Monthly Archives: May 2012

Design Software buying guide for Vinyl Cutters

I’m Karl Bowman, President of USCutter.  I have been taking sales and support calls from prospective buyers of vinyl cutters as well as owners of vinyl cutters for five years now.  I’d like to share with you some of the biggest misconceptions prospective owners have about what is involved with cutting vinyl so I make it easier for some who are about to invest in a new vinyl cutter.  

Most of USCutter’s prospective customers are not graphic designers currently using professional design software like Adobe Illustrator or Corel draw.  This is important because the process of actually creating a design and using the cutting software to cut the design on the vinyl cutter is more complex than actually making the sign. 
A few important things to note that will be helpful in understanding the process:  There are two kinds of software needed to actually cut a design on a vinyl cutter.  One is a design program that allows you use different fonts(typestyles) of different sizes, and allows you to manipulate those fonts by stretching, bolding, outlining, arcing, shadowing etc as well as adding shapes and importing designs and logo files from other sources to incorporate into your design.  Doing this type of design takes special software such as Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, and Inkscape to name a few.  Most design software however cannot cut the design that you created.  In other words you cannot send the file to the cutter as you could send it to your desktop printer.  For this function you need the type of software I mentioned, cutting software.  This is also known as “bridge software” as it “bridges” the gap between your design software and the vinyl cutter.  All cutters sold by USCutter come with bridge software.  Examples would be Roland Cut Studio with our Roland products including the Roland GX24, and the Roland Pro Series vinyl cutters, Cutting Master Pro comes with all our Graphtec cutters including the Graphtec CE5000 series cutters, the Graphtec Craftrobo Pro, and the Graphtec FC8000 series.  Greatcut comes with the USCutter Zencut Black and Zencut Green series.  Signcut Productivity Pro comes with all USCutter’s value cutters including the USCutter MH Series, USCutter SC Series, USCutter TC Series, and the Copam series vinyl cutter.  

There is software available that has both design and cut all in one.  Flexi Sign is an example of this all in one software sold by USCutter.  

Since you will already have the cutting software you need for a vinyl cutter, the question becomes: “Which design software should I choose?”  Rarely will people have the time to try out multiple types of design software the way you could test drive different cars before purchasing.  There simply is not enough time to get to know design software well enough to compare when you have never used design software before.  Here is a simple formula I would follow:

If you are going to be a very light user of the vinyl cutter and are cutting very basic designs that will not change and you don’t want to spend any money on a program I would recommend Inkspcape.  Inkscape is free, open source software that can be downloaded at Inkscape.  Your inkscape design can be imported and cut in any cutting software including SignCut Productivity Pro.  The downside of free is that there is no support for inkscape except the user community.  You can’t call anyone up and get training or get something fixed if you think its not working.

If you see yourself wanting the design capabilities of a professional someday and want the added features of more powerful software at a good price then I would recommend Corel Draw.  The latest version of Corel Draw is Corel X6, however USCutter also sells X5,X4, and X3 at descending prices down to $99.  Corel X3 is no longer supported by Corel, but we have found it to work fine with Windows 7, Vista, and XP operating systems.  Corel files are compatible with every cutting software platform available so you don’t have to worry if it works with the vinyl cutter you want.  

If having design and cut capabilities in the same software is paramount then choose Flexi Sign.  Flexi Starter gives you the basics, but is missing some key features like “auto trace” or “vectorizing” that comes standard with all versions of Corel Draw.  You will need to purchase the higher end version of Flexi (Flexi Sign) to get all these features, but it will be expensive at $1695.  

Once you’ve chosen your software be prepared to give yourself time to learn it.  Proficiency in doing basic designs in Microsoft Word and printing out does not equate to being able to design and cut in design software.  It will be a little like learning a new language.  But be patient.  If you approach it one step at a time you’ll be creating designs and sending them to your vinyl cutter in not time.  

A word of caution.  Don’t decide to get into the sign making industry by ordering a vinyl cutter and materials that arrives on a Friday for a job that is due on the following Monday if you have never cut vinyl before.