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What Drive Motor Should Your Cutter Have?

Feb. 20, 2023


Choosing your first vinyl cutter is one of the most important decisions facing an aspiring sign maker. A professional quality plotter can make your dream come true.


The wrong equipment decision can lead to frustration and failure. The most common startup sign store mistake is to buy based on speed, strength, and price alone.


So what are the criteria for making this important decision? What drive motor should your cutter have? How important is tracking? Do you need contour cutting of the printed image? What other features do you need? What about technical support?


To provide these and other answers, we humbly present this guide to choosing your first vinyl cutting machine.

Vinyl Cutter

Vinyl Cutter



Drive Motor: Stepper or Servo

The engine of a vinyl cutter is its drive motor. The drive motor powers the grinding wheel, which advances and retracts the media, and moves the blade across the platen. The two types of drive motors used are mechanical stepper motors and digital servo motors. As the name implies, mechanical stepper motors are driven by physical gears and move in small increments or steps. This is an old and familiar technology whose main advantage is economy. The disadvantages are mechanical noise - which can sometimes be very harsh - and a very small loss of accuracy in the graphics. Large images can be cut precisely, but for characters smaller than half an inch, the physical size of the gears can prevent the machine from drawing a smooth path. This can result in jagged lines that look pixelated, rather than smoothly curved.


Stepper motors are more economical, allowing manufacturers to produce usable vinyl cutters in a more economical manner. Most entry-level plotters use this older, simpler mechanical drive system, and as in most cases, there are differences in the quality of stepper-driven tools. Some are quieter and more precise than others.


In tools driven by digital servo motors, the digital encoder converts the software's commands to 1 and 0. The result is the smooth, precise motion of the drive motor and cutting head. This provides three advantages. The lack of mechanical gears makes these machines quieter in operation. More importantly, the digital directional motion allows the tool to turn and pivot precisely along a smaller path. Letters as small as 1/8"* can be cut with the same accuracy as larger characters. Attempting to cut characters that small with a stepper-driven cutter can result in rough edges, which often does not satisfy the requirements of discerning customers.


Another benefit of digital servo motors is superior tracking. Tracking is the ability of the cutter to maintain a straight path along the length of the vinyl. Digital servo-driven cutters typically track ten times better than stepper cutters, so digital servo cutters are a better choice for both very large and very small graphics.


Looking for an affordable vinyl cutter? Whether you’re looking for a vinyl printer cutter package, a commercial vinyl cutting machine, or an entry-level vinyl graphics cutter, we have it for sale! We will be happy to help you out!

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