Jack Humbert

Using MH as a plotter, pens & markers that work well

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Hey folks!

I got my MH series for drawing & cutting sewing patterns (still refining the cutting part of that), and am finding it pretty useful as a plotter in general, and thought I'd share some early findings. This thread was the only other place I really saw mention of relevant tips & tricks: 

Retractable Ultra Fine Point Sharpies (which are available in multiple colors) fit the cutter holder perfectly, and allow you to retract the tip so it doesn't dry out. I've found it's important to get the tip as low as possible - if it's not, it seems like it misses the beginning or ending of a path. Just be sure it's not smearing over your medium - some things like the kraft paper I've been using buckle slightly in-between the rollers, which will cause that in certain areas. Once I've established a good height for these pens, I'd like to make something that locks them into that offset (or maybe just a line on the pen would suffice).

This is a test I ran with a design assuming that the marker's width is 0.5mm, which worked pretty well - the blocks on the right are pretty solid, aside from the left edge, where I suspect the tip height came into play:

marker-test.thumb.jpg.ab8736a52724da61dafeac707981eb2d.jpg

The font is SLF Engineer from https://www.singlelinefonts.com/collections/single-line-fonts?page=2 - it's a font that's intended to be used with plotters like this, so works a lot better than regular, thick fonts. I was playing around with adding various strokes around the text to make it bolder, along with seeing how the regular TTF files (which have double paths) look compared to the actual single line ("Regular Text from FontLab Pad" is the only one in this test that's true single lines - the OPF files that come with these fonts aren't widely supported in graphic programs yet, so can be difficult to get into your designs, but FontLab Pad makes things a littler easier). I can elaborate more on this, as it's kind of its own topic, but the FAQ from SLF has a pretty good explainer: https://www.singlelinefonts.com/pages/frequently-asked-questions

This is another test with the same design, this time using a pen (which had to be taped a bit to fit in the holder) loaded with a Schmidt easy FLOW 9000 M - the line quality is a bit better (less bleeding), and a bit thinner overall, so my test blocks & strokes didn't quite render correctly. The only thing I didn't care for with this is the sheen the pen leaves behind - it's hard to capture on camera, but it's a bit glossy, and not as vivid or pure black as the sharpie. I'll probably end up experimenting with this more for getting thinner lines and finer details.

pen-test.thumb.jpg.45ae9313dcbd6683001b882360f9675d.jpg

Both of these blow the included pen cartridge out of the water, so I didn't bother doing many tests with that. If I can find a higher flow pen cartridge that fits the adapter, I'll try to get some more tests done - the ease of swapping that adapter in/out and the repeatable height is really nice. 

My cut speed for these tests was 60mm/s and the pressure was 10g - I haven't experimented a whole lot with these yet, but have been keeping them low to try to get the best possible results.

I tried to lower the pressure on the rollers a bit, but I think more experimentation is needed with these. I'm mainly using paper in the machine, and my assumption is that they'll need to be pretty light to prevent wrinkling in the paper. One thing I noticed helping with alignment/movement of the paper is to pre-unroll what's going to be needed during the drawing/cut, to reduce the stresses on the rollers & paper during the actual draw/cut. This also makes the alignment of your roll less important (something I'm still trying to figure out, as then uneven pressure messes with alignment of the cut as well).

Using "Calibrate Cutter Scale" in Vinyl Spooler (what VinylMaster uses to interacts with the cutter) was useful with the pen - you can calibrate something large like a 30x30" square to reduce the errors in measuring (to be fair, I guess you could use the blade with this too, possibly to a higher level of accuracy).

I've had a mixed bag when it comes to cutting paper - the rollers end up grabbing the loose pieces, which causes a bunch of issues. I think I'm going to experiment more with cutting only between the rollers, and placing my designs entirely in-between them, with a 1" gap, just like the edges of the medium. I've also always used all three rollers - it might work to just use the two outer ones if the tension can keep the paper flat enough.

For anyone curious about the workflow, I designed these in Affinity Designer, exported it as a PDF, then imported that into VinylMaster Cut with "Wireframe" selected. The default settings for the pen tool was the preset I used - I experimented a bit with blade offsets and overcuts, but you'll be unsurprised to find the pen tool works the best :)

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 Hopefully, you are using some kind of cutting mat to be cutting that paper on, or you are just cutting and scratching up that teflon cutting strip.  As well as dulling your blades. Those types of cutters are not designed to cut all the way thru, unless on a cutting mat.   Paper would probably dull your blade fast anyway. 

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14 minutes ago, MZ SKEETER said:

 Hopefully, you are using some kind of cutting mat to be cutting that paper on, or you are just cutting and scratching up that teflon cutting strip.  As well as dulling your blades. Those types of cutters are not designed to cut all the way thru, unless on a cutting mat.   Paper would probably dull your blade fast anyway. 

Ah, I didn't think about that - I suppose I could replace the teflon strip with something softer. In reality, it's probably better if the blade's not cutting all the way through the paper, so that it will feed correctly after being cut, but the paper cuts/scores so inconsistently that it may be difficult to achieve that.  

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16 minutes ago, Jack Humbert said:

Ah, I didn't think about that - I suppose I could replace the teflon strip with something softer. In reality, it's probably better if the blade's not cutting all the way through the paper, so that it will feed correctly after being cut, but the paper cuts/scores so inconsistently that it may be difficult to achieve that.  

It's not "it's probably be better if the blade's not cutting all the way through," it's just that you will jam your machine like there is no tomorrow if you allow the blade to cut all the way through - regardless if it's on paper or vinyl. You do not need to change your cutting strip, unless it's already got some damage that's causing the blade not to cut through the vinyl (and NOT the backing) properly. If you want to cut all the way through vinyl and/or paper, you will need a carrier sheet, like the type that Cricuts use. That is really only way your cutter will be able to handle cutting through media, not jamming because the media is lifting, and not causing damage to the cutting strip.

If you're just plotting with a pen, the existing cutting strip that shipped with your cutter will suffice, unless it's totally damaged and has rough spots and/or gouges, then you should change that with a new cutting strip that was designed for your machine. If you're not getting a quality result from the pen plot, it would suggest you find a different pen.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you own an MH series plotter, which is considered entry level, and was designed to be a cutter over a plotter. To expect that this machine will have the plot quality of a machine that was designed to be a true plotter is unrealistic.

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3 hours ago, haumana said:

If you want to cut all the way through vinyl and/or paper, you will need a carrier sheet, like the type that Cricuts use.

Ah, gotcha! Something like the USCutter ones would work for this, right? https://uscutter.com/uscutter-vinyl-cutter-carrier-sheet-cutting-mat-a4-a1/

It seems like the roughness of the kraft paper may still be an issue. 

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4 hours ago, Jack Humbert said:

Ah, gotcha! Something like the USCutter ones would work for this, right? https://uscutter.com/uscutter-vinyl-cutter-carrier-sheet-cutting-mat-a4-a1/

It seems like the roughness of the kraft paper may still be an issue. 

Yes, those would work, but you can also find larger ones on Amazon. That's where I got mine for cutting HTV (because the backing wouldn't track properly). As long as the kraft paper can adhere to the carrier sheet, it should be fine. Now getting the right speed and force for cutting the kraft paper might take a little time trying to dial it in.

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2 hours ago, darcshadow said:

Paper will dull the blade surprisingly quick.

Yeah, I think I'll end up just having a dedicated paper blade, and expect to clean things up later manually. Anything beats having to cut them all out with scissors.

Would a particular angle work better with paper in theory?

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A 45 would probably last a bit longer and as long as you're not doing super detailed work it should get the job done.

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Might worth while trying a Clean Cut Blade.

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I cleaned up some old Koh-I-Noor Rapidographs, and these are by far the best results I've gotten so far. They're made for technical drawing, so that makes sense :) I placed them so the bottom of the colored rings of the handle were lined up with the top of the tool holder. All the Rapidograph tests were done at 10mm/s & 10g, using Yasutomo Sumi Ink. Here's the first 0.5mm tests I did:

0.5mm-test.thumb.jpg.c6a38cde096b37b89b8bca0cae6744cd.jpg

As a comparison, here's a test of the same file I did with the ultra-fine point Sharpie, after abusing it during lots of tests, and letting it dry out once (oops) - this may have been at a faster speed, though:

sharpie-test.thumb.jpg.e9c4b22736895cf0e201ec47aa0e6ece.jpg

Just to be fair, here's the same test with a new Sharpie, at 10mm/s & 10g - lots of bleeding compared to the Rapidograph:

new-sharpie-test.thumb.jpg.769981f089dd9be963d948df20ae2621.jpg

And finally, here's the 0.3mm tip with a 0.6mm hatching, which is super clean - this was the first test I used it on, so the beginning of the B was a little dry still:

0.3mm-test.thumb.jpg.d97c76156d05f32451810fe348299ea6.jpg

And thanks for all the advice regarding cutting! I'm going to try to mess around with cutting this paper using the carrier sheet this weekend.

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That's looking really good!  Thanks for keeping us updated and showing your results.

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I was able to experiment a little with the A1 carrier sheet from USCutter - this one has a tacky side that worked pretty well here. Here's the kraft paper (pretty much) lined-up with the edges. I used a rubber ink roller to try to get it adhered as well as possible.

paper-on-sheet.thumb.jpg.385cc462e1feedc4754fe9c17be77491.jpg

And it drawing - you can see some streaks from where the sheet buckled a little bit. This seemed to happen the most near the beginning of the sheet (not so much at the end).

drawing2.thumb.jpg.081948e8493cca5b16b2a3cabf4ba914.jpg

And here's all the pieces cut out. There were a few alignment issues, even on the pen pass (you can see the uneven spacing around the "Back" piece in the lower right corner). This was drawn at 10mm/s & 10g and cut at 10mm/s & 100g.

all-cut.thumb.jpg.8559c809594abeb5402bb76c9ff74d7c.jpg

And with the background piece removed:

cut-isolated.thumb.jpg.931f5afa4efaeec2e64aad072e4e2535.jpg

Overall, I'd call this a success for the first time running it through! I ended up trying another the next day, and had some more (worse) issues with alignment. My suspicion is that a longer sheet, where I could place more padding at the beginning & end, would help out with that, along with the buckling. Is that something anyone else has addressed? It seems like the tension on the rollers could also be a factor.

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On 9/18/2021 at 11:13 AM, Jack Humbert said:

I was able to experiment a little with the A1 carrier sheet from USCutter - this one has a tacky side that worked pretty well here. Here's the kraft paper (pretty much) lined-up with the edges. I used a rubber ink roller to try to get it adhered as well as possible.

Overall, I'd call this a success for the first time running it through! I ended up trying another the next day, and had some more (worse) issues with alignment. My suspicion is that a longer sheet, where I could place more padding at the beginning & end, would help out with that, along with the buckling. Is that something anyone else has addressed? It seems like the tension on the rollers could also be a factor.

I'd say a huge success for your experience level. Good job! Those adhesive cutting carrier sheets can be a little wonky when they are out on the ends. If you are going to do this a lot and have the space I would consider some sort of table on one or both sides to help support the carrier while it's working. Think table saw (although not necessarily exactly up at the roller level. Even just setting the cutter on a table may be enough to help with the drooping carrier. I occasionally use a stiff carrier I picked up at Walmart to cut up some craft items for you wife or kids and have seen what can happen when you are out near the start or end of them. Mine are extra stiff, some of those you can find ore more forgiving.

I have also made my own carrier when cutting stencils from card stock by just covering the back with a couple layers of transfer paper (even better with some clear transfer but paper seems to work fine) if you have any laying around. 

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A stiffer carrier sheet will help with the kraft paper from tenting up, or if you can rig something that can minimize the sheet from flexing while it's jogging back and forth through the cut window.

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Cutter drivers are only needed if you want to use the USB port which is not recommended anyway. Get a TrippLite Keyspan adapter and use the serial port.

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