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Making the Cut

Adding a Vinyl Cutting System

By Kim Crowley

A vinyl cutter produces letters, shapes, and logos for signs, cut window tint film, and decorative apparel. Drew Groshong, VP of sales, Summa, Inc., says cutters are used to contour- or kiss-cut graphics without cutting a backing sheet; pounce holes in paper to create stencils; cut heat transfer paper for t-shirt graphics; and allow users to experiment with unique materials, such as magnetic, styrene, and craft paper.

Standalone cutting systems and print-to-cut solutions offer a number of options and features for print service providers (PSPs). "Vinyl cutting technology is over 20 years old and comes in a variety of devices from entry-level machines to premium-grade production cutters. The learning curve is very short and the Internet is flooded with information on how the technology works," shares Dana Curtis, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.

For PSPs to stay ahead of the competition it is imperative to offer a variety of services, such as vinyl cutting. "Let’s face it, the sign industry has quite a bit of competition," states Steve Urmano, marketing director, Mimaki USA, Inc. "The question is, can a small shop survive without offering competitive services?"

"During tough economic times, it is essential to keep your existing customer base while prospecting for new business. Having the right equipment—robust, flexible, and cost effective—allows shop owners to focus on maintaining excellent customer service and expanding their business," agrees Neil Zdunkawicz, Marketing Manager, Graphtec America, Inc.

Cut Vinyl Opportunity
The addition of a vinyl cutting device provides possibility. "Adding a new piece of equipment that produces different projects offers more opportunities for business," explains Crystal Baus, assistant marketing manager, Mutoh America, Inc.

A vinyl cutter opens up additional services beyond sign making. "PSPs utilize cutters in other markets such as rhinestone transfer and window tinting," says Mira Wu, senior marketing communications specialist, GCC. Many of the vendors featured in this article provide cutting plotters feasible for these activities.

An entrepreneur with a few thousand dollars in startup capital can build a full-time business around a vinyl cutter. "Many users operate these devices as part of a side business on nights and weekends," shares Curtis.

Wu says it doesn’t take much to get started. "For sign makers, they just need a PC, a cutter, and some cutting media, and they are on their way to starting a profitable business."

The addition of a vinyl cutter is fairly easy for shops accustomed to working with various graphic arts media, printers, software, and RIPs. With only a few hours of training, PSPs have vinyl services up and running.

Technology Roundup
Cutter qualities include tracking and repeatability. Tracking is the measure of accuracy relating to the material feeding through the machine. Repeatability measures the distance that can be cut. In addition to accuracy, cutters also vary based on cut width, maximum acceptable media thickness, speed, cutting force, or pen pressure.

GCC’s four Jaguar IV models range in maximum width from 24 to 72 inches. They accept media up to 0.03 inches thick, feature a cutting force of 600g, and a speed of 1,530 millimeters per second. The Puma III is available in a 24- and 51-inch version. It handles material up to 0.03 inches thick, features a cutting force of 400g, and reaches speeds of up to 600 millimeters per second. GCC’s Sable and Bengal cutters both cut media up to 24 inches wide and handle material up to 0.03 inches thick. The Sable possesses a cutting force of 250g and speeds of up to 400 millimeters per second. The Bengal’s cutting force is 400g and speed is 600 millimeters per second. All GCC cutters are compatible with CorelDraw plug-in, EasySign, GreatCut plug-in, and SignPal software.

Gerber Scientific Products, Inc. offers the Tempo 600, enVision, and the GSPlus series. The 24-inch Tempo 600 is a friction-feed vinyl cutter bundle designed to meet the needs of entry-level vinyl cutting sign shops, or shops looking to add additional vinyl cutting capabilities. The plotter cuts vinyl up to a maximum material thickness of 10-mil. It is bundled with OMEGA Cut Solution software. The enVision and GS sprocket-feed plotters are available in 15- and 30-inch models. The GS plotters feature Knife Mode Switching technology, for optimal cutting of all Gerber materials as well as many others. The GS 750 Plus features tangential or swivel knife configuration, three-inches-per-second cutting speed, and 27.25-inch cutting width.

Graphtec roll-fed and flatbed cutting plotters are available for smaller shops up to high-volume production facilities, in 15- to 64-inch sizes. The FC8000 series roll-fed plotter is available in five sizes, with maximum compatible media widths of about 30 to 72 inches. The FC8000 series roll-fed cutter features a maximum cutting speed of 58.5 inches per second and 20 to 600g selectable cutting forces, allowing users to process diamond grade, high-intensity reflective film, sandblast resist rubber, automotive window and paint protection films, and self-adhesive vinyl. Graphtec professional class 24-inch CE5000-60 and 48-inch CE5000-120 roll-fed cutting plotters are updates of the company’s CE3000Mk2 series. The new models include floor stands, a rear media roll rack, ROBO Master software, Cutting Master Plug-in, plus Graphtec’s Automatic Registration Mark Sensor) system. The company’s flatbed cutting plotters include the FC4200 Series, a table- or bench-top cutting plotter designed for high-precision and medium to heavy material crafting jobs. It is suitable for cutting intricate designs on vinyl, photo-masking films, foam material, cardboard, oil board, and sandblast resist rubber.

Ioline’s SmarTrack Contour is available from Graphics One, LLC and other distributors. The system reads square registration points at each corner of the image, makes necessary scale or vector adjustments, then aligns and cuts along the outline of the image. The SmarTrack Contour also functions as a traditional sign cutter. Users cut vinyl, create stencils, design pounce patterns, or plot large format drawings.

Mimaki cutting plotters feature a proprietary Half Cut mechanism. It allows the backing sheet to be cut, leaving half cut connecting points, to hold the image in place. The 42-inch CG-100 SRII and the 54-inch CG-130 SRII plotters feature a new Real Time Stroke Control (RSC) function designed for precise cutting. RSC detects blade strokes and automatically corrects blade force, even as media thickness or blade length changes. A new over-cut function overlaps start and end points of the media to eliminate incomplete line cuts. The CG-SRII plotters have a maximum speed of 33.5 inches per second and 400g pen pressure. They come with Fine Cut 7 plug-in software for Adobe Illustrator CS3 and CorelDraw. Mimaki also offers the CG FXII Series of cutting plotters, ranging in width from 40.9 to 74 inches wide.

Mutoh offers the ValueJet SC-PRO 1650 cutter, which can be paired with ValueJet printers. The company is in its final evaluation stages for the SC-PRO to perform contour cutting and cut through. The cut through option will eventually be available as a firmware upgrade for current SC-PRO users, and come with the SC-PRO upon final evaluation.

Roland vinyl cutters include the GX and GX Pro series in 36-, 46-, and 54-inch widths. The GX Pro series accepts maximum media thickness of 40-mil and has a maximum speed of 85 centimeters per second and a down force of up to 350g. The GX cutters are compatible with all major design software packages and come bundled with CutStudio design software and plug-ins for Adobe illustrator and CorelDraw. Roland added a new 64-inch vinyl cutter to complement the VersaArt RS-640 inkjet printer line and the new VersaCAMM VS-640 inkjet printer/cutter available beginning March 2010. It is the largest, fastest, and most versatile VersaCAMM printer/cutter to date, designed to produce signs, banners, vehicle graphics, fine art, packaging prototypes, labels, decals, POP displays, and heat transfers.

Summa’s SummaCut Series of vinyl cutters includes the 30-, 48-, 54-, and 64-inch models. Features include up to 30-mil cutting thickness, 400g of down force, 26-foot cut repeatability, dual servo motors, and speeds of up to 44 inches per second. The S Class D Series features up to 30-mil cutting thickness, 400g of down force, 40-foot cut repeatability, triple servo motors, and speeds of 56 inches per second. Summa’s four S Class T Series vinyl cutters feature up to 46-mil cutting thickness, 600g of down force, 40-foot cut repeatability, 42 IPS tangential, and 56 IPS drag knife mode. The S Class features an integrated pounce system and triple servo motors with an extra motor on the X-axis for additional pulling power and speed. Finally, two S Class T4 Series feature up to 46-mil cutting thickness, 600g of down force, 40-foot cut repeatability, 42 IPS tangential, 56 IPS drag knife mode, triple servo motors, and a camera-based sensor for locating registration marks. The S Class 54- and 64-inch T Series models are bundled with an option referred to as OPOS Cam, which senses registration marks up to ten times faster than a standard system. Summa plans to debut a new flatbed cutter at ISA in Orlando, FL this April called the Summa F Series - Pro Flatbed System.

Making the Cut
Cut vinyl is used for many purposes and offers opportunity for PSPs, auto detailers, and more. Available vinyl cutting systems vary based on width, speed, accuracy, and other features. The technology ranges from entry-level to heavy production, opening vinyl cutting to a wide range of users.

Click on the link above to get more information on the vendors mentioned in this article.

Apr2010, Digital Output
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