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Breaking out of a Rectangular World

(January 2008) posted on Fri Jan 11, 2008

Digital contour cutting is impacting the market.

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By Peggy Middendorf

Then came XY cutters-vinyl plotters for flexible media and CNC cutters for rigid. These machines cut printed media via computerized input. The cut files spell out exactly where the cut lines are, and, hopefully, the printed graphics are exactly where they should be. The main problem with XY cutters, however, is that they cannot accommodate changes in the media that may occur during or after imaging; skewed placement on the cutter also poses a problem for XY cutters.

Enter today’s optical vision-registration systems, now paired with the aforementioned digital contour cutters. Designed to flow seamlessly with flatbed printers and inkjet-printed flexible and rigid media as well as streamline the contour-cutting step, these vision systems comprise hardware and software. The software reads and evaluates registration marks as well as inputs the cutting file produced on the front-end by the graphic designer, while camera hardware acts as the system’s "eyes." When combined with the digital cutters, the merged systems are more accurate, faster, and more cost effective than their predecessors.

Using these systems, the designer indicates exactly where the graphic should be cut-indicating the path with registration marks (dots). After printing and lamination, the graphic is loaded onto the digital cutter and the machine reads the registration marks, "remembering" the correct cut path and executing it. The advantage these new optical-vision registration systems have is that when the cutter reads the registration marks, the machine can determine if the graphic is somewhat skewed or out-of-place, and will accommodate the cutting outline to match the new graphic placement.

Matching wide-format digital printers with automated contour cutters armed with a vision-registration system has led to a tremendous growth in sales of these cutting systems. "A lot of the growth has to be attributed to advancements in digital printing, as the two go hand-in-hand," says Don Skenderian, EskoArtwork vice president for direct sales. "And as digital printing onto a number of substrates has exploded, so has the need for using digital cutting to cut out the print to register."