Welcome to our series of articles and reviews on computer controlled vinyl cutters or plotters. Vinyl cutters are essential machines for anyone in the sign business. These machines are controlled by a computer or laptop and utilize a small blade to cut the vinyl part of a vinyl roll and not the paper backing. This allows the sign maker to weed out or remove all the vinyl that will not be on a sign and leave the rest. They then transfer tape the part they want to use, peel it off the wax backing or release liner, and transfer it over to the sign, window, vehicle, etc..
You can easily earn $50 per hour or more operating a vinyl cutter. Here is an example of how you would do that. Lets say someone wants a 3 x 8 basic banner. The banner will cost around $20 and the vinyl will cost around $5. It will take about one hour to make which will include design. Once completed, the banner will sell for about $120. Your profit is going to be about $95. Which is equal to $95 per hour.
If you made banners and basic signs all day long and worked 5 days a week you would make around $104,000 per year at $50 per hour or $197,600 at $95 per hour. Out of this would come your shop expenses but no matter how you calculate it, you can make a lot of money with a vinyl cutter.
Graphtec plotters are one of the best in the industry. These amazing machines are rugged and have lots of features that make a signmakers job much easier. Graphtec FC8000 machines are especially suited for the sign and vinyl graphics industries.
The FC8000 is a newly designed plotter and features a 3 inch wide LCD control Panel and a dual configuration function so that two separate users can save their own custom configurations. It has an optional Ethernet capability and can be tied into other computers and machines. The FC8000 also has additional push rollers with triple tension settings and an enhanced registration mark detection system. This Graphtec series boasts a maximum cutting speed of 58.5 in/sec, and 20 to 600 grams of precision cutting pressure. These features allow users to cleanly cut diamond grade films, high intensity reflective sheeting, rubber sandblast material, automotive window tint ,paint protection films, self adhesive sign vinyl, and a variety of other types of media.
The FC8000 is a very fast high production machine. It is also very precise which makes it good for detail work. Each Graphtec FC8000 includes a standard media roll rack for holding the vinyl rolls, a floor stand, and dual media catch basket for capturing continuous long length jobs.
If you want the best and foresee needing a lot of options then an FC8000 is a great choice. Graphtec machines are expensive machines but they are priced right for the features, durability and performance that you will get. I have a 30″ Graphtec and am very happy with it.
Ioline SmarTrac I/S machines are performance plotters designed to handle commercial workloads. They are made to handle a multitude of jobs ranging from vinyl signs to heat transfer material. All the machines feature the Ioline smart track technology for long cutting runs. They utilize powerful servo motor and the smart track system ensures proper tracking and hassle free operation. An internal high speed processor and 1 megabyte memory buffer give the SmarTrac machines the power to quickly cut even complex files. The Ioline systems carry one of the longest 100% warranties in the industry and feature lifetime technical support.
The Ioline Smartrac is available in four easy to use models. The I/S 60 is a 25″ model and can handle up to 28″ wide material. The I/S 85 is a 31″ cutter and can cut up to 34″ wide material. The I/S 110 which is Ioline’s 41″ cutter and can handle material up to 44″ wide. Lastly, the I/S 130 is a 49″ cutter and can handle 52″ wide material. All can cut material as narrow as 3″. These cutter/plotter systems are simple and do not come with fancy LCD displays. The buttons on the front are functional and easy for even a novice to understand. All models can cut everything from standard sign vinyl to thick sandblast or heat transfer material up to 35 mils thick.
There is little to maintain on the SmarTrac.
– Lubrication: No oiling or lubrication required. Just wipe dust and lint off periodically.
– Blades: use an air gun to remove any lint that builds up around the blade assembly.
– Proven performance: Friction-free head has been tested continuously for 300,000,000 cycles which is equal of twenty years of normal shop use.
– Maintenance-free design: The servo motor is sealed and enclosed and the actuator is not susceptible to bearing failure. This virtually eliminates the need for adjustment.
– Quality components: The Ioline is Manufactured in US with virtually all of the parts also being U.S. made.
Pricing – $2,000 to $6,000
The video below is another that shows the machine cutting heat tranfer material. The machines cut standard sign vinyl just as well. Heat transfer products are just one way to make money with the Ioline cutter.
The Roland GX series 24 inch cutter is considered to be the workhorse of the vinyl graphics industry. This has been true for a couple of decades. There are several reasons for the machines popularity.
First, it is a rugged simple machine. My Roland 24″ cutter has been running for over 10 years now and all I have ever had to do is replace the blade. Shops that need dependability often choose a Roland plotter.
Second, it is easy to use. It only takes about thirty minutes for a new sign maker to get up to speed and be making signs with this machine. The controls are on the front of the machine and easy to work with. Aligning your media is also quick and easy.
Lastly, the price is very affordable. The Roland GX-24 is priced at around $1,700 for the table top model and $2,000 for the cutter and a stand. This price includes a basic sign cutting software package. At this price, the GX-24 is well within the reach of most sign businesses. If you already have a computer then all you would need to add is vinyl and some sign substrates and you are ready to begin making signs.
Specifications on the Roland Model GX-24 are as follows:
Width: Accepts material from two to 27.5 inches wide
Mechanical Resolution: 0.0005”
Speed: Cutting speeds up to 20 inches per second
Power: Max down force of 250 grams
Optical Registration: Recognizes crop marks produced by a variety of print-only devices and automatically aligns media so that printed graphics can be accurately contour cut.
Materials: Vinyl, paint mask, reflective vinyls, twill, heat transfer, and sandblast
Roland CutStudio™ Software included
Note: Although the software that comes with the Roland GX 24 is adequate for cutting letters, numbers and basic graphics, you may want to consider upgrading to a more powerful package. When you purchase a machine, that would be the best time to upgrade. The seller will be motivated to give you a better price at the time of purchase. We have an article on sign cutting programs in our “Sign Business Startup Articles” section.
The video below shows the machine being used to cut heat transfer material for shirts. This is one of the many materials that the Roland GX 24 machine can cut.
The Roland Stika is an affordable entry level vinyl cutter that comes in three different widths. It is not a built to be a commercial machine but in the right applications it can generate a nice income for it’s owner. The Stika excels in creating small signs and decals and can also cut other materials such as heat transfer film and glass etching resist. There is profit to be made in all of these applications. The pros of the Stika are its affordable price and quality. The downside to the Stika would be its light duty construction and limted features which limits it to hobby type signs. If you plan to do larger signs or cut heavier material then a full size Roland would be a better purchase.
To learn how to make money making signs CLICK HERE to go our Sign Business Website.
The Roland Stika comes in three different models. The SV-8 cuts material up to 8″ wide and the SV-12 cuts material up to 12″ wide. The SV-15 cuts material up to 15″. Prices are as follows:
Roland Stika SV-8 – $525
Roland Stika SV-12 – $735
Roland Stika SV-15 – $1,045
The Vinyl Express Q Series vinyl cutter / plotters are one of the greatest values for the money. This brand is carried exclusively by Sign Warehouse (machines are built for them) and are available as a package or machine only. Our sister company uses the 24″ model and is happy with its performance. It is my understanding that the Vinyl Express Cutters are manufactured by Graphtec. The quality of the Vinyl Express Q series is not quite the quality of a Graphtec but it is good. The Vinyl Express models are as follows – Q24, Q30, Q42, Q54, and Q64. Sign Warehouse offers packages starting at around $2,000 for the Q24. This includes the machine, software and supply package.
Vinyl Express by Sign Warehouse Specifications:
Cutting Method: Friction-fed media handling, high-speed drag blade with Soft Blade Landing . Also features Tangential blade control mode which is helpful when cutting thick materials. Machine picks up blade and realigns it for the next cut. Helps create sharp edges on challenging materials.
Maximum Cutting Speed: 50 inches per second
Maximum Cutting Pressure: Up to 400 grams of pressure
Minimum Character Size: 0.125″ high, alpha-numeric characters, varies with type of film and font
Tools Accepted: Super steel and ceramic blades plotter blades, water-based fibertip pen for drawing plans, blueprints, etc.., rollerball and ceramic-tip pens for drawing, and a pouncing tool which is used to make perforated paper patterns. (you lay the pattern down, sprinkle some marking powder which goes through the pounced holes, and then paint the design based on the outline.)
Buffer: 2 MB
Media Supply: Integrated Accuload media supply system. Also features optional media racks for tandem holding vinyl rolls. (up to 4 rolls)
Support Package: 90 days Premium Support Package (PSP)
Warranty: 2 years, parts and labor
Maximum Cutting Width
Vinyl Express Q24: 24 inch maximum cutting area
Vinyl Express Q30: 30 inch maximum cutting area
Vinyl Express Q42: 42 inch maximum cutting area
Vinyl Express Q54: 54 inch maximum cutting area
Vinyl Express Q64: 64 inch maximum cutting area
Maximum Media Width
Vinyl Express Q24: 30.3 inch maximum media width
Vinyl Express Q30: 36.2 inch maximum media width
Vinyl Express Q42: 48.2 inch maximum media width
Vinyl Express Q54: 60.2 inch maximum media width
Vinyl Express Q64: 72.5 inch maximum media width