I learned about cover material today

I found a company local to me that makes custom binders.
I visited them today, taking with me several examples of Rollabind and Levenger covers.

The colored cover material that Rollabind sells is polyethylene, about 30mils thick
The clear stuff Levenger's sells is polypropylene, also about 30 mils thick.

Covers like Levengers Circa Notebook Shell or Rollabind's Translucent Notebooks are just rectangles cut to size with two rounded corners. These require no special equipment or preparation to create and can be obtained for about $1 a sheet. The down side is that there is a minimum order requirement of 200

The next level involves adding a score (fold) to the plastic. This adds about 25¢ to the cost of each cover for each score. The covers like Levenger's Circa Deluxe Shell and Rollabind's Storage Binders have three scores -- two to make the spine of the notebook, and one more on the back cover where the discs attach. The cover is folded over on this score and then put into a punch, producing a double-smurf punch. The company I talked to said that these are just like basic binder covers, without the ring mechanism, and with an extra score. Again, these can be made without special prep, and again, the minimum run is 200.

The final "level" is for covers that require more complicated shaping like the now defunct Jotz Notebook and the Levenger Deluxe Shell which have notches and hole of various sizes and shapes in the plastic. These shapes are produced by die cutting. Think of cookie cutters made of a very strong, sharp steel and set in a piece of dense plywood. The plastic and the die go into a press and the shape is punched out. The die has to be custom made for the shape you want and that adds a setup cost of at least $150 for a fairly simple die, more for a more complicated one. The good news is that this die can be used more than one run of covers. Again, there is a minimum run of 200.

Now, you may ask where I am planning to go with all this information. Well, if there is enough interest, I am willing to front the money for any one of these efforts. With the first two options, we are talking about a pair of separate covers or one wrap-around cover costing about $2 each to have made. The third option, requiring a die, would be more expensive, but would work if there is demand enough for as many as 500 or 1000 of them. That way the extra cost of the die is distributed.

There would also be the the question of material and color. Would y'all prefer the clear/frosted polypropylene or the translucent polyethylene. Personally, I'd want the polypropylene.

Let the discussion begin.

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Did you ask..


There's a plastics company near me that will sell me sheets of the plastic of my choice. Of course they'll also cut, but the sheets are not that hard to cut with an exacto or rotary blade. However, I found that about the thickest material that I could cut with my rolla punch was 20 mil.

So the question--did you ask if they'd sell you individual sheets uncut? And the second question, did you try to punch a sample sheet?


No, I did not ask

When you say "rolla punch" are you referring to the portable or the desktop punch ?
You may recall that I was able to capture a specimen of Smurf-zilla. It can punch anything :)
Strangely, I have temporarily misplaced my Rollabind Desk Punch, so I cannot provide information on it. When I find it, I will try. I would ecpect it to be very difficult with the hand punch.

As far as individual sheets, I did not ask directly, but there was a point in the conversation that indicated to me that they would be willing to sell me such sheets. You are correct in that these sheets are reasonably easy to cut, but the difficulty is in scoring them to make a fold. That is something that cannot easily be done in a home/hobby setup. It takes a professional kind of machine.

Can you get 30mil polyethylene and polypropylene from this company ? You may want to ask them about scoring and if they might suggest a way to do it at home. The folks I talked to implied that it is very difficult if not impossible to do at home.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)



I am referring to the desktop punch. I no longer have a portable.

I haven't asked them if they have the items you found. I was using rigid vinyl from them--for my die-cut box business.

I was able to score things at home using dies, similar to what the company would use, though smaller. The Accucut company makes a small (read: the size of a dj's double turntable) die-cutting machine and dies that can be used in the home or small business setting. They do it to make things like letters and shapes for scrapbookers and teachers, but they also have dies that make small boxes--it cuts AND scores the boxes so they're easy to put together. The machine is essentially a crank on a roller. The die is used with a lexan 'pad' with the material to be cut sandwiched between. The sandwich is run under the roller and the blades cut the material AND slightly into the lexan. The lexan is a sacrificial piece that is reused a few hundred times before being replaced. The machine I had: linkety
A box cut with one of the dies: link
The dies themselves are chunks of wood or acrylic with slots laser-cut in them to embed the blades. The blades are surrounded by a fairly dense rubber foam to support the paper/plastic. In an industrial setting they don't do the foam part, I don't think, because the blades press down from the top rather than being on the bottom as an accucut machine does.

As far as scoring your own plastic at home, you need a couple things:
A semi-firm substrate, like a cutting mat, to place your plastic on.
A thin, round-edged piece of straight metal like what a scoring die would use.
A mallet.
This method would be similar to what leather-workers do when they're pounding the decorative elements into leather goods. Smack it to leave an impression.

Alternatively, the scrapbooking companies sell rotary scoring tools (for use on paper or cardstock), so in that instance you'd replace the last two items with a scoring tool and a straightedge. It would require quite a bit of force to score 30 mil plastic of any variety, so I would probably test the two approaches on a piece of scrap to see which I liked better.

In a die, the scoring blade is actually a thin piece of metal that's been folded back on itself so it's not sharp. You want round-edged so it doesn't weaken the plastic too much, causing it to break. The back of a bread knife works for paper, but is not long enough for the application you want.

There are companies out there that make dies for cutting and scoring. There are other companies that sell the parts you need to make the dies (the bits of metal). Even the Accucut company will make custom dies for a not-unreasonable fee given a good drawing.

But the big machine is $600 plus shipping, and then the die is around $100 or so depending on complexity. You can source lexan cheaper than Accucut sells it, but they sell it custom-sized to their dies. So the price of entry is not exactly low. Easier and cheaper to get a piece of metal and a mallet. :)


Wonderful info !

So there IS a way to do it at home. Not cheap, but doable.
I wonder of an Accucut can handle 30mil plastic ?
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Test, but..


I used 20 mil in my accucut successfully. I would not venture a guess on the 30 mil, but if there is a larger craft store in the area that serves scrapbookers, you may find there's an accucut machine there. You can call around and check, anyway. There is one at my local Ben Franklin, and they even have some of the box dies there. The Ben Franklin near me allows free cuts if you buy your paper there, so it should be a simple matter to pick out some plain card stock, run it through the machine for practice, then run the plastic through the machine to see how it fares. The only caveat is that the lexan will probably be quite beat up there, which will affect the quality of the scoring.

The trick is that if the material is too thick, the scoring die will cut instead of scoring.. Like what happens to a boiled potato when you push a potato masher down hard on it.

Anyway, if it works you will be able to fold it easily into the box shape. If the plastic is too thick, when you fold it the corners will start to come apart along the fold. It will be very apparent whether it's wrong or right.


All very interesting

I sent an e-mail to AccuCut, asking about 30-35 mil plastics. I will share the response.
It seems to me that one would have to factor in the cost of a custom die either way.
Once past that, I think it would be more cost effective to get them produced in quantity.
Also factor in the time and labor necessary to DIY.
Hmmm, it seems that the setup is the thing that makes me want to contract it out.
If someone had the die already made, and all I had to do was buy some plastic and run it thru an AccuCut, it would be easy to turn out small quantities.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

That was my business


That was the core of my business for a while--originally I was folding up origami boxes at an hour a pop. People would ask if I could make a hundred by next Tuesday and I'd have to say no. So I looked for another way to make pretty little boxes in quantity.

I could do a run rate of about 100 an hour, really cranking. Gotta have the materials there, pre-cut to size, with counter space on either side to really go. With paper I could sometimes cut two boxes at a time, two layers of paper on the die. Can't do that with plastic.

Getting a custom die from Accucut was easy. We drew up what shape we wanted in a CAD program and sent it over. They sent back dies that were perfect and ready to go.

But you'll never make enough money back doing them if you depend on your own time and labor. Take your equivalent hourly rate at work (including bennies) and divide that by 100. OK, that's your labor per piece to cut, but don't forget the prep, the packing, and the shipping if you're going to send them out to others. Then the material costs and the sunk costs of the machine and the die. Even if you're only charging materials and overhead, you're still having to charge Levenger prices because your volume is too low.

Of course, if you want to buy it all and set it up just to have it, and the goodness of your heart doesn't require payback, that's a different story. :)

In the end, I was getting a little bored turning the crank, cutting, and shipping. I loved the pretty papers and the cool gadgets I got to work with, but I'm no entrepreneur. And I got pregnant with twins, which completely put an end to my free time for, well, ever since. :) I sold all of my machinery and dies to a lady in New Jersey for a song, and donated most of my remaining paper to my kids' daycare in exchange for a free week (an over $300 value, mind you).

My husband, by the way, recommends a sheet-metal brake instead of a die cutting machine. He suggests that your nearest auto body shop or aluminum siding installer might be willing to give you some time on their machine, or to bend up some stuff for you for a small fee. Since your creases are all full width, this might be a viable option. That machine would certainly not be worried about the thickness of your material. :) And that is its business, putting creases in stuff that doesn't really want to bend by itself.


First response from AccuCut: not encouraging

I said:

Can any of the AccuCut machines handle polyethylene and/or polypropylene in thicknesses of 30 - 35 mils ?

and they replied:

If I am correct that the thickness of your material is over 1", that would be too thick to fit into our roller die cut machines.

OMG ! Considering the kind of materials they SHOULD be dealing with and they do not understand "mils" ??!

Or do I expect too much ?
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

Wrong measure


They make for paper, not plastic. Talk to them about lbs and they'll probably understand. :)

They probably thought millimeters. :)


I found a sample


I found a sample of 30 mil rigid vinyl in my garage. I attempted to punch it on the short end (an 8x10 sample).

It fits into the desktop punch fine, but the force required to punch is more than I can bring to bear, even with my full weight and the punch itself on the floor. I kneeled on it, in fact. The metal of the flap (the part you push on) bowed up rather than punch through the plastic.

This is attempting to punch only eight holes.

Not only that, but an incomplete punch leaves the plastic wedged in there so firmly I can't get it out.

So, I would not recommend 30 mil plastic of any variety in the punch.


Edit: I did finally get the plastic out of the punch after about 10 minutes of slicing with a very small blade up through the bottom of the punch. The plastic came out looking as though it had been chewed by something toothy.

I would certainly buy some

if you were to do this. At that cost, I'd order several.


That's one buyer.
"I think the surest sign that there is intelligent life out there in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us." (Calvin and Hobbes/Bill Waterson)

I would be interested

in buying ones like the Circa Notebook shell, in letter and classic sizes, like five of each size. I am using the translucent, but am open to colors.

make that another order

Circa Notebook shell letter and classic more like 3 each for me, and maybe another letter sized unsmurfed.

Didn't you buy 3 gazillion discs too? I'd wouldn't care what color if you thew in the 3/4" or 1" discs I'd be willing to pay more.


I'd be interested to help drive costs down. I seem to always be looking for more, but rarely want to pay what the usual suspects charge. And I've not found any readily available alternates here on the back side of the desert.

-- Coffee and Books, the pleasures of life

I would buy some

I would buy 5 of each letter and "junior" size