Let’s Get This Plotter Started!

Using Adobe Illustrator with SimpleCut software and Janome Artistic Edge

My mom, a quilter, got a Janome Artistic Edge the other week so she could make her own appliqués and easily cut out material for embroidery endeavors. I was excited for her (more accurately, I was excited for me.) There’s a few tutorials out there to use it for appliqué/quilting, but I couldn’t find anyone who had taken a design from Adobe Illustrator to Artistic SimpleCut (the included software) and done what I wanted to do: combine die cut and printing. I needed some new business cards so I decided to make that my test project.

Here are some things I learned:

File Formats

I work on a Mac. SimpleCut runs on Windows and says it can import .ai, .eps, and .svg. It does, but with some caveats. 
SVG: Apparently, SVGs are big in the embroidery world and it will import them fine, but rarely at the size created. SVGs seem to always need to be resized within SimpleCut. 
AI: I could not open my native Mac Illustrator files (.ai) even though SimpleCut says it will open any CS. I tried saving multiple versions in different CS and I am unaware of a magic combo to make it work. I assume PC .ai files work fine.
EPS: These worked best for me, once I got them to work. The preview format under EPS options cannot be set to Macintosh (8-bit color or black and white). There is an option to set to TIFF or none. I set to preview to none and then had no issues importing them.

SimpleCut could not read an .EPS with a preview format set to Macintosh

Double Cuts

I created a pattern, set a containing box on top of the pattern at the size I wanted and used Pathfinder to size it to trim. I deleted the border the containing box creates, but forgot each element of the pattern ALSO had a duplicate created. In print, it wouldn’t matter. They are sitting on top of each other and only one would print. In the digital die-cut world, the plotter interprets that as another cut to make and will retrace that cut (this can damage the mat). I think it’s a workflow issue based on when you ungroup/set to outline and I did something that worked but wasn’t best practice. (I tried to recreate the issue as I produced it to get a screencap and I couldn’t.)

In short, be aware of any duplicate vectors sitting on each other. Double cuts are not your mat’s friend.

Make sure you don’t have any duplicate vectors hiding behind your artwork.

Artwork Set Up

Most business cards are set up on a letter size page with 10 to a page (10up). It’s the most economical use of the space. Because I needed my cut marks as well as the SimpleCut registration marks, I ended up only doing 8up. I’m not sure 10up is possible unless you have an edge to edge printer or legal paper. The SimpleCut registration marks are roughly 1/2" each (the registration line is offset 3/8" from the border of your artwork). Business cards set 10up have an minimum artwork area of 10"x7" just for the cards, plus any crop marks you have (the crop marks would be considered “artwork” by the SimpleCut software). I absolutely recommend crop marks on the cut file; see next section. Even if your crop marks are only 1/8", there just isn’t room for the artwork, crop marks, and registration marks unless the default registration mark setting can be edited.

Files and Registration

SimpleCut demos show this awesome Print and Cut feature where they import an image, create a cut line around it, print out the image with their registration marks, and then cut out the image. I thought this was what I wanted to do with my business cards. I outlined all my fonts, saved as an eps…. and it interpreted my file as wanting to “paint” the text. I could save the text as another format, but I did not see pdf as an option and I couldn’t bring myself to save my crisp vector text as a jpg just to cut. There had to be another way.

I ended up creating two layers in Illustrator that I saved out as two files–a print file (pdf) and a cut file (eps). The print file had crop marks and text. The eps had almost-identical crop marks (I only put them on 3 sides and make them shorter to accommodate the extra SimpleCut registration marks) and the cut vectors. I printed the pdf and sent the eps to SimpleCut and exported to the machine for Print & Cut. I printed the eps on a separate piece of paper. Now I had two printed pages — my artwork from the pdf and this page from the eps with my crop marks and SimpleCut’s registration marks. If your artwork paper is thin enough, you could probably line up the crop marks over a light table. Mine was not. I cut out a rectangle in the middle of the paper slightly bigger than the inner edge of my crop so I could line up half my registration crop marks with my artwork crop marks. I used a small awl to transfer the center points to the artwork so I could get this plotter started.

I do not recommend printing out the SimpleCut registration marks on top of your artwork. My first couple of attempts I just assumed the printer was more or less accurate and transferred the registration marks to my artwork using the edges of the paper to line them up. This was wildly inaccurate and I questioned whether the Artistic Edge was calibrated (it was). The problem was the printer being slightly off. If registration marks on the cut file and artwork file are lined up to each other, you will get a more accurate cut.

I also tried recreating the Simple Cut registration marks on my pdf to hopefully cut out the step of printing the eps (if it could be fit inside the crop marks; 10 up could be possible). It was not as exact as I would have liked; I think I need a more accurate ruler than the one I was borrowing (all of my rulers are currently in a POD).

Window registration and my failed attempt to recreate a Simple Cut registration mark inside the crop marks.

Final thoughts

I’m pretty darn excited about having a plotter to play around with in my free time. I’m happy with the results and have a better understanding of the limitations of die cut interacting with printed work. Next up, I want to make some vinyl die cuts. I’m also starting to think about how a hand bound popup book could work using the Simple Cut to produce intricate popup shapes (no ideas for what the book would actually be about yet)

Final business cards