Tools for Cutting & Routing Custom Shapes

Taye Harding

The next time you’re in your favorite store, pay close attention to the shape of the signs you see. We would bet that most of the signs you’ll see are squares or rectangles. And that’s okay – there’s nothing wrong with basic square shapes. In some ways, square shapes keep the world turning.

But if you want your signs to truly stand out, it could be helpful to consider a custom shape – one that will attract the eye and perhaps elevate your marketing and brand to another level.

Here at Minoh, we can help you add that custom shape to your signage. But first, let’s take a look at a few of the tools we use to do it.

Tools for Custom Shapes

If you picture using a jigsaw or even a handsaw when cutting a custom shape for your sign, you’re sadly mistaken. Not that you can’t use a manual blade or handheld power tool for cutting materials, but for a sign shop that does high quantity at all in custom shapes, it’s more efficient to be using some type of computer-controlled cutting device that can rapidly pump out the jobs.  

Not to mention, accuracy is a critical factor. Automated cutting machines can make all kinds of intricate and detailed shapes that can’t be easily produced with other cutting tools. Straight blades are perfect for cutting square shapes, however today’s modern signage provider will probably use some combination of the following tools when producing custom-cut signs for their clients.

Vinyl cutters and printer-cutters: For cut vinyl letters as well as paper and other similar materials, you’ll see shops using a vinyl cutter or a combination printer-cutter.

As the name explains for itself, a vinyl cutter is a computerized cutter that reads your print file and produces a custom-cut piece. Meanwhile, printer-cutters are printers that have integrated custom-cut capabilities.

When it comes to vinyl cutters and printer-cutters, the design is put into the machine’s brain, vinyl is fed through, and the design is then printed and cut (or just cut). Both machines are capable of cutting detailed shapes, but they’re usually limited to thin vinyl and/or paper substrates. They are also limited when it comes to how wide they can cut.

CNC routers – It might be possible that you’re already familiar with a CNC router. Popular with woodworkers, machine shops, and even DIY specialists, these machines have also found a home in many sign shops.

Made up of a stationary table with a cutting spindle or router mechanism, CNC routers are computer-controlled, high-speed cutting machines that can handle many different materials (metal and composites to plastic, foam, wood, etc.) Using a CNC, you can cut, engrave, carve, drill, and mill your substrates. The tool’s path is determined by coordinates that are fed via a CAM program that’s been set up by the machine’s operator.

One “con” about CNC routers: They’re not always the best option when it comes to cutting flexible materials like vinyl and fabrics. At MInoh, we tend to utilize our CNC router for harder signage materials – those that cannot be easily cut (or bent / scratched).

Flatbed cutters: The flatbed cutter is the staple option for many sign shops. Same as CNC routers, they have a stationary table and a cutting spindle with various blades. Although its blades are fixed and straight. The difference is that flatbeds can handle rigid and flexible materials, as well as fabrics. It should be noted that CNC routers can accommodate thicker and heavier rigid substrates than the average flatbed cutter.

For signage, the process is done in two parts. First, your design is printed onto your substrate. Then the printed substrate is put on a computerized cutting or routing system, which has been programmed with your design.

 



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