This post covers some of the basic info you need when getting started with vinyl cutters. Vinyl is a versatile material that can be used to make signs and decals with many purposes. Whether you need to advertise your business or just want to decorate your house, vinyl can be the perfect medium.
Principles of Operation
Vinyl is a durable and relatively inexpensive material which makes it perfect for use in lettering for both indoor and outdoor signs. A vinyl cutter is used to cut out various shapes and letters from the vinyl. Vinyl cutters use a small knife to cut the vinyl. The movement of the knife is controlled by a computer through either stepper motors or servos. As the cutter assembly moves, the knife swivels as needed, much like a wheel on a shopping cart. After the vinyl is cut, unwanted vinyl is removed in a process called weeding.
Setting the Depth of Cut
The cutter must cut deep enough to cut through the vinyl but not so deep that the supportive backing is cut. There is a fairly easy trick for getting the depth of cut fairly close to its optimum value. Remove the cutter assembly. Make a series of cuts in a scrap piece of vinyl by holding the cutter assembly in your hand. Push down fairly hard. If the vinyl is cut and a very small indent is placed in the backing then the cutter is close to the optimum depth. If the vinyl is not being cut then adjust the knife outward. If the backing is being cut then adjust the blade inward.
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Setting the Cutting Force
The cutting force is the downward force exerted on the blade by the vinyl cutter. Too little force and the blade will not cut the vinyl. Too much force and there could be too much friction, damage to the vinyl and cutting though the backing. Do a series of test cuts and make sure the vinyl is being cut fully, without cutting into the backing. Be sure and weed the vinyl afterwards to verify the cuts are deep enough.
Setting the Offset
Offset is required since the tip of the cutter is not at the center line of the blade holder and as the cutter changes direction the blade swivels. See the image below for more information. The offset is generally adjusted in the software of the program used for cutting. For a 45 degree blade, 0.025” is a good starting point. For a 60 degree knife, 0.050” is a good starting point. Make a series of test cuts. A small, 1”, square works well. See the flow chart above for steps on how to set the perfect amount of offset for your vinyl cutter.