Monthly Archives: April 2015

GAME OF TAPES: CHOOSING THE RIGHT APPLICATION TAPE FOR THE JOB

Game-of-Thrones-Season-4-TrailerIn last week’s episode, we discussed the proper blade angle to use in your vinyl cutter to go with your desired material profile. In this installment we will explore the various application (or transfer) tapes that will marry your cut and weeded vinyl graphic to the mounting surface, depending on your application.

Application tape is a medium that protects and preserves the integrity of your cut and weeded graphic as it is transferred from the vinyl’s release liner to the desired substrate. It is basically a sticky film that comes in different tacks (levels of stickiness) and in paper and plastic varieties (like grocery bags).

Certain tapes work better with certain vinyls and for different substrates, depending on what you are trying to do. For our first case, let’s assume you’re a small sign shoppe and you have a customer who wants to post a sign on an exterior wall. He wants it to read: “Wildlings Keep Out!”

The Great Exterior Wall

Use Oracal cast (751,951) or calendered (651) vinyl on outdoor surfaces, depending on the level of longevity and durability you require.

He’d like it to stand up to harsh conditions (in this case, wind and severe cold) for a while, and apply to a rough irregular surface. So you pick an Oracal 751 cast vinyl for the lettering. You cut and weed the graphic. Now you know this will have to be applied at an external location so you need to select a transfer tape (also called a pre-mask) to cover and protect the graphic for transport, and to facilitate the transfer at the location. These pre-masked graphics are called Ready-to-Apply (RTA) and require your tape have a certain feature: Lay Flat capability.

For this sign, you choose a pretty aggressive high-tack tape with Lay Flat capability, Main Tape GXP-775. The tape’s strong Lay Flat adhesive allows it to adhere to the exposed liner of the weeded graphic so that it can be stacked and stored and transported without curling up at the edges. It will also pull the vinyl off the liner no problem when it is ready to be used (the adhesive of the tape is lower tack than the vinyl adhesive so it will release the vinyl when it has been pressed against the substrate and won’t take it back up as the tape is being removed).

Now when your customer arrives at the site where he will be adhering his sign, a mission of stealth and secrecy, all he has to do is peel the liner off the vinyl, press the graphic against the wall, and squeegee from the center of the graphic to the edges. This activates the strong pressure-sensitive adhesive of the vinyl, securing it to the substrate, so he can now peel off the pre-mask at a 90 degree angle, and make his get-away, leaving the sign for all to see.

(NOTE: Application tapes have to be set onto a graphic using a squeegee to activate their pressure-sensitive adhesive, but check out this video on how to apply pre-mask to a vinyl graphic using an application roller. Works as another set of hands!)

In our second scenario, we have a shoppekeeper with a store full of fur parkas and snowboots. They’d like a graphic on the painted wall behind the cash register that says, “Stock Up Now Because Winter is Coming.” The vinyl to be used for this lettering will be Oracal 631, a matte finish calendered vinyl, that won’t glare too much under indoor lighting. To transfer this design off the backing, you want to use a milder high tack tape (OraTape HT55) or even medium tack tape (Main Tape GXP-750). The trick is it has to be strong enough to lift the matte finish vinyl (which is not easy) but not so strong that it tears the paint off the wall when you remove the tape.

The tapes thus far mentioned have all been fairly opaque paper tapes (think larger more aggressive masking tape). Some users prefer clear tapes such as GreenStar Layflat Clear (a high-tack tape) for certain applications that require transparency such as putting down layers of vinyl, or for accurate registration of fine details. Clear tapes are also a good choice for RTA graphics so the customer can clearly see what they’re getting. USCutter also recommends clear tapes for window films (R-Tape AT65 or AT75) where wet application is advised. Though paper tapes are usually preferred for wet application because they are porous and excess application fluid can escape, R-Tape AT75 has an embossed structure which allows fluid to be efficiently squeegeed out from beneath the tape and wiped off.

For the transfer of wide format digital graphics, USCutter recommends a thicker low-tack film like Main Tape GXF-341. This tape provides rigidity which makes the flimsy digital film easier to work with and ensures the vinyl won’t stretch. It also won’t tear in a laminator so you can easily prep a graphic for on-site installation. Low-tack tapes are also advised for digital prints and screen prints where there is a concern that ink might be pulled off the graphic.

As you can see, there are many factors to consider when selecting an application tape. There are many on the market and the lore surrounding them can be confusing (see USCutter’s product reviews on our application tape product pages). To a large degree it’s a matter of the user’s preference which tape they will use, and there is a process of trial and error finding the right tape for your specific needs. Hopefully these tips and resources assure this process doesn’t feel like trial by combat. Happy Cutting!

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The right tape can assure a successful wedding of graphic and substrate.

 

BLADE HOLDER 2015: Cutting Blades and Blade Holders

bladeholder41415Name’s Cutter. I’m a Blade Holder. It’s my job to hold up a sharp blade to a piece of material and make something useful out of it.

I don’t ask why. I’m just taking orders.

I have a variety of weapons at my disposal depending on what sort of material I’ll be working with that day. First off, I have a skinny deep blade with a 60 degree angle (shaped like a stiletto). I use this angle of blade on my vinyl cutter when I want to cut thicker materials like flock or sandblast mask, or abrasive materials like reflective vinyl and Siser Glitter. The blade doesn’t have a lot of surface area to provide resistance so it glides smoothly through the media. However, this means it wears out pretty quickly. It’s also good for fine detail work. I like to do a good job, and make clean cuts, so I replace this blade at least twice a year.

Then there’s my everyday blade. 45 degrees of sharp hard carbide steel. This is a shallower fatter blade so it wears longer with constant use. I use this on a majority of my cutting jobs, for indoor and outdoor vinyl graphics, and printable media.

A 30 degree blade is very shallow and flat, so it won’t cut too deep, and works well for scoring as well. Recommended for heat transfer vinyl, and sheer ultra-thin materials like window tint, laminate, and paper.

The nice thing about being a Blade Holder is that I’m adjustable and interchangeable. If you like the job I’m doing on a particular material profile (my blade depth is set just right so I’m not cutting through the liner or leaving behind unweedable vinyl) you can just switch me out with a fellow Blade Holder (who specializes in a different material profile eg. different blade depth and cutting angle) whenever you’re switching materials.

Installing and setting a blade on your new vinyl cutter is a crucial step for getting the most from your purchase. Here is a link to complete instructions for this process.

Certain Blade Holders are only compatible with certain machines, so refer to our website product pages when it’s time for you to add an additional or replacement Blade Holder to your operations.

The most common blades we sell are Roland Compatible in the 45 and 60 degree angles. USCutter offers a 6 pack (45 degree) or a mix (45/60 degree) for $14.95! If you have a vinyl cutter from the Graphtec Corporation, there are a number of special configurations for specific cutting jobs, with specialized blade depths and widths, cutting angles, and blade holders. This will be of interest to those in the window tint and other special markets. These products are also available through USCutter.

If your vinyl cuts “dog ear” / push up around the cut lines, you are probably using too much blade. Go to a 60 degree for fine detail cuts and sharp corners. If you are getting incomplete cuts or ragged edges along the cut lines, it’s probably time to change out your blade. Hopefully, it’s not too late.

refinery

LAMINATION: THE FINISHING TOUCH ON YOUR PRINTED GRAPHIC

That participation certificate you earned 30 years ago for the 3rd Grade Talent Show is still hanging on your parents’ fridge. And, no offense to you personally, it’s probably aged a lot better than you have.

Thanks to the miracle of lamination.

Now you’re all grown up, running a successful printing business, and you’re looking to cement your legacy. You want your prints to be enjoyed in all their sharpness and shine for the next generation. You want to add ‘finishing’ to your suite of product offerings.

Lamination PRESERVES printed graphics, doubling their outdoor life, protecting them against fading caused by UV solar radiation, and erosion by the elements. Different overlaminates can also assist with color clarity and magnification, and even produce special effects, like add a metallic sheen. No one is arguing that lamination is a crucial component of your workflow, but bringing the equipment in-house can be a daunting and sobering thought.

First of all, there’s a few different styles. What’s the difference between cold lamination, heat assist cold lamination, and hot lamination, you wonder? And secondly, there’s the price. These are large sturdy hunks of machinery, which come in a crate, and require professional installation.

COLD LAMINATORS:

The most popular (and cheapest), these machines use rollers to apply pressure-sensitive films to your media as it’s being fed through. A must for vehicle wrap shops, who need lamination for any sort of durable long-term application, and who print on vinyl, which doesn’t react well to extremes of heat. Also good for printers with quick-drying inks like latex or aqueous, because these prints will be ready immediately for lamination, without the need of functionality provided by…

HEAT-ASSIST LAMINATORS:

These are a boon to printers who use solvent inks. Solvent inks permeate the surface of your media, leaving the pigment, and then evaporating as gas. This process can take 24 hours. If you wanted to cold laminate these prints, you’d have to wait until the ink was completely cured and dry, or risk air bubbles from outgassing, and a hazy effect particularly showing up on dark color backgrounds called ‘silvering’.

In these models, a heating element warms the top roller, accelerating the process of ink drying and outgassing, so that solvent prints can be processed with quicker turnaround (an hour or two vs. a day). Heat also helps to set the adhesive quicker.

HOT LAMINATORS:

These machines use special thermal films. Commonly used by schools, for high production, the equipment has a higher-start up cost, but you can achieve economies of scale with cheaper thermal laminate rolls. Not intended for certain heat-sensitive media, but excellent for applications like encapsulation and textured surfaces like UV prints.

Most laminators will laminate, encapsulate, and mount.

Laminating applies film to one side of a material; encapsulation applies to both sides with a border that must be trimmed; and mounting can be employed to press media onto a thicker substrate such as foamcore using a double-linered adhesive.

LAMINATION FILMS come in the same two classes as vinyl: calendered and cast. Calendered laminate is, similar to vinyl, more economical for short-term applications on flat surfaces. It has been stretched, and it has a memory so it will shrink back to its original dimensions over time. Cast overlaminate is more conformable around contours and will retain its shape for long-term use and protection.

Come with me, if you want to be preserved.

Come with me, if you want to be preserved.

“NEVER USE calendered laminate with cast vinyl. As it shrinks it will pull the vinyl with it,” said a wise llama one time, on the cusp of englightenment.

The type of laminate you will want to use is completely dependent upon the application. Oraguard 200 and Oraguard 215 at the lower end of the quality spectrum represent economy choices for protection of short-term promotional and indoor signage applications for 1 year, up to 5 year protection of outdoor signage. Oracal 290, a premium cast laminating film, is conformable and durable enough to protect vehicle wraps from the abuse of road and weather conditions for 8 years! Oraguard 250AS and 255AS even protect floor graphics from the wear and tear of foot traffic while providing an anti-slip surface (excellent for trade shows). Overlaminates also come in a range of finishes, same as vinyl, so be careful not to negate a gloss vinyl with a matte laminate.

As you can see, there are a range of things to consider when choosing a laminator. Also know, that USCutter has financing options available for this major capital equipment purchase.