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Are there "best practices" for contour cut lines?

Discussion in 'Tips & Tricks' started by rm5690, May 22, 2019.

  1. rm5690

    rm5690 Member

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    Im trying to figure out how to "optimize" contour cut lines, hopefully without much trial-and-error.

    For instance, I know a path with excessive anchor points and details isn't going to look as nice – or cut as quickly – as a smooth path with minimal angles.

    Are there rules of thumb or some sort of guidelines that you go by so that the final sticker/decal isnt a crap product?
     
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  2. shoresigns

    shoresigns Very Active Member

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    1. Minimum 1/2" cap height for most plain fonts.
    2. Minimum 1/16" for thin lines.
    3. Intricate designs like a vector grunge texture or ink splatter are either a no-go, or we charge a TON of weeding time with the caveat that the final result might be missing a few bits and pieces (but no one will notice).
    4. Text that looks like it was auto-traced to vector from a raster image usually gets thrown back to the customer, who throws it to their designer, who turns out not to be a designer, who throws it back to us, then we'll often set the type from scratch to fix it, using the original font.
    5. Client must give us vector art, or pay extra for vectorizing.
    All rules can be bent a little here and there.
     
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  3. myront

    myront CorelDRAW is best

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    Plan on "punch cutting" decals? Use two cut lines. 1 to do the decal cut then another contour about 1/8" bigger to do the punch cut. Just weed oot the edge after they're punched out.
    Depends on the program used to set up the contour cut. I can do all the set up within Corel using a macro. After our print tech prints it I simply open the file in Corel and use the FineCut plug-in to make the cut/s

    Punch cutting (half cut) can leave little tears in sharp corners and such. By using the two line method you can get nice results. Wouldn't want to weed more than a 50 or so though.
     
  4. Saturn

    Saturn New Member

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    What software and what cutter are you using? It sounds like you're doing printed stickers/decals, and not just cutting colored vinyl?

    I use Illustrator and a Summa, and you're definitely right about there being some good optimizations to a die-cut line that let the cutter do it in one continuous movement versus lots of stops and starts. For die-cut (all the way through the backing paper) stickers this mostly just means you don't have any corners and that everything is gently rounded. I also try to simplify the path as much as possible, although that gentle rounding is ultimately more important than how many points it has.

    If you're doing stickers like this, knowing the cutter and having both it and the blade depth really dialed in are probably even more important than using the perfect vector cut line. Once you have things setup so that you are able to cut things repeatably with good edges and you're maintaining the plotter well, fine tuning the graphic/cut file will come even more naturally.
     
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  5. rm5690

    rm5690 Member

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    Im using Illustrator for setup and a Summa S2 T160.

    It's my first time working with a cutter (we just invested in buying signage equipment less than 6 months ago. Before that I was just doing giclee prints.) so Im still on a learning curve.

    Simple shapes are a breeze but Im realizing that with more complicated shapes there are different things that make the final sticker damage prone. For instance concave angles and thin areas are prone to ripping or stretching/warping when the sticker is pulled off the backing.

    Since Im new to this, I just didnt know if there were "unsaid rules" that people keep in mind when they're setting up the contour.

    I'm still trying to figure out a way to round/soften all the angles at once in a complex vector in Illustrator without having to individually round each individual angle one at a time. I dont know about you all but when I feel like smooth simple curves are better looking than the bubbly contour you end up with from outlining text + offsetting the path.
     
  6. depps74

    depps74 Member

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    You can simplify your paths easy in illustrator. Select path you want to round and smooth. Go to Object>Path and click on "simplify" you can preview how round or smooth you want your path. I think this will get rid of extra vector points too.
     
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  7. Saturn

    Saturn New Member

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    Yup, the Simplify function is always what I end with. I also occasionally run it a few times during the cut line creation too.

    Hard to describe my process, but for anything that's on a solid background I will usually start in Photoshop and use the magic wand to select the background, then invert the selection and fill with black. I slightly blur this and save as a separate file the exact same dimensions of the main artwork. This basically gives the the shadow of the artwork. Then it's into Illustrator to live trace, pathfinder/unite, and stroke with rounded corners.

    The "trick" that I do for repeatable results and to avoid ever having sharp corners is to create the first stroke a little larger than what I what the final border to be, and then expand that and delete the inner side, then use the outer edge to do another stroke with curved corners that basically goes back inward. Then expand, delete the outer edge, simplify, blah blah. It can be very hard to describe but combined with simplify it is capable of doing a slightly less "computer generated" look than just the one-time outline/expand look that is too perfectly bubbly. My simplify settings are usually 98/165 and I always preview to see how many points I'm cutting.

    PM me if you need a more in-depth description of that process. I realize it probably reads like nonsense. And again, I use his primarily for small graphic stickers that are being 100% die-cut, but it applies to any kiss-cuts I do as well.

    Other than that I think you know instinctively what to avoid as far as cutting to far into a design(concave) or having thin delicate areas.
     
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  8. JimmyG

    JimmyG Premium Subscriber

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    Yes I always radius the all corners on any contour cut shape, for a smooth contour cut knife flow AND sharp corners are never good on a finished decal installed. Kind like doing round corners on sheet magnets.
     
  9. Category5

    Category5 New Member

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    That’s a rather roundabout way to get a contour cut line from photoshop into illustrator.
    I just create a work path from a selection. Export path to illustrator, then cut and paste the raster artwork over to the illustrator file. About 10 seconds worth of work. The worst thing that happens is having to realign the cutline to the artwork sometimes.
     
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