A Vinyl Cutter Guide to Tangential Emulation

Tangential Emulation for Vinyl Sign Cutters

Professional grade cutters such as the Graphtec or Vinyl Express Q-Series feature a tangential emulation mode for thick materials.

Have you ever struggled to weed a graphic cut from thick material like Glitter T-shirt film or sandblast stencil? If so, you may not be making full use of your plotter’s capabilities. For professional Graphtec and Q series users, there is an easy fix for this problem called tangential emulation. What is tangential emulation and how does it work?

Normal cutting is of the drag-swivel variety. The blade swivels freely in the blade holder as it’s dragged around the x & y coordinates of the media surface. This is fine for most jobs. But when the media is particularly thick, drag-swivel cutting can cause problems. The blade can get bound in corners, causing damage to the blade and/or blade holder, or it can simply fail to cut the corner precisely, resulting in an inferior graphic that’s difficult to weed.

If you use a entry level Vinyl EXPRESS R Series, EnduraCUT, EnduraCUT Plus, or a Roland Camm-1 or GX Pro series cutter, you don’t have this feature. If you’re having difficulties weeding thicker materials, you may want to consider an upgrade to a Q Series or Graphtec plotter. The extra speed, power, and precision will surprise you.

Tangential Emulation on 35 mil Sandblast Resist or Mask

The sharply articulated serifs in this 35 mil stencil sample are made possible by tangential emulation.

The Q Series tangential emulation handles thick media by overcutting the corners of a graphic so that the blade travels past the end point of a liner. Then the blade holder lifts the blade, turns it, and rotates toward the new cutting direction and starts the next line in advance of the corner. The result is a perfectly cut and easy to weed corner, even in 35mil sandblast stencil. The amount of the overcut can be adjusted down to a thousandth of a millimeter to fine tune the weedability of the graphic.

To further enhance the precision, the Q series firmware offers tangential cutting in two modes. In Mode 1, the overcut process is applied not only to the start and end of the character, but to any acute angles encountered (such as the serif on a cursive font). This ensures optimal precision throughout the cutting process. In Mode 2, only the beginning and end points of a character are overcut, resulting in faster throughput. For basic block text in thick media, mode 2 would suffice. For a decorative font, mode 1 would produce better quality.

When should you activate tangential emulation?  Anytime you’re cutting thick or dense media, like sandblast stencil or prismatic reflective vinyl or when you’re cutting a graphic with lots of fine detail.

Once you’ve activated tangential emulation, you’re ready to send the job. If you listen closely, you may hear a slight tapping sound when your Q is cutting in tangential mode. That’s the precursor of the more important sounds that follow—the sounds of a satisfied customer and a ringing cash register.