The life of a die is directionally proportional to the length of the make ready. This is a fancy way of saying the quality of the make ready on press is the single most important factor in the longevity of a die. One hard hit on the platen will flatten a die. The steel on the platen is way harder than the steel in the knives. If they make hard contact the bevel of the knife will be rolled like a butter knife. You can look down on the rule and see the shiny surface of a flat knife. When you cut against a hard platen, the press must be brought up slowly until they just kiss. Cutting against a soft anvil, such as styrene or polyethylene, is the preferred method especially when cutting plastics and harder substrates. When the knives penetrate your material it then hits the sacraficial material instead of the hard steel platen.

The number of times a die is set up also influences the life of a die. Most wear on a die comes in the first few strikes. So if the die is left on for a long run it will last for more impressions, than if it is a short run die used every week. It is also important to keep presses level and in good operating shape. Plates, press beds and blankets that are in poor shape are sure to damage dies. Many pressman with these problems use steel shim tape to excess which is sure to wear dies. So in a perfect world, how long will my die last?

Paper-We have seen dies upwards of 250k impressions

Lamination-Expect 10-15k impressions

Thin Aluminum-2000 impressions

Chip Board-30-50K depending on whether or not if you hit a staple or other metal.

Styrene-30-50k impressions

Materials are also a determining factor on the life of a die. Paper is abrasive and wears on the rule but plastics such as lamination and styrene are much more abrasive. Chip board has lots of trash because it is a recycled product. It even contains metal from staples and is hard on the knife.

So as you see, there is no easy on answer on the question of die life. If you are having problems with short die life, we can help you to determine the reason.  Check out our website,, to see some of our work.


Bendable Microperf

Innovations have been slow in the steel rule industry the last few years but we were introduced to bendable microperf recently. In the past microperf was made from extremely hard steel that was also very brittle. Bending would cause the rule to crack and break. Any shapes or tight bends would have to be a combination of cut rule and microperf. Now with the new microperf we can bend rule in even complex shapes. Give it a a try on your next project!