Die Cutting: Steel Rule, Custom Punch, & Matched Metal

Die cutting is a manufacturing process that uses specialized cutting machines and cutting tools—i.e., dies—to cut patterns into thin, flat material. There are several types of die cutting processes, all of which employ four basic components: the operator, the material, the cutting machine, and the cutting die.

Cutting dies are available in many different designs and configurations, depending on the part and production specifications. Three of the most commonly utilized are steel rules dies, custom milled component dies, and matched metal dies. The type of die used in a die cutting operation significantly affects production costs. As such, we’ve put together the following blog post to walk through the basic properties of the three mentioned above.

​Steel Rule Dies

Steel rule dies consist of three key components: rubber ejectors, pre-bent steel strips (i.e., steel rules), and die boards. The eponymous steel rules have a sharp cutting edge, which cut the desired shape into the workpiece when the die cutting machine applies pressure to the die and punches it into the die board.

These dies are suitable for cutting both hard and soft materials, including cork, felt, fabric, metals, paperboard, and plastic. Their simple design translates to much lower investment costs. However, they are also much less durable and accurate than other types of dies.

Custom Milled Component Dies

Similar to steel rules dies, custom milled component dies—also known as solid mill or custom punch dies—punch through material to create the desired patterns. However, as they are made of solid steel rather than flexible steel strips, they are less susceptible to distortion stemming from bending and twisting. This quality makes them better suited to achieve higher tolerances—with typical tolerance capabilities ranging from between ±.005 to ±.010 inches per inch of dimension—and better production consistency. However, the higher precision and accuracy comes with a larger price tag.

Matched Metal Dies

Types of Dies in Die Cutting Steel Rule, Custom Punch, and Matched Metal
Matched metal dies—also referred to as male/female dies—consist of two separate die components. As the die cutting machine applies pressure to them, the male halves meet the female halves, resulting in cuts in any material between them.

Compared to steel rule dies and custom milled component dies, matched metal dies offer tighter tolerances. This quality stems from their solid and rigid construction, which decreases their risk of distortion and increases their ability to produce precise cuts consistently. Unsurprisingly, this more complex die design is more expensive to produce.

Contact the Die Cutting Experts at Elastomer Technologies

Steel rule dies, custom component milled dies, and matched metal dies all have their benefits and best use cases. The one most appropriate for your die cutting application depends on your part and production specifications, such as precision requirements or budget limits. Steel ruled dies are the least expensive option but also the least precise and accurate. Matched metal dies are both the most reliable and the most expensive. Solid milled dies fall somewhere between the two regarding both performance and price. Partnering with an experienced molding company can assist you in evaluating the dies available and choosing the one that meets your needs.

At Elastomer Technologies, Inc. (ETI), we have offered custom die cutting services for over 35 years. We accommodate a wide range of materials, part designs, and production volumes. In addition to our die cutting capabilities, we provide a broad selection of other manufacturing services, such as assembly, contract sewing, custom slitting, molding, and packaging.

For a more in-depth discussion on key considerations regarding the die cutting process, look for our upcoming eBook, Key Considerations for Basic Die Cutting: Tooling, Costs, Material Behaviors, and Tolerances. To learn more about our die cutting services and capabilities, reach out to us today.

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