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Cutting vinyl with an Ultimaker 2

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Recently I started experimenting with cutting out vinyl stickers with my Ultimaker 2 and figured I'd share my method to save time for others if they want to do the same thing. Using a 3D printer to do this is nothing new, it has been done plenty of times before. But this is how I did it. Get comfortable, this is going to take a while. I've tried to make it as easy as possible to do but be prepared to do some tweaking and experimenting along the way.

What you need (if you want the software to be free):

- A holder and knives. The one I got was this: "15pcs 30°/45°/60° Degree For Roland Cutting Plotter Vinyl Cutter BladeHolder" http://r.ebay.com/STTdJx

- A printed holder (see zip)

- Some vinyl: Available from arts and craft stores, ebay, sign makers etc. I got a random piece from Ebay to try.

- Vinyl transfer tape (or in my case, some random blue painters tape from tesa I had in the junk drawer that worked well)

- Inkscape to create your design: https://inkscape.org/en/

- dxf2gcode: https://sourceforge.net/projects/dxf2gcode/

- Better Better DXF Output for Inkscape: http://tim.cexx.org/?p=590

- Pronterface/Printrun: https://github.com/kliment/Printrun

A slightly modified version of the DXF exporter and dxf2gcode with my current settings are included in this zip: http://www.theintarweb.net/ultimaker/vinyl/um2_vinyl_cutter.zip

 

Setting up your hardware

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Print out the little mount that is included in the zip. It was made quick and dirty, but it works well enough. Attach it to the head using the screws that hold the fan shroud in place.

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Install a knife into the holder and adjust the amount it sticks out so that it just barely cuts through your vinyl, but not through the paper backing. It's important to get this distance right or you will either not cut enough, which means you can't remove the excess vinyl, or you'll cut too deep and ruin your knife (good thing the knock-offs are cheap ;)). As you can see in the image, we're talking a tiny amount that the knife is sticking out.

Try the setting on a piece of vinyl by pushing the holder up against the vinyl and dragging the knife in a circle. Try peeling the circle out. It will be obvious if you're cutting too deep or not deep enough. Adjust accordingly.

I also recommend using some fine sandpaper to polish off any sharp edges on the front of the knife holder as it will be dragged across the vinyl.

Push the holder into the mount in your printer and use a short M3 screw to secure it in place.

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Install Pronterface and connect your printer to your computer via USB. Set your baud rate to 250000. Choose the correct port (you can find that in the Device Manger in Windows under the "Ports" section) or just pick one from the list in Pronterface and try connecting until you find the right one. The printer will go *clunk* and the lights will go out temporarily, this is normal.

You now have full control over your printer. We will use this program to figure out the correct z-distance for your installed knife. Start by clicking on the homing button (the small house) to home all axes on the printer.

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Next, move the head into a position where you can get a good view of it in relation to the glass. I like to put it in the middle of the bed, slightly towards the front. You do this with the large circle area of Pronterface. Click the different quarter circles to move the head in increments of 0.1, 1 or 10mm in X and Y.

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Now it's time to raise the bed. In the lower right corner of Pronterface there's a small field where you can put in GCode to be sent to the printer. Type in "G0 Z20" and hit enter. The bed will now move up and stop 20mm from the tip of your nozzle. Now use the buttons next to the quarter circles to raise the bed further until the tip of the blade is just barely in contact with the glass. Type in "M114" into the little box and hit enter. The printer will now give you the current Z-height (in my case it's 1.7mm). Write this number down.

Optionally you can also print out "um2_bed.pdf" from the zip and put it underneath the glass. It makes it easier to position the vinyl pieces.

 

Setting up and using the software

Start by downloading and installing Inkscape. After the installation is done, unzip the contents of "b2_dxf_output.zip" directly into your "[installation directory of inkscape]/share/extensions" folder. You will be asked to overwrite "simpletransform.py", this is normal.

Unzip "exe.win32-3.4.zip" to a place of your choosing.

I've included a file called "decal_helper.svg" in the zip. You can use this file as a base to make things easier to position. Make sure that any shapes you draw are not on the "IGNORE:HELPER" layer. That layer will be ignored by dxf2gcode. Also make sure the design is within the red outline.

When you're done with your design go to File->Save a copy. Under "Save as type" select "Better Better DXF Output (*.DXF)", this is the extension you installed earlier. If things go according to plan this will save your file as a DXF that dxf2gcode likes (it chokes on the default exporter that is built in by default in Inkscape).

Now open up dxf2gcode and go to Options->Configuration. You probably want to start by changing the two paths shown on the top right as you will not have those folders on your system. It's not strictly necessary to change it, but it makes things less of a hassle when importing and saving files.

Next, go to the "Machine config" section and put in the value you wrote down earlier in the "Final mill depth" box. Yes, this means that the gcode produced will cause the printer to raise the glass so that it's almost touching the blade when cutting. BUT, we set the blade in the holder so that it only peaks out enough to cut the vinyl, so as long as you have vinyl under the holder, the "springiness" of the gantry will let holder move up ever so slightly and the knife will cut to the perfect depth.

Hit "Apply" and close the settings.

Now it's time to load the dxf-file you created via File->Open. It may take a little while for the program to process your file. When it's done you'll get a warning about some elements being too short, just hit OK.

You should hopefully be looking at something like this now.

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In this screenshot I've zoomed in on a corner of a path to show the drag knife compensation that dxf2gcode does. This is one of the reasons I picked this program, the other being that it's free.

As a last check, make sure that "Z final mill depth" matches your value when clicking on one of the shapes.

Now it's time to export the file via Export -> Optimize and Export Shapes.

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We're almost done. Cut out a piece of vinyl and attach it to your bed. This is where the guide lines in my Inkscape helper-file and the printout comes in handy. I like to put a piece of tape on all sides of the vinyl to make sure it stays firmly planted to the bed. You can probably get away with less, but tape is cheap.

Switch back to Pronterface and open the file you just created. Finally, it's time to try your first cut. If your printer has been turned off since you last used Pronterface, remember to home the machine first with the little house button. Hit the Print button and keep a finger on the power button of your printer in case something goes horribly wrong.

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If all goes well you should now have a freshly cut piece of vinyl ready to clean up and get ready for application. Remove all the excess and then apply some vinyl transfer tape. Use something like a credit card to really push the tape onto the vinyl to make sure it sticks properly.

If your design is a bunch of small shapes (text for example), I recommend putting the transfer tape on right away, scrub it down really well and then carefully peel it off, this will lift the letters from the backing (with some patience and a helping hand from tweezers/scalpel). I found this to be a lot easier than trying to pull the excess away from around the text.

Did you make it all the way down here? Sweet!

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Edited by Guest
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I used this write-up as inspiration to be able to use my Ultimaker as a plotter. But modified the output from dxf2gcode slightly so I could use it with the SD card. I did not use Inkscape or pronterface, but used online to convert svg to dxf.

It works great, however I have to look at how to make dxf2gcode optimize the plotting, as you can see from the video it does not follow the logical fastest path. Could be because it is meant for milling and cutting hardware.

It seem also to use the F-rate for Z-axis for retracted head movement as well, but I may just hardcode that in the g-code settings in the future.

I wish also there was a possibility for a grid or overlay in dxf2gcode, or at least a way to easily determine the output size directly.

 

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