Plotter Cutting VinylEfx and EZ Erase Films

VinylEfx® and EZ Erase™ vinyl films cut as easily as most glossy, white calendered vinyls. For best cutting results, use a sharp 45° blade at slow cutting speeds with swivel type of cutters. Optimal cutting pressures vary depending on plotter type and blade sharpness.

Cutting thicker films, such as RTape's ChalkTalk® or reflective sheeting will require a blade with a much sharper angle, such as a 60° blade. Remember that when you change blade angles, you will also need to change the offset value. After changing the blade with different angles and adjusting the offset value, you should always perform a test cut.

Adjusting Blade Depth: One of the first adjustments that you should make in setting up your plotter is setting the blade depth. One popular rule of thumb is to set the depth of the blade so it barely extends past the end of the blade holder at approximately half the depth of a credit card. As far as rules of thumb go, this is a good general rule when you are cutting cast vinyl films and heat transfer material.

While this rule may work for many applications, don't expect it to work in all cases. Unfortunately, one setting doesn't fit all media because the media's thickness varies greatly. The thickness of RTape's VinylEfx®
and EZ Erase™ films is approximately 2.7 mil. for the facestock with 1.0 mil. of adhesive. RTape's ChalkTalk® is much thicker. It is a 6.5 mil. modified styrene film with a mil. of adhesive.

A more precise setting is to adjust the blade to a depth that is at least as great as the thickness of the media that you are cutting. Getting the depth just right without highly specialized equipment can be a frustrating and tedious process of trial and error. Setting the blade depth much greater than necessary can result in dulling the blade faster, especially when you are cutting films that utilize a polyester release liner.

One quick test to determine if the blade is adjusted to the proper depth (prior to installing the blade holder in the plotter) is to perform a manual test cut. This manual test is simply a matter of grasping the blade holder in your hand, and dragging the blade across the media in an upright position, perpendicular to the surface. The blade should cut completely through the film and only slightly score the surface of the carrier or release liner. You should not cut so deeply that you can feel the cut lines on the backside of the carrier. Adjust the blade in its holder according to your test cut results. See diagram below.


 Adjusting Blade Offset: Blade offset is the distance between the tip of the cutting blade and the center of the blade. This distance will vary depending on the angle of the blade used. Different blades have different offsets.

For accurate cuts, you must adjust your plotter's offset setting to the manufacturer's recommendations. For example, the correct offset value for a 45° blade may be a 0.250mm. After changing to a 60° blade, you may need to change the offset to 0.100mm.

In many cases this setting is frequently ignored. Improper settings are not difficult to spot. A telltale sign that the offset value is too low is that the outside corners, when cutting a square, are rounded off. Conversely, if the corners protrude or end in a spike, the value is typically too high. If you cut a circle, and the offset value is incorrect, the starting point of the cut will not meet up accurately with the finishing point. The result is that the circle will not close completely.

Downforce: Downforce describes the amount of pressure (generally designated in grams) that is applied to the cutting blade. Cutting polyurethane heat transfer films may take as little as 70 to 80 grams of pressure or less. When cutting RTapes' VinylEfx® or EZ Erase™ films the typical downforce pressure is between 135 grams and 165 grams. Downforce pressure, of course, will vary from one plotter type to another and depend upon the sharpness of the blade.

The ideal setting is to use the least amount of force to accomplish the job. If the plotter is not adequately cutting the media, first check the cutting depth. If that is set properly, adjust the downforce. In many cases the remedy is to decrease, not increase, the cutting pressure.

Cutting Speed: When plotter cutting VinylEfx® or EZ Erase™ films, you will most likely need to slow your cutting speed.

Conditioning the Media: Temperatures and humidity can greatly affect the lay-flat stability of most pressure sensitive vinyl films, especially when the release liner is paper. If you just brought in a roll into your shop from extreme cold, you may need to give it time to come up to temperature before using it.

Humidity is another major factor because a paper release liner can gain or lose moisture. This can cause the liner to grow or shrink, resulting in curling of the material. For this reason, you may need to condition the media before using it and allow it to adjust and stabilize to your shop environment.

Test Cut: After you load the media in your plotter and before you run a job, do a test cut. Check that the depth of the cut is completely through the media but only lightly scoring the carrier or release liner. Make sure that you cannot feel the cuts on the backside of the carrier. Cutting too deeply is as much of a problem as not cutting deeply enough.

If you are cutting squares, one inside another, as part of your test cut protocol, check that the corner cuts are precise. If you cut concentric circles, see that the lines meet cleanly after the blade makes a full circuit.

Troubleshooting: Plotter problems will occasionally arise. When they do, use the tips in this article to troubleshoot the problem. Through a systematic process of elimination, check the most likely causes. If you can't solve the problem, ask for help. First, call your distributor. If they can't answer your questions, they may refer you to the plotter manufacturer.

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