Tooling refers to the printing plates and the cutting dies used to produce a box. When you order a custom box, your manufacturing partner uses a custom cutting die and a custom printing plate to manufacture your box. The cutting dies and printing plates are made from scratch and are usually one of the most expensive parts of custom packaging.A box generally starts off as a sheet of corrugated board. This corrugated board is first stamped with an inked printing plate (forming dielines). The board is then cut along the dielines. By manually folding, you finally get the box.
Printing plates are soft resin plates for printing your box. It's working principle is similar to the rubber stamp. Printing plates contain raised surfaces for inking and stamping on the corrugated sheets. This transfers the ink from the stamp to the board. Since printing plates come with raised surfaces, they are also known as offset printing plates.
Printing plates, these days, are generally made from photopolymers. Photopolymers are polymers which can change their chemical and mechanical properties when exposed to different lights. Using photopolymer eliminates the need for creating metal casts for making printing plates. These printing plates are usually mounted on rollers that transfer the ink. One printing plate can transfer only one ink color. For multicolored prints, the manufacturer requires multiple printing plates.
Cutting dies helps to punch the corrugated board after printing. Cutting dies have blades mounted on wooden boards that when pressed against the corrugated board, cuts it along the specified dielines. A cutting die also makes creases along the corrugated board for folding the boxes. The blades and rules needed to cut and make folds are generally mounted using rubber and glue.
Cutting dies are of two types. One, the flat cutting dies for producing a small number of boxes. This type of cutting dies have blades mounted on a flat wooden board, which is great to use with clicking machines. Clicking machines press the cutting dies against the corrugated boards to cut them.
The second type is the rotary cutting die, which is useful for cutting the higher volume of boxes. Here, the surface of the cylinder has blades mounted for cutting and moving the board at once.
If you are ordering custom packaging, it is a good idea to buy the tooling too. You need to pay quite a lot for the tooling required for producing your boxes. However, you need to keep in mind that tooling, generally, is not transferable. Different manufacturers may have different setups for making your boxes, and hence different tools for it. Investing in custom tooling can be rewarding if you keep ordering the same custom boxes from the same manufacturer. Thousands of boxes can use same cutting dies and the printing plates before replacing them.