Workshop: Introduction to 2D vector cutting with the GCC Jaguar VLX Vinyl Cutter

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(Generally, this workshop is offered at least once every week on a rotating basis. Check the DaBL calendar for up-to-date availability!)

Contents

Overview

The GCC Jaguar VLX Vinyl Cutter is a 2.5D CNC subtractive manufacturing machine. It generally cuts vinyl sheets - which come in spools - but can also cut standard paper. A roll of sheet stock is placed within the bed of the machine and a small blade makes precise cuts into the material. Typically, this machine is used in conjunction with vinyl stock to make designs for use as stickers or t-shirt designs. The CAM software uses vector designs exclusively for cutting. To learn about what vector drawings are and how to create them, attend our Introduction to 2D CAD (with Inkscape) workshop. The remainder of this page is devoted to the proper and safe use of our vinyl cutting machine.

Vinyl

In DaBL, there are two types of vinyl:

  • Adhesive-back vinyl: for making stickers. This raw material is layered into:
    1. vinyl
    2. adhesive
    3. wax paper backing.
    Patterns are cut as is, weeded, moved to transfer paper, and then finally placed on the target object. In DaBL, all spools of adhesive-back vinyl are 18in in width.
  • Heat-transfer vinyl: for adhering to fabrics. This raw material is layered into:
    1. heat-activated adhesive
    2. vinyl
    3. clear plastic backing.
    Patterns are cut mirrored, weeded, placed onto the fabric, and then heat-pressed

Both types of vinyl are available for use in DaBL, free of charge. We supply a variety of colors including but not limited to red, blue, and black. If you do plan to make a large quantity of t-shirts or stickers for a club or event, we may ask you to supply your own materials so that we maintain enough vinyl for other members.

CAM

Once you have a vector design (which you learn how to do in Introduction to 2D CAD (with Inkscape), and you are ready to cut it, you must turn the design into a set of instructions that can be understood by the vinyl cutter. This is is the CAM step. The CAM software for the vinyl cutter is called GreatCut 4.

Your design must be in SVG format. The reason for this is because the CAD software only understands vectors. In order for the machine to properly cut your design, it needs precise mathematical equations to follow when cutting. For this reason, JPGs and PNGs will not work. The CAM software will also ignore any colors or stroke sizes in your SVG design. It only cares that there is a vector path in the design for the blade to follow.

Set up: Machine with vinyl

  1. Turn on the machine - the power switch is on the left-hand side.
  2. Make sure the locking lever is up (i.e. released), and if it isn't pull it up. It is on the top right side of the machine.
  3. If there is already a spool of vinyl in the machine, spool it back up, tape the end down, and remove the two spool guidewheels by unscrewing the handgrips until they gently pull out. Place the spool back with the rest of the stock.
  4. Select the spool color of vinyl you would like to use.
  5. Attach the spool guidewheels to your selected spool and gently tighten them down until they no longer spin.
  6. Place the spool's guidewheels in the guidetracks behind the machine. You may need to reposition them if the previous spool was a different width; do this gently.
  7. Pull the end of the vinyl into the vinyl cutter, just past the long white stripe. Adjust the three pinch rollers as necessary to accommodate the vinyl size and then activate the locking lever to lock the vinyl on place.
  8. Size your material with the edge (down arrow) or single (right arrow) buttons.

Set up: CAM software

  1. Import your design and lay it out on the software's canvas. Resize if needed.
  2. If you are cutting heat-transfer vinyl, you must mirror your design. (This can be done in the CAM or CAD software)
  3. Enter the `Cut Output` dialogue. (Icon that is shaped as a machine on the left sidebar or shortcut `S`)
  4. Select the appropriate settings.
  5. Read in your material size.
  6. Always preview the cuts before commanding the machine to cut them. Check the design to be cut to verify its position, orientation, and check for accurate pathing. Note that the front of the machine is rendered as the left-hand side of the preview, i.e. the material will spool out from left to right in the preview, rather than from top to bottom.

Cutting!

Once both of the set up procedures are completed, the last step is as follows:

  1. Cut your design!

Again, this can be accessed through the cut dialogue and pressing selecting the `Output` option from the window (only after previewing your cut) or selecting the Cut object icon or pressing enter on the keyboard from within the preview menu.

If you need to stop your job for any reason while it is in progress, pull the release lever at the back right of the machine to interrupt the current cut.

Once your design is finished cutting, check to make sure all the desired elements are there before releasing the lever. If everything is to your liking do the following:

  1. Use the white cutter located in the "vinyl tools" drawer or scissors to cut out your design.
  2. Roll the unused spool back up.
  3. Procede to Weeding.

Safety

In general, you present more danger to this machine than it does to you.

Human safety

  • The cutting tool on the Vinyl Cutter is sharp! Keep your body out of its way.
  • The vinyl guide cylinders (on the top of the machine) present a pinching hazard. Keep your fingers away from them, especially when the machine is cutting.

Machine Safety

This machine is a well-designed CNC tool; some of its parts are relatively fragile.

  • Always be careful when releasing and depressing the locking lever.
  • Never put anything in the path of the gantry, especially while the machine is cutting.
  • If anything breaks, immediately stop what you are doing and tell a Creative and Technical Specialist.

Weeding

 
Weeding a design out of adhesive-backed vinyl on safety-mat!

The vinyl cutter only cuts material so it will not create your envisioned design right away. For that, we need weeding. Weeding is the process in which you prepare your vinyl by removing material you do not want. In the end, you should arrive at something that closely resembles your SVG design. The tools necessary are located in the vinyl station drawer labeled `Vinyl Tools` as well as on the overhead station. The following are needed:

  1. Weeder (Sharp pointed tool).
  2. Safety mat.
  3. Squeegee (For adhesive backed vinyl).
  4. Transfer paper (For adhesive backed vinyl).
 
Here is how to use the squeegee to smooth transfer paper onto a weeded design!

This process is the quite tedious and requires a bit of patience and precision. The weeder should be used to carefully puncture the vinyl and pull material away. The smaller and more intricate the design, the more careful you have to be to not peel up very tiny designs.

After weeding, if using heat-transfer vinyl, follow the Heat Press instructions below. If using adhesive-back vinyl, use the transfer paper to transfer your design to the target surface. Cut out a piece of transfer paper about the size of your design. Peel apart the transfer paper and place the adhesive side on your design. Using the squeegee, smooth out any air bubbles. When ready to transfer the sticker to your target surface, peel the transfer paper and design off and place on surface; smooth with squeegee and remove transfer paper.

Heat Press

 
Our heat press machine!

For those using the heat transfer vinyl, you will also need to use the heat press in order to ensure your design adheres to the fabric of choice. Keep in mind the following when using this machine:

  1. Turn on the heat press by flipping the switch on the left side of the device;
    1. The digital display will light up, depicting the device’s current temperature and the device’s goal temperature.
    2. The machine will typically take about 30 minutes to heat up to its target temperature of 180°C.
    3. Once the goal temperature is reached, the machine is ready for use. (The machine will start beeping when it reaches the target temperature; give the handle a quick tug in order to stop this.)
  2. Pull the roll-out bed towards you
  3. Place your material on the bed, ensuring the surface is flat.
    1. If you are transferring to a fabric, iron out an wrinkles for best results!
  4. Place your design on top of the material where you want it transferred and cover it with the Pro Grade Non-Stick Sheet.
  5. Firmly pull the black lever down all the way until it clicks into place.
  6. A timer will automatically start (ask a CaTS for time suggestions based for your material). The lever will pop back open automatically when the timer finishes.

Human Safety

  • When in use, DO NOT TOUCH the heat bed as it is very hot and WILL BURN YOU.

Machine Safety

  • Always make sure that you use the Pro Grade Non-Stick Sheet

Workshop checklist

Learning Objectives

By the end of this Workshop, you should:

  • understand how vectors work in relation the the CAM software.
  • know how to properly size your material.
  • understand the process of going from CAD to CAM to physical prototype.

Measurable Outcomes

By the end of this Workshop, you should be able to:

  • load stock into the machine.
  • load your design into the CAM software.
  • modify your design so that the CAM understands it.
  • weed your design.
  • use transfer paper to move an adhesive-backed vinyl design to the target surface.
  • use the heat press to move a heat-transfer vinyl design to a piece of fabric.