One common frustrating issue with vinyl cutting machines is that they may start cutting random lines in the middle of your project screwing everything up and wasting valuable material. Before you chuck your cutter out the window or shuffle back to the store for a refund, I already did a little digging into this issue! Let’s figure out what’s going on.
Why is your vinyl cutter cutting random lines? Your cutting machine may possibly cut random lines in your design due to chiefly two reasons:
- there is an excess buildup of static electricity or…
- there is some underlying driver software issue that’s messing things up.
Fortunately, these issues are fairly easily rectifiable or preventable, so hopefully you won’t have too many problems going forward. I will also discuss some other potential things that could be causing random lines to be cut into your design and what to do about it.
Why does your cutting machine cut random lines?
The performance of each vinyl cutting machine will vary by manufacturer and model, but small “malfunctions” like randomly cut lines do come up from time to time. What some may not realize is that something as simple and seemingly innocuous as static electricity can often wreak havoc on vinyl cutting machine operation and should be avoided at all costs.
It’s equally important that the software you’re using is up to date, compatible with your system, and running efficiently or you could also run into undesirable issues with your machine.
How does static electricity affect your cutting machine’s performance?
Static electricity will adversely affect the performance of your shiny vinyl cutting machine in weird ways. You may find that the machine cuts your project just fine at first. The entire job gets cut perfectly and then right at the end it will slice some ugly line clean through the project it just completed. You could lose connection between your computer and the cutting machine. It could manifest by cutting random lines where there is no artwork,
It’s also possible that it could start acting up by cutting weird random or diagonal lines right in the middle of your design or completely stopping in the middle of the project.
It’s important to differentiate these phenomena from weeding lines that are supposed to exist. Weeding lines are narrow, consistent lines intentionally designed to be cut outside the main areas of your design to facilitate the weeding process (where you remove excess vinyl or other material from your finished design).
When there is some malfunction the machine will slice right through your artwork or cut other random lines where you didn’t intend them to be.
Why does static build up in vinyl cutting machines?
Okay, time for a brief science lesson! The static electricity that can build up through your cutting machine has chiefly to do with the vinyl rolls that get swept through as the projects are being cut. Vinyl itself is a fantastic insulator of ions and will readily emit many of these ions when it comes in contact with various surfaces.
The production of electricity through mechanical means is called the triboelectric effect.
Think of how when you rub a helium balloon against your face you can feel the static. Or when you take off your wool cap in the dead of winter your hair stands on end. Positively charged ions are constantly being given off.
As you complete jobs on your cutter and your vinyl rolls rub through the machine, these ions can sometimes begin to build up to an excessive amount throughout the cutter itself. All of these positively charged ions need to be dissipated in some way or else they will interfere with the inner electronic workings of the cutting machine and sabotage the cutting process and subsequently your project.
It’s important to note that static build up is more likely in certain environments or when there’s a change in seasons. For instance, you may find that your cutter performs fine for a while, but during the winter or colder months you may be running the heater a lot more often.
While this keeps you comfortable it simultaneously will dry out the air that previously had a certain degree of moisture, and dryer air is more conducive to static electricity building up when certain materials are rubbing together. Also during colder seasons the moisture will actually freeze out of the air.
Ways to prevent static electricity from ruining your cutting job
Luckily I’ve found that some of the suggested ways to prevent static electricity build up from ruining a perfectly fine cutting job are both cheap and easy:
- Use anti-static spray
- Use anti-static string
- Ground your vinyl cutter (I’ll explain what this is and how to do it)
- Use cheap dryer sheets used for laundry
- Avoid low-humidity areas (or use a humidifier)
- Avoid operating your cutting machine on carpeted areas
These can usually be found very cheaply virtually anywhere. See if they have any at your local convenience store. They’re typically used to keep your clothing from sticking together (or other fabrics from clinging). Anti-static spray has been found to work just fine for vinyl cutters too.
You’ll want to apply the spray to the roller bar under the vinyl (the sandbar), the pinch rollers, and it won’t hurt to apply a decent amount to the vinyl you’re using itself.
It probably won’t be necessary to spray before every single cutting job you do, but you may want to get in the practice of regular sprays at least once a week, assuming your machine is put to fairly regular use.
Static Guard String
Static guard string is literally a string held in place usually by two magnets, or affixed to the cutting machine somehow, and the middle of the string (or some portion of it) is allowed to drag over the vinyl material as it is being cut. This dissipates the charge and prevents static that would otherwise cling to the vinyl from ruining the job.
There are some cheap anti-static kits that you can buy when you get your machine. The string itself is merely fabric, but is sufficient usually to dissipate the static that can cause everything to go south.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but it certainly is common practice in dry, desert areas to use a warm or cool mist humidifier in the same immediate area that the vinyl cutter is being run. Otherwise try to operate the machine in areas of low-humidity in the first place if you can. The relative humidity in the air should be above 25% to best avoid static problems.
Carpets can build up static electricity easily when the air is dry because it can rub up against surfaces. It’s best to avoid carpeting altogether where your vinyl cutter is being run unless you can easily control the relative humidity.
If that’s not possible you may be able to have your carpeted area sprayed with a solution that isn’t conducive to static buildup.
Sometimes your cutter will come with this right out of the package. If so great. If not, it can be bought inexpensively.
You will want to ground the vinyl cutter before use. Static can build up between two non-conductive materials because there is no path to ground. The insulation and other materials on your machine can accumulate static easily.
Grounding means is that there must a common point everything on your cutter is connected to in order to dissipate the charge. You connect some conductive material from the machine to a stand or the ground, hence the terminology.
The base of the potter has an earth wire. Any static electricity that builds up there will be transferred to your machine
Grounding cable is often all that’s necessary, which may or may not be included with your machine, but any old metal wire attached/wound around a lug nut will do. Copper wire works great for this.
You need to attach a cable or metal wire to the bottom of your machine. This can then be attached to the stand your machine is on (if you have one) or directly to the ground in some way.
Yet another laundry-related product! Those cheap dryer sheets you throw in the drying machine to keep your clothes from clinging together with static will also work well for your vinyl cutter. Wipe down the vinyl itself and any areas on the machine where the vinyl may rub against it. Basically the same areas you would use the anti-static spray you can use dryer sheets. Some people swear by them.
Software/Driver Issues can cause random lines being cut
Sometimes they can be a communication error between the machine in the software driving it. Make sure that your software is up-to-date. Check the website for your particular machine to see where you can get the most recent updates.
How to figure out what’s causing random cuts
Luckily, there are some simple ways to determine what could be possibly causing these unwanted cuts in your design.
If your cutting machine has a plotter you can remove the cutting blade and perform a test run on some scraps with a plotter pen.
If the machine seems to work just fine (without stopping or tracing an erratic path) with the pen but then go haywire when you replace the blade, static electricity is your likely culprit.
This is because the ink pen itself doesn’t conduct any electricity but the metal blade does.
Other possible causes for your vinyl cutter cutting random lines
Make sure there are no stray nodes in your design.
Sometimes if the source artwork you’re using to cut your design is vector-based, there may some stray nodes, or points, outside of your image that you missed.
This could confuse the machine and cause it to cut erratically. Be aware that if your image is in layers there could be some stray node the machine is picking up but is invisible to you.
To check for this, open your artwork, do a select all, clear the fill, change all strokes to black and see remains.
Could it be a memory issue?
If you are attempting to cut a project larger than your machine is physically capable of then it can lead to problems.
There’s an easy way to test for this: if you notice there are no problems when you’re cutting a smaller design but problems only arise when you have a big project, then you’ve probably found the cause of the issue.
If you tried testing for everything including adjusting pressure settings, blade length, and everything else mentioned in this article, then contact support for your machine.