The Quest for an Economical Vinyl Cutter - Page 5 - RC Groups
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Mar 06, 2012, 03:01 PM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
I've ordered a Cameo to do a head to head comparison with the Zing. I'm not really happy about spending the money or having to design a test protocol. Thinking about ways a cutter or its software might suck is kind of interesting.

The conclusion I've come to is that to proper offset handeling is the critical thing. This means that cutting something like a square requires a non-square cut path. The plotter head has to make some arcs, the radius of the offset, at the corners to re-orient the blade parallel to the next edge. If it fails to do this it will round off the corners. If it over compensates you should see some additional "bumps" at the corners. This was just a theory until I found this video which illustrates exactly the problem:

Tip Jar - Offset Setting on Vinyl Cutter (7 min 9 sec)

That demonstrates how the cutter is moving the head to re-orient the blade to cut the next edge. This means that the software must track the blade's orientation and compute the correct arc path between line segments. I have a sneeking suspicion that the Zing forgets the cutter head orientation whenever it lifts the tool (seems like it does remember).

I've devised a simple test to see what the software on a cutter is doing: Put a pen in it and crank up the offset. This should make it easy to see how the cutter/software makes its corrections.

I'm also designing a simple test pattern to run on each machine. The pattern will stress angular performance, offset correction and small circle performance. Then I'll run that pattern through several materials; pen on paper, vinyl, monokote and ultracoat. Each machine will get its offset tweaked for the blade/material to maximize the quality of its results. Then I'll take some nice macro shots and we can compare the output head-to-head.
Last edited by racerxky; Mar 06, 2012 at 09:16 PM.
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Mar 07, 2012, 02:38 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
Armed with the info from the above video I made another go of it with the Zing. I made about a dozen test cuts and did the last 3 on covering material. I'm using the "standard blade" which has a suggested offset of 0.35. Cuts at that setting showed signs of too little offset. At 0.5 it was obviously too much. I slowly dialed it back to 0.42 where I made this last cut.

Overall it's pretty good. The saw teeth came out with very little tearing and very sharp points. If the blade offset if wrong these do a good job of showing it.

The 'fan' in there to check the cutters ability to do odd angles. Each blade is the same rectangle rotate by 10 degrees. I see a little over cutting on them at one corner, very strange.

The circles are there to find the minimum size circle the cutter can do. Lets get a closeup:

These are better circles than previous attempts but still not flawless. They are not as round as they should be and they show signs of tearing despite the offset tweaking.

The software selected the smallest circle as the first thing to cut so it's always ruined. When the cutter starts up it has no idea of the blade orientation so it doesn't know how to correctly adjust on the first edge. So I guess it makes no adjustment at all. After the first edge is cut it assumes the blade is parallel with that edge. But if the first edge is a really tiny line segment thats not a safe assumption. If the edge is shorter than the offset, and these are, the blade wont rotate to be parallel to the last edge. I think this is part of whats killing circle performance.

The software should select a long edge, longer than the blade offset, for it's first cut. It should also have some check to recognize edges that are shorter than the blade offset and do some math to compensate.

Better yet it could make a sacrificial cut in the waste material to set the blade orientation. Then nothing should be ruined. Then it should pick subsequent shapes to cut by looking for nearby edges as close to parallel as possible with the cutter orientation. So if its doing a circle it should be able to do the next closest circle with no blade adjustment because it can pick an edge in the shape that is perfectly parallel with the blade orientation.

Very interested to see how the Cameo is going to do.
Mar 07, 2012, 11:03 PM
Alpine Aero Sqdn.
619SixFour's Avatar
Great thread, this has helped me alot. I will get one of these and post up a review.
Mar 09, 2012, 12:21 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
I got the Cameo machine today. Just recording my initial impressions:

It's not much smaller than the Zing. You would be giving up about the same amount of space to either machine. There is door/lid that you open up to get at the blade and drive bar release leaver. It's got a micro switch to detect the open state so you dont hurt yourself or the machine. Its easily defeated with a bit of tape. I gotta see what the cutter head is doing!

You don't really need to lift the bar, its got a control panel and it will roll the mat in for you if you hit the enter button. Nice.

Blade depth is set by a numbered dial. This is going to make it easy to tell others what settings worked for you.

Registering the SVG upgrade requires your online account login + the key. That's going to make it difficult to sell the upgrade on to someone else.

First cut on printer paper. The software asks you what kind of material you are cutting and then suggests some settings for blade depth, speed and pressure (thickness, I assume is, pressure). Basically flawless cut. It cut the smallest circle in the test pattern which is only 2/64" (0.79mm) diameter.

The cameo software has the cutter head do a small cut off to the side of the cutting area so it can establish the cutter head orientation before the first cut. That mean on the first cut it can always the blade pointed in the right direction. The Zing should learn that trick.

On to Ultracoat since that was so easy. Ultracoat is no thicker than paper so I'm not going to change the settings. Lets see what happens:

Pretty much flawless. It did cut through the backing so pressure needs to be dialed down just a bit.

If you want something that just works out of the box its hard not to go with the Cameo.
  • They have a Mac version of the software if your'e into that
  • The software is a bit slicker than Make The Cut.
  • It's got a control panel, you can pause or abort the cut from there.
  • The media loads in in the front and gets spit back out the front. On the Zing its all backwards.

I might get the Zing dialed in to where it can do the same thing. Circles on the Cameo dont look totally round either, its a wash between the two. From 6 inches away you cant really see it in either case.
Last edited by racerxky; Mar 09, 2012 at 12:41 AM.
Mar 09, 2012, 01:30 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
Also Silhouette Studio has no problem correctly importing both inch and metric SVG files that were exported from Sketchup. There are no import options, it just works. It reads the units from the SVG markup like its supposed to. 1:1 is the default size.

I just tried some MonoKote as well, with pressure set to 5 and it did just as nice a job as it did on the Ultracoat.
Mar 10, 2012, 06:50 PM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
I've spent some more time with the Zing trying to get it to make the small circular cuts that the Cameo can do.
  • I tried using the Cameo's and decided an offset of 0.48mm was producing the cleanest cuts
  • Because I'm using the Cameo's blade I know that the blade depth is set correctly for the material I'm cutting. (Somewhere between 0 and 1 cuts the covering but not the backing)
  • I tried varying the cutting force.
  • I tried slowing down the cut speed.
  • I tried drawing the circles with the Make-The-Cut software instead of importing from an SVG file.
None of that improved the result.

To be clear I'm seeing three problems:
  • The smallest circles don't get cut at all. Seems that anything under the blades own diameter is affected by this. (2 * the offset)
  • Seemingly at random the circles don't get completely cut out. This is not something to do with the size. Its like the last line segment is not cut correctly.
  • On square cuts I see the blade cutting past the outline. Its a small cut, maybe 1mm, but it's too large to be explained by the offset setting.

I did have one success. I accidentally exported an SVG as line segment instead of paths. MTC interprets this as if the line segments don't form a continuous shape. So it lifts the blade at the end of each one. As you can imaging this slows things down, the tiny circle is composed of 24 line segments. But strangely the machine was able to cut the smallest circles correctly and accurately when this happened. It also made complete circles that were easy to weed out. Something different is going on when it tried to cut the same data as a continuous shape.

The only conclusion I can come to at this point is that the Zing is a great piece of hardware that's being let down by software/drivers. Some improvement in this area would make it a very effective tool for our hobby. As it is now, I'd rather have the Cameo even if it is only 12" wide.
Last edited by racerxky; Sep 15, 2012 at 04:56 PM.
Mar 27, 2012, 10:05 PM
Registered User
Nergall's Avatar
Wow, great stuff you posted here. Thanks for all the effort, and especially thanks for comparing two machines!

I'm inclined to buy a Cameo myself now.

I've been trying to find this information on the "other" forum. I'm glad we can cross-link 'em!
Mar 28, 2012, 11:46 AM
GudmundT's Avatar
Let me echo the comments by Nergall, thanks for all the great input to this forum.

My local hobby store used to be my go-to place for vinyl decorations, but they sold their machine (and not to me!!)

I am leaning toward putting a Cameo in my workshop in the next few weeks.
Mar 28, 2012, 01:26 PM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
Thanks guys! Glad others are interested and finding this useful.

The Cameo is not as large as I'd like, i really wanted to find something the width of a roll of covering. For graphics is perfect. No one cuts vinyl bigger than 12" x 10'. I have written up a final 'review' of the machine that I need to post.

I'm going to sell off the Zing and maybe try one of the US Cutter machines next time I need to cut a big roll of covering.
Mar 29, 2012, 08:12 PM
Registered User
Nergall's Avatar
Just ordered mine!

I'll let you know how it works out.
Mar 30, 2012, 01:02 AM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
Amazon has them:
Apr 02, 2012, 11:27 AM
Alpine Aero Sqdn.
619SixFour's Avatar
Ordering mine tonight, thanks bro.
Apr 02, 2012, 12:41 PM
Watts is where its at!
racerxky's Avatar
When you guys get yours please post your experiences, positive or negative.
Apr 03, 2012, 04:36 PM
Registered User
This all sounds very good.

Do you think the Silhouette will cut solartex or covertex?

Apr 03, 2012, 08:30 PM
Registered User
Nergall's Avatar
Mine arrived last night. It only took me a couple tries to get it right and cut some final decals for my Pitts. So far, I would highly recommend it.

It imports .dxf with the software that comes with it, so I haven't spent anything extra on software. The .dxf import broke open some of my shapes, but it was worth $50 to fix those myself.

It comes with a cutting pad, so I would think cutting any covering would be trivial so long as the shape fit inside the 11.5 x 11.5 space (counting 1/4 inch borders).

I would think it would cut Ultrakote as well, but honestly, the vinyl is WAAAYYY cheaper.

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