Can a graphic designer make a sign that is too small or too big to cut? The answer is –yes. Some common issues encountered when using vinyl cutting machine are self-inflicted and occur when something is designed beyond the parameters of your machine.
One most common problem is edge lifting at the time of plotting, also called as “vinyl ears”. As the plotter blade moves across the vinyl, it starts lifting the corners as it cuts. This is problematic and irritating. What are its causes and how you can fix it? Here we will discuss all this in detail.
There are three main causes of the ‘vinyl ears’ or edge lifting issue. These are character size that is too small for the blade of the vinyl cutter machine to articulate, a worn-out blade holder or an improper offset.
One of the reasons for vinyl ears is wrong offset. The offset is important as it is a measure of the effective width of the cutting edge of the blade. It is the distance between the cutting edge of the blade and the vertical axis around which the blade spins.
The offset can be adjusted and changed with the cutting conditions along with force and speed. The offset value tells the vinyl cutter that how much beyond the actual corner tangent it must move in order to drag the tip of the blade to the exact point. If the offset is wrong, the plotter won’t articulate corners accurately. For a 45° Roland blade the standard offset is .0250. The default offset of Graphtec cutters depends on the tool used. You can adjust it to plus or minus 3. If the value is wrong, it will create issues. Reset it to the default and try again.
Another cause of vinyl edge lifting is worn out blade holder. When the blade holder gets old, its grip on the spinning blade gets weak. This is a gradual degradation. Generally, the first sign is a failure to complete the corners of rectangular shapes.
When the grip of the blade holder weakens significantly, it can also make the corners to lift as it spins the blade and changes direction because the blade is losing its vertical orientation as it pivots. Debris in the blade holder can have a same effect. Debris in the blade holder can also cause similar problems. Pull the blade out and ensure there are no small pieces of vinyl stuck in there spoiling the work.
Sometimes the problem is not due to blade holder or the offset; it is basically due to simple math problem. If the corner or arc on a properly detailed letter is very small, it just can’t be cut aptly with a standard 45° blade. It is like mowing around a plant with a standard riding mower when all you need is a “Zero Turn” tractor.
In digital sign making, the 60° blade is the Zero Turn tractor. Changing from a 45° to a 60° blade effectively shrinks the offset and tightens the turning radius, letting you cut a more accurately detailed arc. This brings up another factor that not every plotter can cut designs so small with such accuracy. If you are using a vinyl cutter machine with a stepper motor, changing the angle of the blade may not be sufficient. You may have to change the size of the character to a size your cutter can handle.
The vinyl ears issue can be easily resolved if you know the problem and the solution. Ensure you are plotting with the right offset; you are not using a dirty or worn-out blade holder, and change to a zero turn or 60° blade. If none of these helps then you must adjust your design to fit the capability of your vinyl cutting machine. Or upgrade your equipment to something more advanced of cutting your designs.