Making the Cut: Diecutting Ideas and Strategies for Mail and Marketing

by Trish Witkowski,
The 2-Piece Fake Iron Cross is a space-saving alternative to the Iron Cross specialty fold.

Back in my agency days (it’s been a while), diecutting was reserved for only the most special of projects – the cover of an annual report or a high-budget event invitation. If an exciting idea came up that involved using a diecut, we didn’t even bother to ask if we could afford it. We just floated it out there as “wouldn’t it be cool if…” and then let it go, surrendering to the cut-free idea that was still very nice, but not necessarily as great as it could have been. So, let’s pause for a moment of silence for all of the great ideas that were never brought to fruition…

The good news is diecutting has come a long way, and it’s no longer just for special occasions. Cutting paper in creative ways can be very engaging for direct mail, and I’m going to prove it with some interesting real-world samples, organized by technique. As you’ll see, the high-budget techniques still exist, and now there also are some great inline and digital cutting systems on the market that are making diecutting easier and more affordable. There’s even a lot you can do with a “faux” die, which means there’s something for every budget.

The fake-out

Need wow-factor on a dime? Guillotine trims can give the effect of a diecut without the price tag. Add an angled trim to a cover, or even better, along the top of an accordion fold for a waterfall effect, like this angled accordion sample from Upshift Creative Group (Image 1). You can cut off the corner of a brochure for visual interest, which is a bit more challenging than a simple guillotine trim because the cut is made after the piece is folded, so the pieces need to be cut in smaller stacks. Timed slitters also can provide some interesting effects inline on the cheap.

If you’re in the mood for a specialty format, the 2-Piece Fake Iron Cross is a space-saving alternative to the Iron Cross specialty fold. The Iron Cross is a plus-shaped (or cross-shaped) space-eater on a press sheet. By creating two long rectangles, scoring, guillotine trimming and gluing the rectangles together in a perpendicular alignment, you can achieve the same look without a die – and get more than one-up on a sheet.

If you’re truly on a shoestring budget, you can simply shift the fold placement on a brochure so the cover falls short of the finished edge to create the look of a short “trim” cover.


Traditional offline letterpress or platen diecutting always is a desirable and high-quality print finishing process, and as you might expect, this process allows for a lot of creative flexibility. The first thing most people associate with diecutting is the decorative diecut that exists solely for the purpose of aesthetics. I’m a fan, and I have tons of exciting decorative diecut samples in my collection, like the one from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History (Image 2). The center panel of the three-panel accordion features an elegant diecut shape of a whale – a pleasant surprise. Although beauty and creativity is a benefit of the process, I also like to see diecuts used in very practical ways. For example, you can use simple slits or half-moon cuts to tuck panels in and lock them together. You also can interlock shapes, which is really fun for holiday themes, like this locked gate holiday card from Davidson Belluso (Image 3). You also may be surprised to find out that you can execute detailed cut patterns while a job is printing at normal press speeds by using an inline offset cutting system.

Next, let’s look at diecutting as a marketing strategy. For direct mail, I see this finishing process as a magical little high-impact trick. You can create fun peek-a-boo perfed windows, pull-tabs and zip strips that stir curiosity and entice people to investigate or open the piece. These little engagement tricks have been proven over and over to increase response numbers simply because they increase the level of engagement. How can you help your customers get better response from their mailings? Suggest an interactive diecut.

For the short-run inline/nearline automation crowd, there are some truly versatile machines on the market that are revolutionizing the cutting process. For example, the Horizon RD-4055 rotary diecutter is designed to meet the growing demand for short-run diecut products, with the ability to diecut, kisscut, crease, perforate, slit, hole punch and round corner in one process for digital and offset printed sheets. It’s amazing to see in person, by the way.

Laser cutting

Although laser cutting is technically not “diecutting,” given the absence of the metal die, it involves creatively cutting paper for print production. Its greatest strength is the ability to cut highly-detailed and delicate designs into paper. Traditional decorative laser cutting usually is outsourced and executed one sheet at a time.

If offline and inline diecutting is a jack rabbit, laser cutting is a turtle – but it’s an awesome turtle, and often well worth the wait and expense. A laser cut mailer for NYU Stern features a detailed New York City skyline (Image 4). It was used as a recruitment piece and had a very successful social media campaign wrapped around it. You can learn more about it by visiting and navigating to episode #220 to watch.

Finally, I discovered the most exciting cutting technology I’ve seen in a long time at DScoop in Orlando this past spring. It’s a new high-speed digital variable laser cutting technology from Motioncutter of Germany ( The system can laser cut, perforate and engrave paper and paperboard for small quantities or tens of thousands. The namecut® technology can cut names or any other personalized content into the printed sheet for truly variable diecutting. What this means is that every piece can have a different name or varied content cut into it at speeds of up to 6,500 pieces per hour! The example I have was printed on an HP Indigo press and then sent through the motioncutter machine using the namecut technology. It’s space-aged. Really. I shared this motioncutter sample (Image 5) on Fold of the Week episode #235 a few months back.

Differentiate and engage with diecuts

Feeling inspired yet? I hope so. As you can see, there are many ways to creatively cut paper to increase engagement, response and recall – and you don’t have to bust budgets to do it.

Trish Witkowski is chief folding fanatic at An educator, author, speaker and award-winning designer, Witkowski specializes in creative solutions for mail and marketing. She hosts a popular e-video series “60-Second Super-Cool Fold of the Week.” Witkowski has an MS in Printing and a BFA in Graphic Design from RIT.