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Making the Cut

(February 2013) posted on Tue Mar 26, 2013

This article provides an overview of digital flatbed and laser cutting systems and highlights what’s available on the market.

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By the editors of Screen Printing magazine

Toolheads and inserts can be attached singly, or in combination, for applications that require kiss-cutting/through-cutting, cutting/creasing/scoring, cutting/routing, and other functions. These devices can process materials such as vinyl, film, paper, carton, corrugated and foam boards, multi-layered materials, and all types of hard and soft plastics. Maximum substrate thickness is typically around 2 in. A networkable, integrated workstation and built-in control panel are generally included for machine operation, and a vacuum system secures materials.

Fully automated operation is possible. Material-handling systems are available for roll-fed, sheet-fed, and board materials. Some models feature a combination roll-off/conveyor system and optional rewind, which allows for automatic material advancing from rolls. A conveyor belt also is an essential component of some automatic sheet- and board-loading/unloading systems.

Many flatbed cutters can be equipped with advanced registration systems that involve optics or other types of hardware or software to compensate for distortions that occur with different printing methods. Linear distortion—that is, uniform shrinkage or stretch—and non-uniform distortion, which occurs when different areas of the graphic shrink or expand at different rates, are the most common types. Non-uniform distortion is most often found in screen-printed graphics, while most digitally printed graphics present linear distortions only—unless they’re applied or laminated to the substrate, rather than printed directly.

A flatbed cutter can be used for multiple tasks and applications, thereby maximizing return on investment decreasing overall cost of ownership. Given that many systems support tolerances of ±0.0008 in. or better, and the ability to compensate for print and material distortions, flatbed cutting systems support the kind of repeatability that can practically eliminate waste and costly reprints that result from miscut or misregistered materials. Additionally, the broad range of tooling available for these systems facilitate finishing substrates as thin as photographic paper to materials as thick as board stock.

The flexible, modular design of many flatbed cutters allows the devices to integrate seamlessly, with proper planning, into production workflows of just about any kind, and it’s possible for one person to operate and manage multiple cutting systems.


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