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Question and Answer

Storing and Handling Foil Stamping and Embossing Dies


August-September, 2007
The foil stamping community has struggled with the question of how long to hold onto foil stamping and embossing dies after a job is complete, as well as storing these dies in an efficient manner. Recently, these questions came up through the Foil Stamping and Embossing Association’s (FSEA) HelpLinks e-mail program and solicited a great deal of activity and responses. InsideFinishing has taken those responses and the input of others to compile some specific questions and answers on the subject.

What is the recommended time period to hold onto foil stamping or embossing dies before purging them from your inventory?
The FSEA web site (www.fsea.com) includes a Finishing Industries Trade Customs link that was put together several years ago. Under the “Storage” section of the Trade Customs, it states, “Dies, plates, and tools will be stored for the customer for a period of 18 dormant activity months. After 18 months of non-use, the customer will be notified of pending disposal.”

After several comments on the FSEA HelpLinks and discussing this with others, the FSEA is planning on changing the recommended storage length to two years. This seemed to be the consensus of many who replied, with others stating that they store dies as long as three to five years before disposing of them.

It also is recommended to consider handling copper and magnesium flat stamp dies differently than a more expensive brass embossing die, purging flat stamp dies in two years and keeping brass dies for three to four years. If a flat stamp job would suddenly reappear after two years, it is much less costly to replace the flat stamp dies if the customer insists it should not have to pay the cost to duplicate them.

In one instance, as described on the FSEA HelpLinks, a finisher called its customers and told them that any job for which it was storing dies that had not been used for two years or more either could be shipped back to the customer (at the customer’s expense) or disposed of. In several cases, the customer was no longer using the finisher or had even gone out of business. Over 50 percent of the dies were considered “dead dies” and could be disposed of or recycled. This procedure also provided an excuse for the finisher to call the customers and touch base with them in order to gain new business. The end result was a less cluttered die storage system.

Are there recommendations for storing dies to keep them in proper shape and to locate them easily for future jobs?
Brass, copper, or magnesium dies easily can be scratched or nicked, so it is always a good idea to store dies in a foam envelope or bubble wrap of some sort. In addition, it is always recommended to store the dies standing on end (vertical) versus stacking them on top of one another. Some type of filing system, like in a filing cabinet with drawers, is best as opposed to stacking them up in a box or on a shelf.

For embossing/debossing dies that also have a pre-cast counter, it is recommended to re-pin the counters to the dies before storing them. Do not simply tape the counter to the die, since the die and counter can move or shift and cause wear on both the die and the counter. These wear or abrasion marks certainly will appear on press if the dies are not properly stored.

In addition, sometimes dies are sprayed with a cooking spray (like PAM) and then kept in zip-lock plastic bags. This will help keep the dies from corroding and protect them from environmental elements. This especially is recommended if the dies are not stored in a climate-controlled room or production area.

Setting up a die storage system where the dies are stored in large envelopes and filed vertically is an ideal storing system. The layout or cut sheet from the job, original PO information, and a proof of the final product in the envelope also can be kept in this envelope, thereby storing the dies and keeping all of the job information in one place – a novel thought! If film was used with the job, filing this also is a good idea. Many times, the film is useful when registering the die to print or foil if the job is repeated.

In addition, it is always a good idea to make sure a die number from the manufacturer is kept in the envelope or file if it is not included on the die. It is much easier for the die manufacturer to make new dies, new counters, or even counter masters from old combination dies if it can reference this number.

Can dies be recycled?
Copper, brass, and magnesium are recyclable and most communities have a local metal recycler. Currently, the price for recycled brass and copper is at a premium and the payback on these metals is quite high. This should provide even more of an incentive to purge current die inventory and create an organized storage system.

What other suggestions can be made for storing or sending dies back to customers?
If the job required an expensive sculptured brass engraving, there may be value in putting a polish on the die, like a clear lacquer, and returning it to the end-user or having your customer (if it is a commercial printer) return it to the end-user. This can create a strong bond between you and your customer and/or the end user of the product.

Knowing the best procedures and practices to handle foil stamping and/or embossing dies has always been a gray area in the industry. Hopefully this article and the updated Trade Customs link that soon will be available on the FSEA web site will help clarify some of the confusion, as well as create standards that can help everyone become more organized and communicate more efficiently with their customers.

InsideFinishing would like to thank Ted Geisler of Metal Magic, (800) 851-4120, and Kathy Wilson of Owosso Graphic Arts, (800) 444-5552, for their assistance with this article. Also, InsideFinishing would like to thank the multiple responses to the FSEA HelpLinks question on the subject.