Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Take Care of Your Cutter and It Will Take Care of You

It’s no secret that the vinyl cutter/plotter is the workhorse of the sign making industry.  Ever since the first CAD Cutting Plotter was introduced by Gerber in 1982, people have been finding creative new ways to put these machines to use.  The versatility of these simple machines is amazing.  Our customers use them for making decals, lettering vehicles, cutting paint mask and sandblast stencils, all types of outdoor and indoor signage, … the list is endless. 

Part of what makes the cutter/plotter such a work horse is its simplicity.   It’s not unusual for customers to tell me about their 20 year old vinyl cutter that works as well or better today than the day that they purchased it.  There are only a few parts that need to be maintained and/or occasionally replaced.  If you keep any eye on them and maintain them regularly you can expect your vinyl cutter/plotter to last a lifetime.  Even a those not mechanically inclined can change all of the items listed below (with a little practice) in less than 30 minutes.

The regular replacement parts are:

·         Cutter Protection Strip (CPS): Perhaps the most abused and misunderstood part of the vinyl cutter.  Usually made from smooth durable rubber or Teflon.  The cutter protection strip protects the blade from damage if the cutting force and depth is set to high. When left unmaintained or not replaced, the cutter will no longer make straight, true, clean cuts and may result in very jagged edges. 

It’s Time to Replace When: Your shapes and letters are starting to have jagged edges or unfinished cut paths. Your cuts are not weeding as easily as they used to, or weeding easier in some areas vs others.  Your CPS has any noticeable lines or grooves in it. 

Time to Replace: 10 – 15 minutes, Difficulty - Moderate
·         Cutting Blade:  The cutting blade is typically a thin, angled, piece of metal, carbide, or steel that cuts through the media creating the image desired left to be weeded out. It is recommended to replace your cutter blade every year with moderate to heavy use on standard material. Sandblast, metalized or reflective film will require a specific, thicker angled blade which requires a more regular replacement. There is no exact time frame at which the blade needs replacement and varies per machine but there are a few things to keep an eye out for.

It’s Time to Replace When: Your shapes and letters are starting to have jagged edges and weeding around the cut letters or image is becoming increasingly difficult. You will also notice the ends of cut paths sometimes are not completed or not cut all the way through resulting in  you having to punch or poke the letter or image downward to release it from the rest of the material surrounding it.

Time to Replace:  2 minutes, Difficulty - Easy

·       Blade Holder: This holds the blade in place when cutting material. It is recommended to replace the blade   holder within a year of moderate to heavy cutting. Most people are unaware that this is a wearable object under constant movement and needs replacing. Once worn down, it can degrade cut quality tremendously resulting in what seems to be near impossible weeding of material. Some machines offer a metal counterpart which will extend the life of the holder even with everyday use.

It’s Time to Replace When: Your shapes and letters are starting to have jagged edges and weeding around the cut letters or image is becoming increasingly difficult.  As with the blade and cps, random paths will be unfinished but more apparent. Weeding material will become increasingly difficult and sporadic around the cut letters or image.  You might also notice a "stitch pattern" on your letters.  Curved edges such as zeros, O’s, and inside of letters or numbers will no longer have a smooth curve and will resemble that of a stair case or vibrating line.

Time to Replace:  2 minutes, Difficulty - Easy

·         Pinch Rollers: These small rollers that are to be positioned above the designated grip rollers are what holds onto the material and progresses it back and forth during cutting. Typically they last quite a while and can be maintained simply by taking them off and cleaning them of any dirt, dust, or vinyl scrap stuck to them. They do wear out and need to be replaced from time to time resulting in straighter tracking of media at longer distances.

It’s Time to Replace When: Your vinyl is not moving back and forth in the cutter in a straight line.  You're unable to feed 6 - 10ft of material continuously through your cutter without running off the pinch rollers.

Time to Replace:  5 - 10 minutes, Difficulty - Moderate

These quick fixes will keep your cutter humming and ensure a long and creative life.

1 comment:

  1. Great tips. I would also recommend cleaning the grit wheels whenever there is debris stuck to them. You can use a small wire brush at a 45 degree angle to clear out the grit. This will help in tracking and should be done whenever the pinch rollers are replaced.

    Also, be sure to set your blade depth properly, or you will quickly snap the tip or destroy the cutter protection strip. The blade should be exposed out of the bottom of the holder only enough to cut the facing of the material, and lightly score the backing. This way even if you have way too much force on the cutter, it won't cut into the cutter protection strip.