Volume 17, Issue 1 - January/February 2013

Open 24/7
By Manny Hondroulis

Plotting Success

Older window film install techniques are now being made more efficient. Plotters, cutters and the necessary software have changed the industry by simplifying and enhancing installation, reducing liability and creating greater efficiencies. Film manufacturers are taking note, either by releasing their own software or by partnering with a software company already in the business. Since a cutter is computer-controlled, the software is the vehicle through which the computer controls the cutter. If you are considering the investment of a plotter and software program, you may find the number of options overwhelming; some basic information may help. So what should you look for when choosing a cutter and software program?

“Cutters come in two configurations: roll feed and flatbed,” explains Dominic Bizzari, Eastern regional sales manager for plotter manufacturer Graphtec America. “Roll feed cutters typically cut flexible materials in rolls and flatbed cutters typically cut thicker materials in sheet form.” Given that window film, paint protection film (PPF) and vinyl are rolled goods, choose a roll feed cutter that is wide enough to accommodate the film.

Software is what tells the cutter what to cut. There are multiple software programs on the market that handle specific functions. According to Bizzari, software programs that handle vinyl and flat glass window film needs include i-DesignR Pro, FlexiSign, SignLab, Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw. He states that hardware requirements are minimal, with only a Windows-based computer (XP, Windows 7 or Windows 8) with a 100GB or larger hard drive, and 1GB or more of RAM needed.

Steve Burns, digital designs manager for 3M, manages the company’s paint protection film program of the same name. “Software reduces the learning curve by minimizing the need to trim and cut [film] during an installation,” says Burns. “Instead, you focus on squeegeeing and technique. It makes installation easier because the installer has a consistent pattern to work from whether doing one vehicle or 100 of the same vehicle.”

Cutting or damaging the paint or glass of a vehicle is a major concern and liability for installers. With computer-cut patterns, the number of times a blade touches paint or glass is significantly reduced, if not eliminated in some cases. A beginner may not yet have the understanding of how much pressure can be applied to the knife before the car’s paint is damaged.

Burns urges users to investigate the number of available patterns and the frequency of updating those patterns. “New patterns are captured, created and updated every day as new models arrive at dealerships,” says Burns. “And we allow users to submit feedback within our program to let us know how accurate our patterns are.”

Plotters and design programs have changed the industry, maximizing an installer’s output and increasing the professionalism of an installation. There are many hardware and software options so be sure to do your research. Contact your manufacturer and industry colleagues to see what works and what doesn’t work for them.

Manny Hondroulis is marketing manager for Energy Performance Distribution in Baltimore.

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