Need suggestions for plotting software

I’m in the process of designing a spring-loaded blade holder in an attempt to use my Taz as a vinyl cutting plotter. The hardware seems straight forward, but I really don’t know what software can generate gcode for this. Any help will be appreciated. Thanks, Greg.

It sounds like a very interesting project. I have a couple ideas, but these don’t come from personal experience – thought I should say that up front.

  1. Could you just use cura produce “only follow mesh surface” gcode? The popup description of this says “Only follow the mesh surface of the 3D model, do not do anything else. No infil, no top/bottom, nothing.” I’ve never tried that option but it sounds like it would trace the outer surface of your model. If you make the model a single layer, then you’d have a single cut. If you coupled this with a large 1 or 2 mm z-hop so that it could do a non-continuous cut, you might not even need to use a spring loaded knife – just affix it rigidly to the extruder head. You would want the knife to protrude lower than the nozzle, but you could account for that with a Z offset in machine settings.

If you want to use a retractable blade, maybe a solenoid would be a good idea and then you could splice in to the lines on the motor that extrudes/retracts to make the solenoid plunge or retract. Here’s one with a 4mm stroke that costs $8 (never used, not flogging it, just an example): http://www.amazon.com/0-375A-Stroke-Force-Solenoid-Electromagnet/dp/B0094G7G4Y/ref=sr_1_11?ie=UTF8&qid=1439518664&sr=8-11&keywords=solenoid Anyway, it might be easier to make use of something like that than go full DIY for a plunging knife.

  1. You could replace the printer firmware with a version of marlin used for laser cutters and use the laser on/off to activate the blade plunger/retractor: https://github.com/lansing-makers-network/buildlog-lasercutter-marlin There’s a link to an inkscape gcode exporter in that link. If you went this route, it would probably be possible to make a system where you could swap out a small laser with the blade and get both a laser engraver and a vinyl cutter. Going this route would clearly be more involved than just tricking the printer with some sneaky gcode though.

Thanks. My reason for spring-loading the cutter was merely to compensate for a less than ideal bed surface. The best I’ve ever gotten my bed was about .004" of being flat and square. Even at that it’s WAY more than cutting vinyl could tolerate, so I’d spring-load it and use blade protrusion to set my depth of cut.
I’ve not used Cura much, so I’ll have to check that out. I was hoping for some graphic type software that spits out gcode, I’ve seen that people have used their 3d printer for 2d drawing, whatever was used to create their gcode is likely exactly what I need, but I haven’t figured that out yet. Thanks, Greg.

I see, I misunderstood the purpose of the spring loaded blade.

Anyway, in that link to the laser marlin, is a link to this: https://github.com/TurnkeyTyranny/laser-gcode-exporter-inkscape-plugin

I have neither a laser printer nor vinyl cutter, so I’ve never tried it, but it might spit out something halfway there. You’d still have modify the commands that turn on the laser to do a Z hop, but that could be scripted. hmmmm … and some other things too: “The plugin builds gcode that is compatible with a fork of Marlin designed to run on laser cutters …”