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Maximizing Workflow With A CAD Cutter

A well-planned production area and streamlined workflow can help get the most out of your equipment.

By Bob Robinson

Adding new equipment to your shop is an exciting time: It represents new business opportunities, the potential for new customers, and, hopefully, new levels of profitability. All of this is especially true with cutters and printer/cutters, which present enormous decorating options.

If you’re adding a cutter or printer/cutter to your shop, get ready for an influx of new types of orders — and get your shop ready to handle those orders by laying out your new equipment in the most efficient manner possible. But before moving any new equipment into your shop, you’ll need to give some serious thought as to how you’ll physically arrange it — and doing that requires understanding how the work actually flows through the decorating process.

Go With the Flow
With cutters, everything begins at the computer, where the design is created and prepared. That said, you’ll want to keep the computer as close as possible to the cutter. On some units, such as the Roland VersaCAMM, the controls are on the right; by placing the computer on the right side of the unit, near the controls, you can easily reach over to the cutter’s controls while staying seated at the computer.

If you’re using a printer/cutter, you’ll first print the design onto the material; if your unit is a conventional cutter, then you’ll obviously skip this step. After the unit cuts the design, you’re ready to weed away the excess material. Next, you’ll mask the design by laying onto it a piece of clear, adhesive material — it looks like a huge piece of Scotch tape. Bend the adhesive material in the middle slightly so it hits the design first, which will help you avoid air bubbles. You’ll run a squeegee across the adhesive material to push out the air, first lightly, then a second time with additional pressure.

Leave the protective backing on the weeded and masked designs so that you can stack them up and take them in bulk to your heat press area. This is a more efficient process than actually applying each design as you weed and mask it, because you’re grouping together similar tasks rather than jumping back and forth between tasks. Use a cart to move those pieces over to the heat press area. Then, after the garments are decorated with the designs, they can be folded, stacked back into the cart, and rolled over to the packing/shipping area.

The Work Area
With a firm understanding of the workflow process for your cutter, you can lay out equipment in the most efficient way possible. Ideally, you’ll have a 10’ x 10’ area for your cutter, giving you ample room to operate the unit comfortably. Decorators with spacious production areas might be tempted to allocate even more room for their cutter, but that would be a mistake. A compact work area translates into efficiency by putting within arm’s reach the tools and supplies you need to stay productive. You’ll also want a table for weeding and masking; a standard 4- to 6-foot table should provide plenty of room.

Designate your cutter area as strictly for creating the designs and handle the application of those designs using the heat press in another part of your shop. In all likelihood, you’re already doing other types of heat transfer work, so there’s no need to move the heat press into your cutter area.

By the way, if you’re just now purchasing a heat press, consider a 16” x 20” unit so that you’re able to handle a larger variety of sizes. Also, consider an Air Swinger press, a versatile piece of equipment that allows for custom platens to handle odd shapes, like bags, gloves, and hats.

Other equipment and supplies you’ll need include the media itself (the material that you’re cutting), as well as squeegees, masking material, weeding tools, and scissors. Consider bin storage below the table to hold these supplies.

For a one- or two-person work area, consider arranging equipment and supplies into a “U” shape. At the base the “U” is the cutter, with a six-foot table to the right, and the computer on the far left-hand side of that table, next to the cutter. The rest of the table is used for the weeding and masking. Your configuration may be different depending on your particular needs, but the goal is to keep everyone working with no waiting and a minimum amount of wasted energy in-between tasks. Employees shouldn’t have to walk anywhere to reach their weeding tools or to find masking material, for instance; it all must be within arm’s reach.

More Tips for Maximum Efficiency
Of course, getting the most out of your equipment is about more than just putting it in the right place; it’s also about using it intelligently. For instance, when the design is at the unit being cut (or print and cut, in the case of units like the VersaCAMM), the most efficient thing for you to do is to busy yourself with another task, like weeding and masking designs you’ve cut previously, rather than watching the unit and waiting for it to finish.

Other tips for increasing productivity:

Be specific. Make sure every job has an order sheet with all necessary information, including due date, file name, image size and location, type of garment, and so on.

Chunk it up. Break up sheets on rolls into manageable chunks. For instance, if you have a uniform order for 200 pieces, you might send only 50 at a time to the cutter. This allows you to check quality on the run midway instead of at the end, and you can busy yourself with weeding and masking while the next batch is at the cutter.

Keep it manageable. The length of your groupings of designs will vary depending on the design itself, but avoid sending designs that total more than 4 feet at once to the cutter. Keeping chunks at this length will prevent them from getting so long that they become unwieldy. You can tell the cutter to cut the pieces automatically so that you don’t have to do it by hand, using scissors. The pieces then either drop onto the floor or into a catch basket.

Be smart about weeding. Whether or not you should weed designs one at a time or in groups depends on the design itself. If you’re doing large ones, you’ll probably want to weed one at a time instead of fighting with a large piece of material with multiple designs. If you’re doing 24 tiny ones, you could weed them all at once. You’ll develop a feel for the right approach, knowing what’s manageable and what’s too cumbersome.

Try a different order. For some designs — especially smaller ones — you might find that it’s actually easier to weed after you’ve done the masking rather than beforehand. That’s because much of the weeding will happen as a result of the masking, leaving you with less weeding to do manually. Any time you’re doing a new order, try this reverse method first; if it doesn’t work, go back to the conventional sequence of weeding first, then masking.

Gang up. Printer/cutters like the VersaCAMM use white media so there’s no need to change out material for different colors. However, you will need to change it based on the type of fabric you’re decorating; for instance, you’ll use one type of material for polyester and another for nylon. For maximum efficiency, group jobs that use the same type of material so that you’re not repeatedly changing it out on the cutter.

Likewise, gang up smaller jobs so that you’re cutting numerous designs at once, not just one or two. Be careful, though, as you don’t want to inadvertently put the wrong design on the wrong substrate — a relatively easy mistake to make when you’re batching together designs from different orders.

Think big. For large runs, you may want to use a cold laminator, a piece of equipment familiar to those in the sign industry. This unit puts an extra protective clear layer on top of film. For decorating purposes, you would weed the designs then run them through the laminator with the mask on top. This route is faster for large runs than using a squeegee, and it can provide better, more even coverage, thanks to its consistent pressure.

Like most aspects of your business, creating the ideal system is often a matter of trial and error, so try these suggestions and see what works best for you. With just a little experimentation and some careful evaluation, you can create a workflow that gets the most efficiency and profitability out of your cutter.


The ideal press for application of CAD-cut graphics is an Air Swinger because of its open-throat design. Shirts can be slid over the lower platen in the same fashion as a screen printing platen with the excess shirt hanging below. It also makes it easier to do unusual substrates such as umbrellas and a wide range of bags.


Once a design is cut, you’ll mask the design by laying onto it a piece of clear adhesive material — it looks like a huge piece of Scotch tape. This makes is easier to transport the design to the heat press.


To apply a CAD-cut design, remove the masking material and position it on the shirt. For peak productivity, it is better to mask all your designs at once, take them over to the press and apply them all at once so you are grouping similar activities together.


Whether or not you should weed designs one at a time or in groups depends on the design itself. If you’re doing large ones, you’ll probably want to weed one at a time instead of fighting with a large piece of material with multiple designs. If you’re doing 24 small ones, you could weed them all at once.


Break up a job into manageable chunks. For instance, if you have a uniform order for 200 pieces, you might send only 50 at a time to the cutter. This allows you to check quality on the run midway instead of at the end, and you can busy yourself with weeding and masking while the next batch is at the cutter.



Keeping all equipment and supplies in one place will also boost productivity. In addition to the media, you’ll need squeegees, masking material, weeding tools, and scissors. Consider bin storage below the table to hold these supplies.

Bob Robinson is a sales and education representative for Imprintables Warehouse, a full line distributor of heat-applied products including equipment and supplies for cutters and digital print and cut technology, heat press machines, digital transfers, and software. His production experience ranges from small custom orders to high volume garment decorating for the past 12 years. For more information, contact Bob at bob[USER=108410]@Imprintables[/USER]warehouse.com or visit the Web site at www.imprintableswarehouse.com.
 
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