In the manufacturing world, “tooling” refers to custom made equipment such as cutting dies, printing plates and molds, used for mass-production.
The first order you place for most custom packaging often has additional upfront charges for tooling. Since tooling is made specifically for each design, costs can vary widely — from a couple hundred dollars to thousands dollars — based on the size of your product, 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.
Creating tooling also adds to your timeline for the first order of a new design. Most tooling takes 1-2 weeks to produce.
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.