The vinyl cutter is a machine that controls a small knife to follow patterns made in vector illustration software. This helps designers make sticker graphics that can make a model look more finished and real. In addition to making graphics, the stickers from a vinyl cutter can be used as masks in processes like etching or screen printing.
In the image above, you can see two commons uses for the adhesive backed vinyl that can be cut on the vinyl cutter. Stickers can be cut out of the vinyl and applied directly to prototypes (see the example photo of a product detail applied to a design prototype for the project "Coordinate") whereas masks can be use in conjunction with another fabrication process to affect only specific areas. This is how we use the vinyl cutter to make masks for techniques like screen printing or etching.
Another way to use the vinyl cutter involves the use of crop-marks, or registration marks that the vinyl cutter can scan in order to align with features printed on a page. After scanning the black circles, the vinyl cutter can then align vector cuts over artwork printed with a traditional inkjet or laser printer. This method can be used to make custom printed stickers. The designy QR codes are a great example of custom label stickers, where an inkjet printer was used first, and then the vinyl cutter was used to cut rounded rectangles!
When you have your vector file prepped and you are ready to use the vinyl cutter, there are a few simple steps to install the adhesive-backed vinyl:
Next, scroll through the sheet settings, and choose Edge to have the machine scan the vinyl.
Roll: the machine with scan the roll left to right and set the origin at the install position
Edge: the machine with scan the roll left to right, and then scan to the front of the roll and set the origin there
Piece: the machine with scan the roll left to right, and then scan front to back to find every edge
Now it's time to hop on Illustrator! We have a dedicated computer by the machine that has the Roland CutStudio plug-in installed. Make sure that Model is set to GX-24. Also, make sure to go to the panel options, and check the Connection menu. If the USB option is blank, then the machine will not properly connect.
The CutStudio plug-in has many options to help you set up your job. One of the more helpful ones is Move to Origin which takes your artwork and moves it to the bottom left corner of the sheet so that you don't waste any plastic. In this example, the plug-in is set to Output All Lines and we can see the updated preview window. You can also choose to output selected lines, or lines on a particular layer. Explore the plug-in to find some more useful features! When you are ready to cut, press the Output the Paths button.
Note that the CutStudio Plug-in will not recognize text. To get around this, you'll need to right click on your text and choose Create Outlines. This will convert the text to vector shapes that can be recognized by the plug-in, but watch out, because the text will no longer be editable by typing.
To apply the sticker graphic, first remove the cutouts from the machine using the utility knife stored behind the vinyl cutter. Next, prep your graphic for transfer by removing all of the unwanted vinyl, leaving the desired graphic on the wax paper (Keep in mind you are making a mask, you will want to remove the "inverse" of your artwork). The low tack transfer tape is designed to be just the right amount of stickiness to be stickier than the wax paper, but have a weaker bond than between the vinyl adhesive to your prototype. This step requires the most patience, as it can be easy mess up the graphic by leaving pieces behind or creating wrinkles and bubbles. Take your time, it's worth it!
You can use a small blade to help you peel the parts of vinyl you want to keep, and remove the rest. There is a special ceramic knife with the machine for this purpose, but an Olfa knife works well too.
Making a label graphic starts with prepping the right kind of file in illustrator. This file needs both a vector graphic and a print graphic. These graphic should be on different layers, so you can turn off the vectors for printing but have them available for cutting in the CutStudio plug-in. Create the vector graphic so that it traces your artwork, or makes whatever shape you want to use the vinyl cutter to cut. Your artboard size should match your label paper size, so 8.5" x 11" for a full sheet of label paper in this example.
Next, turn off the vector graphics by making the layer invisible or removing the stroke. In the CutStudio plug-in, use the crop-marks button to make 3 black circles appear. You can adjust the crop mark location in the Panel Options > Crop-Marks. You may need to adjust the location if all 3 marks are not visible in your artboard. When you are ready, send the print to the 2D printer, which should be waiting with some label paper installed.
Install the label paper just like a roll of vinyl. If you want to go over the details of graphic installation, go back up to here.
Finally, send the cutting job to the machine. The Vinyl Cutter will then scan the crop-marks, allowing it to identify where the graphics are on the printed label paper. The knife will trace the vectors from the illustrator file. Then peel your labels and stick them up!