A vinyl cutting machine is a tool used by professionals who create signs, posters, billboards, or adhesive lettering or graphics to cut vinyl into various shapes, sizes, letter, numbers, or whatever their imagination can create. These machines are also known as vinyl cutting plotters, vinyl cutters, or a vinyl sign cutter. Vinyl is a waterproof, long lasting material used in outdoor signs, and window adhesives, applied to car and boat bodies for advertising or labeling. Vinyl is also used for tinting windows. There is an unlimited variety of colors, including reflective, flat, transparent, and more available in vinyl. Vinyl is typically stored on rolls to prevent creasing, and to make dispensing easy.
Vinyl cutting plotters are very similar to a traditional plotter except that instead of an ink pen, they use a very sharp blade to cut the vinyl (thus the name vinyl cutter) rather than to write. They also are designed with more down pressure, to ensure clean cuts through a variety of thicknesses of vinyl. It does not take as much down pressure to write as it does to cut. The holder for the blade is mounted on ball bearings and rotates to keep the cutting edge of the blade facing the correct direction as it cuts.
Vinyl sign cutters are primarily used to produce single-color line art. To produce a sign of multiple colors, each color must be cut separately, and then painstakingly assembled by hand. The vinyl cutting plotter is becoming a rare tool, as new inkjet printers are being employed to print with special fade-resistant, UV protected solvent-based inks. These new printers can print onto a variety of surfaces including fabrics, vinyl, and plastic sheeting. Since these printers can produce smooth color transitions, photo printing, and produce various colors without the pain of assembling the final product. The advantage of using solid color vinyl is the fact that the color is infused into the entire thickness of the material, and cannot be scratched away, will not wear off, and will last much longer than a printed sign. Each method has its specific advantages depending on the specific application.
Choosing the Right Vinyl Cutter
If you are going to purchase a vinyl sign cutter, you will want to consider a few things. The first thing to consider is the size of the projects you wish to use it for. If you know you are only going to be cutting small pieces, you will save money by purchasing a smaller vinyl cutter, as it will save you money. The greater the width of the vinyl cutting plotter, the greater the cost of the tool will be.
The next thing you will want to consider is the software the cutter comes with, and is compatible with. You will want to consider your own skill and familiarity with the software, or ease of use if you are not computer savvy. While there are several options that are user friendly, they may not be able to produce the same quality.
Finally, you will want to consider the materials you want to use, and ensure the vinyl cutters are the correct model to work this material. Not all vinyl sign cutters are designed to cut the same material thickness, consistency, or hardness. A model that cuts thinner, softer material may be all you need, and save you money over purchasing a model designed for heavier use.
The most popular selling vinyl cutter found on Amazon.com is the Silhouette SD Digital Craft Cutting Tool also known as the QuicKutz. At $100 under list price this inexpensive tool sells for only $199.99 on Amazon.com, and is a bargain for someone seeking an easy-to-afford method of cutting small vinyl rolls.
This small model can cut vinyl rolls up to 11” wide and up to 39.4” in extended mode. With a SD Card media slot, you are able to cut saved files without a PC attached. This small model is portable and cost effective while maintaining durability for long-term use.
Reviewers of this product found it easy to use for the average computer user, and cost effective to run. It was easy to set up, and the software made it easy to make the most use of the vinyl with minimal waste for people unfamiliar with how to lay out projects effectively. The users found it to be a great buy, and would easily buy another or recommend it to friends.
The next model is made by Sign Warehouse. It is the Vinyl Express® Cutter 31″. It includes apprentice software for sign making, as well. At only $299.95, this wide, heavy duty cutter is a great buy. It includes a stand so that the cutter may be free standing, but the stand can be removed if you wish to use it as a table model. The cutting speed is 24 inches-per-second, making it fast enough for the occasional hobbyist, or even as a small business starter model. The three tensions, adjustable pinch rollers and smooth-feeding system ensure your project will feed accurately and consistently with no slipping. The maximum feeding width is 31.49”, while the maximum cutting width is 27.55”. It can connect to a pc with serial or USB connection (achieved with a serial adaptor). It is compatible with all Windows operating systems since Windows XP in either 32 or 64 bit operation. The only exception is Windows XP Media Center, which is not supported. When you purchase this model you will also receive the serial cable, three blades, a pen and pen holder, a spare fuse, dust cover, and all necessary software to begin working right away. The included software allows for cutting and designing of signs simultaneously, so you can be cutting one project while you begin work on the next one. It includes a library of 200 high-quality fonts, and an exclusive Sign Warehouse Vinyl Application Training DVD for tips on producing professional quality signs. Your computer must be able to handle running the software, which means it must be a PC with 2.0 GHz Processor or better, have a 128 Mb Video Card or better , have at least 2GB Hard Disc Space, 4GB or more RAM, and a free USB 2.0 Port or Serial COM Port.
Reviewers of this product are more than pleased, both with the cutter as well as the software and customer service. One customer had an issue with a new purchase and after contacting the manufacturer for support, was called back to ensure the problem was resolved, and when they were told it was not, had a new part sent out immediately. One reviewer is using this cutter in a business and is extremely pleased with how the machine performs, and finds that it keeps up with his demanding workload. He feels the cutter is great, and would “purchase it again without hesitation”. Another reviewer found the software took some time to learn, but once mastered was able to produce professional quality products consistently and easily.
The final item I would like to tell you about from Amazon.com is a professional plotter by Copam . It is the model CP2500. It is a 24” vinyl cutter designed for heavy use in a professional environment. This model sells for $799.99. One of the great features of this model is that it is equipped with optical “eyes” that automatically measure material size and set the origin. It cuts at a high speed of 600mm/sec. with 500 grams of down force to ensure fast and complete cuts through even heavy vinyl stock. It is a heavy duty, steel construction, where most cutters are plastic. You will easily see that this is a more solid model than most of the competitors immediately upon opening the box. The fine grit roller grips the material well, yet is unlikely to mar the material like many other roller mechanisms sold today. This models is one of the best cutters sold on Amazon.com, and is designed to meet the demands of the full time professional. Whether you are using it for sign making or tinting, this heavy duty machine is up to the task. It includes a removable stand, allowing you to set it up as a free standing machine, or incorporate it with a table you may already have set up in your shop. Unfortunately, there are not yet any customer reviews of this product found on Amazon.com.
A vinyl sign cutter (or plotter) can be a great tool for the hobbyist or for a professional sign company. It can be a fun tool to work with, as well as an outstanding business tool. In either case, there is such a wide variety of models available, you will want to be sure to choose a model that will not only work for your specific application, but also be cautious not to purchase one that does too much more, as the cost of these tools varies greatly, and can be extremely expensive.