Discover how digital cutting systems work and how various models differ.
By Lori Leaman
Sprocket-fed systems also allow for unattended operation—a big plus in any graphics shop. This means that users can load a 50-yd roll of vinyl, hit the start button, close up shop, go home for the night, and return to the shop the next morning to find a completed job that meets expectations.
Childs notes that material loading also is quick and easy with sprocket-fed cutters. These machines are compatible with various types of vinyl. However, because the sprockets are fixed, you can only use materials of the width for which the cutter was designed the materials must be punched. On friction-feed cutters, you can use material of any width, up to the maximum that the device will support.
The cutting edge
The two main types of knives or blades used in vinyl cutters are swivel and tangential. A swivel knife, also called a drag knife, follows the designated cutting path without raising up from the substrate. A tangential knife, on the other hand, is a fixed-position blade that constantly lifts and turns in the direction of the cut. Tangential knives are typically suited to cutting thick materials and intricate designs.
Many cutters allow users to switch between swivel and tangential cutting with the push of a button. Users may also be able to control blade-related functions, such as cutting force (weight) and speed, through an LCD interface. On some systems, a dial gives users control over the weight of the blade.
Flatbed cutting systems may be equipped with laser heads that perform the cutting function. These machines also can be fitted with tools that accommodate various cutting and creasing requirements, as well as routing and engraving functions (Figure 3). Some may also allow operators to alternate between a knife and plotting pen.
When it comes to swivel cutters, 45° or 60° blades are the norm. Rick Rivera, applications engineer at Roland, explains that the 45° blades are used for general applications, such as vinyl, heat-transfer materials, and thin stock, while the 60° blades are used for detailed cuts, tiny letters, and thick materials that require the blade to punch through.
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