Cutter Plotter (“Vinyl Cutter”)
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The Makery has two cutter/plotters:
- Cricut Maker
- Graphtec Cutter/Plotter
The Cricut is perfect for smaller projects. It can draw on and cut through a variety of materials including paper, fabric, thin leather, even thin balsa wood. We have a variety of blade types for the machine, as well as ink pens of many colors, including fabric pens.
The Graphtec is set up to cut adhesive-backed and heat-transfer (“iron-on”) vinyl, but can also be used to plot large diagrams (like blueprints.) The Graphtec cutter/plotter is up to seven times faster than the Cricut, and is also more precise and capable of much larger projects.
Both machines can be used to create:
- adhesive-backed vinyl signs and stickers
- painting stencils
- iron-on t-shirt vinyl
How to Use the Cutter/Plotter
(More information on the Cricut machine is here.)
Select an option below to jump to the section on this page:
- Safety Considerations
- Getting Started
- Vector vs Bitmap
- Designing/Modifying Images for a Cutter
- Loading Media into the Cutter/Plotter
- Sending an image from Illustrator to the Cutter/Plotter
- Weeding and Transferring the Vinyl
- Troubleshooting & Common Issues
Safety is the number priority while operating and maintaining the cutter/plotter machines.
Both the Cricut and the Graphtec machines have moving parts and sharp blades. Caution is advised both during setup and while the machine is in operation. Be sure to keep all clothing and body parts away from the machine while it is in operation.
Similarly, many of the tools used to process or weed the cut designs (such as dental picks, tweezers, and scissors) can be dangerous if used improperly. Always use care when handling and keep any sharp edges pointed away from your body.
Getting Started / Instructions At-A-Glance
The Graphtec cutting plotter is directly connected to one of the workstation computers in the Rose Library makerspace. There is a dedicated plugin within Adobe Illustrator used to send designs to the machine. You have your choice of any of the colors or varieties of adhesive vinyl or HTV we have available.
To cut a design onto one of these materials, follow the steps below:
- Make sure the Graphtec machine is on. Install the selected vinyl and press the corresponding button for the type of sheet/roll you installed from the panel on the front.
- Open Adobe Illustrator and sign in with a free personal account if necessary.
- Adjust the vector design in Adobe Illustrator as necessary using the provided tools.
- Use the top menu bar to navigate to “File > Cutting Master 4 > Cut/Plot” and open the Cutting Master plugin.
- In the Cutting Master Plugin, click the “Poll Size” button to update the preview with the correct size of the vinyl as measured by the machine.
- Use the Cutting Master plugin to adjust size, positioning, number of copies, etc.
- When the design is ready, press the “Send” button or hit the “Return” key to initialize the cut.
- When the machine has finished plotting the design, cut straight across the vinyl roll using scissors or the “Cross Cut” function on the machine.
- Weed the vinyl with the appropriate tools (e.g., dental picks, tweezers, etc.) to remove everything that will not be part of the final design (i.e. the negative space).
- For sticker or decal projects using adhesive vinyl, overlay a suitable piece of transfer tape and trim around the design to finish the project.
Vinyl Cutter Tutorial
Vector vs Bitmap
The cutter/plotter is driven by vector images, not bitmap images. If you have a design that’s in a bitmap image, it will need to be ‘traced’ and converted to vector.
More info on vector and bitmap images:
- What is the difference between bitmap and vector images? (from Tech-Ease at University of South Florida)
To convert a bitmap to a vector in Adobe Illustrator (“Ai”), make sure it is “embedded,” select the image and hit “image trace” at the top.
Some bitmaps are more easily converted to vectors than others:
The first one won’t work well because of the gradient. The clean lines of the second one will allow the image trace to work easily. If a patron brings in an image like the first, you should suggest they redesign the image; if they’ve downloaded it from the internet, encourage them to either modify the image to make it more clear, or find a different one.
Designing/Modifying Images for a Cutter
Every line that shows up in Cutting Master 4 will be a cut.
If there are more lines than expected, go back into Ai and revisit the design. If you hover over a shape with the mouse and it reveals a line that you didn’t realize was there, that means the shapes are not grouped together so Cutting Master still sees them as separate shapes… Go to Window > Pathfinder. The Pathfinder tool has a lot of different options for grouping items together. Select the appropriate objects and try out the different options. Depending on how you want it to look, you may use “Trim” “Merge” or any of the other options in the Pathfinder box. If it doesn’t do what you wanted just hit Edit > Undo, and try again! The best way to learn is to try it!
Cutting Master will cut everywhere there is a stroke (what lines are called in Ai) BUT the thickness of a stroke will not affect how Cutting Master views it. If you want it to cut on either side of a line, make sure there is a stroke on either side of the line, don’t just make the stroke thicker.
Loading Media into the Cutter/Plotter
There’s more information in the plotter’s user manual beginning on page 2-6.
- Lower the media set lever to raise the push rollers.
- Please the media in the plotter, passing the leading edge from the back of the plotter so it emerges from the front and covers the media sensor.
- Position the media and the push rollers to correspond with the width of the media.
- Raise the media set lever to lower the push rollers.
- Set the Media Type.
- Once you’ve loaded the media, the Media Type menu appears on the plotter’s display.
- If you’ve loaded a roll, select roll, rear set (1). The plotter will measure the width of the media, but not the length.
- If you’ve loaded a sheet, select sheet (3). The plotter will measure both the width and length of the media.
Sending an image from Illustrator to the Cutter/Plotter
- From the File Menu, select Cutting Master 4 > Cut/Plot…
- If this option is grayed out, Cutting Master 4 is likely already open (probably with the last project sent to it. Find that window, close it, then try again.)
- Here is the window for Cutting Master 4:
- Press the button with a question mark on it to poll the cutter/plotter so that Cutting Master 4 knows the size of the media loaded into the machine.
- Adjust the size as necessary. “Fit to Media” will automagically make the image as large as the media. “Proportional” will adjust height and width at the same time, keeping the image… proportional.
- Adjust the position as necessary. The button with a humanoid icon allows you to switch between ‘landscape’ and ‘portrait’ mode – that is, allows you to rotate the image in 90 degree increments.
- Click on “Send” to send the job to the cutter/plotter.
Weeding and Transferring the Vinyl
Once the vinyl has been cut, you’ll need to manually remove the vinyl that’s not part of your design from the backing. We provide dental picks to do so. You may also use a hobby knife, but ONLY if you’re wearing cut-resistant gloves, which we can provide.
Once the extraneous vinyl has been weeded, cut a piece of transfer tape slightly larger than your design, and carefully place it flatly on top of your design, taking extra care to make sure there are no bubbles in between it and the vinyl or backing. It’s easiest to place one corner of the transfer tape down, and then slowly press it across the design while peeling its own backing away.
Troubleshooting & Common Issues
Some of the most common problems that arise with projects are listed below, along with basic steps to take in order to diagnose and potentially fix the issue:
“The machine cut lines that aren’t in my original image!”
Cutter/plotter machines do not “see” images the same way we do—both the Cricut and the Graphtec are designed to follow the vector paths provided in the file and largely ignore things like fill color and stroke width. In general, overlapping shapes are the cause of any discrepancy between how the image appears on a screen and how it is interpreted by the cutter/plotter. If you would like to see a preview of how the software will interpret a given design, you can do so by entering Outline View in Adobe Illustrator with the keyboard shortcut “Command + Y”. Each line visible in this mode will be cut or drawn when the design is sent to be processed. To return to the standard view, use the same keyboard shortcut.
In general, the fastest way to convert a layered image to a cut-ready format is to select all of the artwork and use the “Object > Expand…” option from the top menu bar to update all underlying vector paths to match what is visible, and then use the “Merge” setting in the Pathfinder Panel (“Window > Pathfinder” in the top menu bar) to flatten the image. This is a destructive edit which CANNOT be undone if saved. Be sure to make a copy of this edit as a new file so you do not overwrite the original design.
“I pressed send, but the Graphtec didn’t start cutting my design!”
Any time the material is changed on the Graphtec cutter/plotter, the machine must be updated with the type of material loaded (i.e. a roll or a sheet). If the Graphtec is turned on and is connected to the computer but still will not cut, check the LCD screen to make sure that it is not waiting for user input. If it is, choose the appropriate option (roll or sheet). The Graphtec stores all pending jobs in its memory and will begin cutting the sent design as soon as it is done measuring the loaded material. If the design was sent multiple times, it will now cut multiple times.
If this does not fix the issue, turn off the machine and restart the process.
“The machine cut through the backing layers of the vinyl!”
If the Cricut is cutting through the backing layer of a two-layer material, it has likely been set up with the wrong material settings. Double check that the material selected in the Design Space software matches the material being used. If this does not solve the issue, change the pressure setting from “Default” to “Less.”
The Graphtec machine is manually calibrated to cut through only one layer of the Oracal 651 vinyl. If you encounter issues with this machine, please consult with a manager.