In this article I will analyze how a cutting plotter works and give you some useful insights on how to choose the one that’s right for you. If you would like to urge an entire idea of the topics during this article, use the index and immediately find those of your interest.
After a few years of experience and dozens of consumers, I can say that the cutting plotter is typically the primary investment that the graphics company uses to explore the customization and decoration market. Generally, you start with a not too expensive entry level cutting plotter.
With the increase of work and requests, we then move on to larger cutting plotter or to the purchase of a printing and cutting plotter. Cutters can therefore be coupled to print-only plotters to do print and cut jobs. On the market there are many brands with different characteristics, and we will see them in the final part of the article. But let’s start from the beginning.
Technical aspects of the cutting plotter
Depending on the brand of the cutter, some technical aspects may vary. What I will do then, is to give you general information valid for all professional cutting plotters. Technically, the cutting plotter is almost like a printing plotter, with the difference that instead of printing it cuts the material with a cutting head. Cutting head that slides on a linear guide by means of bearings. The material to be carved moves up and down while the cutting blade in contact with the support makes the cuts necessary to create the graphic you have created.
What materials can it cut?
The cutter can cut many roll and sheet materials. The most popular in printing are colored adhesive vinyl’s and heat-sealable. Here is a short list of the cutting media families you can use
- Self-Adhesive Colored Carving Vinyl
- Self-adhesive vinyl with special finishes
- Films for window decoration and sandblasting
- Translucent films for illuminated signs
- Fluorescent and reflective films
- Colored heat sealable for clothing
- Magnetic vinyl
- Adhesive PVC sheets for labels
When the material is cut, it is ready to be peeled and applied.
The possibility of cutting many different supports makes the cutting plotter very versatile for making products to be sold in different sectors and markets.
The elements that make up the cutting plotter
Each of the parts that make up the cutting plotter makes sure that the cut is precise and repeatable. The better the performance of these elements, the better the result and duration over time.
I will not go too far into the technical not to bore you but it is important to know the fundamental parts, here they are:
- Drag wheels; they advance the carving material thanks to the pressure exerted on the central knurled metal axis that rotates back and forth.
- The drag motor; rotates the central axis on which the pinch rollers apply pressure.
- The cutting head; which by means of a solenoid applies the desired pressure to the cutting blade.
- The blade holder in which the cutting blade is housed.
- The cutting blade; is the mechanical tool with which the cut is physically carried out.
- The protection strip or blade beater, which serves to counter the blade during cutting.
- The electronic boards that regulate the advancement of the material with the movement of the head.
- The software or cutting driver, which allows communication between PC and cutting plotter.
How a cutting plotter works?
The cutter only recognizes vector files and not images. To develop a graphic suitable for a cutting plotter we have several possibilities:
- Create a vector file from scratch with the use of graphic software such as Corel or Illustrator.
- Start from an image and vectorize it.
Vectorizing means turning an image into lines.
The plotter performs the so-called “half cut’’ i.e., it cuts the adhesive film and leaves the support liner intact.
I’ll show you how the cutting plotter works with a practical example.
The making of adhesives:
- The vinyl reel is placed behind the plotter and passed under the sprockets.
- Adjust the distance of the drive wheels from the edges of the material and lower the pressure lever, the plotter performs the automatic reading.
- To be sure of the correct cutting settings you can perform the cutting test.
- Using the cutting software or the plug-in on the graphic application, the file is set and the cut is sent.
- The cutting head places itself on the vinyl and starts cutting.
As you can see, it is a very simple device to use and sheet materials can also be loaded following the same procedure.
Once the cut is finished, the material can be peeled off.
In practice, the part of material that is not used to compose the graphics, also called “scrap”, is eliminated. It can be a simple job for large files or linear graphics; it becomes more complex with tiny or very elaborate graphics. In this image you can see an example of a peeled heat seal.
What can you do with a cutting plotter?
The cutting plotter is a very versatile peripheral because it can carve many materials that are transformed into multiple finished products.
For example, by carving a colored vinyl you can create stickers for:
So, with the same peripheral and materials we have three different applications. A feature of professional plotters is the optical mark reader also called opos. This function is very useful for those who do not have a print and cut plotter and still want to provide cut-out graphics to their customers. Just prepare the graphic file with a cutting vector where you want the image to be cut out and insert the registration marks.
You can print your graphics with a laser print using adhesive PVC or adhesive paper by inserting the registration marks, the plotter will read the marks and cut the support.
Even with the plotters it is possible to print the registration marks, as long as the print format is compatible with the cutting light of the plotter.
Laser or blade? Large format digital fabric cutting plotters
The textile industry is widely developed, we are not talking only about printing but also about the induced transformation of the fabric and therefore also about textile cutting machines.
In addition to the soft sign and visual communication markets, which Fenix Digital Group has been following closely for some time, they benefit greatly from the arrival of new textile cutting plotters: the fashion, furniture and automotive industries.
Markets for digital fabric cutting
I’ll talk to you about clothing, ranging from the fashion sector to the sports sector. In particular, the world of digital cutting and large-format digital cutting table is particularly felt by the sportswear industry for the tailoring of the athlete’s technical suit.
You will find some useful information if you do furniture, even for the point of sale, as it is a market where digital cutting finds great diffusion in the finishing of wallpapers, linen, curtains and tablecloths, as well as fabrics for furnishing objects: seats, armchairs and sofas, but not only.
In the technical fabric sector for sports, the cut of the fabric plays a very important role. For the visual communication and soft signage industry, the Scandinavian countries, Northern Europe and the United States, in particular, thanks to their expertise in continuous printing on 2.20 and 3.2m light, have demonstrated how cutting digital fabric and in particular the laser can make the difference especially in the production of backlit sheets and flags.
Fabric cutting: the concept of printing changes with digital
In the market for cutting fabric for apparel, furniture and automotive, the concept of limited edition and tailor-made pieces have been a utopia for years.
In fact, in the past, the concept of “pre-cut” meant pieces of fabric, printed or not, punched all the same, whose main problem was the format, or size (in the fashion and sports sector), in relation to the quantity minimum order.
Fabric cutting machines were not as flexible and open as today to on-demand format change and the concept of run or minimum order for single size or piece size, therefore, was the real limit.
Thanks to the advent of digital cutting plotters, the minimum order has been exceeded and it has become possible to sell the single piece of fabric cut to size.
Knitwear: the new opportunities for digital cutting
In the world of knitwear, especially in the fashion sector, where Italy has always been a pioneer, the concept of raw cut fabric has spread over the last few years. What does this mean?
In the past, after the printing of the fabric, the cutting and packaging phase set important limits in respect of the original design created by the designer: imprecise shapes and stitching of the pieces to be hidden.
Seams, in particular, have always been a limitation in the fashion sector and above all in the underwear.
Thanks to the advent of the laser and the high-speed rotating blade, many of these barriers have been overcome.
In particular, the laser, in combination with the new synthetic and mixed fibers, has made it possible to develop shapes and shapes that are impossible to achieve mechanically with the blades.
New possibilities of raw cut fabric for soft signing:
The laser used in the cutting of flags and fabrics for backlite (or backlit), allows to save in the long run from 2 to 3 cuts normally necessary with the mechanical systems with rotating blade.
At the end of the working day and at the end of the month, the advantage of the laser is extraordinary: not only does it save money but the product is aesthetically more beautiful.
In soft signage and printing of flags and banners, time-to-market and savings on the square meter, as well as the reduction of waste or the limited run to a few pieces, are vital for the printer and only the laser is able to allow perfect sealing on all sides of the fabric without causing fraying.
Laser cutting: can I do it all?
It is good to say that with the laser it is not possible to cut everything. In particular, the textile industry draws and will continue to benefit from rotary knife cutting, but the laser is opening up new spaces previously uncovered or impossible to reach with the blade alone.
Laser cutting is only applicable to synthetic fibers: polyester, nylon, polyamide, rayon, because the laser seals the edges on the external profiles.
While, for example, the use of laser cutting on natural textile fibers would be counterproductive: on cotton, wool or silk the laser would burn or yellow the external profiles making the product unusable.
How important is the quality of the finish?
Between a blade cut and a laser cut, the differences are important, but what dictates their applicability is not the technology but the quality of the final finish to be obtained for a particular product.
For example: in the production of soccer jerseys or cycling suits, the stitching and finishing of the edges for the cuffs would not technically require the laser, so the rotating blade may be more than enough.
On the other hand, there are some technical applications, for underwear or swimwear that can only be made with the laser because the raw cut is essential, eliminating the marks of the seams in some areas that are uncomfortable and ugly to see.
In the world of flags, banners, banners, teardrop flags or side-line communication products, the precision and cleanliness of the cut are part of the industrial tradition and no one would compromise in this. In addition, as Americans teach, laser cutting allows you to make a single seam instead of two or three, the edges do not fray in the wind and the fabric does not tear.
Even for the backlite, laser cutting saves 1 or 2 sewing operations during the application phase of the silicone profiles for the interlocking of the graphics in the frame.
Can I cut stretch fabrics, even in jumbo format? With which unwinder?
It should be noted that in visual communication and soft sign, elastic fabrics are rarely, if ever, used.
The sportswear and fashion market, on the other hand, may require the use, even in large rolls or jumbo rolls, of elastic fabrics. How are they managed?
This Cutting Plotter is equipped with a special “CREST” module that allows you to continuously unwind the elastic fabrics.
Crest is equipped with a complex system of dancing cylinders that facilitate the drafting without shrinkage (unwanted stretching or widening) of the elastic fabric.
If the Crest system is not enough. That cutting plotter is equipped with an electronic interface system with the most common third-party unwinders, perhaps already present in your fabric packaging or cutting company.
Cutting plotter is a very versatile peripheral because it can carve many materials that are transformed into multiple finished products. For example, by carving a colored vinyl you can create stickers. Cutting plotters of the latest generation have the possibility to carry out the pass-through cut and hatched cut to create completely outlined stickers or packaging work on cardboard. This function is very interesting for the production of small quantities of customized boxes and cases or to create a prototype before production in paper converting.
Author of this Article:
Md. Raisul Islam Rifat
Dept. of Textile Engineering
Daffodil International University, Dhaka
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Founder & Editor of Textile Learner. He is a Textile Consultant, Blogger & Entrepreneur. He is working as a textile consultant in several local and international companies. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.