Properly Cutting, Weeding, and Installing CAS Vinyl

In our industry sometimes the forgotten stepchild is the cut vinyl market. With all of the technology and advancements in printed graphics it’s easy to disregard the place where it all came from. Cut vinyl has been around for 40 plus years, and MACtac® Graphics had a lot to do with the industry’s creation. It is important to revisit the basics of proper cutting, weeding and installation of these pigmented films. MACtac has a full complement of computer-aided signage vinyl with its MACmark® range, including; high performance, intermediate, reflective, metallic, window décor and more.

The first step when using these films is to make sure you choose the correct film for the application and be sure the film was stored correctly throughout its shelf life. MACtac provides a two-year storage capability for MACmark films on condition that it has been kept at temperatures between 60–80°F (15–25°C) and at a humidity of 40–60 percent. Avoid directly exposing the vinyl to high temperatures (near radiators, in direct sunlight, etc). Any partly used rolls should be kept upright or hung on racks. At no time should they be placed on their sides, as this could lead to a large matte section appearing throughout the entire roll.

There are many types of plotter cutters out there, but there are a few details to consider no matter which you use. Use a knife with a sharp blade. Blunt or worn knives will result in untidy cuts (known as “jagged edging”). Cut to the correct depth. The knife should cut all the way through the vinyl and the adhesive. If the cut is not deep enough (the vinyl and/or if the adhesive is not cut all the way through), the letters and logos that you have cut out could be pulled away during stripping.

If cuts are too deep, then the backing could split when the letters or logos are being transferred onto the MACtransfer tape. Applying too much pressure when using a blunt knife could result in the knife bouncing off the backing paper, which means that the adhesive will not be cut all the way through.

MACtac recommends weeding as soon as the shapes have been cut out because the thickness of the adhesive layer could result in it “resealing” itself if the vinyl is left for several hours before weeding or if it has been exposed to temperatures above 78°F (25°C). For best weeding results, use a peeling angle of approximately 30° and pull at a steady speed.

Once the shape is cut and weeded, the next step is to apply an application tape. The application tape should preferably be applied using a laminator. If this is not possible, then use the following procedure:

1.) Roll the AT out on a table with the adhesive facing upwards.

2.) Cut a band wider than the lettering / logo to be transferred. Place the lettering / logo on the AT.

3.) Squeegee the reverse side of the MACmark vinyl backing with a stiff plastic squeegee, working outwards from the center.

4.) Turn the layers over and prick any air bubbles trapped between the application tape and the vinyl using a needle or a cutter (bubbles could cause wrinkling when applying MACmark to your surface).

5.) Cut the AT to the same size as the MACmark vinyl. To carry the MACmark vinyl with the AT on it to the place where it is to be applied, roll it up with a diameter of at least 3 inches, with the AT facing outwards, or carry it flat.

Depending on the surface, there are several details to keep in mind when installing CAS vinyl. The first step is proper cleaning which always calls for isopropyl alcohol. If the surface requires a more thorough cleaning, the use of soap and water or a solvent cleaner can be used. Refer to TA2032, MACtac’s General Surface Preparation Guide, for more details. Most cut vinyl applications allow for the dry installation method; however, if a wet method is desired, refer to MAC1766, which has the wet installation steps outlined.

Dry application is a safer application method because the marking film reaches its final adhesion more quickly than during wet application. This application method should be used on 3-D surfaces that require the vinyl to be shaped (over rivet heads, corrugations, welded areas, etc.). The lowest temperature at which MACmark vinyls should be applied on flat or slightly curved surfaces is 50°F (10°C). The lowest temperature at which MACmark should be applied on 3-D surfaces, which require the vinyl to be shaped, is 65°F (18°C). Heat will need to be used.

There are two easy methods that can be used. The first is generally for smaller graphics. Place the application tape on top of the lettering or logo. Position the lettering or the logo WITHOUT REMOVING THE BACKING, using positioning tape at each end.

Position the lettering or the logo once again on the spot marked by the piece of positioning tape. Squeegee quickly and firmly from the center outwards in overlapping movements. Pull the AT off at a steady speed, at a 30° angle. Prick any air bubbles trapped between the MACmark and the substrate.

In the event that “tiny bubbles” of air get trapped between the MACmark vinyl and the substrate surface (bubbles that have a diameter less than 2 millimeters), there is no need to do anything since they will disappear on their own after a few days thanks to the vinyl’s porosity. If the bubbles are over 2 millimeter in diameter, use the following procedure:

1 - Try to collect the bubbles together without putting the vinyl out of shape.

2 - Prick the bubble at one end.

3 - Squeeze the air out from the side opposite the opening.

Larger graphics can utilize the hinge method. For installs of this kind, it is absolutely necessary to apply AT to the lettering or logo. Position the lettering or the logo WITHOUT REMOVING THE BACKING by using a piece of positioning tape at each end. Make a hinge perpendicular to the largest dimension of the letters or logo, no more than 1 yard (1 meter) away from any one of the edges. Cut the positioning tape. Fold one half on top of the other. Remove and cut the backing as far as the hinge.

Fold the hinge back making sure that you leave a space between the MACmark vinyl and the substrate surface (angle of ±20°) in order to avoid it sticking too soon. Squeegee firmly from the center outwards in overlapping movements. Repeat the same set of actions for the other section of the lettering or logo. Remove the AT at a steady speed, at a cleaving angle of between 0 and 30°. Prick any air bubbles trapped between the MACmark and the substrate and squeegee once more.

There are several videos on the webpages featuring these tricks, and keep in mind that everyone has their own style. The important thing is to dial in your plotter to cut the right depth and practice weeding techniques until you’ve got them down. If you have questions regarding which MACmark vinyl is right for your application, call or email your MACtac representative today.