By Cassandra Balentine
Nearly every printed graphic requires some type of finishing before it is complete. Cutting is an essential capability for a variety of roll-red applications, including stickers, labels, decals, and heat transfer graphics for apparel. In order to produce these items, print service providers (PSPs) often employ a standalone cutter or an integrated printer/cutter.
Standalone devices offer the benefit of productivity, as one machine isn’t tied up performing two different tasks. However, workflow must be controlled to ensure a seamless transition from printer to cutter. Integrated printer/cutters seamlessly complete a job; however graphics that require lamination pose a challenge. In either scenario, proprietary and third-party software helps tie the workflow together.
Above: HP’s print-and-cut solutions offer efficient production for window graphics.
Adhesive-backed PVC-printed applications like labels, stickers, decals, and window and floor graphics represent the most popular applications for printer/cutters and print-to-cut systems; however, demand is coming from the apparel industry as well.
Whether you are creating stickers, labels, decals, or heat transfer graphics for apparel, both print-to-cut systems and printer/cutter combinations are appropriate, shares Mike Springan, product manager/training manager, Mutoh America, Inc. “Thicker materials like magnetic media or leather are better served on a flatbed CNC cutter/router and not with roll-fed drag knife cutters,” he offers.
Daniel Valade, color products manager, Roland DGA Corporation, points out that for PSPs primarily printing on substrates without a liner or adhesive backer, there may be certain advantages to using a flatbed cutter with a vacuum table, as opposed to a friction-fed cutter or integrated print/cut device. “However, for most PSPs, the applications for the two workflows are very similar.”
To produce compatible applications, PSPs decide between standalone cutters and integrated print/cut devices.
Small- to medium-sized shops benefit from either a print-and-cut system or a combination printer/cutter. The decision to invest in either is dependent on a number of factors, but there are benefits and drawbacks to both.
Springan says if budget or space requirements are the deciding factor, the PSP may opt for the printer/cutter first to break into this particular application. However, after a period of time he says they may find that they have outgrown the capabilities of these printer/cutters and upgrade to the print-to-cut systems, “which is more productive and reliable with less wear and tear on mechanical components,” he offers.
According to Xavier Garcia, GM, large format printing division, HP, Inc., print-and-cut systems like the HP Latex 300 Print and Cut Series reduce total cost and improve workflow.
Depending on a print environment’s specific cutting needs, a print-and-cut system that incorporates standalone devices provides several advantages.
Springan suggests systems that incorporate standalone printers and cutters typically outperform integrated printer/cutters from a productivity perspective. “Anytime you can use two pieces of equipment at the same time, you will have a faster, more efficient workflow, saving time and money. While the printer is printing signs, banners, and wraps, a standalone cutter is able to produce other graphics using colored vinyl for window lettering and graphics or non-print vinyl graphics,” he continues.
Commercial print providers, packaging and prototype manufacturers, and larger print environments—including some sign shops—have a tendency to lean towards separate print-and-cut systems due to their existing workflows that can also benefit from a cutting device, says Michael Maxwell, senior manager, sales promotions, Mimaki USA, Inc. “In these cases, having a separate cutter offers the ability to use this workflow with other printers they may already have in their facility,” he offers.
Valade agrees that large production shops benefit from a continuously printing workflow. “If a job requires contour cutting, a separate cutting device can be very beneficial to the PSP. This allows for the next print job to be sent while the previous job is being cut offline from the printer. Such operations generally have more than one production shift per day, a larger staff, and higher output demand than a corner sign shop.”
Tom Wittenberg, large format marketing segment manager, sign and décor, AMS, HP,, points out that PSPs looking to print-and-cut systems want the flexibility of having not only a standalone printer, but the ability to do printing and cutting, with the ability to do one, the other, or both. “Those looking at integrated systems are looking to do straight print-and-cut applications,” he suggests.
HP recently introduced its dual-device printing and cutting solution, the HP Latex 300 Print and Cut Series. “The primary benefit is that you can print and cut at the same time. It uses essentially the same operating space as an integrated device, but you can print and/or cut allowing for more versatility,” explains Wittenberg.
Integrated printer/cutter solutions are also popular for creating cut graphics. Springan says printer/cutters usually fit well into small shops with limited space and budgets.
Valade says the technology built into today’s advanced integrated printer/cutters is designed to handle most of the applications that two separate devices can handle.
Maxwell adds that an integrated printer/cutter system, combined with certain ink technologies—such as solvent and UV—that do not always require lamination can produce jobs with ease in a single set up, which in turns creates demand for these devices.
“Integrated systems are more attractive to PSPs that produce more decals and stickers with solvent or UV ink technologies due to their durability and ease of workflow,” says Maxwell. He says these types of solutions are often found in sign shops.
The drawbacks include the potential bottleneck an all-in-one device creates in the workflow. For example, jobs that require lamination after print would involve the need to remove the print job, laminate, and then reload back on to the printer/cutter to complete the job.
Maxwell adds that ink types requiring lamination—such as latex—force the PSP to remove the job from one device and in many cases defeats the capabilities an integrated solution provides. “In those instances where an interim setup is required, having the printer and cutter separated improves the workflow.”
“A major advantage of integrated printer/cutters is the ability to print and then automatically cut while the printer is unattended. Such technology enables a one- or two-person shop to design, complete post printing, or tend to other business activities without stopping to move the printed job to an offline cutter,” admits Valade. “Being able to print and cut from roll to roll overnight is a big selling point for smaller PSPs because they can actually be producing while they’re away from the shop.”
Workflow and Software
Printer/cutters and print-to-cut systems rely on behind-the-scenes workflow to ensure seamless production.
Many sophisticated and feature-rich third-party software platforms are available. “Many manufacturers have improved the workflow with proprietary software solutions,” says Maxwell. “This is most beneficial to customers who use an integrated solution and for those that use matched elements,” he explains.
Maxwell believes a matched system—machine, ink, and software—is often the best workflow. “Manufacturers also recognize that their products may not be the only products in a print facility and have added software functionality to enable it to act as another seamless step, or pass through to avoid color management concerns, etc., all while leaving the print-and-cut functionality intact and feature rich,” he adds.
The HP Signage Suite is compatible with the HP Latex 300 Print and Cut Series. “With Signage Suite you can design your output in three steps and with HP FlexiPrint and Cut RIP, users can print and cut in five steps,” explains Wittenberg.
He says the HP FlexiPrint and Cut RIP along with HP’s Signage Suite combine all the necessary software in one workflow management system for ease of use. The one point workflow allows users to edit and print jobs without interruption.
Mutoh currently uses Mutoh Edition FlexiSign & Print from SA International. “This software provides a complete design, print, and cut solution to our customers. It is efficient and easy to use with Mutoh ValueJet printers and ValueCut vinyl cutters,” explains Springan.
Valade says depending on the mix of equipment, a separate RIP may be needed. “When using both a Roland printer, such as the VersaEXPRESS RF-640 and a standalone cutter, like the Roland CAMM-1 GR-640, the integration is quite simple using Roland’s VersaWorks Dual RIP software,” he admits. “It is as easy as dragging and dropping a print file from the printer queue to the cutter queue, and then clicking the print button.”
A handful of wide format printer manufacturers focus on roll-fed cutting, either as standalone devices or an integrated solution. Here are specifics from HP, Mimaki, Mutoh, and Roland.
At the 2017 ISA Sign Expo, HP announced the HP Latex 300 Print and Cut Series. The dual-device solution is designed to provide simultaneous printing and cutting in a single workflow. Ideal for sign shops, quick printers, and PSPs, the 54-inch HP Latex 315 Print and Cut and 64-inch HP Latex 335 Print and Cut offer efficient production for a range of applications such as floor and window graphics, as well as stickers and customizable clothing.
Additionally, the solutions are designed to work with the recently released HP Signage Suite, a cloud-based software solution with web-based applications for easy signage creation. The suite is designed for integration into PSPs’ web to print operations, making it possible to receive orders 24/7.
Mimaki offers both its CJV150 and CJV300 series integrated printer/cutters.
The Mimaki CJV150 offers a single unit for printing and cutting. It features printing speeds of up to 605 square feet per hour (sf/h), a resolution of up to 1,400 dpi, and four model widths including 32, 43, 54, and 64 inches.
The Mimaki CJV300 series of wide format, high-speed printer/cutters enables a variety of applications from fine art reproductions to outdoor signage. The series features printing speeds of up to 1,140 sf/h, integrated printing and cutting, print resolution up to 1,400 dpi, and a two-liter bulk ink system.
Both systems offer users the choice between eco-solvent or dye-sublimation ink sets. An expanded eco-solvent ink set includes ten colors, including sliver.
In addition to its printer lineup, Mutoh offers its ValueCut cutting plotters, including the 24-inch ValueCut 600, 54-inch ValueCut 1300, and 72-inch ValueCut 1800. The multi-purpose cutting/plotting line offers the functionality needed to complete traditional vinyl cutting for lettering jobs, contour cutting of pre-printed stickers, and a cut-through feature for the creation of individual stickers.
Roland’s new TrueVIS printer/cutters are built from the ground up. Available in 54- and 64-inch models, TrueVIS VG series inkjet printer/cutters feature FlexFire printheads and TrueVIS INK that combine to produce vibrant colors.
New TrueVIS INK delivers a wide color gamut and improved output, while meeting stricter environmental standards and user demands for lower costs, without sacrificing quality. 500 milliliter pouches fit neatly into reusable cartridges and slide into a hidden ink bay for clean usage and less waste. TrueVIS INK is also Greenguard Gold certified and does not require any special ventilation equipment.
In addition to a built-in control panel, a new Roland DG Mobile Panel allows users to perform control panel functions of TrueVIS VG printer/cutters with an existing smartphone or tablet using a Bluetooth connection. This new feature provides a rich interface directly on or remotely in range of the TrueVIS printer/cutter. Receive status updates as well as remotely manage production, test printing, and cleaning functions.
The TrueVIS printer/cutters are designed to produce applications like die-cut labels and decals, banners, signs, vehicle wraps, posters and backlit displays, wall graphics and murals, print-and-cut heat transfers, and fine art and photos.
Wide format printers paired with an in-house cutter or integrated printer/cutter offerings serve a specific set of needs—space, budget, and productivity. A decision to go the route of standalone or integrated capabilities is largely dependent on the PSP.
Sep2017, Digital Output