What software features do you need? How do you decide which level to buy to keep from limiting the growth of your sign shop? In this article, A basic guide to Vinyl Express® LXi 12 Vinyl Cutting Software, we give you answers.
When you buy a sign equipment package, you’ll probably spend most of your time looking at the hardware features and specifications to make sure you get the right Vinyl Cutter or Printer for the job. The more capable your equipment, the more productive your sign business is.
What about software? Many aspiring sign makers spend lots of time selecting the right cutter, then buy the least expensive software available. Only after they’ve setup the equipment do they realize that they don’t have the design tools they need to meet the demands of their waiting customers. How can you avoid this common pitfall?
Why Vinyl Express® LXi Vinyl Cutting Software?
The first question we should answer is the most obvious; why buy LXi? Lots of people use other applications for vector graphics like CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator. Some prefer photo editing software like Adobe Photoshop, Corel Photo-Paint or even PaintShop Pro. Why not just use one of those? Using Photoshop for vinyl graphics is like trying to change a flat tire with a hammer & chisel. They’re not the right tools for the job. You might get the tire changed, but not without serious aggravation and possible injury.
These software applications are not designed for making vinyl signs, so a lot of their output can’t be used by vinyl cutters. More importantly, they don’t have plotter drivers so they can’t communicate directly to your device in its native language. You could use a generic printer driver, but then you’ll still lack the unique features included in LXi that have been developed over 35 years of sign making to make your life easier. These features include enhanced weeding tools, automatic tiling, and the cutting speed and force controls that are essential for driving some entry-level cutters (Fig 1). We understand the resistance to buying and learning graphic design software if you’re already proficient in another application.
Since LXi is cloud-based software, you also have a ‘Cloud pane’ that enables archiving your files online and provides instant access to SAI’s extensive library of clip art images, logos, and templates. You need not be online all the time to use it. You need an internet connection for installation and occasional server contact to keep up the license.
Few people want to expend the time and effort to learn new software. But it’s time well spent and the effort will pay off in increased efficiency and productivity. Speaking of learning, we’ve made it easier by posting some LXI Training Video Tutorials on our support site. Click here to shorten the learning curve. So what does LXi software offer and why is it worth your hard-earned shekels?
Vinyl Express® LXi vinyl cutting software overview – Five levels – with OS updates
The most important question for Windows users relates to compatibility with Windows 10 OS. The current version of LXi software, LXI 12, is fully compatible with Windows 7, 8, and 10. Windows XP is no longer supported. Unfortunately, LXI 12 is a Window’s only application. MAC users can still make professional quality signs, but with a more limited range of compatible hardware. Please Click here for more information about our MAC sign making solutions.
There are now five levels offering different tools and features. In order from basic to best, these are Apprentice, Expert, Master, Master Plus, and LXI RIP. Time and space fails to allow a full exploration of all the features in all the levels of LXi. Instead, we’ll look at the most important features by level so you can see what gets added to your digital toolbox as you move up the LXi ladder.
Vinyl Express® LXi Apprentice 12
LXi Apprentice 12 is an entry-level solution and is offered for those who are already proficient in another graphic design software product like CorelDRAW or Adobe Illustrator, and wish to continue designing in that space. You can even use the Workspace Profiles option to change the Graphic User Interface to look like your favorite graphic design software. The tool set is fairly simple and supports unadorned text and shapes. But it comes powerful sign production tools and essential interactive design features that make LXi easy to learn. Because of the simple tool set, it’s not recommended as a standalone design platform. Here are some of the main features.
Design Central is an interactive, context sensitive tool window that displays various tools according the objects you have selected on your workspace. This feature makes it easy to work quickly because it eliminates the need to search for the right tool as you move from one task to another. Design Central greatly reduces the learning curve and speeds productivity. Click here for an example.
- Production Manager is a separate application launched by the File/Cut-Plot command. It includes a plotter driver library supporting hundreds of vinyl cutter models from Vinyl EXPRESS, Graphtec, Roland, Summa, Mutoh, Mimaki, and more. Production Manager helps manage the entire cutting process, from selecting devices, editing image attributes to fine tuning the cutter’s performance. The Production Manager consists of two modules, the Device Manager, and the Cut/Plot window. As its name implies, the Device Manager is where you’ll find tools for managing your cutting devices. From here you can add, remove, activate or deactivate plotters, test connectivity, change ports, send test cuts and more.
The Cut/Plot window divides into four tabs that house tools for managing the image and the cutter performance. The first two tabs support image editing including rotating, resizing, repositioning, inverting, or duplicating images, cutting by color, and tiling, and more. The Options and Advanced tabs house tools for fine tuning the cutter’s performance. Here you can manage speed, force, and offset settings, add cut paths to speed and facilitate weeding the cut graphic, add registration marks, manage overcut, trapping, and welding, and more. Even if you’re designing in a third-party application, you should learn and use Production Manager to output your jobs. Decades of experience in sign businesses all over the world result in a staggering array of tools in the LXI Production Manager.
New Features for Apprentice 12 include the ability to view and change the cut order, and animated cut viewer and of course, fully supported Windows 7/8/10 compatibility.
Vinyl Express® LXi EXPERT 12
LXi Expert 12 is the first step up from Apprentice and is a standalone program for production of basic to intermediate vinyl graphics. To the considerable production features of Apprentice, LXI Expert adds important design features such as inlines & outlines, auto tracing, and the Contour Cut Mark feature for desktop print and cut workflow.
- The Inline/Outline/Contour feature is one of the most commonly used tools in the effects menu. You use Inlines and outlines to build two color graphics with an outline in a different color from main text element. This time-honored design feature is commonly found in brand logos and is a great way to distinguish the primary element in a design by giving it more visual weight.
- Scanning & Auto tracing is another pair of essential sign making tools. Scanning and auto tracing are the first and second steps in conversion of a printed bitmap image to a cuttable vector graphic (Fig 2). You’ll need this the first time a client contracts you to cut a design using images they only have in printed form. This happens a lot. You’ll need to scan the image, then use the auto trace tool to convert the scanned image to a cuttable vector object. You will also need to use the auto trace tool anytime you receive a digital image file that’s in a raster format. The most common of these is the ubiquitous jpeg. Web images like gifs, jpegs cannot be cut until they’re converted to vector form with the auto trace or vectorization tool. Click here to learn more about vectorization.
- The Contour Cut Mark feature supports print and cut workflow with desktop printers. This process requires a vinyl cutter with a registration mark sensor (i.e. EnduraCut , Qe60+, Qe6000, or Q Series with ARMS option, Graphtec CE5000-60, CE6000-60, Roland GX24, GS24 et al) and a printer with drivers installed in Windows printer folder. If you want to print and cut small scale decals with your desktop inkjet printer, this feature is for you. It’s ideal for creating full color, heat applied t-shirt graphics for colored and dark garments. Click here for a PDF tutorial on how to use this feature with a Vinyl EXPRESS Qe6000 cutting plotter.
Vinyl Express® LXI Master 12
LXI Master adds more popular commercial sign design essentials including drop shadows, distortions, and weld tools.
Drop shadows are another staple of graphic design. LXi Master has four versions of shadow effects including drop, block, cast, and perspective; think of the Superman logo. The new soft shadows option supports a more contemporary look ideal for printed graphics.
- Distortions and are great for adding contrast to your layouts. This effect allows you to warp a shape or word to imitate the effect of a three-dimensional substrate. Give your text the look of a waving flag, banner, cylinder, foreshortened wall, or almost any other shape. There are 23 presets and each can be edited using the node and path tools. The only limit is your imagination.
- Weld tools make creating unique shapes more quickly by combining, intersecting, overlapping multiple objects. The Weld tool bar has eight options including weld, fuse, common, exclude common, and more. This is a great way to create reverse weeded text that adds contrast and makes weeding faster.
- Graphic Styles allows you to quickly copy attributes from one object to another or to setup default values for all graphic elements. It’s a powerful tool that enhances efficiency and supports consistent design (FIG 3). For more about how to use Graphic Styles in LXI software, please click here.
- Gradient Fills are one of the most commonly used graphic design elements of our time. They’re found in everything from top tier brand logos to T-shirt decal designs. Gradient fills are a great way to add energy, depth and engaging color to your signs and graphics. The gradient fill option includes popular presets like rainbow fills and chrome effects and allows you to customize any gradient fill by adding or removing hues and precisely editing the angle of the gradation. In addition to gradients, LXI Master supports transparent overlays with 17 blending modes. You can layer solid and gradient fills and use the transparent fill function to create an whole new range of visual effects . Since gradients can’t be output in vinyl, this feature is more applicable when designing printed designs like T-shirt transfers.
Vinyl Express® LXi Master Plus 12. The professional’s choice.
LXi Master Plus has all these nifty features and more. Among the unique features in the top-level of LXi cutting software, you’ll find expanded shape tools, pattern fills, color bitmap editing tools, the Rhinestone Wizard and job info and statistics.
Having expanded shape tools seems unimportant until you have to create a perfectly symmetrical arrowhead. To save time finessing the path edit tools to achieve symmetry, the Master Plus shape toolbox adds fans, arrows, and parametric shapes to the standard rectangles and ellipses. These shape tools can save you design time, and as we all know, time is money.
- Speaking of time and money, the Job info/Job Statistics feature is one of the most practical elements in Master Plus. Job Statistics keeps track of exactly how much time you’ve spent working on a specific job. This supports billing for design time and helps manage efficiency. Job Info adds fields for recording Purchase order numbers, customer contact information, internal sales date, order and delivery dates and more. Together, Job Info and Job Statistics are good basic business management tools.
- Color Bitmap editing is a great tool set for desktop print and cut workflow. Suppose someone wants to you print a decal of their grandbaby on a shirt, but they want only the child’s face without the surrounding background? How do you delete the background from the supplied image? You use the bitmap editing tools. The crop tool allows you to select only a rectangular portion of an imported bitmap. The magic wand and associated make background transparent function make those unwanted pixels go poof. Then you can create the contour cut path around Junior’s adorable face and create a high quality, high profit, custom decorated garment. In addition to the gradient fills in LXi Master, Master Plus adds pattern fills to give you another layer of design options. There are eight preset pattern fills including brick, diamond plate, and polka dot.
- The Rhinestone Wizard feature, which was an option in LXI Cloud, is now standard with Master Plus (Fig 4). Rhinestone Wizard is a plug-in which allows you to convert vector graphics into rhinestone patterns for garment decoration. Rhinestone garment decoration is so popular and profitable that some people buy the entire equipment package just for this application. Since it comes in the Master Plus level, you’ll also have all the design tools you need to create compelling rhinestone designs. Click here for more information about the Rhinestone Wizard process.
LXi RIP 12. The Print and Contour-Cut Solution
LXI RIP 12 takes your sign shop to the next level by enabling you to use all of the design tools of Master Plus to create large format prints with the PrismJET VJ24, VJ24X and VJ48. The LXI RIP 12 RIP and Print engine supports professional quality color management, job control. It includes ICC Profiles and supports the creation of custom profiles for your media. Here’s a brief feature summary.
Master Plus Design Tools. The LXI RIP 12 comes with two powerful components; the LXI Design Editor and the RIP 12 Production Manager. The Design Editor includes all of the powerful design tools found in LXI Master Plus. So you can create vibrant, colorful graphics in the Design interface and output them through the RIP engine, or import them into Production Manager.
- Color Management: LXI RIP 12 includes all the essential color management tools found in FlexiSign & Print 12. You can import presets, load ICC Profiles and even create your own using the Color Profiler. You’ll find full support for fine tuning the amazing wave print modes for your PrismJET printers. All of these tools mean you can produce top quality prints for less.
- Spot Color Support: In order to fully support the new 8 color PrismJET VJ24X, LXI RIP 12 includes spot color mapping and Color Adjustment tools. These allow you to create designs in the LXI RIP 12 Design Editor using the MUTOH Metallic Spot Color Library and add them to your prints (FIG 5).
- Print and Contour-Cut Job Control: Like FlexiPRINT 12, LXI RIP 12 is designed for large format printing and contour-cutting. The Production Manager supports seamless print and contour-cut workflow so that jobs can be printed on your PrismJET printer and contour-cut on any capable vinyl cutter. The smart print and cut job control supports excellent path alignment and simultaneous printing and contour-cutting for maximum productivity. LXI RIP Design has no file-cut-plot function. So, for full printing, contour-cutting, and vinyl cutting, you’ll need to pair RIP 12 with Master Plus.
True-Shape Contour-Cut Nesting: SAI’s new True-Shape Contour-Cut Nesting tool is included. This intelligent feature allows you to arrange copies of a contour-cut decal in the Design Editor to minimize media usage and therefore, maximize profit.
- Contour Cut Mark: The Contour Cut Mark feature is also essential for print and cut workflow with the PrismJET VJ24X using white and metallic spot colors. Using the Contour Cut Marks allows users to export a print job to the Production Manager with spot colors mapped for white, metallic, or Fluorescent inks. Then the job can be sent to a capable vinyl cutter for contour-cutting of the printed decals. The Contour Cut Mark feature preserves the productivity advantage of simultaneous use of the PrismJET printer and your vinyl cutter.
As noted above, time and space here doesn’t allow a full exploration of all the intelligent design and production features baked into LXI 12. For a complete list of the features by level, Please Click Here to download the comprehensive LXI 12 Feature List in PDF format.
You certainly won’t need all of these tools for every job. But when you need them, it’s better to have them readily at hand than to resort to delivering bland, uninspiring work to your customers. So don’t spend all your time shopping for a great cutter and then scrimp on software. A vinyl cutter’s output is only as good as the designs sent from the software. Your design work will be more effective and more efficient if you invest as much time and thought choosing software as you do choosing hardware.