Most of you know the blades will wear out and-depending on how well you’ve managed your cutting- the Teflon strip may need replacing too. (Click here for the recent article about care and replacement of Teflon strips.)
But we have not talked about blade holders before. They can often get forgotten until they begin to deteriorate and cause problems. That’s the blade holder. How does it work? How often should it be replaced? And how do you know when yours is ready for retirement?
How your vinyl cutter blade holder works.
The blade holder (referred to as a “pen plunger” in the Graphtec users manual), holds the plotter blade during operation. Hence, the term blade holder. That’s a bit of a simplification because the holder uses bearings (or bearings and springs) to make sure the blade is kept perfectly upright as it gets carried across the platen during cutting. In order for the cutting offset to work correctly, the blade must be held perpendicularly, at a 90° angle from the media surface. This ensures that tangents at the beginning and end of paths meet where they should and that your characters are cut with no visible break in the cut path. This of course also allows you to weed and apply the letters. Over time, the bearings wear out and, like an old man whose grip isn’t what it used to be, the holder’s grip weakens and the blade begins to tilt slightly off-center during use.
How do you know when it’s time to change the vinyl cutter blade holder?
There are two signs of a worn-out blade holder. One indicator is the failure of the plotter to completely cut characters with corners. There will be slight gaps where the corners should meet. The other indicator, seen more frequently, is the failure to join the beginning and end of circular paths. Circles will begin to look like open arcs.
This is often misdiagnosed as an offset problem. Some simple deduction will determine the true cause. If you begin to see this on a plotter on which the offset parameters have not been changed, the cause is probably a worn blade holder. While you’re inspecting the blade holder, it’s not a bad idea to open the cap and clean it out once in a while to remove small bits of vinyl that may have gotten captured during the operation. That won’t cause it to wear out prematurely, but accumulated debris can cause other problems by restricting the blade’s ability to rotate in the holder as it travels around the platen.
How to fix your vinyl cutter blade holder.
Once you’ve determined that you do have a blade holder that’s ready for retirement, the solution is simple. Buy a new one. Just make sure you get the correct replacement. Some can be used on different brands of plotters while others are brand-specific. And for some brands, there is more than one option.
Roland, for instance, offers ceramic and alloy, blade holders. The standard-issue item is the ceramic holder. The alloy holder is a more rugged option that will last longer.
Graphtec uses two different blade holders designed for .9mm and 1.5mm blades. The standard issue holder is the PHP32-CB09N unit with the blue top. The heavy duty option for blades with the thicker 1.5mm shaft is the red top PHP32-CB15N holder.
Vinyl EXPRESS brand cutters use a variety of blade holders. All Qe and Q Series cutters use the same CB09N and CB15N units as Graphtec cutting plotters. The EnduraCUT series, Cougar/Cougar Plus, Lynx, Bobcat, Panther, and Ultra Pro cutters all use the “standard” GRC blade holder, for which there is a heavy-duty option similar to the Roland alloy upgrade.
Vinyl EXPRESS R Series customers have two blade holder options, but they’re not interchangeable. You can tell which blade holder to use by looking at the logo on the front of the plotter. A machine with an R Series II logo uses a taller blade holder. A machine with the original R Series logo uses a shorter blade holder. The R Series II holder will work in the earlier cutters, but installing an R Series holder in a newer R Series II cutter won’t work because the blade will not reach the platen. The blade would move about its path about an inch above the vinyl, cutting nothing but air. This might make for an interesting display, but it wouldn’t be very productive. On the bright side, your blade would never wear out.
To make sure you get the right item when your blade holder does wear out, please refer to the table below.
|Blade holder||SW part number||Compatible plotters|
|Roland ceramic blade holder||PLTA-XD-CH3||All Roland Camm-1, GX24 and GX Pro vinyl cutters. Vinyl EXPRESS Lynx, Cougar, Bobcat, Panther, & Ultra Pro|
|Roland alloy blade holder||PLTA-XD-CH2||All Roland Camm-1, GX24 and GX Pro vinyl cutters. Vinyl EXPRESS Lynx, Cougar, Bobcat, Panther, & Ultra Pro|
|Graphtec CB09 blue blade holder||PLTA-PHP32-CB09N-1||All Graphtec vinyl cutters. Vinyl EXPRESS Qe, Q Series cutters using standard 45° blades|
|Graphtec CB15 red blade holder||PLTA-PHP32-CB15N-1||All Graphtec vinyl cutters. Vinyl EXPRESS Qe, Q Series cutters using heavy duty 1.5m blades.|
|R Series Blade Holder||PLTA-RSERIES-BH|
(No longer available, use below model)
|All R24 cutters, R31 cutters without RII designation|
|R Series II Blade Holder||TS-RII-BLDHLDR||All R Series cutters|
|Standard blade holder||PLTA-GRC-BLDHLD||All Vinyl EXPRESS EnduraCUT/LX/Plus, Lynx, Bobcat, Panther, Ultra Pro, Cougar & Cougar Plus** plotters.|
|** Standard Vinyl EXPRESS blade holder is not the OEM unit in Cougar and Cougar plus cutters. OEM unit can be replaced with Standard blade holder|
During normal use, most blade holders will last about a year to a year and a half. If yours is that old or older, it’s not a bad idea to check it out and consider replacing it. Of course, the less vinyl you cut, the longer your blade holder will last. Your mileage may vary. But eventually, it will wear out. Now you know how to recognize the telltale signs of a blade holder that’s ready for retirement.