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A Kaleidoscope of Crisp Cuts

Finish Substrates with One Device

By Melissa Donovan

Digital finishing is a broad term. Plotters, print-to-cut machines, laser cutting systems, routers, and even semi-automatic devices fall under this category. For many print service providers (PSPs), the best fit is based on commonly used substrates, efficiency, and footprint.

Versatility is a big draw in digital finishing. “Many printers need a wider range of routing tools for maximum application coverage,” admits Steve Urmano, marketing manager, Mimaki USA, Inc. Additional knifes allow for easier maneuverability depending on the material being cut.

Defining a Broad Segment
Depending on the type of application, the definition of digital finishing can vary. Royce Owen, director of marketing, Summa, Inc. explains it in a broad sense, “digital finishing is converting a printed image into a ready-to-sell format.”

Routers, cutters, and even plotters are generally defined based on the type of knife used. Swivel knives are traditional cutting tools that handle less-robust workloads. Tangential knives are used for heavier, thicker media. Rotary knives, also most often used for heavier materials, spin like a pizza cutter. They are programmed to speed up or slow down when not in immediate contact with the material being cut, which allows the knife to execute specific cut lengths. Oscillating knives are handy for thin, light materials such as foamcore or corrugated board, the head of the knife moves up and down at a high rate of speed, which helps prevent fraying.

Laser cutting devices are a bit different, in that the laser, unlike a knife, does not come into contact with the media being cut. “Digital finishing in laser technology refers to processing materials by cutting, engraving, or marking with a non-contact CO2 laser to produce contoured shapes, precision details, and intricate designs in short run or production environments,” says Cherie White, marketing manager, Universal Laser Systems, Inc. (ULS).

Routers, cutters, and laser cutting devices finish a variety of substrates—ranging from wood, aluminum, plastic, foam, paper, cardboard, and more. It depends on the knife blade used or the wattage of the laser. Vinyl cutters or plotters are solely used for vinyl. Some print-to-cut machines also handle paper, textiles, or films—subject to maximum thickness.

Finishing in High Demand
“Finishing has evolved into a variety of operations. A PSP may need to cut 50 banners one morning and then deal with producing 100 standees on foamcore in the afternoon. Finishing may include knife-cutting stickers for another client and then producing mock ups of a package. Today, finishing is processing a variety of materials that the print customer can utilize in their printing world,” says David Tebon, sales manager, Zund America, Inc.

With a peak in interest over flatbed printing, routing is a must have feature for many PSPs. According to David J. Cich, VP of sales and marketing, CET Color, as more shops invest in flatbed technology and print directly to rigid substrates, they encounter applications that are unable to be hand trimmed and require non-square finishing. With heavy-duty materials such as wood or even glass, a router with a powerful knife is ideal to achieve the cleanest cut.

Contour cutting, which follows the shape of a graphic, is also in demand. Finishing devices that cut crisply, without fraying or creating jagged edges, around the most curvy graphics push PSPs to up the ante by offering challenging applications to their customers.

“Contour cutting of rigid substrates is particularly popular,” shares Randy Paar, display graphics product manager, Oce North America. “Typical uses are point of purchase (POP) displays, exhibit displays, and booth furniture.”

“This type of application can be found in a wide range of projects, from large wall graphics to table displays. These are often customized for local markets—for example, images of local athletes in which graphics are registered and precisely cut to irregular image outlines,” agrees Don Skenderian, VP market development, EskoArtwork.

Devices with the ability to contour cut precisely for long-length tracking are a necessity, according to Hiro Futsukaichi, marketing director, Mutoh America, Inc.

Automation Nation
A versatile device—saving time, money, and footprint—is ideal in almost every segment of the graphic arts, and finishing is no exception. In many cases, a digital device means automation, which is arguably one of the biggest time savers, in regards to added versatility and less hands-on time.

“Users always look for a multiple function machine to satisfy customers’ applications. For example, a cutter that cuts vinyl and thicker material like sandblast or thinner material like window film,” shares Sandy Shih, product manager, GCC.

“Versatility is the name of the game in this new economy. Specialization always has a place in the industry, but as more businesses consolidate, the need to diversify is paramount if a company wishes to survive. As the nature of consumer purchase tendencies migrate toward one-stop shopping, PSPs need to capture that business by having as diverse an offering as possible,” explains Dana Curtis, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.

White agrees, with the current economy, PSPs must do more with less—fewer employees and/or a limited budget. The ability to work with a finishing system that processes various applications allows PSPs to extend their business into new markets or to new customers.

“This ability expands their capabilities, therefore allowing the company to offer other services not previously available to them before,” adds Roy Valentine, sales manager, Techno Inc.

Semi-automatic finishing devices should not be overlooked, they also offer versatility. The Fletcher-Terry Company offers hardware that falls under both semi-automatic and manual categories. “Our cutting equipment utilizes a design philosophy based on interchangeable cutting heads. This gives the user the greatest level of versatility and longevity in their investment,” explains James McNickle, marketing director, Fletcher-Terry.

Available Products
Below is a brief roundup of available finishing products from several vendors. For a more detailed review, as well as additional products, visit www.digitaloutput.net and search keyword “digital finishing devices.”

CET’s X-press CNC 480 and X-press CNC 510 routers are compatible with rigid substrates up to four inches, with the exception of aluminum, where a quarter of an inch is the thickest width possible.

EskoArtwork provides finishing tables for short-run sign and display production. The Kongsberg XP series is for extremely high throughput, the Kongsberg i-XL for heavy-duty tables, and the Kongsberg i-XE series is used for lighter materials. Suitable substrates include acrylics, cardstock, chipboard, Coroplast, corrugated board, foamboard, Sintra, lexan, wood, and textiles.

Fletcher-Terry offers manual and semi-automatic substrate cutting and finishing equipment including the Titan manual cutter/trimmer, GeminiPro rail cutter, Fletcher 3100 acrylic and glass cutter, FSC rigid substrate cutter, and Alta99 automated substrate cutter. Plastics, aluminum, foamboard, vinyl, and canvas are cut with these systems.

The GCC LaserPro Gaia II is a 51x36-inch grand format laser cutting system that uses Laser Pulsing Technology for accurate laser firing control. Also under the GCC umbrella, the Jaguar, Puma, Bengal, and Sable series cutters. All Jaguar and Puma cutters are equipped with the Accu-Aligning System, which detects registration marks encoded into digital images.

The GSplus series from Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. (GSP) features GS15 plus, GSx plus, and the GS750 plus. These devices are part of an accurate motor sprocket plotter family that uses 15- or 30-inch perforated materials. The Gerber M Series of router/cutters includes the M-1200, M-3000, and M-3000 Turbo. Devices in this series handle cutting corrugated plastic and foamboard; kiss-cutting vinyl decals; routing acrylic, PVC, and other rigid substrates; as well as creasing digital offset to create POP displays and packaging.

Graphtec America, Inc. provides the FC2250 and FC4200 series of flatbed cutters suitable for finishing cardboard and rigid media up to .7 millimeters thick or less. The FC2250 series, targeted toward large format applications, features a dual head design with 500/1,000 grams of cutting force. Two media hold down methods are currently available, electrostatic or vacuum. Also, a new creasing tool for corrugated media creates fold lines.

Mimaki vinyl cutters—CG-75FXII, CG-130FXII, and CG-160FXII—cut media 32, 54, and 64 inches, respectively. They feature the HALF CUT mechanism, a technology developed by Mimaki, that allows for the backing sheet to be cut leaving half cut connecting points, which can be easily detached when necessary. Mimaki’s CF3 Series routers cut materials up to two inches thick. Both the CF3-1631 and CF3-1610 feature a cutting area of 63x122 inches. An M head is used specifically for router cutting and an R1 head acts as a reciprocating cutter for materials such as corrugated boards and foam.

Mutoh’s SC-PRO 1650 is used for contour cutting and regular vinyl cutting. Cutting widths reach 64.3 inches and accommodate roll and sheet media up to 72.83 inches.

Oce ProCut Cutting Solutions are available in ten sizes with a variety of cutting, creasing, and routing tools and utilize Oce ProCut Software to prepare files for cutting. Both rigid and roll media can be cut, including foamboard, paper, cardstock, foamed PVC, Dibond, acrylic, PETG, vinyl, or fabric.

Roland SOLJET, VersaCAMM, and VersaUV LED-UV printer/cutters allow shops to automate both printing and contour cutting using one file, one workflow, and one printer for precision alignment. The Roland CAMM-1 GS cutter and printer/cutter cuts finished, laminated graphics using the Quadralign four-point optical registration system for a print-laminate-cut workflow. Roland’s GX series of vinyl cutters range from 24 to 50 inches in width and are used to cut pre-printed graphics.

Summa offers the S Class T Series of tangential cutters, which handle thick materials up to 46-mil due to dual X-axis motors. The cutters range from 30 to 64 inches wide. Also part of the T series are the OPOS-CAM cutters—54 and 64 inches—which feature a camera-based mark recognition system. Users who do not require tangential cutters, but want the quality and reliability of a Summa, can use drag-knife S Class D Series cutters.

Techno CNC routers rout signage and displays as well as digital images. The devices feature an automatic print maker verification system that locates reference markers on a print file, verifies the image, and adjusts for linear and rotational distortion. Maximum material thickness is two inches for wood, foam, plastic, and aluminum.

ULS offers a complete line of laser cutting and engraving equipment including the VersaLASER, Professional Series, and Industrial Series with engraving areas from 16x12 to 48x24 inches. Laser power ranges from ten to 150 watts depending on the device. Acrylic, plastic, wood, cardstock, paper, Coroplast, and textiles up to a half-inch thick can be cut.

Zund offers multifunctional cutting machines that include knife cutting, creasing, scoring, routing, and V-cutting. The G3 model is available in up to ten different sizes from 50x63 to 125x125 inches. The PN series of tables are for users looking for a smaller footprint and need digital cutting options for prototyping and sample making. These devices are available ranging in sizes from 31x31 and 70x98 inches. Materials up to two inches thick can be cut on Zund cutters, including banner, vinyl, paper, corrugated board, carton stock, magnets, foamcore, styrene, and Sintra.

Finishing Up
Digital cutters, routers, and plotters can finish many substrates. Depending on the knife or laser power used, media as thin as paper and as thick as wood can be cut into any shape imaginable. “Versatility is one of the biggest considerations. A machine’s ability to handle a wide variety of material is key for businesses who want to compete in today’s market,” recommends Steve Albert, Gerber M Series product manager, GSP.

Jan2010, Digital Output

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