Print, laminate, cut, repeat, yawn - how to avoid production bottlenecks with a stand-alone cutter

November 21, 2016

I have come to the conclusion that printers are for printing and cutters are for cutting. Yes, there are some great bits of kit that will do both in one go for you but, and let's be honest, that is only about convenience as opposed to volume production. Why? Because 99% of the time your lovely contour cut graphics will also need laminating, so the printed matter has to be removed from the printer and laminated offline, then reset once more into the printer for cutting. Because of this, your production speed has dropped off straight away.

You might think it a better option to just buy another print & cut devise. After all, they are as cheap as chips and just about every manufacturer makes them. But what would be the point in that? Certainly you will add a further printer to your production workflow, which could certainly come in handy, but if this is also clogging up your finishing production with perpetual cutting you will be back to where you started in no time at all. Furthermore, the cost of the cutter really is peanuts when compared to buying another printer, so it makes excellent sense to invest in a stand-alone cutting devise, and by running the printer and your cutter efficiently you will easily recoup your investment in the cutter in no time at all. 

We print a lot of full racing vehicle wraps for a multitude of leading race teams who all have different needs and requirements to the next, and the only thing that any of the teams have in common, apart from the cars that we fit the graphics to, is they all want their particular job done yesterday. Sound familiar? You bet. Our world is no different to any other printing company or sign-making business in the country. The only difference is we get to ponce about at glamorous motor racing circuits and fit amazing looking vehicle graphics to sexy looking racing cars but, just like any other wide format printing company or sign maker, we also have a range of customers that- just-want-stickers. 

For example – a repeat job we have consists of 5 stickers set into an A4 sheet for supply, 5000 at a time. We have to print & cut 1000 A4 sheets for the client. With our old print & cut machine this took an age to complete. Our workflow would be print; unload; laminate; re-load; cut; unload; repeat! On top of that we sometimes had to hand trim down to A4 for supply. And with the old print and cut machine not being as quite as precise as we would like it to be there was always an amount of wastage happening. We had to shorten print runs to ensure the cut paths stayed true, but not so now!

IMG 2501 resizedOur current set up is a high-speed OKI ColorPainter M64-s coupled to a stand-alone Graphtec FC8600 cutter – a formidable pairing. We also use the CADlink RIP which has the cut path recognition system built in. This is a very easy bit of software to set-up for print & cut, and a walkthrough system guides you easily through. Another thing I like about the FC8600 is an option to perforate for you too, which is a very handy tool to have for printing stickers. 

With the OKI/Graphtec set-up we are now able to print, unload (set another print-run going), laminate, and load into the FC8600 and set the cutter going. The print precision is nothing short of epic – millimetre perfect every time. Then a blade position change, set it off for a perforation cut and there you have 5 stickers on a pre-cut sheet all done. Just pop them out and stack them up ready to ship out. We printed the sheets 24 up and the printer happily rattled through all that with consummate ease and speed. A job that would have taken at least a week to complete was done and dusted in two days, with one person handling the whole thing as opposed to two sharing the job to get it done. Money saved all round and the job was turned around in a fraction of the time, allowing the printer to carry on doing what it does best - and that’s print!

We have our cutter hooked into our network so any of the artworking machines can access it. USB connections are great for point-to-point data transfer and provide a solid connection, but a network connection is far better, and with networks being more reliable and faster, this is the only way to go for productivity. Plus you are not restricted to the 10 metre USB cable lengths.

As mentioned above, we use the CADlink RIP which has the cut path recognition system built in. However, there are several options in the cutter driver to get the 'eye' to read quite a few of the standard print and contour output marks. Or it will just as easily print out a standard set of roman crop marks at 12.7mm with a 5mm offset and set-up the cutter driver page to recognise these.

Equally, setting up your artwork files to have a cut path in the print artwork is a cinch. It is as simple as creating a spot-colour of your choice (I usually plump for 100% magenta) and naming it 'CutContour' - as long as the cutter driver is set to recognise this as the cut path then all will be well. Our cutter also perforates sheets, and the same goes for the spot-colour set up and name - ours is called 'PerfCut'. When all is set up and running the whole system works a treat.

Our printer will take the 1520mm width media and our cutter can take these roll widths too. A bonus for IMG 2502 resizedus is that we combine the colour change wrap films with print, so we use our cutter to cut the colour change films. No more trimming down the larger rolls to fit in our 1220mm cutter - a simple thing but very handy. This also creates less waste and we can be much more economical with the materials and the cost saving can always be passed onto the client, a win-win situation.

A little bit about the precision – I do like to test things to their limits, so I duly set a print & cut file at about 2.5m with big sweeping arcs, text and contour cut images. Did it track off? Nope... not one bit! Again, perfectly cut to the millimetre. And this was not a fluke, since we installed the Graphtec FC8600 cutter back in the summer I have run hundreds of metres of material through it and I can honestly say I have total confidence to just to send the file and walk away, as opposed to watching over it and praying everything stays online.

There is a huge amount of information available on the internet about all sorts of cutters from a range of manufacturers, so have a read through and see for yourself how easy it is to run them. From my point of view our Graphtec is a great bit of kit and, apart from the kettle, it’s probably the hardest working machine in the studio.

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