Vinyl cutter protection strip, pad, or mat
This vinyl cutter protection strip is black, and we have outlined it with yellow lines. (Shown is a Vinyl Express Q-Series.)

When an old reliable workmate starts behaving erratically, it's frustrating, especially if you can’t get to the bottom of the problem. They may be hiding wounds suffered on the job, bearing unseen scars from years of hard work. Eventually you can't ignore it and you have to dig deep to fix the problem. Of course we’re talking about your vinyl cutter. After a period of consistent precision, now it’s cutting too deeply in puzzling variations across the width of the platen. Obviously, something’s wrong. You’ve replaced all the normal consumables: the blade, the blade holder, and even adjusted the cutting parameters, all to no avail. What to do?

To fix this problem, you’ve got to get to the bottom of the issue, literally. The problem is under the vinyl that’s under the blade. The problem is a damaged cutter protection strip (also known as the Teflon strip, cutting pad or mat). What is the cutter protection strip, what does it do and how does it get damaged? Most importantly, how do you fix it?

Function of the Vinyl Sign Cutter Protection Strip

VInyl Cutter Cutting Pad or Protection Strip
Close up of scored vinyl cutter protection strip. Again, we have outlined the strip in yellow. Also shown is a dirty, clogged grit wheel, which causes bad tracking problems.

The cutter protection strip (it can be white, or black, or sometimes blue), is a special part of the platen that supports the media in the area right beneath the cutting head. It is firm enough to support media with a hard, flat surface, but soft enough to prevent damage to the blade tip in the event that it cuts all the way through the release liner.

Generally, the cutting strip is one smooth flat surface. This is the case with all of our Vinyl EXPRESS R Series, EnduraCut, and Qe vinyl cutters, as well as the Roland Camm-1 and Graphtec CE series plotters. The cutting strips in the Vinyl EXPRESS Q Series and Graphtec FC8000 machines are a little different. They have a deep channel in the front that allows the blade to cut completely through the media and liner without reaching the cutter protection strip. Designed with a deeper front channel to support “perf cutting”, a process that produces a perforated line around a decal. To learn how to produce perforated contour-cut vinyl decals, please click here. Unless you’re making perforated decals, you should never cut completely through the release liner. Doing so will damage the cutter protection strip and cause it to scar and become uneven.

For the same reason, you should never use a roll-fed vinyl cutter to cut any media without a release liner, i.e. paper or film. If you need to cut paper, you can do so in small sizes using a self-adhesive carrier sheet that protects the cutting mat and holds the paper in place. These are available for the Graphtec Craft ROBO, Silhouette, Cameo, and Craft ROBO Pro hobby cutters. Because they’re for scrapbooking and hobby graphics, they only come in 8.5” x 14” and 13” x 19”. When cutting standard adhesive backed vinyls, you can prevent damaging the cutter protection strip by starting each job with a test cut to ensure you’re using the proper amount of blade force. If you have too much force and cut through the media, it’s easier to correct. It’s also much less damaging if you catch it on a small test pattern rather than wait until it’s carved a path all the way across the platen. Such negligence may result in a cutter strip that’s scarred for life. Until you replace it.

How to Replace the Cutting Strip

First, order a new cutting strip. It’s not a good idea to remove the one you have until you’re ready to install a fresh one. SignWarehouse stocks cutter protection strips for many plotters, including the Vinyl EXPRESS R Series, Lynx, Panther, Ultra Pro, EnduraCUT, EnduraCUT Plus , EnduraCUT LX, Qe60, and Q Series, the Graphtec CE and FC Series, and the Roland Camm-1 and GX Pro series.

Please follow this link to find the one for your machine or machines. Click here to find more accessories for your cutter. When your new strip arrives, simply pry up one end of the damaged strip and peel upward to remove it from the trough in the platen. Take care to remove any excess adhesive from the trough before installing a new strip. Otherwise you will have the same problem. Only this time the underlying cause won’t be a scarred strip, but an uneven layer of glue under the strip, under the vinyl, under the blade. To remove the old residue, use a plastic razor blade or Lil Chizler and some adhesive remover. Most vinyl sign cutter protection strips have a plastic film covering the bottom to protect the adhesive layer. Be sure to remove this first. Then, carefully insert your new strip in the clean trough, pressing firmly to make sure it’s completely inserted so you get a smooth flat surface. Then proceed to load some vinyl and perform a test cut to recalibrate your blade and cutting parameters.

For a detailed guide to cutter strip replacement, please click here to view the article in our voluminous Tech Support knowledge base. Careful management of cutting force, proper tool position, and consistent use of test cuts before plotting can preserve your Teflon strip for years. But, if your old reliable sign maker starts cutting erratically, it may be hiding some wounds. Get to the bottom of the problem and look under the vinyl. It's time for a new cutter protection strip.