Vinyl cutters and printer/cutters offer versatility and a low cost solution for print service providers (PSPs) on applications ranging from signage to point of purchase (POP) to vehicle wraps and heat transfer garments. New materials for vinyl cutters are introduced often, further expanding business opportunities.
Cutting speeds and feeds play an important part in the configuration. The inner workings of today's cutting devices help PSPs efficiently produce different applications on a diverse collection of substrates.
Sophisticated machines are computer-controlled and take direction from software developed specifically to direct cutting, milling, and creasing. "There is a workflow process prior to production that helps drive the finishing process. This software develops a cut file that is synchronized with a print file and tells the finishing machine what to do. The cut file gives the instructions. The computer tells the tools what to do," explains Bill Hartman, VP business development, digital finishing, Esko.
Vinyl cutters, as well as integrated print-and-cut devices, feature cutting mechanisms driven by DC servo motors. "These devices incorporate a friction feed system consisting of grit and pinch rollers to move the media across the cutting area," says Daniel Valade, product manager, Roland DGA Corporation.
"Though standalone cutters do not have ink delivery systems, they typically come with optical registration systems that allow the cutting of pre-printed graphics," continues Valade. Optical registration systems, such as Roland's Quadralign, automatically recognize printer crop marks and contour cut designs based on the vector data created in the design software.
"The main components of these devices are the machine frame with clamp and knife, and the machine table with the positioning device," adds Matthias Langer, senior product marketing/PR manager, Polar-Mohr. "When cutting, the material is held in place by the clamp. This device clamps the material from the top of the machine table and the knife cuts the material. The movement of the knife is diagonal so that the forces are minimized."
David Conrad, director of marketing, Mutoh America, Inc., cautions that print-and-cut devices house both printing and cutting elements which make it more susceptible to wear and tear. Standalone cutting plotters, on the other hand, give shops the flexibility to cut only when they need to.
"A standalone cutter allows printers to group print jobs for cutting so they can either print a roll of images then move to the cutter and start the next print job, or get print jobs done in one shift and then move them to the cutter while running the next print job making for a more productive and efficient workflow," continues Conrad.
Speeds and Feeds
Cutting speeds for standalone and print-and-cut devices vary depending on the cutter manufacturer and model.
Donald Skenderian, director, sales and marketing, Gerber Innovations, says that most cutters operate at speeds over 2,000 inches per minute, depending on the material, which includes adhesive vinyl, banners, composites, corrugate, Coroplast, folding carton, honeycomb, styrene, sintra, Styrofoam, and textiles. "Cutters typically give a cleaner edge to pieces since the blade slices through the material versus routing. Also there is less particle pollution due to the slicing," he says.
Colex Imaging, Inc. is the exclusive distributor of Fotoba cutters with models available from 44 to 130 inches. Designed to work with both rolls and sheets, Fotoba devices trim all flexible media up to 130 inches wide and 40-mil thick. On average, Fotoba cutters cut 150 feet in less than ten minutes.
Fotoba cutters automatically realign to the edge of the printed image and produce square finished images even if the printer fails to print parallel to the media edge, or if the printer fails to wind up the rolls squarely.
For GCC's RX series, the maximum cutting speed is 1530 millimeter (mm) per second and cuts up to 0.8 mm thickness. It is used to cut different kinds of media, from thin window tint to thick sandblast or reflective film.
"The standard Automatic Aligning System guarantees precise contour cutting by automatically detecting the registration marks. In addition, the auto cut-off system allows the media to be cut off after the completion of each job, automatically making it easy to set up an unattended workflow for mass production," shares Sandy Shih, product manager, GCC.
The GCC JC-240E device prints on substrates up to ten mm thick at 41.3 feet per hour with 1,440 dpi, and cuts up to 720 mm per second. With use of six-color eco-solvent ink, it may be adhered to various materials and is useful for outdoor printing. The Auto Media Calibration and enhanced Automatic Contour Cutting System establish the optimum print height for the media and automatically detect the contour line of graphics.
Graphics One, LLC (GO) MaxCut Contour Cutter offers productivity at 38 inches per second (in/s). The new GO PC 36e print-and-cut device is a 36-inch integrated printer/cutter cutting at speeds up to 26 in/s, printing at up to 120 square feet per hour.
GO's new EcoColor PC36 print-and-cut device is focused on unique transfer and signage applications. "We are launching a new replacement substrate that works just like a magnet substrate called StickIt. StickIt adheres to virtually all smooth substrates including glass, wood, plastic, and metal. A user can print and then contour cut the StickIt media for any application," shares Christian Sam, product manager, GO.
The cutting width and feeding depth for Polar-Mohr’s Polar 56 is 22.05 inches, with a maximum 3.15-inch feeding height. The Polar 66 features a 26.38 width and 3.15-inch height, while the Polar 80 offers a 31.5-inch width and 3.94-inch height. The back gauge speed ranges between 2.76 to 5.12 in/s. The knife speed for all three models is 20 cycles per minute.
Roland offers several vinyl cutters and print/cut devices including the 64-inch SOLJET Pro 4 XR-640, which offers cut speeds of up to 33 in/s.
One of the greatest benefits of cutting machines is productivity. "Depending on the machine size, users stack up to four inches of material into the cutter, this is the equivalent of 1,000 sheets of 80 gsm paper. In one move, a thousand sheets are cut at a time," notes Langer.
"Overall production time for a standalone versus print-and-cut device is fairly equal," notes Conrad. "The time it takes to print and remove the print from the printer, take it to the cutter, and align it for the cut process may be slightly longer, but jobs are lumped together, so it is not a major time issue and ultimately keeps the printer going."
"Adding a printer/cutter device extends a shop's versatility and production capacity by allowing the user to send a job to one device for both printing and contour cutting without any additional handling of materials," explains Valade. "The ability to work with the latest sign-making software expands design options as well."
For these reasons and more, cutters remain a widely used technology for added productivity and versatility throughout the market.
Click here to read part one of this exclusive online series, Cutting Components.