How to design a die cut sticker

Marta Custic

Everyone loves a cool sticker, especially when you can let your imagination run wild with a custom made design. But instead of using the standard square or rectangle shapes, why not create a unique die cut sticker shape to make your work shine?

“Die cut” simply means cutting material – in this case adhesive paper – into a specific shape using a metal die, either by cutting out shapes or forming the actual shape of the artwork.

diecut
Left: Cut out business cards (via Evolve Already); Right: Letterpress and die cut business cards (via Pressing Letters)

The basic principles for die cut designs apply to any type of work, whether you’re working on a business card, custom made invitations, or any other printing job.

In this article, we’ll help you create a die cut sticker from start to finish to ensure you and your clients have everything needed to send it to print!

1. Set up your document

diecut sticker tutorial

When creating any new document for print, settings must be made in CMYK mode and 300dpi, the size will depend on what your creating and how big you need it to be.

Once you’ve completed your design ( in this case a simple sticker design based on a cool kitten) you will need to create bleed and trim lines for your custom shape.

2. Create a bleed

Seeing as the design requires edge to edge printing, we need to set up a 3mm bleed line around the entire shape of the sticker. The easiest way to do this is to first select everything and create a copy, placed directly on top of the existing design.

Once you’ve made a copy, join all the elements together in one compound shape by going to Pathfinder and selecting Unite.

diecut sticker tutorial

Select your compound shape and head over to Object > Path > Offset Path to create your bleed area.

Set offset to 3mm or .25in and Join to round (this will keep things neat, without jagged edges).

diecut sticker tutorial

As you can see the border limits have been enlarged by 3mm. Select this layer and place it under your original artwork and name it bleed.

You should have something that looks like this:

diecut sticker tutorial

3. Create a spot color

Now that you have your bleed area, it’s time to set up the trim line using spot colors.

Spot colors refer to printing colors in which each color is printed with its own ink, whereas process color printing uses four inks (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) to produce all other colors.

Let’s go back to our original file and make another copy. We’ll need to place it on a new layer. We need to let the printer know this is not a printable layer, so we’ll name it “DIE LINE – DO NOT PRINT”.

With your layer selected, set the fill to none and select a color from your swatches panel for the outline. Double click on your swatch to create a spot color. This step is the most important part in creating your die line.

In the color type box, we must select spot color. This will take this particular color and make it its own plate for the printing process later on. This will be the line the printer will know to use as the die cut, it serves as an imaginary line that won’t be printed.

diecut sticker tutorial

4. Last steps

In the final step we need to open up the attributes panel – by going to Window > Attributes.

diecut sticker tutorial

We need to select Overprint stroke, the reason being we want the colours of sticker design to print underneath the die line.

If you don’t select overprint stroke, the sticker will be printed with a fine white line where the dieline knocks out, in other words a space would be left for that line.

And that’s all there is to it – you’ve created a custom made die line for your design.

You can double check that everything looks right by opening the separations preview (Window > Separations Preview). You will see plates for CMYK and your spot colour die line.

Conclusion

As you can see creating a custom shape and die lines takes very little time, so why not try something unusual in 99designs’ new Sticker contest category.

Things to remember:

  • Don’t forget to set up bleeds (object > path > offset path)
  • Your trim line/die line needs to be in a spot colour on a separate layer, name it die line – do not print so your printer knows exactly what needs to be done.
  • Check overprint stroke in attributes to make sure the colours below are printed

Have you created a die cut sticker? Share your work in the comments below!

Featured image: Ekiem (via Behance)

The author

Marta Custic
Marta Custic

Marta Custic a freelance graphic designer. Originally from Melbourne, Australia, she is now based in Croatia, where she got her degree from the Faculty of Graphic Arts. See her 99designs portfolio here.

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