Large format printing has become an integral part of our lives. It is hard to imagine an enterprise that has never resorted to the production of plotter printed products. Posters, banners, huge signs, large stickers — all this and much more is printed on special machines that require careful and thoughtful operation. Such devices are usually called plotters, or cutter-plotters (devices operating on the principle of 2 in 1, printing and cutting at the same time). Let’s try to understand the intricacies of operating this technique, consider individual examples and shed light on the nuances that must be taken into account before starting to work with the plotter.
What is a plotter
These devices were invented in order to print and cut adhesive wide format products. But it helped to become truly mass plotters thermal transfer film. As consumables became affordable and reliable in quality, the popularity of plotters skyrocketed. Looking at any inscription or image printed on textiles, you can be sure that it was made using a plotter. However, like almost any inscription on the film.
Cutting (cardboard or paper) is also carried out by a plotter. According to the most common classification, such plotters are usually divided into the following options.
- flat. The material is placed on a large horizontal surface that is completely flat. The image is cut using a movable carriage with a knife fixed in it.
- Rolled. The material is fed by unwinding the roll, and cutting along the marks occurs by moving the carriage in only one position (right and left). This type of device cannot boast of high image accuracy.
- Laser. At first glance, it can pretty much resemble an ordinary flat plotter. The difference is that instead of a knife, cutting is performed by a laser head.
Read more: what is a plotter.
Software for work
The plotter works according to a predetermined algorithm. First you need to connect to a personal computer. The image to be printed is sent to the device, after which the cutting process takes place. The speed of work is highly dependent on the technology used by a particular model. Subsequently, the resulting material is applied to a metal or textile surface, depending on the need.
The plotter has software that carries out the process. Of course, the corresponding program must also be installed on the personal computer, without which it is impossible to send the drawing for cutting. The easiest way to do this is from Corel — CorelDrawsoftware for plotter printing.
If contour cutting is not performed correctly, or the cut has shifted along the printed one, it is necessary to adjust the software.
In addition to CorelDraw, you can use the program PlotCalc. It has a fairly simple interface, it is easy to work in it, and besides, it does not take much time to learn. Another well-known program for working with plotters is sign cut. The full version is paid, but you can download a trial version from the official site, which has some limitations. In general, the program menu turned out to be somewhat overloaded, but the functionality is impressive. With this utility, you can control the depth of cut of the knife, provided that this option is supported by the model itself.
Slightly less known program eCut. The main advantage of this software is that it allows you to cut files directly from CorelDraw. Files are written directly to the plotter port, bypassing the participation of drivers, therefore, the occurrence of errors and incompatibilities is minimized.
The following plotter output software is called OMEGA CUT. Used by «Omega» mainly for working with project documentation and is popular with those who work with plotters in this field. The functionality is limited by the scope, perhaps the programs can be described as average.
The principle of operation of the plotter, in addition to printing, also implies cutting. Of course, not all software is written with this function in mind. Simply put, not all plotter programs are suitable for a plotter-cutter and vice versa. For devices operating on the principle of 2 in 1, “native” software is most often supplied, developed and implemented by the manufacturer of the equipment. However, there is always an option to use third-party software if the capabilities of the pre-installed software cease to meet the requirements put forward.
If you just need to cut out pictures, then for this there is no need to purchase a program, the license for which is measured in hundreds of thousands of rubles. It will be enough to be limited to more affordable analogues. Also, if the work involves only printing, then you can limit yourself to the capabilities of the built-in software without investing a penny in the purchase of software. Of course, if in the course of work you have to resort to the services of a vector graphics editor, as well as print complex patterns, then you should think about expanding the functionality of the plotter software.
The algorithm for printing on a plotter
The algorithm for printing on a plotter (using Corel as an example) is as follows.
- You need to find and open the «file», in the window that appears, find page layout options and select one of them: quick print (using standard templates), previous settings, or resort to the current setting for the upcoming print.
- If the drawing includes a page layout, you can adjust this setting in the corresponding menu. The page markup includes several sub-items at once, in which many different values are controlled. Most of them have hint markers, making it clear which of the parameters will be changed. After completing all the manipulations, you can use the preview, and, if desired, undo the changes.
- Next, you need to proceed to printing (or output to a plotter) and in the «name» column, select the model of the plotter on which the printout will be carried out. In the properties, you can set the settings for the plotter driver.
- In the paper size section, you must use only standardized sizesto avoid confusion. It is best to stick to the format supported by the model. To find out what formats a model works with, you need to look at its performance characteristics.
- In the «print scale» column, indicate «according to paper size» or set it to the required size. The line thickness should also be scaled in strict accordance with the print scale.
- The «print range» column allows you to select from the following items: «all geometry», «drawing borders», «named view» or make changes to all these parameters yourself.
- After that, you need to set the required number of print copies.
- To send information not to a printer, but to a saved file, you can click on the item «print to file».
- After all the manipulations, the program will offer preview planned printout. If the user wants to print the document in its current form, it will be enough for him to click «ok», after which the file will be immediately sent to the plotter or queued for printing if the device is not available right now for some reason.
There are several short commands and hotkeys that can make typing much easier. By entering the «print» command in the command line, the user will start the printing process. And for quick access to printing, just click the menu in the explorer of an open program, hover over the “file” element and click “print”, then “quick print” (or the hot key Ctrl + P).
Working on a cutting plotter
A cutting plotter (another name is a cutter) is designed to cut out images on film, cardboard, paper according to a pre-designed stencil. The choice of material is limited only by the capabilities of the boat knife. Most often, the plotter is used to decorate something, decorate images, as well as to make posters. Every day we can come across the work done by this device: stands with posters, decor in shopping centers, various signboards, brochures and images on things, which are applied using a special thermal material. Garment manufacturers can use the plotter to make patterns for clothes and samples for mass production. As far as we can see, there are many areas in which this device can be applied, and this explains its great popularity.
Today on the market one of the most common are cutting plotters Foison. This company has earned its popularity by creating models with a variety of operating parameters. If the plotter is needed not only for personal use, but also for custom work, the right decision would be to purchase it with a working width of 1 meter. Film rolls of this width are the most popular. This will reduce the amount of unnecessary trimming. For the manufacture of a minimum number of products, it is possible to buy a Foison device with a working width of 62 cm.
See also: how to choose a plotter.
The cutter is quite easy to use. Before starting work, the operator has a choice: they can make drawings themselves in imaging software, such as Corel Draw, or use ready-made clipart.
Most cutting plotters use the following technology.
- First you need to find a drawing (already created or made by yourself) that will need to be cut out. The illustration is entered into a special program (Corel, Inkscape, Illustrator — any for working with vector graphics), most of which have the ability to import images from clipart.
- After that, the material selected for cutting is inserted into the boat and pressed with special rollers.
- The next step is to calculate the depth of immersion of the knife into the material using a test run. This is necessary so as not to harm the inner substrate.
- We initiate the cutting of the material using a PC.
- At the end of the work, unnecessary material residues are removed.
After completing all of the above, you should proceed to the next step — drawing an illustration on the selected surface.
The substrate must be carefully treated before applying the film material. At first glance, everything may appear clean, but upon closer inspection, marks, stains, or other types of contamination can be seen on the surface.
It is also important to observe the temperature conditions of the base and illustration: it should be as similar as possible, ideally about 20 degrees.
So that the desired base is not covered with dust, does not get wet or dirty, it should bework before painting. It is enough to treat the material with any cleaning agent, then apply a solvent that is suitable for this surface, and finally wipe it dry. After these manipulations, the glued film material will not move away from the surface.
Often, the creators of various advertising banners encounter a difficulty: before applying a new coating, they first need to remove the old one. This process is usually difficult and time consuming, especially if the old image was applied to plastic material. In this case, it can be easier to completely replace the base than to try to remove a tightly glued film from it.
If film coating is needed put on the car, the right decision would be to use professional materials that contain citrus fruits. These concentrates do not harm people, do not affect the coating and easily remove pollution. Additionally, using a special spatula, you can quickly and efficiently clean the surface and achieve the desired result.
See also: how to make a plotter with your own hands.
The nuances of cutting on a plotter
The quality of the cut depends on a number of criteria.
- Blade sharpness. The newer the knife, the sharper it will be. Of course, for simple tasks, such as cutting paper, not the newest knife is suitable, but for jewelry work, where a lot depends on accuracy, the blade should be as sharp as possible.
- Source Quality, i.e. how complex and true the drawing itself is built. Sometimes it takes more time to finalize a file than it does to print and design. After all, if even one indicator does not converge somewhere, the structure of the figure will be violated.
- The mat should be quite stickyto hold consumables (fabric, vinyl, etc.) well.
- Customization for a specific material. Usually, all available settings can be viewed in the properties of the device itself. It is best to set them manually, because the technique will not be able to recognize the material on its own.
In order to try out new material in practice, you must always have some kind of drawing at hand. Test samples offered by the manufacturer do not always reflect the real picture, because. imply cutting circles and squares, in which there is nothing complicated.
It is highly not recommended to perform a complete template without preliminary testing — there is a high probability of incorrectly exposed material.
Another important factor in case cutting of several materials at once is meant. For each material you need to have a separate knife: blades for paper and fabric are quite different. Some experts mark the blades in order not to confuse them. For example, «T» — fabric, «K» — cardboard, etc.
If you plan not only to print patterns, then you will need to work with pressure and knife projection, setting the necessary in the system settings. The difference in the work on the fabric is only in the principle of further use: cutting for sewing or appliqué. For cutting on cardboard, the height to which the blade will rise is important. Since the material itself “plays” easily, it is necessary to ensure that the cardboard is well fixed in one position when cutting to prevent distortion.
Oracal film requires special precision in preparation to cutting. Since the vinyl base can be easily deformed, precision is required at the moment of fixation. The larger the image (picture, logo, etc.), the more carefully the layout designer should act. When working with this material, it should be borne in mind that cutting will be only an intermediate process. Vinyl film goes through several stages of processing before being finished. If we compare it with other materials, for example, fabric, then we can note a certain complexity during operation.
When working with ordinary wide-format paper, it is enough to simply monitor the sharpness of the blades and change them in time. Paper is very unpretentious in terms of cutting. Its shortcomings can appear during chemical and thermal reactions, but during the cutting of the pattern itself, the probability of a defect is not so high.