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Vinyl Software answers for Newbies

Discussion in 'General Software' started by Pro Signs & Graphix, Apr 29, 2006.

  1. Pro Signs & Graphix

    Pro Signs & Graphix Very Active Member

    Apr 18, 2006
    This post is repetition for people that have been using CAS software. It is intended to try and consolidate many common questions and answers for people that are new to vinyl, and even screen printing. Everything mentioned is from real experience, or sometimes the lack of. It contains nothing regarding wide format printing and RIPS, as we are not as well versed.

    To begin with, images are primarily classified as vector or raster. (An image can contain properies of both). An easy description would go something like this:

    Vectors are lines and Rasters are pictures.

    A plotter (vinyl cutter) can cut a line, but not a picture. On the other hnd a printer can print a picture and a line. Most plotters are HP-GL compatible, meaning that they operate via a language (HP-GL) that uses "map" coordinates - nothing else.

    A printer operates on a much more complex level, but that does you no good for cutting vinyl, but is very useful in screen printing. (As a note, a plotter can make the process of screen-making, for simple spot color graphics MUCH MUCH easier, and save money in reagrds to buying an expensive exposure unit).

    The list of available software is extensive, with many variations on every corner. The common names are as follows:

    (Split into 2 parts - too long)

    Part 1

    Adobe Illustrator - vector drawing
    Adobe Photoshop - raster (although the later CS versions have increased vector ability)
    Corel Draw - vector drawing
    Corel Photo Paint - raster

    Part 2

    Smart Design - A Corel Draw add-on
    Sign Tools - A Corel Draw add-on
    Cadlink Signlab - vector (specialized for vinyl)
    Scanvec Amiable FlexiSign - vector (specialized for vinyl)

    There are others such as WinPC Sign, LXi, etc. etc. While we have some experience withe WinPC, it is limited, and we have no experience with LXi. You will often find these bundled with a new plotter. This does NOT mean that there is anything wrong with them. We just are not as well versed in their application, and if you were supplied with ione of these, you SHOULD learn how to properly use them BEFORE purchasing any "proprietary" CAS software (Flexi or Signlab). All too often, we see that someone made an attempt, in the business of vinyl graphics, only to later opt out and end up talikng a "bath", trying to sell the software.

    Now lets get to the software, as we see them, and use them. Here are our brief descriptions.


    Adobe was one of the first to specialize in graphics software, and to cater to Apple computer owners. Consequently, Adobe formats (AI=Illustrator, PSD=Phoitoshop), are known as "universal industry standards". This was especially useful because many print shops and artists (even Newspapers) use MACs (Apple) and they unfortunately have to deal with us PC people. (Another common format, developed by Adobe, is ".eps" =encapsulate postscript, but for all intensive purposes, do not concern yourself with that now.)


    A vector based drawing software. Very popular with artists in the graphics industry. Very similar to Corel Draw (although appearance and feel is different). Very useful in the arsenal of software.

    Illustrator is very capable. It will alow you to do things as design layouts, and even vectorize (trace) raster images, or scanned art. Unfortunately, we were not initially introduced to Illustrator. We use it on a regular basis, but not for design, but rather as a "compliment" to what we normally use.

    Advantages of Illustrator are:
    1. You can easily open and view/alter an AI image, as it was on the originating computer.
    2. Works effortlessly with Photoshop
    3. Uses less system memory vs. Corel


    A raster based drawing software. Also, very popular with artists in the graphics industry. Very similar to Corel Photo Paint (although appearance and feel is different). It too, is a very useful in the arsenal of software.

    In our opinon, if there is a raster software too learn, it is Photoshop. Do not waste time trying to learn Corel Photo Paint. You will end up with Photoshop - everybody does. Some of the many reasons are:

    1. Industry standard
    2. Less system drain
    3. The availability of third party plug-ins (add-on software)
    4. Much faster than PhotoPaint

    Photoshop is a must, if you end up dealing with the printing of graphics. It is NOT a requirement for the cutting of vinyl. It is also expensive - but they have earned every penny!


    Very common! You will often hear a never-ending argument, Illustrator vs. Corel. The greatest advantage of Corel is PRICE. Corel is considerably cheaper than Adobe products, but they have earned their keep. Although available separately, Corel is often bundled as a "suite", with Draw/PhotoPaint/Font Navigator (font mgt. software that is very useful, especially when dealing with many thousands of fonts).

    Corel, although very common, has always "trailed" Adobe. That does not mean that it has not earned it place - it has, especially in the vector arena.

    Corel Draw

    A vector based drawing software. Not considered an industry standard, but the has held the #2 position easily. The user interface (controls) is very different than Illustrator (although most tool bar "buttons" have had a universal appearance for years). Nevertheless the user interface seems to be very intuitive. This software is very capable. From design to vectorizing, this software can do it!

    One of the greatest advantages of Corel Draw is that it has the ability to do what sometimes requires the use of both Illustrator AND Phoitoshop, although that is slowly changing, at Adobe. There are many built-in macros, for some very neat effects. The Trace (vectorizing) is one of the best available.

    Another advantage is the availability of third party software, such as Sign Tools and Smart Designs (by Digital Art).

    From design to vectorizing, this software can do it, and is very worth the investment.


    A raster based drawing software. NOT very popular with artists in the graphics industry. Very similar to Photoshop (although appearance and feel is different). The greatest advantage with PhotoPaint is that usually comes bundled with Corel Draw. This allows for the ability to handle some operations without the need to invest in Photoshop.

    It is also a good "primer", before making the jump to Photoshop.
    (Before we go any further, you should be aware that we used Photopaint for many years, before Photoshop. It gave us a good understanding of operations.)

    Again, in our opinon, if there is a raster software too learn, it is Photoshop. Do not waste time trying to learn Corel Photo Paint. In the end, plug-ins are not very common, but often limited AND the drain on system resouces (memory/RAM) is tremendous.

    In regards to pricing, Corel has spoiled many, including us. The software is worth much more than waht it is priced. A couple of years ago, Corel almost went out of business, primarily due to market pricing and the availability of "bootleg" copies. Thankfully, someone invested/bought out Corel, and they are still here.

    SAMS Publishing is known for "24-hour" books, such as "Teach Yourself Corel Draw in 24 hours" and "Teach Yourself Photoshop in 24 hours". They are available at Borders or Amazon, usually average $25 to $40 per. They are very worthwhile investment, and much better than the "Dummies" books.
  2. Pro Signs & Graphix

    Pro Signs & Graphix Very Active Member

    Apr 18, 2006
    Smart Design by Digital Art Solutions

    A Corel plug-in. Works seamlessly with Co-Cut, a "bridging" software, that allows cutting directly from Corel. (Co-Cut can be purchased as a stand alone, although, if you already have a "cutting software", you are probably just wasting your hard-earned dollars. You would be better off to apply that money to purchasing artwork, and very often there is a free generic HP-GL driver that will alows cutting directly from Corel, or even Illustrator)

    Why buy Smart Designs? Simple...time equals money. This software is LOADED with macros. There is nothing that Smart Designs or any other add-on/plug-in does, that cannot be done manually. "Manual", though, is the key word. If you do not know Corel, you will spend valuable time learning to do something, and even if you do know Corel, it can still speed the design process. Time spent on software, is time NOT spent making money!

    Smart Designs can also relieve the pressure when someone who knows nothing about design and layout. It allows for inexperienced people to be productive - i.e - make money.

    Digital Art is very supportive of the the sign and print industries. They will bend over backwards for you, to get you into their software, and it is very useful for beginners.

    Sign Tools by A-Signs

    A pure waste of money, and over-priced - (Sorry Andrew, I know I am going to catch hell over this!). Sign Tools appeared with ambition, and looked as if they were going to give Smart Designs a run for their money (or yours). This program is generic. The included macros are so simple, that even a beginner will quickly master the operations (steps) WITHOUT Sign Tools, and can easily save them with Corel's "recording" feature.

    If you are intent on a third party plug-in for Corel, use the money as a down payment on Smart Design.

    (Note that Andrew, owner of A-Signs and Sign Tool's creator, IS a good guy but for some reason has not been aggressive in making Sign Tools more robust - probably too many "irons in the fire")


    A professional sign software. Great features, and many software controls/options for the plotter. Allows for cutting directly from the software interface. One nice advantage is the ability to change the "feel" of the user interface, to match the software you are familiar with. For example, if you are familiar with Corel, then you can click an option that will give you toolbars, just like Corel, and so on.

    Pricey as it seems, it IS a good software. Regardless, unless you are certain that you will stay in the sign business,, do not buy this software "right off the bat" - you will most likely end up "losing your shirt."


    Another professional sign software. Really great features, and many software controls/options for the plotter. Allows for cutting directly from the software interface. Signlab is most known for its "welding tool" - probably one of the best out there.

    Even Signlab, pricey as it seems, IS a good software. With this too, unless you are certain that you will stay in the sign business,, do not buy this software "right off the bat" - you will most likely end up "losing your shirt."

    Note that Signlab and Flexi both have OE versions available, for much lower cost. These versions are basically the older versions, but are very worth the incvestment. they hope that you will end up buying the latest version, at a later date. For example Signlab OE Pro is actually Signlab 5.0. It has all of the same features ans 5.0, but it cannot work with Signlab fonts (true type only), often not a big deal.

    This leads us to file formats. We found out the hard way! Once you save a number of files in a particular format, you end up locking yourself in to a certain sofware. This is especially true with the "pro" software. Save 500 jobs in Signlab format, switch to Flexi, and you will find times that you cannot use your originalk file, or vice-versa.

    Yes, they both have the import feature, but on occasion, something gets lost in the translation. IT HAS happenned to us! This can force you to end up doing the two-step, when it is most inconvenient.

    Our advice. Save the original in its originating format. Then (remember that AI and EPS are universal formats?), save a backup in either AI or EPS. Vector files are very small, so it should not be a space issue, and back-ups are something you should have anyway.

    For those that are wondering, we do not work for any of these software companies. Our preferred sofware (but not everybody's) is: Signlab, Corel, Illustrator, Photoshop

    For those that believe or are told (especially by a salesman) "this is all you need" - forget it. Eventually you find that no matter what, if you stay with it (vinyl, etc.) you will easily end up 10, 20 sometimes even 30 thousand in software - after you add it all up. You do not need to buy it all at once but "this art, that art", "this feature (capability), that feature" do add up.

    We hope this clarifies some things, as this is a subject that is, and always will be repeated, again and again, and even again.
  3. Jackpine

    Jackpine Major Contributor

    Signmaking software

    Pro Signs & Graphix......What a great post for someone new in this business. I have been in the computer end since 286mgz.....Corel ver 1. CadLink......when it was linked to Corel as a plugin or was Corel a plug in for CadLink??. I wish I had a sales person with an explaination such as yours. You are right on .... how many of us have software laying around because it was the "answer"? I work in SignLab, Corel 10 and X3 (just loaded it). I tried SignTools on a back up plotter, it was OK but sold it with the plotter when I upgraded. Looked at SmartDesign and thought it was a very good program but then the question "do I really NEED it or do I just WANT it?" Your post reflects how good this forum really is for anyone in this trade. P.S. I even used LetterArt ..... Then got a real program...SignLab. Signlab I use for vinyl cutting and CNC routing.
  4. Techman

    Techman Major Contributor

    Jun 24, 2003
    Nice post. Lots of work and time went into it. However,

    A few of your opinions that I feel should be cleared up.
    CoCut is NOT a bridging software. It is a plugin just like those used to make enhance the use of photoshop. And, I beleive that Cocut was once a part of Corel. But I do know that it was offered as an add on for Corel Draw 6. There was a info sheet included with corel 6 that promoted driving vinyl cutters.

    And more. Cocut is not just a cutter driver. It has added features that make it a very valuable tool in my opinion. The welding tool is one feature I use all the time. Convert outlines is another really nice feature. Both of which are auto informing. That means it asks you if you wish to use these when needed. All anyone has to do is download the trial and find out for themselves. Cocut will work within Illustrator as well. Thus A client may send you an AI file and you will not be hindered. And yes. Cocut pro will operate with OPUS..

    The following is right off the Cocut website. http://www.cocut.com/index.dml
    (Did you notice the word bitmaps)?

    Plus it is protected with a dongle. Not a computer based serial number that only fits one machine. That way you can use your cocut anywhere.

    Smart Design? at $699 it is much more costly than cocut and I personally know No One that uses Sign Tools let alone see any one post about it anywhere. (except this thread). Their website advises this tool is used for ART production.
    .. Yes, ive experienced their bending over backwards to get me.. It didn't work..

    As for photopaint
    Almost all photoshop plugins will work in photopaint. In fact I have not found one that does not work. Since I do not use many I cannot personally say which ones do not. Many use photopaint quite a bit along with Draw. They are perfectly integrated. As far as being a drian on resources? I find it hard to believe that any plugin IE: Eyecandy 4000 can be a drain on resources no matter in which application it runs thru.

    Thank you.

  5. Cadmn

    Cadmn Very Active Member

    Aug 19, 2005
    I find it hard to believe that any plugin IE: Eyecandy 4000 can be a drain on resources no matter in which application it runs thru.

    Thank you.

    --Techman[/quote]actually any graphics program is a drain on resources IE. Ram & if you got Roland equip no need for all them other Programs. :Coffee:
  6. Pro Signs & Graphix

    Pro Signs & Graphix Very Active Member

    Apr 18, 2006
    Jackpine - You are 100% correct, Smart Designs is more of a want than a need for us. but for a beginner - we feel it could be a great tool. That is why we would consider a purchase - If we hired somebody inexperieced.

    As for sales - we really take our hat off to our vendor. He prevented us from doing that. We have very little unused software. (Mind you, the owner was in the sign business for a long time, before becoming a vendor.)

    That is why we wrote this - we have seen way toooo many people spend waaay to much needlessly - but on the lighter side it DOES keep the prices up, and the competition down :Big Laugh (just kidding).

    Techman - I was unaware that CoCut does have design features. In the beginning it was extremely limited. Nonetheless, I have no issue with EuroSystems, or Digital Art Solutions - both companies are extremely knowledgable and helpful - especially to beginners (unlike Cadlink, towards beginners) _ To whom this post is directed to helping.

    My definition of a bridging software is any software that gets you from point A to B - in this case, a design to the plotter.

    To be truthful, all sign software has a "bridging" component (Flexi and Signlab), the difference being that they are "built-in", in a seamless fashion - much like CoCut. I am not referring to just a driver here, but an actual program that gives you options and choices that would not normally be available just in Windows.

    We also completely agree with the use of dongles vs "changing serial keys". We have had instances with other software (non-sign), that put us "down" - and one company even went out of business!!

    I am glad to see that you like PhotoPaint. I have heard that the plug-ins work (never tried) - but I also get touchy about my machine, where as PhotoPaint use 30% more memory than PhotoShop, sometimes causing crashes. That does not mean that we do not use it at all, because we do - I just believe that time is better spent learning PhotoShop from the get-go, instead of vise-versa, like I did, which I feel was a mistake.

    As for the resources (RAM), any time a person "requests" a software perform an operation/procedure, memory is used. The more asked - the more used (sort of like revving an engine). It can even be explained like this: Opening many programs and options at the same time - would be like pulling a trailer with more weight - eventually you stop moving.
  7. smhdesigns

    smhdesigns New Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Sorry if this seems to be an uneducated question, but i have always had the philosophy no question is a dumb question. with that being said... i have adobe photoshop 7.0. i use an anagraph ae-60e plotter with design art pro. are you saying it is possible to create an image in illustrator (meaning vector art) thru my photoshop program and import it to design art pro to be cut ready??? thanks for your reply

    to be clear.... my photoshop 7.0 has "image-ready" with i assume is illustrator. if i am not correct in this assumption please advise me otherwise.

    on a different note, my ana is currently paired with an outdated dell pc with windows 98. am i correct in thinking this is the only operating system it is compatible with???
  8. Fred Weiss

    Fred Weiss Merchant Member

    Sep 11, 2003
    Olympia, WA
    It's certainly an out of date question.

    If you use Adobe Illustrator to create a vector and then save the AI or EPS back to a legacy version such as version 3, you can then open or import that vector file into your Design Art software. At no time is there any reason for it to be brought into Photoshop which is a raster image editor. Image Ready is part of Photoshop and has nothing whatsoever to do with vectors. It was used for web image processing and has long been discarded from the Adobe line.

    You can probably get your ae-60e to work with a later version of Windows but it is not as likely that you would be able to run the Design Art software on a later Windows OS. This would then mean that you would need to invest in more modern software as well as learn a much different program.
  9. smhdesigns

    smhdesigns New Member

    Mar 13, 2014

    thank you for your valued input. when i bought the system in june of 98 it was suppose to come with 6 months worth of tech support and training. to much dismay i received none of this as ana went out of business and i had to self teach myself thru trial and error. i have learned the basics over time but i am sure i am not using the software to its full potential. i would love to learn exactly how everything works and get the most out of my investment rather than taking the high road and using up my elbow grease :) any suggestions on sites or time saving tips from the trade are welcomed.... as of now i pretty much scan in black and white images that i redraw by hand and cut each piece with the color it needs to be. there has to be a better way. i am wanting my business to grow and prosper
  10. player

    player Major Contributor

    Apr 24, 2006
    This is crazy.
  11. Fred Weiss

    Fred Weiss Merchant Member

    Sep 11, 2003
    Olympia, WA
    The best advice I can give you is to plan a trip to Orlando, FL next month and attend the ISA Expo. There are lots of good seminars and one of the largest trade shows for sign making in the world. Here's a link for more information.

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