It’s not much different in the sign industry. Despite Apple’s legacy in desktop publishing, the Computer-Aided Sign industry is largely a Windows world. SAI and CADlink no longer offer MAC versions of their popular FlexiSign or SignLab software. CorelDRAW, another popular vector design platform, is also limited to the Windows platform.
Do MAC users who want to run vinyl cutters have to, as my Apple- loving Dad would say, “go to the Dark Side” and buy a Windows PC? Not necessarily. There is another option, but it requires the use of Adobe Illustrator and a brand name plotter. The good news is, those plotters are very good.
The Power of the Plug-in
Although you can no longer buy FlexiSign for MAC, you can get MAC compatible software from Adobe. Illustrator, Adobe’s vector design application, is fully MAC compatible and is more than adequate for designing vinyl graphics. This should not be surprising because the .AI and .EPS file formats used for most sign industry clip art are derived from Adobe Illustrator and postscript drivers.
So if you have Adobe Illustrator, you can create vector vinyl signs and graphics. The problem with designing in Illustrator is the lack of plotter drivers. This is where the power of the plug-in becomes apparent. Plug-ins are software applications that are designed to work, not as standalone products, but as specific features inserted into other applications. All Graphtec and Roland vinyl cutters come with bundled software that includes a MAC-compatible plug-in for Adobe Illustrator.
Graphtec Studio & Cutting Master
Graphtec Studio is a basic vector design application that includes file management tools, standard editing tools, quick- edit toolbars, style tools, fill and stroke editing, shapes, gradient and pattern fills, shape libraries, welding tools, and more. Bitmap tracing and offset path tools make it easy to turn jpegs into contour-cut decals for shirts and signs. The software’s drop-down menus, graphical icons, preview area and drawing areas, and interactive side panels make it easy to learn and use.
Cutting Master 3 is a plug-in that adds a Cut/Plot function to Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW enabling DRAW and Illustrator users to send files to the plotter directly from their design software. Cutting Master also has plotter controller tools like weed borders, position, size, copies, rotation, etc.
In addition to allowing Corel and Adobe users to work in a familiar interface, Cutting Master has excellent support for contour cutting. It supports ten different kinds of Graphtec registration marks, and supports contour-cutting multiple copies on roll or sheet media. It allows users to change cutting tool conditions, cutting parameters, weeding line settings, and more.
System Requirements: Both Cutting Master 3 and Graphtec Studio work with MAC OS10.4 – 8 and are compatible with OS X Maverick. A Macintosh with an Intel Core processor is required. There is one important caveat. The Cutting Master 3 plug-in only works with full retail versions of Adobe® Illustrator CS4 through Creative Cloud. Student licenses may not work.
Roland DGA also offers a MAC-friendly software solution for its vinyl cutters. Roland has been at this for quite a while. Their Stika hobby desktop cutters were among the first to offer a bundled software solution that doubled as a simple vector design program and a plug-in for Corel and Adobe customers. What started with the Stika as CutChoice is now called Roland CutStudio and comes with every Roland plotter from the 8″ Stika to the 64″ GX Pro 640.
Cut Studio can be used as a plug-in for Adobe Illustrator, or as a basic standalone design application. As a standalone program, it’s certainly not comparable to Adobe’s flagship vector design product, but for those who don’t have Illustrator, it offers a basic signmaking application. It supports common design functions including, rotate, resize, and text on a path. It quickly and easily enlarges, reduces, positions, rotates, and mirrors images, and it has a very powerful but easy-to-use bitmap tracing function. And it’s compatible with OS 9/X, including Maverick.
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Even though Roland has changed the name of their plug-in to CutStudio, the original CutChoice label may be more appropriate. Because these bundled design applications give MAC users a choice they wouldn’t otherwise have. Thanks to Graphtec Studio, Cutting Master 3, and Roland CutStudio, you can still buy a new vinyl cutter for your MAC sign shop or get into sign making with your new MACbook. There are still far fewer MAC than Windows users, so your software and hardware choices are limited. But they’re very, very good. You’ll pay a little more for your hardware, but you’ll have top quality equipment that will last for years.