As I have said before if you are going to enter a manufacturing business for the first time small business entrepreneur (making and selling something), you need to find a business with a really simple process that is not very labour intensive. I mentioned moulds and the more automotive injection moulding. But there is also money to be made by cutting an existing sheet of material into certain shapes.

Die-cutting is a process used to produce large numbers of the same shape using materials such as cardboard, leather, cork, plastic, rubber, fibre, cloth paper etc. by cutting, forming and shearing using a die. There is also a similar technique used to cut metal called “clicking”. As the name implies it involves cutting using a die which works like a cookie cutter cutting precise and clean-cut items in mass quantities. Now if you have ever used a manual punch like a hollow punch it is an automated version of that and the die can be any shape.

Die-cutting also includes the following techniques:
Through cutting
Kiss cutting
Perforating
Scoring
Creasing

Die-cutting is often used in conjunction with printing to cut packaging after it has been printed but today I want to look at a business that can be started with only cutting material down to size. Please note I am referring to the use of industrial die-cutting machines in this context and not the housewife toys (Cricut, Silhouette Cameo etc.). I will be looking at the businesses that can be started using only a die cutting machine.

  • The most common dedicated cutting only die cutting business in South Africa is probably cardboard box making where sheets of corrugated fiberboard are turned into cardboard boxes using a die cutter to cut the flaps, hand holes and creasing and scoring (prevent a fold from cracking or breaking).
  • Another one is to cut the magnetic sheet into shapes including hollowing out the centre to create a magnetic photo frame. These frames I cut by hand using a hollow punch but they can be produced far quicker using a die-cutter and the shapes can vary (rectangular, stars hearts etc.)
    Magnetic fridge magnets
  • Gaskets can be cut using this method
  • Neoprene can be cut to make wetsuits
  • A common use of die-cutting is to create jigsaw puzzles but I don’t know how popular puzzles are these days considering most children spend their lives on tablets and TikTok. Although admittedly this is not just the material (the image still needs to be printed)
  • An Africa shaped (continent) die can be used to create leather keyrings or can even be used to cut various animal hides (with the hair) to give it a nice effect
  • A circular die can be used to create a coaster from cork
  • A heart-shaped die can create heart-shaped things in any material that is compatible to be cut using this method
  • Many objects can be cut this way that can be further processed, shoes, sandals, bracelets
  • Cutting of disposable goods such as paper cups

Die-cutting as a service
If you are going to get a machine as a small business, I always advise a machine that can be used to offer a (custom) service and a product. For example, a vinyl cutter can be used to make custom signs (service) but it can also be used to create wall art products which can be sold in a retail environment. So when one business is slow you can do the other even just temporary to keep the wolves from the door.

There used to be people that used to offer die-cutting as a standalone service. These were people that probably did printing and thought that they could maybe make more money by offering a standalone die cutting service. From a small business perspective, I don’t know much demand there is for a die-cutting only service, I think for small runs people maybe use laser cutting in some contexts. But in this business people would bring the design, a die would be made (setup fee charged like in screen printing) and then a fee would be charged for every cut. So even though the fee per cut is small remember these machines can run fast, some 3000 sheets per hour, some 7000 so even at 50c per cut only if you can keep the machines running. But I don’t know how much large volume cutting only work is out there.

Image credits: icd-inc.com, Alibaba