Get to know tooling
In the custom packaging world, “tooling” refers to the cutting dies and printing plates used to print and cut your packaging. These manufacturing tools are custom made for each new order.
The first order you place for most custom packaging has an additional charge for tooling. That charge covers the materials and labor of carefully crafting the custom printing plate (and for some products) cutting dies for your order.
Since tooling is made specifically for each order, costs can vary widely — from a couple hundred dollars to over a thousand dollars — based on an item's size, print intricacy, and print process.
While tooling typically requires an initial investment, it pays off as you reuse it over and over again on future orders.
Please note: Any changes you make to your design will most likely require new tooling. Occasionally, your tooling may be able to be updated to reflect new changes, but more often than not, completely new tooling is required.
A change to your print would require a new print plate and a change to your structure will require a new cutting die or mold.
Each new design requires a new print plate.
Depending on the print process, it will be made from plastic, or rubber, and it will be wrapped around a cylinder, or etched into the cylinder itself. Digital printing doesn't use printing plates at all which can make for lower startup costs, but a much higher unit cost.
Each print process has different print implications, driven by the cost and materials used for the print plate.
Tip: You can change a color on your design without making new tooling.
Products with simple, straight cuts like tape, or tissue paper don't require a custom cutting die, but most boxes do.
A cutting die is made using molded blades which punch your custom box shape out of sheets of printed material.
Molds are used to form rigid structures like bottles or jars, often made from glass, plastic, or molded pulp. There are several types of molding (i.e. injection molding, blow molding, vacuum molding), and all of these process require molds to form the shape of your item.
Molds are made from metal — most often aluminum — and typically last for millions of units. When it finally does need to be replaced, a supplier will often replace the mold for free (assuming you don't want changes to your design).
Tip: You can often request a 3D-printed prototype of your item before the mold is made to ensure your design functions as intended before ordering the tooling and a full production run.