Flatbed Cutting Plotters and the Growth of Short Runs in the Packaging Market

Matteo Muto
Sales & Marketing Manager at Valiani

Wide and small format print providers and flatbed cutting plotters: the tremendous growth of short runs in the packaging market and their relationship with the printing industry

Published in Specialist Printing World Wide | Issue 2 2022


In this article, written by our Sales Manager Matteo Muto and already published in the magazine Specialist Printing, we will analyze in depth the role of short runs in the packaging market, the impact of the significant growth this process has experienced recently, and their relationship with the printing industry. Enjoy the reading.

Wide or small format printers might be a massive asset for whatever business. The main driver behind needing a larger or smaller format printer is the necessity to print materials that are larger or smaller obviously than what a standard printer is capable of printing.

Printer providers are useful for printing a variety of media in the visual communication field, from manuals, leaflets, brochures to posters and floor graphics and display racks, from advertising banners to signs and architectural projects. If you come up with the idea to produce any of the above-mentioned types of marketing or business materials, chances are good that you could benefit from having a wide or small format printer in your office.

There are many features and factors that might determine which printer is the right choice for your activity. Do you need to print in colour? What weight stock do you typically print on? Do you need to print on materials other than paper, such as vinyl or adhesives? Acrylic/plexiglass, aluminium or thicker PVC forex?

The Growth of Flatbed Cutting Plotters

These questions are also essential when you want to apply a perfect finishing on printed materials. Flatbed plotters success and appeal are following an increasing trend in recent years. Flatbed plotters are called “flatbed” because, compared to roller plotters, they use a beam that moves the tools over the material rather than having the material moving under the beam, and the same material is placed on a flat surface.

The main function of these devices is that they allow the operator to cut several substrates without the use of a traditional die cutter. These machines therefore process the raw material by giving it a defined shape and are characterized by many different features as well as available in several formats. The choice of the machine size will then go hand in hand with the size of the material to be processed and, if it is printed, with the capacity and maximum print size that can be achieved.

You’re probably wondering how to figure out if you should really consider purchasing a flatbed plotter. These machines are an effective solution to meet five basic needs of graphic, packaging and printing companies. If you recognize yourself in these types of needs, you should probably carefully consider purchasing a flatbed plotter.

Alu-dibond composite is now more and more processed with rotary knifes and more in general router tools. These plates are printed at a very first stage and then milled by means of a flatbed cutting plotter.

1) Prototype quickly

This is essential in helping you get a project approved by a client, because you’ll quickly be able to get an idea of what the finished project will look like, and you can show the final version to the customer right away.

2)Outsource less work

By outsourcing less, you’ll be able to speed up your production processes and gain greater control over quality and costs. Producing in house is less risky from an organizational point of view and, having everything under control, you can better manage time and workflow.

3) Eliminate start-up cost issue

With a flatbed plotter you will be able to produce the quantities requested by the customer without constraints and minimum production quantities. You will no longer be forced to produce large runs to reduce start-up costs.

4) Create original projects independently

Without a plotter you will often have to rely on an external supplier and adapt to pre-made cutting dies: in essence you will find yourself acting on projects already made by others. On the other hand, with a flatbed plotter, you’ll always be able to design and make original projects on your own.

5) Just in Time – Respond better to the customer’s deadline

By working with a flatbed plotter, you will have a better ability to respect customers’ deadlines. With this type of machinery, you can give yourself the possibility of making a pre-delivery with a shorter run, without necessarily having to make the entire batch in a single production process.

What we have just listed are the main advantages guaranteed by a flatbed plotter. This type of machinery, compared to a traditional die cutting machine, is less suitable for cutting large amounts of material. The reason is that the traditional die cutting machine is able to finish these processes much faster.

However, comparing flatbed plotter die-cutting processes with traditional die-cutting processes is a mistake to be avoided. This is because the processes are completely different, both in method and concept. When choosing a machine, it is necessary to have in mind what production volumes we want to achieve. It is the quantity that determines the final choice.

A packaging of the utmost quality makes consumer experience unique, enhancing the perceived quality of the good contained

Flatbed plotters rise is therefore another relevant reason why today we are facing a tremendous growth of short runs that in percentage terms are even more valuable and profitable than longer runs. Marginality nowadays is obtained through small batches, made just in time.

The Materials Cut by Flatbed Cutting Plotters

By lingering on flatbed plotters, either in combination with printers or not, you can always process several types of materials. The workability of a material is closely related to the choice of tools with which the machine will be equipped. However, flatbed plotters tend to be used for processing soft materials such as paper, cardboard, adhesive, fabrics, foams and all those materials that have a low resistance to processing.

When we talk about these materials, we can make a distinction between those that can be cut by a drag knife, oscillating knife or rotary knife.

In terms of hardness, the hardest material to cut is PVC Forex®, which is the upper limit that a flatbed plotter can process. Flatbed plotters do not often just make cuts but, as in the case of boxes, need a second tool to make creases and foldings or, in the case of adhesives, need to make a half cut. Materials such as Alu-dibond, high-density Forex®, Lexan or Plexiglass, medium-density fiberboard, which are more suitable for the signage market, require the additional use of a cutter.

As you may have guessed, there are many options and customization possibilities for each specific business need.

For sure flatbed cutters perfectly match with materials printed on UV flatbed or roll-to-roll printers. Paper, cardboard and foamboard definitely need to be cut with blades and blades move perfectly onto flatbed cutters. UV printers provide the most versatile printing ability and can print on a wide variety of material. These printers produce the most durable products.

When it comes to flatbed cutting plotters, flexibility and adaptability reach their highest levels in terms of materials range. From very thin paper and vinyl to very hard materials such as thin acrylic or aluminium, there is no way to put a brake to flatbed cutters. Latest technologies enable users to smoothen their workflow thanks to the quick recognition of printing crop marks, thereby easily moving from the printing phase to the finishing one.


Exclusive and high-end packaging can be only made with a cutting plotter. Creasing is an essential part of this working methodology. Only certain flatbed cutting systems perform this function in a proper way.

Digital Cutting Machines are the Best Choice for Short Runs

Ultimately, a digital cutting machine consists of a flat table area and a set of cutting, milling and scoring ancillary equipment mounted on an arm. This arm allows the cutter to move left, right, forwards and backwards. The printed sheet is placed on the table, and the cutter travels across the sheet along the programmed path to cut out the shape.

However, if you are looking to trim a low volume of large-format items (especially those printed on thicker, tougher materials such as Forex, Foam-board or R-board), digital cutting is the most recommended option. 

There’s no need to pay for a custom die, also, you can create more intricate shapes via digital cutting solutions which in turn perfectly match with print providers’ needs. It is not by a chance that nowadays these two industries are joining more and more since printing presses, digital printing houses, sign industries are on the lookout of finishing systems to be combined with their wide or small flatbed printers. 

And in this context, short runs contribute to prompt businessmen to invest in technologies like these, deemed more and more profitable to respond to market requests forthwith

Printing registration marks
Today software solutions make packaging customization more feasible and accessible. CAD systems, integrated with AI, are used to draw a box and add graphics

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