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Old Oct 16, 2011, 03:12 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
United States, WA, Seattle
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The Quest for an Economical Vinyl Cutter

I'm looking for an economical vinyl cutter suited to tasks common in the hobby such as:
  • Custom cut covering pieces
  • Vinyl graphics
  • Paint masks
  • Paper/cardstock template making for airbrushing

So what is economical? Well, we buy a lot of expensive stuff in this hobby. I'd like to think that we do sometimes get good value for money. If the cost gets to the point that people are out an entire airplane its just too expensive. But if it was the cost of a major part, say a 150A ESC, a 30cc motor or a big charger we would be in the right ballpark. Lets say $400 or less. Ideally I want something individuals can buy, not something a club has to go in on. Why?

Well its like personal printers. If you have to go to a print shop to use a printer you wont experiment with them. If you have a printer in your house you can do test prints, try things out, experiment. The tool you have is the tool you use. I certainly dont want to be subject to the whims of someone else when I'm trying things out on their cutter.

Covering comes on 26" rolls so there is no point in buying a machine that cuts things wider than that for our application. Unfortunately I dont think we will find anything that wide in the kind of budget I'm looking at.

The machine needs to have the ability to adjust the cut pressure so we can do kiss cuts on covering materials. This required very light pressure!

I'm also interested in the tool chain. The cutters I have used rely on Corel Draw or Adobe Illustrator files. These programs are more expensive than the hardware. I think we should be looking at an SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) based tool chain so we can all share files, scale them as we need and not fork over a kidney for software. Every current browser has support for displaying these files so they even work on the web!

The machines we are going to find will break down into two groups:
  • Craft cutters (aka "die cutters") that are cheap but dont have the width we would like and may have quality issues.
  • Chinese vinyl cutters that are wider but dont have good support or software and may have quality issues
And by quality issues I mean the quality of the cuts may not be what we want.

I'm going to reserve the next two posts to build lists of each kind as people suggest things. I expect we will come up with a few recommendations.
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Old Oct 16, 2011, 03:13 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
United States, WA, Seattle
Joined Oct 2004
1,744 Posts
Craft Cutters

Recommended

Silhouette Cameo.
Cutting Width: 12 inches
Cutting Length: 10 feet
Max Media Thickness: 0.5 mm
Max Pressure: 210 g/cm²
Resolution: ? mm/step
Price: $269 + $50 for software
Availability: Buy One
Spec Sheet
Recommendations: 1

Not Recommended

KNK Zing
Cutting Width: 14"
Cutting Length: unlimited
Max Media Thickness: 2 mm
Max Pressure: 750 g/cm²
Resolution: 0.36 mm/step
Price: $400
Availability: Buy One

Untested


Craft ROBO/Silhouette SD
Cutting Width: 7.8 inches
Cutting Length: 39 inches
Max Media Thickness: ? mm
Max Pressure: ? g/cm²
Resolution: ? mm/step
Price: $220
Availability: Discontinued but some are still available
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Old Oct 16, 2011, 03:13 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
United States, WA, Seattle
Joined Oct 2004
1,744 Posts
Vinyl Cutters

Recommended

US Cutter SC 631E
Cutting Width: 24.8 inches
Cutting Length: unlimited
Max Pressure: 52.75 Inch (a propper conversion to g/cm² is needed!)
Resolution: 0.0254mm/step
Price: $280
Recommendations: 1, 2

Not Recommended
None yet but no one has submitted any reviews.

Untested
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Old Oct 16, 2011, 03:20 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
United States, WA, Seattle
Joined Oct 2004
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Software

You'll need some software to both create designs and to drive the cutter.

Modeling Software
Software that can create and manipulate SVG files[*]Autodesk 123D free cad package for windows from the makers of Autocad. Exports to SVG and DXF. Could be a really handy free DXF to SVG converter!

Cutter Software
This is specialized software that takes SVG or other vector files and tells the cutter driver what to do with them. They can have extra features that might be nice to have over the software that comes with the cutter.
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Old Oct 16, 2011, 11:53 AM
Gas Monkey Vic
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Snohomish, WA
Joined Jan 2005
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I will talk to my friend about the cutter he bought and get you the details.
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Old Oct 16, 2011, 02:56 PM
Watts is where its at!
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Joined Oct 2004
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So the first cutter I'm investigating is this:

Name: silhouette-cameo.gif
Views: 120
Size: 13.4 KB
Description:
Silhouette Cameo.
Cutting Width: 12 inches
Cutting Length: 10 feet
Price: $280
Availability: Limited

This is a craft cutter made by Graphtec America. They also make the Craft ROBO (also sold as the Silhouette SD) which they have just discontinued.

Graphtec has set up the "Silhouette America" brand, to market these products to the craft market. Basically the scrapbooking crowd thinks 'vinyl cutter' is a dirty word and they want to believe that what they are buying is a specialized craft cutter. So the good news here is that this is a cutter made by a company that actually makes high quality vinyl cutters so they know what they are doing. Reviews of the Craft ROBO were very positive so I see no reason to think this new machine will be any worse.

Currently it's available for pre-order from random craft websites. It's not on Amazon or any major e-tailers yet. Since the Craft ROBO has been discontinued and was $220 I'd expect the price to drop next year when the supply channel gets saturated. $200 seems to be one of the price points things are converging at in the craft cutter market.

And now some lame video, at least you get to see te device working:
Sneak Peak of the Silhouette Cameo 12x12 Die Cutting Machine (3 min 25 sec)

It's quiet, helps with WAF. Might mean they used servo motors, which could also help accuracy.
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Old Oct 16, 2011, 03:12 PM
Watts is where its at!
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Looking at the Sure Cuts A Lot software it has a list of compatible cutters to go and investigate...

http://www.craftedge.com/products/products.html
  • Craftwell eCraft™
  • Black Cat Cougar/Lynx™
  • BossKut Gazelle™
  • Pazzles Inspiration™
  • Silhouette SD™
  • USCutter™
  • Craft ROBO/Graphtec™ machines including Wishblade™ (Windows Only)
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Old Oct 17, 2011, 01:35 AM
Watts is where its at!
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And in this corner...

Name: SC_SERIES_GROUP2 (1).jpg
Views: 116
Size: 88.8 KB
Description:
US Cutter SC 631E
Cutting Width: 24.8 inches
Cutting Length: unlimited
Price: $280

Now from what I can tell its a chinese cutter, the instructions were translated by the lyrical genius responsible for this gem. Posters say the included software is close to unworkable.

But its big and it cuts. You can get alternate software for around $50 that is workable, I'm looking into this.

I think most of the entry level cutters we will find will follow the same pattern; functional hardware, poor instructions and bad to no software. So this rout may be for the more determined among us. The craft cutters should come with easy to use software and clear instructions. If you dont have anything particularly big to cut I would go that rout.
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Old Oct 18, 2011, 11:22 PM
Watts is where its at!
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Name: CraftROBO-Silhouette.jpg
Views: 88
Size: 24.1 KB
Description:
Craft ROBO/Silhouette SD
Cutting Width: 7.8 inches
Cutting Length: 39 inches
Price: $220
Availability: Discontinued but still available

This machine has been discontinues but you can still get them in stores and on Amazon while supplies last. With less than 8" of cutting width this would only work for small jobs. The 39" length limit is a real concern when cutting graphics for long wings of fuselages. Even park fliers are larger than that. Might be interesting if you can get one cheap or your jobs are all small.
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Old Oct 18, 2011, 11:51 PM
Watts is where its at!
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Another Craft Cutter

Name: Zing-large.jpg
Views: 88
Size: 13.5 KB
Description:
KNK Zing
Cutting Width: 14"
Cutting Length: unlimited
Price: $400
Availability: Pre-Order

This is about the widest craft cutter that I have seen. It's $120 more than the Cameo for an extra 2" of capacity but you'll need another $50 worth of software to get the Cameo to cut SVG files. Details are sparse but there is video on Youtube of the device in action:

KNK Zing Cutting a cupcake wrapper (2 min 26 sec)


From the sound its making its clear the device uses stepper motors. Video of the Cameo shows a device that is much quieter which might mean the Cameo is using servo motors, which can be more accurate, if they are good. We all know how much bad servos suck! High end vinyl cutters use servo motors though so theres that.

This is mostly audio but it gives more detail:
Make The Cut! Zing Q&A with Chad and Andy - August 09, 2011 (1 hr 5 min 6 sec)
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Old Oct 19, 2011, 01:11 PM
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if you need info on a Graphtec CE5000-60 thats the one i have/use

http://www.graphtecamerica.com/ce5000series.html



works really well, easy to use. i use it with Adobe Illustrator but you can use it with other programs as well such as CorelDraw
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Old Oct 19, 2011, 01:30 PM
Watts is where its at!
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Quote:
Originally Posted by starzen View Post
if you need info on a Graphtec CE5000-60 thats the one i have/use

http://www.graphtecamerica.com/ce5000series.html
...

works really well, easy to use. I use it with Adobe Illustrator but you can use it with other programs as well such as CorelDraw
Thanks starzen! That machine is probably out of reach of most people at $1000 for the 15" model. Still its a good reference point. What has your experience been with the machine? Have you used it to cut monokote or ultracoat?
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Old Oct 19, 2011, 01:31 PM
Watts is where its at!
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Wow, the KNK machine will cut thin Balsa:

Zing and Balsa.wmv (2 min 12 sec)


And gasket material, I hadn't though of that as a use case!

zing cutting gasket material (4 min 35 sec)


Thats not as nice as a laser but its not nearly as expensive either.
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Old Oct 19, 2011, 02:49 PM
No Hangar Queens!
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Joined May 2009
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You know, My wife and I were discussing this subject this past weekend. She has a machine that can do some of these jobs. Not the larger ones. She runs her own graphic design business. I'll have to post some of the work she did for me recently on it.

We had been discussing making it a side thing but we were curious how interested people would be. We could cut vinyl, cardstock, And we tried a variety of brands of film covering. The film covering worked out great. It has to be done in a vectored graphics file like DXF or something of the like.

Post here or PM if there is interest and we could try to do a demo of some cuts at the cost of shipping.
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Old Oct 19, 2011, 04:25 PM
Watts is where its at!
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Hello Willsonman, welcome to the thread. I think thats an interesting idea. Certainly there is a movement afoot to do similar things (e.g. Ponoko, Shapeways) with laser and plasma cutters.

One business I have wanted to see is a place that offers complete covering packages for kits. You see a lot of kits with lame covering schemes because the builder doesn't have skills in that department. The package would include all covering pre cut, vinyl graphics, vinyl masking necessary to paint the cowl and some instructions. I'm guessing the cost of a scheme would about cover the price of one of these cutters though.

I started this thread because any tool I have in my shop is vastly more useful to me than any tool you have in your shop. Doesn't matter if its a cutter or a screwdriver. If its here in my shop I can use it now and get instant feedback. If I have to send my designs and materials in to your shop to be cut I wont know how it turned out for weeks. This removes all of my ability to experiment and innovate. Thats also why places like Ponoko let you print other peoples designs. They are likely doing more business that way than on new one-off designs.

I started this thread because I want one of these in my shop. It's about 1/3 the cost of a Maker Bot, which a lot of people have now, and about 1/20th the cost of an entry level laser cutter. This should be something many modelers can to afford to have in their own shops.
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