A vinyl plotter or vinyl cutter is a printing device that cuts a vector graphic image into a sheet of vinyl, often backed with adhesive. These plotters are commonly used by professional poster and sign-makers but work for a number of other uses as well. While vinyl plotters are limited to single-colour designs only, they work well to enlarge computer-generated artwork.
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Cut vinyl works well for direct use in signs and billboards. It's also often used to make signs for boats and the sides of cars. Vinyl for this process is usually backed with an adhesive material and protective backing sheet. Once the plotter cuts the vinyl, the user peels off the backing sheet and sticks the vinyl to the desired surface. The main disadvantage of vinyl for this purpose is its tendency to wrinkle. Cut vinyl signs require careful application to prevent creases.
Vinyl plotters also work well to make patterns for screen-printing stencils, especially for large jobs such as signs, banners and flags. This technique requires vinyl with a clear plastic backing and a plotter that does not cut all the way through the sheet. This clear plastic supports the cut vinyl pattern, which can then be taped to a printing screen. Dark areas of the vinyl prevent light from reaching the light-sensitive chemicals used to make a screen-printing stencil. When the operator washes the screen out, those areas remain permeable, allowing ink to pass through the screen. The vinyl can be discarded after the screen is finished or put away to make future screens.
Vinyl plotters can make extremely fine cuts for stickers and automobile window decals. A plotter can produce large numbers of stickers from a single sheet. Unlike printed stickers, the end product is unlikely to degrade in sunlight and will not chip or fade. However, vinyl plotters can produce stickers in only a single colour.
Plotters can also make stencils for airbrushing, sign painting, face painting and similar purposes. Both plain and adhesive-backed vinyl work well for this purpose, though adhesive stencils may be difficult to remove after application. Plotters can produce very fine cuts for detailed stencil work, making production faster and more precise.
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