Contour Cutting

Contour Cutting

What is Contour Cutting?

Contour cutting is when cutting plotter machines (like a vinyl cutter, for instance) uses an automated blade to follow a digitally predetermined path around the edge of your printed design, or in some other designated shape. That edge is known as the “contour line,” which is how the term contour cutting was coined.

A key to good marketing is to think “outside the box.” The box, in this case, would be the common visual of printed material like a poster or signage that almost always takes the shape of a rectangle or square. By altering this regular shape, we can use the unlimited variations of 2D shapes to draw the eye to exactly what we want our potential customers to see. 

Another distinct feature of contour cutting is that you won’t need any background for the image or design, whether clear or solid. Your target audience sees only the most important part of your work – the graphic itself.

Contour cutting can be applied to many print products. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Wall graphics
  • Storefront window and door graphics
  • Party/photo booth props
  • Vehicle decals
  • Interior dimensional lettering
  • Floor graphics

An easy-to-visualize example of this would be the sheet of stickers that you may have loved to play with as a child. The cutting blade slices through material like paper or vinyl which is on a flat surface in a cutting plotter machine. Small cutting plotters, often also known as die-cut devices, have grown in popularity for scrapbooking, cardmaking and other craft uses for the creation of gifts, decals and much more.

How Contour Cutting Works

At SpeedPro, we can provide contour cutting services that accurately create a clean, crisp cut to your exact specifications. While traditional large format printing uses data from a single file, contour cutting requires 2 files: the artwork file and a special cutting file. While the art file provides the data for your design, the cutting file provides the data specific to the contour you want to cut, including the exact dimensions.

We will apply the second layer of cut paths for you, so don’t worry about creating extra cut paths in your artwork. We take your given image, create a cut path around the outside edge, and bleed out the color to make sure you don’t have any white showing if the plotter blade shifts ever so slightly.

In order for the plotter to correctly line up the digital cut path file with your printed image, our printing software adds small black dots in non-printed areas that are evenly spaced. Called registration marks, they guide the cutting plotter’s blade and enable the precise cutting of your material. Our printer software place these dots exactly where they need to be, so don’t worry about including them in your art either.

The cutting plotter will use the registration marks in the art file as well as the data in the digital cutting file which denotes the actual outline in order to accurately contour-cut your project. Using these two methods together allows for great precision in the cut.

Types of Contour Cutting

The two primary contour cutting choices are known as “cut through” and “kiss cut.” The method you choose really depends on what kind of material, or medium, you want to contour cut.

Cut through contour cutting: This is perhaps the most often-used method. “Cut through” refers to the blade slicing all the way through the medium, which leaves behind your desired custom-cut shape. “Cut through” is ideal for creating big cut-outs of images and shapes from a substrate. You can think of movie theater standees as examples of “cut through” contour cutting.

Kiss cut contour cutting: “Kiss cut” contour cutting takes advantage of the precision inherent in using an automated computer-based system. This method actually controls the depth of your requested contour cuts and is utilized to create those popular sticker sheets. The top sheet of sticky material is cut while leaving the liner material beneath it completely intact.

Contour Cutting vs. Die Cutting

It is important not to confuse contour cutting with die-cutting. The die-cut process involves creating custom metal dies, or cutting stamps made of metal, that are used to repeatedly press through the material and create your shaped product. The creation of the metal die itself has a cost all in its own, in extra time and money. This is above and beyond any setup required for contour cutting done with an automated cutter plotter machine using a digital source for your design. 

For projects that require only a handful to a few hundred products, this cost may not be worth it. However, die-cutting may be a process to consider if your project involves a very high volume of custom-cut items such as specialty boxing, pocket folders, unique packages and uniquely-shaped cardboard items.

For SpeedPro’s large format digital printing, a die is not required. Our flatbed cutting plotters can cut a wide variety of media for almost any type of project you can imagine and get you the great results you want.

SpeedPro Greenville

Studio Owner
Gregg Richey