Last week we showed you how to print directly to the PrismJET VJ24 from standard graphic design applications like CorelDRAW using the bundled Windows driver. This week we'll take the next step and show you how to use the same driver with LXi Master Plus to create contour-cut decals.

This process does of course require a vinyl cutter with an axis alignment system or optical registration mark scanner. The most popular companion cutter for the VJ24 is the 24" Vinyl Express Qe6000. The Qe6000 is a versatile intermediate cutter that comes equipped with Graphtec's ARMS 5.0 firmware for precise and efficient contour cutting of digitally printed images. LXi coordinates the printing and cutting so you can crank out professional quality decals for all kinds of small to medium format applications. If you've already mastered printing from the Windows driver, you're ready for the next step. Here's what you need to know to turn those prints into decals.

Same Thing Only Different

Last week's blog mentioned that different graphic design software applications have different settings. That applies to LXI as well. Plus there are some extra steps required to setup a job for print and alignment. Here's a summary of the setup process for turning a bitmap or jpeg into a contour-cut decal. There are nine essential steps from start to finish. Please click here for a complete step by step tutorial with large, easy-to-read screen shots.

Fig 1: Note the thick border. Select Graphtec Type 1 or Type 2 Automatic. 
Fig 1: Note the thick border. Select Graphtec Type 1 or Type 2 Automatic registration marks, not segmented.
  • Contour Cut: Next you need to trace the bitmap to create a cut path around the edges of colored pixels. This is done using the Contour Cut feature in the Effects menu. Selecting Effects/Contour Cut reconfigures Design Central with the settings you'll need. The Offset determines how much white space, if any, will be left between the printed area and the cut path. If you want a decal with a white border, set the offset as a positive number ( this is essential in some applications like removable wall decals on vinyl). If you want a 'full bleed' decal with no visible white border, set the offset as a negative number (aka "choke").
    • NOTE. There is a standard margin of error in print and cut alignment of about 0.001mm or 1/16". If you have a decal with no outline or a hairline border, you may have trouble getting a consistently accurate contour cut. Design a thicker outline than you need to give yourself an acceptable margin of error. Here our Double Nought BBQ design has a gold stroke that enhances and frames the image and gives us a comfortable margin for print and cut alignment (Fig1). Set the offset, then press the Enter key or click the green check mark to apply it.
  • Contour Cut Mark: This effect only shows up in the drop-down menu after you've applied the contour cut. If Contour Cut Mark is grayed out, you haven't applied a contour cut yet. When you select Contour Cut Mark, you'll be prompted to select the marks that will be added to your image. These are all based on the kinds of marks read by different brands of vinyl cutters. Click the little arrow to display the drop-down menu and pick the ones compatible with your equipment. For the Vinyl Express Qe6000, select Graphtec Type 1 Automatic or Graphtec Type 2 Automatic (Fig1).
    • NOTE: Do not select "Segmented". This is not necessary except on very long jobs, and is not supported in LXi. Selecting Segmented marks may cause the cutter to scan the marks out of proper sequence resulting in a mark scan failure.
Fig 2: Do not resize the image after sending it to the VJ-628 print driver
Fig 2: In the printer driver, keep the image scale at 100% and position it in the Bottom Center of the Printed page.
  • File/Print: Now you're ready to print. As with last week's CorelDRAW instructions, we suggest you change the default measurement to metric before sending the print job. Then sweep select the entire image, including the registration marks. This will show the measurement in mm of the image area. This will be the benchmark for your page size in the VJ24 print driver. Most problems customers have with this process are caused by making adjustments to the image size or orientation after they've sent the print job. If you don't have enough room left on your page size in LXi and the marks are previewed off the page, you can select and resize the entire image - including the marks - but don't resize between print and cut. and don't try to reposition or resize the marks separately. From the menu of installed printers, select MUTOH VJ-628. If prompted to automatically adjust orientation, click NO. This message is based on the settings in you Default printer. You may get this message again when you select VJ-628. Click No. You want to adjust it in the Printer Properties window. There are two important settings on this screen. Do not select Fit to Media. That will resize the printed area and it won't match the cut file. Make sure you keep it at Scale = 100% (Fig 2). In the Position box, drop-down and select bottom center. This setting makes the best margins for scanning registration marks on the plotter and reduces wasted space around the printed marks.
  • Printer Properties-Media Cut-Off: From here, the rest of the print process will be the same as what we covered last week with one important addition. Before you remove the image from the printer, you need to make sure you will have enough room on the vinyl behind the rear registration marks for the cutter to complete the scanning. You'll need 4" or more of vinyl behind the rear marks. The MUOTH VJ-628 includes a convenient media cut-off feature which can be launched from the print driver or the printer's control panel. The media cut function advances the print before cutting, but it does not advance it enough to allow enough room on the back of the print for the cutter to scan the registration marks. Use the printer control function to feed a few inches of media forward after the print is done. Then use the media cut-off function. Load the print in the plotter and select Sheet.
Fig 3: Set the User Size to Fit that in the Printer Driver. The Preview will show the cut area in one panel.
Fig 3: Set the User Size to Fit that in the Printer Driver. The Preview will show the cut area in one panel.
  • Cut-Contour: Back in your LXi software, select File/Cut-Contour or use the Cut-Contour icon (not the standard cut-plot icon). Again, do not resize or otherwise change the image file between printing and cutting or you risk sending a set of parameter to the cutter that won't match the pre-printed image. Cut-Contour opens the Cut-Plot window. If you see a tiled preview, the user size in the cutter settings is too small. Don't panic. Just adjust the User Size at the top of the LXi Cut-Plot screen and enter the same measurements you had in the printer settings, (in this case 350mm x 260mm). This should give you a preview with image path neatly framed by registration marks.
    • NOTE: Pay particular attention to the orientation of the image in the preview. With FlexiSign PRO, the correct procedure is to load the print into the cutter facing the same way it came of f the printer. The LXI Cut-Contour driver may flip the image vertically. so make sure you load it according to the preview in the LXi cut-plot screen. The bottom of the preview image is the front of the cutter.
  • Cutting Conditions: Set the appropriate cutting speed and pressure on your cutter. Produce a test cut on the front or back of the vinyl to ensure proper force settings. Then to make sure the software doesn't override those settings, click the Options tab. Then review the settings in the Driver Options window. Make sure the Qe6000 blade driver isn't set to the default Cut Fast. If it is, Click the Edit button and, from the Driver Options pop-up window, change it from Cut Fast to None. Click Send. You will be prompted to set the right front registration mark as the Origin.
  • Origin: Using the cutters' control panel, position the blade over the inside of the lower right registration mark, and set that as the Origin. (You can do this beforehand right after the test cut). Once the Origin has been set, Click OK in the LXi Cut Plot Screen. The rest is automatic. The Qe6000 will scan the right front, right rear, left rear, and left front registration marks and then begin cutting along the path you set using in the LXi Contour Cut Effect.
    • NOTE. If you see an OFF SCALE message on the cutter LCD screen during plotting, don't panic. It will still complete the cut accurately. The print and cut process is simpler than some people expect and it offers the benefit of simultaneous output from your printer and your cutter. You can send another print job while you're cutting the first one. The LXi Contour Cut Mark feature makes that possible with any printer for which you have a Windows printer driver. The combination of a 24" PrismJET with a windows driver and the Qe6000 with ARMS 5.0 makes it easier than ever to create professional quality decals. Now that you know the proper setup for the software and driver, you're ready to crank out your own custom decals for signs, T-shirt transfers, fleet graphics, custom labels, go-karts, dirt bikes....

PS: You can view the videos from our recent webinar on the VJ24 below...