Die cutting (very) uneven handmade paper

I am hoping one of you expert printers / problem-solvers has run into this situation before. Conjecture and speculation are welcome as well!

We are unfortunately not a letterpress shop but do sometimes attempt to destroy a perfectly nice press by using it to diecut litho work. I’ve never noticed any maker’s mark but it is some kind of flywheel design, roughly 12x18.

We have been doing some printing on a handmade paper that is not anywhere near uniform thickness. I think it is nominally about 80# text / 120gsm but is thicker in some areas and gets so thin in other areas that there are occasional holes. The variance is unique from sheet to sheet.

We have worked out the printing but are now being asked to diecut. I have been told by someone more knowledgeable than me that we basically can’t do it because we will either smash the die or fail to get a clean cut. I can see this point.

However, we are not experts in letterpress by any means and I wonder if the community out there has developed a technique for handling this situation.

Update: Thought I may as well post a picture of our setup. Is it possible to add some kind of “packing” behind the form to absorb the overbite, so to speak, or will that just make it completely impossible to cut?

Any insight is greatly appreciated.

image: diecut.jpg


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I did allot of die cutting on a Thompson Clamshell press. These are very similar in action as a letterpress. As long as your press is adjusted for an even impression, it should not make any difference in the thickness of the material or variation of said material. You might need to make some adjustments on the make ready of your die, but once you are set it should cut fine. The only change I could see is the type or style of the die cut rule [i.e. center bevel, side bevel, long center bevel etc.] You might want to contact a local label shop for further guidance on die cutting.

Thanks Dennis. Actually, we are the local label shop too :) We do a lot of cutting with rotary dies on roll-fed equipment but not so much sheet-fed on the letterpress.

My feeling is we should just try it and see what happens but I’m not the operator so my opinion doesn’t, understandably, count for much.


Die cutting
Dennis has good points. Are you using a Thomson if so it should have a diecutting plate makeready goes underneath it.
1. die strike on underlay stock with carbon it should barely make a mark
2. Place underlay under cutting plate
3 take some junk stock of roughly same thickness of what you plan to cut do an impression
4. Make ready on underlay until you get a good cut then try the handmade stock
Don’t chase the makeready take your time Experienced diecutter know that set up can be time consuming. Poor diecutters keep adding too much MR and hurt the die and the press Save the underlay sheet for repeat runs if you can get the die back in the same position.
It looks like the press pictured is used to foil stamp I don’t use a chase with steel rule die I have a few drilled and tapped holes in the bed of the press die is bolted in same place every time and safer as you have about 15/16ths between bed and platen where there is no die. Contact me if you need further help

Be very happy that you don’t have to kiss cut this stock….that would be a problem. It appears that you do not have a diecutting jacket on your press and your pressman doesn’t want to cut into the platen….he/she is a is saving your press from damage that is needless. That tiny die will not ruin your press….if you have the jacket.

Thanks Mike. That is some good and detailed information - I may hit you with a couple of follow-ups at some point.

It looks like we’re going to run some samples so we’ll be taking all of this advice into account. I really appreciate it guys. I’ll report back when we have some results.