How to Choose a Professional Vinyl Cutting Machine
If you’re a dedicated sign maker, getting a reliable vinyl cutting machine right from the very beginning is essential for your progress as a professional quality plotter really can take your business to the next level.
You don’t want to have a poor start and get a bad vinyl cutting machine and you need to know what makes a good quality machine. You shouldn’t make a rookie mistake and choose on speed, force and price. For instance, you should expect a machine with 500 grams of force to cut mustard in your professional sign shop.
So, what should you check on your professional vinyl cutting machine? Scroll down for some useful tips when shopping as you don’t want to end up with a lemon.
Which type of motor: stepper or servo?
There are two types of drive motors that are used on the vinyl cutting machines: mechanical stepper motors and digital servo motors.
The mechanical stepper moves in small steps (increments) and is driven by physical gear. The best part of this motor is the economy, whereas its main downside is the noise, which may get pretty loud at time. The accuracy may also be poor on the small graphics. You shouldn’t worry when it comes to the large images, but on characters smaller than a half-inch, the physical size of the gears doesn’t allow the machine to get the path nice and smoothly. The lines get all jagged up and you get pixelated look for your pattern, instead of smooth arcs.
You can produce usable vinyl cutters for a lower price when using a stepper motor. It’s the choice of the beginner plotters and it’s fairly easy to use.
When you’re using a digital servo motor, you should expect the results to be smooth, with accurate movement of the drive motor and cutting head altogether. A servo motor is more quiet when working, whereas the digitally directed movement lets the cutter pivot and turn along way smaller trails with higher accuracy. You should expect patterns as small as 1/8” to be cut as accurate as the larger characters.
The list of good things of the digital servo motors doesn’t end here and we should also mention the superior tracking. A digitally driven cutter is even ten times better in tracking than a stepping cutter.
No matter if you want to make large or tiny graphics, a digital servo cutter is always going to give you more precision.
What else does it count?
You don’t get efficient tracking only from the drive motor and there are other things to consider too: the quality of the pinch roller assemblies, whether the machine comes or not with a floor stand, and also some functions in the control panel. What’s important is that you should have superior tracking for more efficiency.
It’s important to know what you’re after in your business. If you’re only going to produce hobby size decals, an entry-level cutter should be just fine. When you’re planning to make graphics less than 10 ft. long though, a basic desktop cutter seems a natural choice.
For those of you who plan to cut vehicle accent stripping, a cutter with higher media handling and tracking abilities should be on the shopping list.
Get informed on the vinyl cutting machines and do know the terms. “Maximum cutting area”, for instance, doesn’t have to do at all with tracking.
A short list of features to check when buying
The vinyl cutting machines nowadays come with many features so you need to know the ABC before going shopping.
- The digital ability
You want your vinyl cutting machines to optically detect printed registration marks and put in line the origin of the cut job so that the blade’s path goes follows the contours of the printed image.
It’s also important that your professional plotter is able to identify skew, aligning the path right over the printed contours, even if the media isn’t loaded well in your cutter.
- Cut and perforate
You should get a vinyl cutting machine that cuts and perforates vinyl altogether, giving you efficiency on the jobs. Get one that is able to make the traditional “kiss cut” (cuts only through the face film) and also cuts all the way through the face film, liner and adhesive, with no harm over the platen.
- The Media sensors
Some professional vinyl cutting machines come with built-in media sensors that identify the surface of the loaded film. They’re very helpful as they control the force of the blade in contact with the vinyl. The blade wins in accuracy thanks to the combined work of these precision controls.
The “tool soft landing intelligence” is essential when cutting sensitive materials like window tint film. This tool eliminates the risk of wasted vertical motion of the tool holder, but it also speeds up throughput, extending the lifespan on your cutting machine.
- Auto pre-feed
A good vinyl cutting machine lets you advance the amount of media that you want, saving you time and money. The auto pre-feed is in the control panels of most intermediate and advanced vinyl cutters. You enter the amount of vinyl you want so it feeds forward the amount of vinyl, before the cutter does its job.
Not only this feature helps you be sure that the media is loaded the right way, but it also places delicate grooves in the face film. They become subtle tracks, guiding the pinch rollers as the cut job is developing. The cutter also gets better with tracking and pulls slack from the roll of media, minimizing the risk of the plotter to work against the weight and inertia of the roll.
You don’t want a cutter to cut from a roll with no slack, as it may damage the drive mechanism and cause effects that shut down production, ruining your machine.
When you’re getting a cutter with no pre-feed function, you’re going to have to do it by hand before you send each cut job.
The final thought
There are plenty of things to consider when getting a vinyl cutting machine for your business and once you know which type of projects you’re going to make, the best way is to get all the info you need in order to make a wise investment for your shop.