One of the most beneficial and perhaps misunderstood capabilities of Qe and Q Series plotters is contour cutting pre-printed graphics. Many people believe that cutting out a printed graphic is challenging and difficult. Not so. As long as you have the right components, it’s really quite simple.

What do you need? A digital printer, a vinyl cutter with a reliable registration mark sensor, and intelligent software to coordinate the work flow. The software is the secret ingredient. Its' the most often overlooked element. Many people purchase an ARMS-equipped vinyl cutter and assume all they need is CorelDRAW, Adobe Illustrator, or basic CAS software, then they cannot figure out how to get the process to work as intended. Then they call tech support.

Producing contour-cut decals with CorelDRAW or Illustrator can be done, but even that requires a plug-in. Graphtec provides a plug-in one called Cutting Master 2 that requires the user to place raster data, vector data, and crop marks on different layers. Roland’s CutStudio software also works as a CorelDRAW plug-in. CutStudio doesn't require the layering of your data, but creating a smooth contour-cut path from an imported raster image can be quite laborious. Both of these approaches work, but the key ingredient is software that manages the alignment of the printed image and the desired cut path.

For most people, the easiest way to accomplish this feat is to use SAI’s Flexi-Sign Pro or Flexi-Sign Print & Cut software. Flexi-Sign’s coordination of the entire process, from the quick and easy creation of an optimized cut path to the automation of the vinyl cutter’s registration mark sensing system, is quite easy. If you have all these components and want an easy-to-follow, step-by-step tutorial, please refer to SignWarehouse’s online knowledge base.

Here’s the tutorial. The information in the article is for ARMS-equipped Vinyl EXPRESS Qe and Q Series vinyl cutters, as well as Graphtec CE5000, FC7000, FC8000, and FC8600 vinyl cutters. There is one additional step when using a Graphtec FC8000/8600 or a new Q30, Q42, Q54, or Q64 cutter. These plotters have a dual position tool carriage in which the blade holder can be positioned toward the front of the back. For standard vinyl work, place the blade holder in the forward slot. For contour cutting printed graphics, loosen the restraining bolt and move the blade holder to the rear of the tool carriage. You'll know if you have it in the wrong one because your cut path will be misaligned from the intended arc by about a quarter of an inch.

When you’ve mastered contour-cutting pre-printed graphics you can offer your customers an even greater range of options without breaking a sweat.