What is Contour Cutting?

Imagine printing a picture or drawing on a piece of paper and then cutting it out using a pair of scissors. A rushed job will probably yield sloppy cuts with an inconsistent border.

Now, instead of paper and scissors, visualize the same image printed on vinyl and cut out quickly and precisely with a couple of mouse clicks. This is contour cutting.

Contour cutting is the process of cutting around the outer edge of a printed image in a predetermined shape or following the very contour of the design.


How does it work?

Some vinyl cutters are equipped with laser/optical sensors that can detect the bold contrast between dark print on light media. The cutters then use that information in tandem with information sent from the cutter software to plot a cut path around the desired image.


Do I have the right equipment?

Not all cutters have the necessary sensor for contour cutting. When shopping for a cutter, ask if it comes with a registration mark sensor (e.g., ARMS™, AAS II™, Quadralign™, etc.).


What kind of software do I need?

VE LXi, LXi Rip, and Flexi are all capable of sending to both a printer and a cutter. However, these programs come in different tier levels. For instance, LXi Apprentice does not offer contour cut options. A software tier level of “Expert” or higher is required.


What are registration marks?

Registration marks are unique, black marks applied to and printed at the four corners of a print area’s outer border for the purpose of contour cutting. The cutter’s automatic sensor detects the contrast between the marks’ dark print on light material. By adding registration marks to a print design, the cutter can then reference those marks in order to plot a cut path around the entire image regardless of the image color.


Which registration marks should I use?

When choosing to add “contour cut marks” (registration marks) to a design within the Flexi or LXi software, users will be asked to choose a mark type that corresponds with the brand and model of the vinyl cutter they intend to use.

Note: SIGNWarehouse recommends always choosing “Type 1 Automatic” when using Graphtec cutters.


What is the contour cutting process?

An exhaustive account of the contour cutting process can be confusing and intimidating due to the sheer volume of information. However, the process can be summarized.

Printing and Cutting with VE LXi

  1. Import images into the software.
  2. Make any necessary adjustments to the size of your design.
    • Take into account the space needed for registration marks and the cutter’s grip rollers.
  3. Apply the Contour Cut effect (found in the toolbar or effects tab).
  4. Pick the type of Contour Cut (contour, rectangle, or ellipse).
    • Adjust the offset to your liking.
    • Click the green check mark to apply.
  5. Under Effects, click “Contour Cut Mark”.
  6. Choose the mark types in the Design Central window.
    • Click the green check mark to apply.
  7. Under File, click “Print”.
  8. Confirm the layout in Print Preview.
    • Leave plenty of room on both sides of the image for the cutter to detect sensor marks. Centering the image may be best.
    • While it is good to adjust placement and orientation in the preview, do not re-size or re-scale the image once you have applied registration marks. The marks need to be applied last. If you need to re-size the image, first close the preview window. Make the adjustments in your design, and then preview again.
  9. Send to printer.Click “OK” to send to printer.
  10. Click the Cut Contour icon in the top toolbar.
  11. Within the Cut Contour window, select the cutter to which you are sending the job.
  12. Load the now printed material onto the cutter in the same direction shown in the Contour Cut preview screen.
  13. On the cutter, move the carriage to the first registration mark.
    • The first registration mark refers to the arrow found at the bottom right of the image.
    • Considering the registration mark resembles an inward-pointed arrow, center the sensor halfway between the two end points of the open end of the arrow.
      • The sensor’s location when the job is sent to the cutter will serve as the origin point.
  14. Send the job to the cutter.

Printing and Cutting with Flexi or VE LXi Rip

  1. Import images into the software.
  2. Apply the Contour Cut (found in toolbar or effects tab).
  3. Pick the type of Contour Cut (contour, rectangle, or ellipse).
    • Adjust the offset and joint type to liking.
    • Click the green check mark to apply.
  4. Click the Rip/Print icon in the top toolbar.
  5. In the Rip/Print window, choose the fifth tab (Contour).
  6. Choose the printer and cutter that you will be using as well as the mark types.
  7. Designate how you wish to send the job.
    • Choose to send as separate jobs; print only; or as contour only.
    • Leaving at “as separate jobs” default will be sufficient in most cases.
  8. Be sure to leave at least 2″ of excess material in front of (before) the image when printing.
  9. Send to printer.
  10. Click “OK” to send to printer.
  11. Leave at least 4″ of excess material behind (after) the image before cutting it from the printer.
  12. Load the now printed material onto the cutter in the same direction that it came off of the printer.
    • For instance, if an image of an arrow is printed so that it points to the floor, it needs to travel through the cutter in the same direction.
  13. On the cutter, move the carriage to the first registration mark.
    • The first registration mark refers to the arrow found at the bottom right of the image.
    • Considering the registration mark resembles an inward-pointed arrow, center the sensor halfway between the two end points of the open end of the arrow.
      • The sensor’s location when the job is sent to the cutter will serve as the origin point.
  14. In Production Manager, the job should already be sitting in the cutter’s queue.
  15. Send the job to the cutter.

For a more detailed description of the contour cutting process, consider the following resources from Sign Warehouse:


 How can I resolve common contour cutting problems?

One of the most common problems when trying to perform a contour cut is what is commonly called a “Mark Scan Error.” This is when the cutter’s sensor fails to detect the registration marks  in a way that will allow it to plot a cut path.

The other most frequent problem involves dissatisfaction with the contour cutting accuracy. While it is unreasonable to expect perfect cuts with zero margin or error, a properly calibrated cutter can reasonably perform with an accuracy of approximately 1/16 of an inch.

While every problem is unique, the majority of contour cutting problems can be resolved by making basic adjustments to your cutter, software, or even to your design. See the articles below for more information.

If problems persist after applying the suggestions, contact the technicians at techsupport@signwarehouse.com.