One of the most common (and frustrating!) problems with vinyl cutting machines is that sometimes they may not make cuts correctly. I quickly needed a solution to some of these issues myself so I did a little research and here’s what I’ve uncovered.
There are a number of potential causes, but the single most common reason a vinyl cutting machine is not cutting properly is that there is a blade issue. It could be that blade offset or overcut needs to be calibrated on your machine, or that the blade holder needs to be adjusted higher or lower depending on your project. If you have intricate details in your design, such as small lettering, it may be that you should be using a different size blade as well.
In this article I will address a few common problems with vinyl cutting machines:
- Incomplete cuts
- Not Straight/Skipping
- Not cutting deep enough
You’ll hopefully get a better understanding of what concepts like “blade offset” mean, what’s the best blade offset setting for most jobs, and how these things affect how your machine cuts. I also cover other related vinyl cutter problems that may crop up, how to troubleshoot for these problems, and ways to prevent these from sabotaging your projects in the future.
Vinyl Cutter Not Completing Cut
A lot of times when people are having issues with their machine they will ask around to see what specific numbers or settings are used on others’ machines to cut properly (like their particular blade offset — which I will discuss later — or overcut). The most important thing to remember is that, as I’ve indicated earlier, there are far too many variables that could lead to your having issues.
The key is knowing precisely the settings for your specific machine, what they are, how they work, and how to calibrate everything to your individual project. Don’t get too fixated on what everyone else is doing, although it doesn’t hurt to test, test, test.
If your vinyl cutting machine is making incomplete cuts you may have an issue with the blade holder. This is what actually what it sounds like: it holds the blade in place. It contains both springs and bearings that keep the blade you’re using in an upright position and perpendicular to the surface/working area for clean, accurate cuts.
If you are putting your machine to good use (maybe you do large projects or commercial work) it’s good practice to replace your bearings every 12-18 months to ensure that everything continues to run pretty smoothly. Use your own discretion as to when to replace it based on how often you put the machine to use.
When you start seeing that your machine is cutting weird arcs when it should be cutting circles, or if it’s completely failing to cut images or letters with corners, these could be a good sign that it’s time to replace the blade holder. This is especially true if you haven’t even changed the offset.
“Adjust your blade offset”
Ugh. This is the first thing that will come out of someone’s mouth when someone has an issue with their machine making incomplete cuts. Although blade offset (I will define exactly what this is and how it affects the way your machine cuts) is a common troubleshooting suggestion offered, and may in fact be the solution to the problem, most often the issue has more to do with the blade holder itself.
If you’ve been cutting projects for a while with your machine set to a particular blade offset number, don’t just automatically assume that adjusting this will fix the problem. If you’ve determined it’s not the blade holder or some other obvious factor then go ahead and see if there are blade issues or mess around with blade offset.
Each vinyl cutter will be different depending on model, age, manufacturer, etc. Because of this, unfortunately, there isn’t always a cut (pardon the pun!) and dry answer as to why a machine will be cutting incorrectly.
However, as I mentioned earlier, if your vinyl cutting machine is leaving large, unsightly gaps in your cuts it is most likely due to some issue with the blade holder. This is when you’re intending to create, for instance, an “O” shape or similarly enclosed shape, and it makes a “C” shape instead. Where ends should meet the cutter creates a wide, ugly, unseemly gap. But it could indeed be the blade or knife offset which needs to be adjusted.
Desktop vinyl cutting machines operate based on a drag knife system. This is when the blade is pulled along a path and drags behind the centerline of the blade shaft. Think of the caster wheels on shopping carts, some luggage, or office chairs. It’s essentially the same principle.
Blade offset (or it may be labeled as “knife offset” with your machine — same exact thing) is the distance from the center of the blade shank (the round part that actually holds the blade) to the end of the blade that does the cutting. This is all important because if your design has sharp corners or smaller areas requiring tighter cuts the machine must negotiate how exactly it’s going to pivot the blade to complete the cut.
If you find your cutting machines making incomplete cuts, you can adjust your blade offset settings.
For most blades the blade offset should be set to 0.3 mm (or 0.12’).
If you decide to adjust blade offset keep in mind that the setting will be different depending on blade size and angle. There are three popular size blades commonly used: standard, detailed, and thick material. The standard size blade will be the default blade used on your cutter, and can be used for the greatest variety of designs.
You’ll just have to play around with the setting until you have just the right sweet spot and the blade is cutting the right angles. If your blade begins to wear from frequent use, keep in mind that even this can have an effect on how blade offset should be calibrated.
Line That Begins to Fade
If your design has an incomplete cut because the line has begun to fade away, check that your blade is not too dull from frequent use. This should be obvious, but sometimes it’s the little things that get overlooked. Also make sure that the blade holder is firmly secure in the tool holder.
Not Cutting Straight Or Skipping
Sometimes the issue isn’t incomplete cuts or weird corners. Everything else may be just fine but your machine is cutting the lines so that they are jagged and not cutting completely straight as they should be.
In this case you should make sure your blade holder is tracking correctly. If you look carefully at the carriage, that little box that holds the blade holder, it has two little wheels in the back. Make sure that these wheels are ON the track and not to the side or in front of it. Sometimes through frequent use, and perhaps depending on the speed your designs are being cut, this goes awry.
If it does don’t panic, it just has to be adjusted manually. There may be some resistance at first, but if the wheels are off track, try pivoting or tilting the carriage so that one wheel at a time is placed back on track. Once they are properly placed you should be back in business.
Lines that aren’t cut straight and appear jagged or with a “skipping” perforated look could also be due to excessive cutting speed. A good rule of thumb is that when you’re starting a new project and performing test cuts, always opt for a slower speed first and perhaps gradually adjust to a higher once you’ve tested it and are satisfied with the results.
Pay careful attention to corners and take it easy if you have a very detailed design with smaller features. You may also need to lower the cutting speed if your design has mainly straight lines. For some reason the blade seems to navigate curves a little bit better at higher speeds (unless the design is really small of course).
Not Cutting Deep Enough
If your machine doesn’t seem to be able to perforate your material or cut deep enough, check these things:
- Blade sharpness
- Adjust pressure/force
Naturally your blades will wear down due over time as to be expected. If you just recently bought a new cutting machine with brand new blades and are already having issues, then obviously the problem has to do with your settings. But if everything else is accounted for, blades will need to be replaced. Adjust the force or depth of your holder before considering replacing the blades.
Always Test First
As soon as you get your machine you should be performing test cuts before moving on to serious projects. Use a small piece of material and play with all the settings as they are straight from the factory: offset, pressure, speed, etc. Try the settings with different materials too. This will uncover any potential problems right away so that you don’t have headaches later.
You’ll know a test cut is successful if after it’s finished cutting the weeding process goes smoothly. Weeding is when you remove all the excess material not used in the finished design.
Make sure after your cuts all excess vinyl or other material is fully removed from the blade and/or holder to prevent nasty tears in your designs or further complications with performance.
Cutting machines have increased in popularity over the years as the software and Hardware has steadily improved. Projects that would have taken hours in the past to do manually can be done in record time. These machines are used to cut everything from decals to greeting cards and vinyl signage. But every tool has its problems. Performing test cuts and cleaning periodically should ensure that your machine continues to get great mileage for quite a while.