How Puzzles Are Cut: Did You Know?

Millions of puzzles are designed and manufactured every year, and each one is cut using a special cutting method that enables manufacturers to roll them out quickly.

Although there are numerous different types of puzzles that you can choose from and attempt according to your capabilities, their cutting methods are quite similar. Manufacturers focus on methods that can guarantee them quick results, while also enhancing precision and accuracy.

You might have solved hundreds of puzzles in your lifetime, but do you also wonder how they are actually made? There is a lot of meticulous work that goes into the design and production of each puzzle, and they are cut using one of the two most popular methods: die cutting and precision laser cutting.

The first-ever puzzles were created in the 1700s, and back then they were cut by hand. With the passage of time, manufacturers started using jigsaws, hence the name “jigsaw puzzles”. If you have been pondering over how puzzles are actually cut into pieces, let’s show you some of the most popular methods.

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Different Types of Puzzle Cutting Methods

The origin of puzzles dates back to the 1760s, and European cartographer John Spilsbury is considered to be the pioneer of the first-ever puzzles, which were made by sticking maps of various countries onto thin wooden panels made from mahogany and cedar. These maps were then cut by hand using a marquetry saw.

By the 1900s, puzzles were being manufactured and sold in the millions. They were being manufactured and cut by hand, but after the World War II was over, the rising wages brought about a sharp decline in their production. After that, puzzles were cut using jigsaws, which is why they are called “jigsaw puzzles” to date.

Apart from the aforementioned cutting processes, there are a lot of new and advanced cutting methods that are used to cut puzzles nowadays. With that said, let’s go into further detail and have a look at how puzzles are cut through different methods and processes.

Using a Jigsaw

Jigsaws, or scroll saws, were popularly used in the second half of the 1900s to cut puzzles, and some manufacturers still use them. They can be used to cut curves and bevels, which makes them suitable for cutting puzzle pieces of varying sizes. The manufacturer selects a design or image to place on the puzzle, and is printed using a process called lithography, which allows for high-quality and affordable printing. Then, these prints are glued onto a strong base, which is either made of wood, chipboard, or cardboard. These boards are left to dry for a few days to ensure a strong bond.

Once the board is ready, a jigsaw with a fine blade is used for cutting through the board by making curves, which ensure that each piece can be pieced with another one easily. Once the entire board is cut into pieces, the pieces are tested by putting them together. Then they are packed into a box and sent out for distribution.

Although this method is outdated and not suitable for mass producing thousands of puzzles in a day, it is still used by custom puzzle manufacturers, as well as those who use high-quality wood in their puzzles.

One of the downsides of using jigsaws to cut puzzles is that it can be quite hard to repair if it malfunctions, and its parts are also difficult to find in the market. So, if manufacturers use this method for their puzzle production process, it will cause a significant delay if any one of the jigsaws stops working properly.

Die Cutting

One of the most popular puzzle cutting methods is die cutting, which can easily produce hundreds of thousands of puzzles in a single day. The first step for die cutting is to build a cutting die, which is basically a metal template grid that is designed in the shape of a puzzle board when assembled. It is also built in the exact size of the puzzle sizes you require.

When mass producing puzzles, thousands of images are printed and glued to cardboard bases in a day. While they are left to dry, the metal template grid is prepared according to the number of pieces that have to be made from each puzzle. These grids can take anywhere between two to six weeks to be prepared perfectly.

In die cutting, there are two different processes followed: ribbon cutting and random cutting. A ribbon cut involves a metal grid with even shapes and sizes, and it can be used for all types of puzzles. It is more popular for mass producing puzzles, as it ensures faster production. 

On the other hand, random cut puzzles don’t have a fixed or predefined grid, which means that manufacturers make grids of different structures, with large and small pieces, or unevenly divided pieces. This creates puzzles that are more complex and difficult to put together. However, this is known to be a slower process, as more time is spent in creating the grids.

Ribbon cut puzzles are more suited towards children, or people who are looking for easier puzzles. Those who are looking for more challenging puzzles that can stimulate their brains can do better by choosing random cut puzzles.

Die cutting is a popular method that continues to be widely used by puzzle manufacturers. It helps them mass produce puzzles to meet the increased demands of their customers. Moreover, it can also be used effectively for customized puzzles.

Although die cutting is an efficient and fast cutting process, it has its cons too. Firstly, the metal template grid has sharp edges and if safety gear is not worn, workers can injure their hands with them. Secondly, manufacturers have to make new dies for each design. So, if there are a hundred different designs, they would need a hundred different puzzles as well. This increases the complexity of their operations, and also adds to the operational costs.

Precision Laser Cutting

With the innovation in cutting technologies, a faster and more accurate cutting method was developed, called precision laser cutting. This method is better than any other cutting method, and it allows manufacturers to cut down the production time by more than half. The precision laser cutting also starts with selecting an image and pasting it on a chipboard or cardboard base.

Once this process is complete, the jigsaw puzzle template is designed on the computer, and its image is exported into the application that is used to give commands to the laser cutting machine. The puzzle board is put in place inside the machine, and once the command is given to the cutter, its precision laser starts cutting the board in the same template it has been given. Within a few minutes, puzzles with hundreds of pieces are ready to be separated and sent onwards for packaging.

Through precision laser cutting, manufacturers are not only able to mass produce thousands of puzzles in a day, but it also reduces dependence on the workers, as they don’t have to design the metal grids by hand and use them to cut the puzzles. This also allows for higher precision. 

Moreover, this method is popularly used for all types of puzzles, rather than simply jigsaw puzzles. You can also use precision lasers to engrave shapes or patterns on cardboard bases. For instance, if you are looking to design a puzzle for children which requires them to fit certain shapes in their places, you can use a precision laser for this purpose. These are normally called tray puzzles, and you can also make custom puzzles using the same principle.

Apart from these, you can also use precision laser cutting to make 3D puzzles, as well as assembly and disassembly puzzles. These types of puzzles require you to connect different three-dimensional parts to form a shape or structure, or remove pieces to break down a structure. Other applications with precision laser cutting include making puzzle boxes, sliding box puzzles, cube puzzles, and many other types.

Freehand Cutting

As mentioned above, cutting puzzles by hand was a thing of the 1900s, and it isn’t used for mass producing puzzles nowadays. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t create your own puzzles and cut them by hand. Most people like to make custom puzzles with their pictures or paintings, especially for introducing puzzle solving to their children. 

The first step to this method is to choose an image that you would like to use as a puzzle. It can be anything, from a family picture to a sunset painting, and it can be as big or small as you want. There are no restrictions when you are designing your own puzzles. Once you have the image ready, grab a chipboard or cardboard sheet and spray adhesive.

After spraying the adhesive on the area on which you want to stick the image, gently place the image on the sheet and press it to ensure a proper bonding without any air bubbles in between. Once the board is dried up, flip it around and draw your puzzle template on this side, so that you don’t spoil the image in any way.

Now, you can use a cardboard cutter or sharp stationery knife to carefully cut along the lines and curves that you have drawn. Make sure that the curves are big enough to be precisely cut with the cutter, otherwise it will ruin your image. The best way to go about this is to use a jigsaw with a fine blade. Holding the board in place, you can move it towards the blade to begin cutting, and you can turn it around to create the curves.

Once you are done with the entire board, you can check your newly-cut puzzle pieces by putting them together, and also sanding them to remove any dust or residue from cutting. You should be able to piece together the entire puzzle accurately. Apart from using this for children, you can also gift this to your friends and loved ones.

This method is used by most well-known puzzle makers who only make a handful of puzzles for notable and influential people. Since they only have to design a few hundred puzzles every year that are high in demand, they can afford working by hand instead of using machines.

Which Method is the Most Popular?

We have mentioned the most common and popular methods of cutting puzzles that have been used since puzzles were invented. Since technology keeps rapidly advancing, there is no telling how puzzles will be cut in the years to come. The most popular puzzle cutting method that is being used nowadays is the laser precision cutting method.

A major reason for laser precision cutting to be the most popularly used method among them all is that it allows for puzzles to be manufactured and cut with the least human involvement, and this ensures less chance of error. Moreover, laser precision cutting ensures a higher level of precision and accuracy when compared to jigsaws and die cutting methods.

Another reason why most popular manufacturers rely on laser precision cutting for making puzzle pieces is that it greatly cuts down on the cutting and production time, since there is less manual work involved in this process. Once the images are printed and glued onto the cardboard bases in batches, designers can design the puzzle template quickly and forward it to the laser cutting application. The machine then uses the template to cut each puzzle in the exact same way.

Therefore, large scale manufacturers, who sell millions of puzzles every year, rely on laser precision cutting to help them fulfill the growing demand of their puzzles. Since they also develop new types and designs of puzzles, this technology helps them to mass produce it much faster. If you consider the pros and cons of each cutting method, you would understand why laser precision cutting is superior among them.

How are 3D Puzzles Cut?

If you have read extensively about puzzles, then you would know that there are many different types of puzzles other than jigsaw puzzles, and this is a fun domain to explore. If you have read all about the puzzle cutting methods above, you would be wondering how do they make 3D jigsaw puzzles, as well as assembly puzzles and many other types that you might have explored over the years.

When it comes to 3D jigsaw puzzles, they have a different design process than 2D jigsaw puzzles, mainly they don’t have an image that is printed and glued on them. You put the pieces together and build a 3D model, rather than a complete picture. Once the manufacturers narrow down the material section, they choose a shape or structure that they want to build, and start to draw it on the wooden or acrylic bases that they have chosen. If it is a simple 3D jigsaw puzzle that assembles just like its 2D variant, its cutting would also be done in the same way. The only difference is that they use a much more durable and strong blade to cut through the thicker material.

Other types of mechanical puzzles, which include assembly and disassembly puzzles, can also be cut using jigsaw puzzles, but they are mostly cut using precision laser cutting. A major reason for this is because assembly puzzles have a lot of irregular and intricate pieces that have to be cut to perfection. Manufacturers can easily achieve this by designing the entire puzzle template on a computer and send it to the cutting machine.

For laser cutting of 3D puzzles, manufacturers need more powerful and heavy-duty precision laser cutting machines, since they have to cut through thicker materials and also cut pieces of different shapes and sizes.

Common Cutting Styles used by Manufacturers

On average, a puzzle manufacturer creates anywhere between 500,000 to 2 million puzzles per year, and they try to bring new and unique puzzles to the market so that people can be engrossed in putting together their puzzles more and more. Therefore, each manufacturer comes up with different styles of cutting that are achieved by the cutting methods listed above.

Let’s have a quick look at some of the most common cutting styles that manufacturers use:

  • Strip cutting – used by manufacturers like BV Leisure, Gibsons, JR Puzzles, etc
  • Random cutting – used by Chad Valley, Sara White, Stave, and many others
  • Grid cutting – used by Educa, Falcon, Grovely, Ravensburger, etc

These are some of the common cutting styles that manufacturers use. Moreover, each manufacturer comes up with distinct shapes and sizes in which their puzzles are cut. Nowadays, you can also find puzzles that are a detour from the traditional square or rectangular shaped puzzles that you must have solved in your childhood.

This is all we have for you on how puzzles are cut. Hopefully, we have managed to satisfy your curiosity and also piqued your interest in puzzles. If you are spending a lot of time at home with your family, puzzles are the best way you can keep yourself and them busy for a long time.

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