Vinyl cutting on Linux: the real deal

Vinyl cutting on Linux: the real deal

Ever wondered if you could get one of those fancy vinyl cutters and not abandon Linux? Let's talk about your options here.

Recently I did a bit of Inkscape consulting work for an overseas client who needed to do some specific vinyl cutting job and wanted to use Inkscape to cut the total cost of ownership (pun intended).

He wasn’t ready to use Linux in that particular case which would simplify the workflow a lot (later you’ll see why), even though he generally likes that system. But I took the opportunity and in my spare time did some digging. Here are the results.

What vinyl cutting amounts to

Most cutting devices rely on HPGL printer control language and its versions such as CAMM-HPGL (Roland). So the job is, essentially, to take a vector graphics file and convert it to HPGL, then send it to the device along with control commands such as blade speed and pressure.

Proof of working vinyl cutting on Linux from one of Inkcut users

Proof of working vinyl cutting on Linux from Ingo Baabs — one of Inkcut users

Basically there are two approaches that vendors take: standalone applications and plug-ins for most used vector graphics apps which are Corel DRAW and Adobe Illustrator.

Standalone apps typically provide more device specific controls and have some extra features. Plug-ins, however, are great in case you need to cut really a lot, and fiddling with importing/exporting is so much not an option. Some argue that using plug-ins is more risky, because with a different “page” orientation it’s easier to mess up the blade (a 50-100$ repair). But in the end it’s all up to you.

In the case of my client it was GCC which ships both. GreatCut, their branded standalone software, has quite inferior user interface and likewise far below expectations UX. And yet it has features that you won’t find in typical vector graphics editors, such as optimized distribution of selected objects across vinyl roll so that less vinyl goes to waste.

Well then, what options do we have for Linux?

Inkcut

This is an Inkscape extension, so you can do the cutting directly from the editor, without exporting any files. Inkcut is written by Jairus Martin who is part owner of Vinylmark LLC. As you can guess, the guy has a lot of hands-on experience with cutting.

General Inkcut settings

General Inkcut settings

Inkcut works with pretty much every vinyl cutter that receives HPGL commands and uses Serial/USB interface. Some devices connected via the printer port are supported as well. The list of devices that are reported to work has 57 entries so far. You can set some low-level device-specific options in the Device Properties dialog.

More low-level Inkcut settings

More low-level Inkcut settings

The preview area shows objects’ outlines (red) and visual hints (straight blue lines) where the blade will start the operation. You need to click the Preview button to re-render changes inside the preview area. Alternatively Inkcut will create and open a temporary SVG file for you.

Full cutting preview

Full cutting preview

The application doesn’t have a terrible lot of options yet, but does allow to set margin and automatically create copies of selected object with user-defined spacing for rows and columns.

All in all Inkcut seems to be the most convenient solution on Linux at the moment.

The current version is available for downloading from its home page and officially works on Linux only (theoretically it's possible to get it to work on Mac after a bit of a headache). Jairus has certain development plans, but they are currently low priority.

Tux Plot

Originally Tux Plot was known as CAMM-Linux, which, as you can easily guess, refers to the original range of supported devices (it's Roland's reduced instruction set of HPGL). Today Tux Plot is a bit more than an app just for vinyl cutting.

The application supports other kinds of devices such as plasma tables, pen plotters and so on, which shouldn't be surprising at all as many of them rely on HPGL which really goes way back. So in the UI you'll find controls not just for XY speed, but also for Z axis speed and depth. However you don't need to even touch them: choosing a quick preset such as Vinyl Cutting automatically disables irrelevant options and sets sensible values for the relevant ones.

Tux Plot user interface

Tux Plot user interface

Installing TuxPLot involves creating a new virtual printer device and several folders in the user's home directory, including the one called ~/hpgl-hot-folder. This is where you can drop an EPS, PS, PDF or SVG file that will be automatically picked by a Tux Plot daemon and converted to a new job for the Tux Plot program.

The part below preview window is where you can control placement of the object to be cut. You can also duplicate the object. The UI for that is not exactly awesome as you can't literally pick and drag to where it should be.

In general, the user interface definitely needs much work. Hopefully this will be addressed in future revisions. The project is active with the latest release available since April this year.

LinCutter

This application is a bit of a black horse. The project is intended to be a free alternative to Roland CutStudio, PostCut etc. It was started by Igor Novikov and depends on currently unreleased UniConvertor v2 which is why it’s not yet officially released either.

LinCutter's main window

LinCutter's main window

LinCutter works as standalone application only, and is capable of opening PLT and CDR (v6-v13) files. But the primary file format is PDXF which is the file format by PrintDesign, the successor to sK1. More file formats will be available via UniConvertor later.

After importing an illustration you will be able to select, duplicate and move around objects, as well as outline, group and ungroup them. The application doesn’t seem to provide controls for cutting speed and weight though.

LinCutter preferences

LinCutter preferences

LinCutter lists 35 supported models from vendors like GCC, Roland, Graphtec. It also says it supports all models by Kingcut on top of that. However I have a gut feeling that just like with Inkcut you will be able to use any HPGL-based device.

The official release is currently planned for this summer along with UniConvertor v2. If you feel adventurous to try it anyway, the code is in a public SVN repository. Unfortunately it looks like either UC2 from SVN or LinCutter itself have broken installation scripts, which is why you can’t get LinCutter to do anything sensible yet.

Options for Windows and Mac users

OK, so you are an Inkscape user and you are looking for vinyl cutting options on either Windows and Mac. Is there a way you could avoid getting involved with Corel DRAW and Adobe Illustrator? Why, yes — there are few options.

  • Inkscape CAMM-GL extension for Windows sends raw CAMM-GL data to a vinyl cutter via the Windows spooler service.
  • SignCut Productivity Pro, a commercial application for Windows and Mac, has an official Inkscape extension for going to cutting directly from Inkscape. You need SignCut 1.95 to get it to work with Inkscape 0.48 and newer.

More info

If you want to hang out with other Inkscape users and ask questions specific to vinyl cutting, you have two options:

  1. InkscapeForum.com has a section dedicated to cutters and plotters which sees quite a bit of life.
  2. There is a whole forum called Inkscape Cutting Design and devoted to using Inkscape for vinyl cutting and other mechanic crafts.

Our next stop could be cutting plotters on Linux. What do you say?

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40 Comments

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  1. i have been cutting with inkscape/inkcut and a roland cm24 for about a year now. i did alot of testing also (between tuxplot and inkcut) and i never really could get tuxplot to work right. inkcut is a really good plugin. if you dont want to mess up blades replace it with a pen, wont waste vinyl either!

  2. And here I though it would have something to do with old vinyl LPs. :-(

  3. Alexandre Prokoudine 30 June 2012 at 10:11 pm

    Jake, out of curiousity, do you do it commercially?

    @Mordae That would be vinyl molding and punching? :)

  4. we use tux plot everyday commercially and love it. We helped the developer test and make it very user friendly. We couldn’t work with out it.

  5. Alexandre Prokoudine 16 August 2012 at 10:41 am

    @ken Awesome! For how long have you been using it?

  6. Well we have been doing vinyl cutting for about 5 years. We started with MS and I was worried since for years I have been fighting viruses, ad-ware, malware, all the normal crap. So we decided to have a dedicated computer just for the cutter no network or anything. That was all good and well until we got very busy and then it really started to become a pain to send digital images to a flash drive and then email it from a different computer.

    I started to look into different options about 3 months into this business. I looked at linux since I did use it a little when I was in the service but it wasn’t really user friendly then, I figure I would see how it has changed.

    I installed Ubuntu on my PC and the laptop. I didn’t touch any other computer. I had to make sure it would work solid and I could get everything to work with the cutter. That turned out to be a dead end. There was no software for linux that would work with vinyl cutters.

    The software we were using wouldn’t work in wine.
    you can install Adobe Illustrator and Coral Draw I don’t remember the ver. but its an older one. but that only helps with the designing and not the cutting.

    I tried VirtualBox this would be great right? No it has problems too. good side is that all the software would work. the bad side is they didn’t support USB hardware. So our cutter wouldn’t work in VirtualBox.

    All this trial and error plus more searching went on for about 6 months. I finally found this guy, Gary. I tell you he is awesome. I went to his website http://securetech-ns.ca/camm-linux.html and did some reading. He made a program that is linux based and he is able to control an engraver and a cnc machine. I’m thinking this is great an engraver uses HPGL code so does the cutter. I sent him an email explaining who we are and what we were wanting to do. I heard back from him about a week later. He was more than happy to help out.

    This wasn’t very easy to do since I didn’t do programming and he didn’t have a cutter. We started with the basics getting the program loaded and having it find the cutter.

    then we had to tweak the portions of the cutting. it was about 70% too small. then the gui. then where to stop and start the knife. We had to test out the over cut and make changes to that. There was so many things that we did to get this to work perfect. If there was something wrong it was changed.

    after a while he ended up dropping the cnc portion that was more editing.


    This went on for about another 6 months. till I was able to cut over and over again with no hiccups. that is when we called it good.

    He named it TUXPLOT

    Ok now I have to install it on my wife’s computer. She DOESNT like change. I kinda forced it on to her and I could tell she wasn’t happy with me. I showed her how to use it and after a few times of cutting with it. She looked at me with this deer in the highlights look and said “wow this just works I don’t have to worry about it messing up. Tell Gary He is a life saver.”

  7. I made some videos and posted them on youtube search tuxplot user name hometowngraphicsnet and you can see them. the videos is his first ver. I need to make more and put them on there.

    Since then I have kept in touch with Gary and every know and then he has me test something new out. The features and the gui has had some some changed and more features. It still is our work horse of software for the cutter.

  8. Alexandre Prokoudine 17 September 2012 at 10:22 am

    @Ken, so you are the very Ken who is mentioned at the Tux Plot’s homepage. Glad to see you here :)

  9. Yes i am and thank you very much. Im glad to share info.

  10. What a nice post it is!! I am looking for such kind of new design and photography software which is free. Then I can enter Libre graphics world. Thank you very much.

  11. I personally prefer InkCut… just feels like the easiest to use. Although they all have their place.

  12. Iam a mac user. You have shared in a very well manner that may make my task easy. Currently iam looking to find some more softwares and applicatins related to this field.

  13. I never tried LinCutter. Seems like awesome tools.

  14. I like your explanation on Vinyl. Also the sites mentioned are very handy.

  15. Great run through Ken.  Do you have online video courses as well?

  16. @seph just a few basic things that i have on YouTube if there is something that you would like let me know i may be able to put a video together.

  17. I gave them all a go but think that Inkcut just edges out LinCutter. Tux Plot just doesn’t do it for me.

  18. Ken that work really good just takes some time to work it out. As a Lawn Signs and graphics professional just keep up the hard work.

  19. Great job man, love to see you make more.

  20. What a nice post it is…..

  21. i’m also using Inkcut Inkscape extension and   Tux Plot. very useful tools :)

  22. Wow, this looks fantastic. Are there similar applications for mac?

  23. thank’s for sharing, I like your explanation on Vinyl.

  24. heiii, I am also a linux distro users and the work I mostly use LinCutter, I personally think it’s much easier to use.

    but it seems Vinyl privileged to be tried.

    thanks for share

  25. Hard to believe that Ubuntu has so much power. There is a common view that Linux has very limited software as compared to Windows and even Mac.

  26. Amazing. I like it. Very good information. Ubuntu has always been my preferred operating system. Windows can pound sand. In a computer repair business I see so many windows based computers, I feel like my college education and expenses for learning mac computers has went to waste. I’ve never had to work or repair any that was os or software related. just physical or lightning damage.

  27. I made some videos and posted them on youtube search tuxplot user name hometowngraphicsnet and you can see them. the videos is his first ver. I need to make more and put them on there.
    Since then I have kept in touch with Gary and every know and then he has me test something new out. The features and the gui has had some some changed and more features. It still is our work horse of software for the cutter. ? Website design company Abu Dhabi

  28. is it work in windows XP?

  29. Inkcut is always better for this.. But will this works on Ubuntu?

  30. looks like a great solution!

  31. I have some customers that sure can use this!

  32. It’s amazing work.  As a BA, I do lots of process mapping between business needs and computers, yet still I’m surprised by how many applications I never considered.

    This is much more complicated than the print shop software I’ve seen.

  33. I like that it has extensions for MAC.

  34. thanks for some good info, i engrave into wood but im looking into vinyl the software is quite the same so i might have a go.


    http://www.conceptcarpentry.co.uk

  35. Nice bit of kit, the software looks quite user friendly and probably dont need a high-end computer. Thanks for sharing

  36. We are looking into adding vinyl signs to our services very good info on the software.

  37. So here’s how to make vinyl? I just found out this way, I need to try!!

  38. Awesome software. I just made my 1st Vinyl and this post was very helpful!

  39. I prefer inkscape for simple use and a lot of functionality, but it looks like Vinyl cutting is also good, I want to try it first, thank you

  40. FWIW: I just got Inkcut to work on a Graphtec FC7000 vinyl cutter on Ubuntu 14.04. The key to getting it to work was to change the interface language on the actual cutter to HPGL. I plugged the USB cable into the computer, installed the GENERIC printer driver with TEXT support, installed Inkscape with Inkcut. Then selected Printer and chose the Graphtec printer under printer options. This works great!!!

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