Creating new possibilities for profit is one way in which print service providers can ensure a healthy bottom line. Adding products and services to a PSP’s menu give customers another reason to purchase items from that location. One way many digital graphics PSPs are creating added value is through the use of incorporating vinyl cutters into their business. Using a vinyl cutter allows a PSP to provide another avenue of signage and broaden the scope of its services. Our experts weigh in on the topic.
Dana Curtis, product manager, Roland DGA Corp. says, “Adding a cutter to an existing printer business is an easy and low cost way to reach new markets. Remember that cutters support a lot of materials not supported by a digital printer. So, a digital graphics and signage business might invest in a cutter to cut materials such as chrome vinyl, gold leaf, reflective vinyl, and a huge assortment of other special effect materials that cannot be printed effectively. There is holographic vinyl which can be cut, as well as media which can be cut into rhinestone apparel templates. We’ve even seen cutter substrates that mimic chalk boards and white boards. These are all materials that don’t perform with a stand-alone printer.”
David Conrad, marketing manager, Mutoh America, Inc. says, “Cutter plotters provide the opportunity for shops to save time and increase productivity in the post print process. The speed and accuracy in which these cutters can complete a job far out performs anything a person armed with a straight edge can accomplish. Plus, cutters provide shops with the ability to expand their application and product offering to include things they may not have been able to offer such as bumper stickers, decals, labels, and detailed lettering design.”
For those that have decided to incorporate a vinyl cutter or plotter, the experts offer some good advice on how one might be used to increase business.
“Look for materials and applications outside your current market that can help your business expand,” says Curtis. “Keep an eye on niche markets that could potentially be the future for your business. If you are currently serving the t-shirt and custom apparel market, look at materials and applications within the vehicle graphics, restyling and interior décor markets. With your cutter, you can work with vinyl and film media to create single-color vehicle graphics and lettering, boat lettering, pinstriping, window tints, and more. Adhesive-backed fabric can also be cut into interesting designs for interior decor applications. Versatility, diversity and productivity are the keys to success in the cutter world.
Curtis continues, “We are always amazed by the creativity of our end users. While a vinyl cutter is designed to primarily cut with a knife, it can also be used with a pen. There are professionals out there drawing countertop templates with a pen inserted into the cutter instead of a blade. Another similar “pen plotting application” is creating the stitching patterns for textiles. A cutter that has been converted into a pen plotter can also be used for architectural and engineering renderings. In fact, any project that requires hand drawing is a candidate for pen plotting with your cutter.”
Conrad says, “The best way to maximize the value of a cutting plotter is to keep it cutting. Being able to print and cut at the same time is important to productivity and maximizing time, resources and profits. Some cutters are built into the printer, which is a good solution for a shop with limited space. But if space is not a major factor and productivity and time management is more critical to the business, you would be better served with a cutting plotter standalone from the printer. Having a separate cutter allows your printer to do what you purchased it to do and that is print, while you can send finished print jobs to the cutter while you start your next print job saving you time, resources and money. Plus, what happens when you have a print/cut device where the cut mechanism is down? When that happens your printer is also down until the cutter can be repaired, and when you’re not printing you’re not making money. The goal is to always keep your printer printing and your cutter cutting. And the cost to purchase as print/cut device vs. a printer and a cutter standalone nets out to be roughly the same investment. So, if you’re not strapped for floor space, do yourself a favor and buy a printer and a cutter independent of one another.”
Choosing the Right Products for the Job
After a PSP decides to add or upgrade a vinyl cutter/plotter, it is wise to do some research before making any purchase. It is important to not limit oneself to comparing prices; the PSP must look at each feature carefully and be aware that the cutter/plotter will work with existing equipment while leaving room to grow.
Curtis says, “You should consider its compatibility with your operating system and design software. Also, the cutter should be easy to use, allowing you to be productive right out of the box. Look for a manufacturer that has support and education resources available to you, including training and product documentation. Make sure the manufacturer has a good reputation for product quality and service. The lowest priced cutter on the market usually doesn’t offer the performance and peace of mind professionals look for.”
Conrad adds, “Try to match productivity levels with performance expectations. Keep it simple, but don’t be outgrowing your cutter every six to 12 months either. Plan for your cutter to be a part of your business for the day you buy it and the near future to satisfy expectations you have for application and growth levels. Choosing a partner and a plotter that is reliable and will support you when you need it is also important. Ask yourself; “what will happen after the sale?” And be sure that the answer isn’t a mystery. Reputable vendors and dealers are important to helping you make proper purchase decisions up front and supporting you as you get started.”
Once a vinyl cutter/plotter is in place, it is vital that a PSP knows what products will best serve its needs. Perhaps the most important choice in this area relates to choosing the appropriate substrates for the job. The PSP must consider the use of the finished product, required longevity, etc. Curtis states, “The most common compatible substrates include pressure-sensitive, adhesive-backed PVC, polyurethanes, and polyesters. These substrates are the main media used for t-shirts, signage, décor, and automotive applications.”
Every savvy PSP has his finger on the pulse of the trends in the industry, especially if he wants to keep up with the competition. The experts give their take on current and future trends.
Conrad states, “Like the wide-format printer market, plotters follow the same path of bigger, better, faster. Look for plotters to go wider, cut faster and provide easier to learn and use interfaces for simpler operation. Cut path, registration, cut depths, software enhancements, and cutting head mechanics are also features that will continue to improve along with speed and accuracy measures to maintain the performance and productivity of these devices.”
Curtis says, “Some of the more traditional applications have included apparel, decals, labels, and window signs. But, now we’re seeing a huge increase in automotive and interior décor graphics. A lot of this popularity is due to the new materials that are available in the market. We have just introduced a new fabric media line that can be contour cut easily for interior decor applications such as custom wall graphics and murals. Some of the most original entries in last year’s Roland Creative Awards contest came from the output of our cutters. It is going to be interesting to see what the future brings as more and more unique media products are introduced.”