Discover how digital cutting systems work and how various models differ.
By Lori Leaman
Users of software for vinyl cutting find many of the same features and functions offered in popular graphic-design programs, such as Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and CorelDRAW. Tools for design and editing, creating special effects, cutting, and output are usually standard. Graphic-design and editing tools may support file import, dragging and dropping images, various font formats, special shapes and borders, text setting and alignment, layering, dimensioning, creation of vector-based shapes, tiling of large images, color trapping, adjusting color gradients, and more.
The software often includes tools for creating special effects, including 3-D effects, shadows, rounded corners, outlines, distortions, chisel effects, and many others. Cutting functions supported might include user-defined vertical and horizontal weeding lines, cut by color, contour cutting with automatic bleed, and multiple cutting passes for thick materials. Users also may be able to reverse, swap axis, repeat, and size jobs without affecting the saved file.
How much will it cost me?
A shop today can purchase a 24-in. roll-fed friction cutter for $2000-$3000. A 50-in. roll-fed cutter requires an investment in the ballpark of $5000-$7000. That same shop can also, depending on its needs, purchase an industrial-sized flatbed cutter in the price range of $35,000-$150,000. Pricing for the industrial-sized units typically depends on the type of tooling included with the cutting system. Pricing on all cutting machines also may be determined by the software offered with the system, as well as the warranty.
Childs says cutter technology definitely has improved over the past decade. "Manufacturers realized that they had to have a good price tag, and also a good product," he notes. "Technology improved, manufacturing methods improved, and these systems got so much better.... There was, at one time, a race for speed, but the users realized that just because you can buy a car that goes 200 mph doesn't mean you'll ever actually go 200 mph. You just want [the cutter] to be reliable, consistent, and user friendly."
Cutting plotters can open the door to new business and new profits for any type of screen-printing company. Graphic shops can use them to add a finishing touch to retail displays. Garment printers can use them to custom cut transfers and appliqué, as well as to expand into products such as signage and decals. And industrial printers can benefit from the technology when producing short-runs and prototypes for graphic overlays, product-identification labels, and more. For any shop that wants to remain a cut above the competition, digital plotting technology is worth considering.
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