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A Cut Above

(September 2010) posted on Mon Aug 30, 2010

How five shops have benefited by investing in cutters and routers

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By Jake Widman

The biggest challenge for this job? “Holding down a flat piece of plywood on the printer,” says Freeman. “But the router has a high-power vacuum that holds it down pretty well.” During the routing operation, the operators affix a sheet of adhesive film to the sign to protect the printing and to prevent the small splintering that tends to go along with cutting plywood.

BIGraphics: Completing the Illusion
Dave Merrick launched BIGraphics, Inc. ( in Nashua, New Hampshire, in 1996 as part of an unplanned midlife career change. “I got laid off in early 1996 as a product manager for desktop printers,” he recounts. “I was in my early 50s, and there wasn’t a lot out there. I went to a franchise show in Boston and ended up buying a turnkey wide-format printing system. My plan was to align myself with retail photofinishers and frame shops in my area and offer to print their customers’ photographs on canvas. Unfortunately, that business fell flat on its face. It wasn’t the other shops’ core business, so they didn’t push it.”

So, instead, Merrick turned his attention to other sources of printing business. “I started calling on designers, ad agencies, photographers, and so on, and built the business around them. Now we have about eight employees here.” BIGraphics operates with a Fujifilm Acuity HD, three solvent HP 9000s printers as well as a couple of aqueous Designjets, plus a ColorSpan 72UVR flatbed UV unit.

“Around 2005, I decided I needed a router,” Merrick says. “My son-in-law was an engineer, and he said, ‘Let me build you one.’ He put something together for me for probably no more than $8000. It had a vacuum table and used a Sears router as a cutting device. It worked like a champ, but we had to manually align our projects and hope the images were printed square. We made that work for a year or more.”

Eventually, though, Merrick decided he needed a real commercial router. He considered the ones intended for the sign industry, but decided they were overkill for his purposes. “They’re designed to cut metal and wood and we mostly cut foam board and plastic.” He finally decided upon the Gerber M3000 Flatbed Cutting System. “This thing is really powerful when it comes to cutting with knives,” Merrick says. “We can cut through 1/4-inch PVC with no trouble at all.”