What do the Sydney Opera House, a Salvadore Dali painting and a Heinz ketchup bottle all have in common? They each use shapes to create a strong identity and make them instantly recognizable to consumers. In architecture, art and even product labeling, shapes command attention and add a touch of creativity and sophistication. When we are surrounded by objects that all look the same, it can be visually boring. That’s where die cut labels come in. They increase the visual appeal of labeling projects, helping them stand out and get noticed.

What Are Die Cut Labels?

Die cut labels are custom-shaped labels created using a process called die cutting. This process involves a metal blade that cuts the label material into the desired shape, leaving behind a clean and accurate edge.

The Die Cutting Process

Driven from the label design, the die cutting process transforms ordinary sheets of material into custom-shaped labels that can enhance the appeal and functionality of your products. Here's an in-depth look at each step of the process:

Die Fabrication

A metal die, analogous to a highly detailed cookie cutter, is custom-crafted based on your label's design specifications. The die must mirror the exact shape and size of the desired label. It's a blend of art and engineering, ensuring that each cut will be precise and consistent, vital for large-scale label production. There are two main types of dies used in the label industry:

Solid dies - although they are more expensive, solid dies are robust and better for tougher, abrasive materials and long-run projects

Flexible cylindrical rotary dies - are less expensive but cannot be sharpened and do not last as long.

There are a variety of factors that determine the best die option including the label type, the substrate the label is applied to, production quantities and more. 

Label Printing

Following die creation, the label material be it paper, vinyl, or another substrate is printed with the required graphics and text. This is where your label starts to come to life, with colors, logos, and text added to create a visually appealing and informative product. Printing can be either flexographic or digital.

Die Cutting

Once printed, the material is ready for the actual die cutting. In this stage, the custom-made metal die is used to precisely cut the printed sheets into your specified shapes. Die cutting can handle diverse designs, allowing for a wide range of label shapes beyond the standard rectangles and circles.


Finally, if the label incorporates features such as a lamination, varnish or UV coating, these finishes not only extend the life of your label but also add a touch of sophistication. The label finish provides a number of benefits including protecting the label against moisture and chemicals, increasing it’s durability, enhancing the design and more. You can learn more about how finishing impacts label design here

Upon completion, the job is packaged and prepared for delivery.

Types of Machines Used for Die Cutting

There are three distinct types of machines used for die cutting:

Flat Bed Die Cutters

Have you ever rolled out cookie dough and used a cookie cutter to create a unique shape? A flat bed die works in a similar manner. Sharp blades are attached to a flat bed to form the die. The die gets pushed down into the label material cutting out the desired shape without piercing the label liner. Because it’s simpler to construct, a flat bed die is typically a lower-cost alternative.

Rotary Die Cutters

Just like the flat bed version, a rotary die cuts the label into the required shape. But instead of stamping down on the material, a rotary die rotates continuously on a cylinder, pinching against an anvil cylinder to cut the material into the appropriate shape. Rotary die cutting is extremely efficient, precise and cost-effective for longer-run applications. 

Laser Die Cutters

Unlike flat bed and rotary die versions, laser die cutters use a laser beam instead of a physical blade to cut the material. A laser cutter uses software that converts the design specifications into a format that the laser cutter follows to properly shape the material.

Materials Used for Die Cutting

Although there are a few limitations, for most label materials die cutting is a possible option. One exception is linerless. Because linerless labels don’t contain a liner, die cutting is limited. In addition, thicker materials may present production challenges that make it difficult to effectively execute the die cuts.

Custom vs. Standard Die Cuts

If you walk down a grocery store aisle, you’ll see containers with standard shapes like squares, circles, ovals and starbursts on their products. You will also see other items with custom shapes. Ultimately, the end product and your design will dictate which one you choose with a few caveats. Avoid acute angles, sharp corners and holes positioned too close to the edge of the label. Because it is likely the material will tear during the manufacturing process, it will increase the cost.

Further, the label manufacturing process makes it possible to construct almost any shape. But, if you can use a standard die cut label, it will likely reduce your costs. Companies like UAL maintain a number of standard-sized dies in addition to designing custom items for unique applications.

Benefits of Die Cut Labels

In the world of product packaging and branding, labels play a crucial role in capturing attention, conveying information, and influencing consumer decisions. Whether it’s online or on a store shelf, die cut labels are one way to stand apart. Plus, even when branding isn’t important, they serve an important function. They allow effective labeling of items like medical devices and industrial equipment when a standard-size label isn’t an option.

Choosing the Right Die Cut Label for Your Product

In theory, there are an endless amount of potential die cut options to choose from. But, there are a variety of factors that may dictate the actual size you need including the following:

  • Type of product you are labeling
  • Amount of space on the container
  • Shape, size and contour of container
  • Position of the label on the container

Measuring the area where you expect to apply the label is a good starting point. Once you’ve defined that area you can start to design the shape that best fits the application. Using standard sizes that accommodate both basic and unique custom applications can save you time and money.

The UAL technical support team helps customers design die cut labels ideally suited for their specifications.

Choosing the Right Die Cut Label for Your Product

Die cut labels serve various functions, including brand promotion, barcodes, safety information and more. Brand labels are usually designed to complement the container, which influences their size and shape. Conversely, barcode labels tend to be more compact and straightforward in design.

Design Requirements

A product label with various branding elements requires more space to convey essential product benefits.

The Amount of Information Required

What type of information does your label deliver? The dimensions for a label communicating usage instructions are greater than one that just contains a barcode.

Shape and Size of Container

Regardless of the purpose, design or information, the label has to conform to and complement the shape and size of the container.

Once you define these basic standards you can determine the ideal label size for your application.

Die Cut Labels at United Ad Label

United Ad Label specializes in delivering solutions for your unique applications. Our technical experience, strong supplier relationships and an unmatched array of print technologies allow us to deliver economical, high-quality die cut labels in the size, shape and quantities you require. For common shapes and sizes, you can use our Custom Label Designer app to price, proof and order online. And for more complex requirements, our Customer Service Team stands ready to guide you through the process.  Contact us for more information.