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Hopefully a newbie will take into consideration most of us have only used one brand of plotter and they should purchase according to an educated search. I have used almost every major brand plotter out there but really can't discount a Panther or a Lynx simply because I have never used one. (though if it's any help, I would never by a plotter where it has a limited distribution)
Rick, the poll is really an outgrowth of some thread discussion about opening up the Reviews section. This poll is one of the more common questions that gets asked here and the results express opinion rather than an impartial review.
We've used a few different makes. Currently, our vinyl cutting and pattern plotting is done with Graphtec models. We used Allan Datagraph stuff for awhile, but had some repeated problems with them. Gerber's stuff is pretty decent (but pricey). Our studio had a Signmaker 4B plotter for a long time; it was sold a few years ago to a cemetary headstone maker. We also had a larger, old Gerber S750 that I wanted to throw out a window whenever I had to use it. It really stank at drawing paper patterns.
Plotters can still have their problems these days. But with how much more powerful computing technology has become, most new plotters can handle what's thrown at them much better.
That doesn't get you past some of the physical problems. Huge paper install patterns (for things like routed building letters and graphics) can still be a pain to produce. If my artwork requires the plotter to draw something like a horizontal rectangle over 10 feet in length, I'll often break up the path into several smaller line segments to force the plotter to draw all the artwork from left to right. You risk mashing up your pattern paper if the plotter is having to go back and forth across long lengths of paper to draw objects.
I chose Summa in this survey mainly for the positive's I've heard about it from users, seeing it in person at a trade show, and it seems priced well for someone starting out.
I've used Roland, Ioline, gerber s750(years ago), and presently anagraph and allen datagraph. They have all performed well, some better than others. The last three years I have watched for sale ads on ebay and sign forums on the net. Very few used summa's are available, I figure that says alot about their quality in my opinion.
It would be a real close call between the Graphtec and the Summa but after having checked into both brands and calling for some technical answers, the summa wins it by a nose.
Customer support at Summa was able to answer questions about alignment, maximum force and pinch roller replacement without any wait. Graphtec had the answers in what I assume was either a brochure or computer data base but they seemed less confident in their answers.
I have used the Gerber 4B, Graphtec CE1000, Vinyl Express Lynx-60 and an older Allen Datagraph. All have had their quirks, positive points and negative points. The best advice I can give is to READ as much as you can about your plotter and understand what makes it tick and learn how to fix the problems that can shut you down.
I've had several in the past but if I was buying a new one this morning it would likely be the Mimaki or Graphtec.
I voted other because I have owned an Anagraph for about 4 years and it's been a work horse. Also, the Ana is the only cutter I know that will cut outside of the pinch rollers. Pretty cool, huh? That may not sound like a lot but it's a real time and material saver.
Oh, BTW, I own a Gerber also. As far as I can tell it's overpriced by about $5000.00. Who ever invented the thing sure didn't have to actually use it. But, that's just my thoughts on it. Your results may vary.
I have used Roland (Stika SX-12) and the thing I liked about Roland was their tech support. It has been over two years now that I have owned the Roland and sinced moved up to a 24" Panther at the time due to pricing. In any event Roland to this day still calls me up to check to see how I am doing and if there is anything they can do for me. VERY impressive.
I voted for the Panther since a 24" model is the average I would guess. The two negatives about the machine is one no auto registration mark sensors. (Now they come with them problem solved) the other has nothing to do with the machine itself rather who dist. them which is only one company - signwarehouse. The machine has never let me down, has never had any issues with cutting or tracking up to around 16' so far. Very easy to use, comes with a DVD which shows you how to opperate the machine as well maintain it in excellent condition. Very good build quality and has held up so far. I really like the media roll flanges, it holds the vinyl in place where it should be while tracking. I cut decals at the factory set ips at 23.5 with downforce set to 3.17 reflective set to 5.9 at the same ips. The machine gets moved around a lot - every weekend for that matter.
I love our Graphtecs and Gerbers. The best built machine I ever owned was a Gerber GS15, over 10 years no troubles built like a tank and noisy as one as well. :Big Laugh I've had Rolands as well and they were ok but tracking over the long cuts was dicey sometimes. The FC4100-130's have been wonderful machines for us, just change the blades. The Envision we use for cutting Edge graphics is only 6 months old but has performed very very well. Gerber is priced right for my money as a companion to the Edge.
I've only used the Summa D60 and have been impressed with both the machine and the service. I don't call service often, and it is usually about a setting or CoCut, and not a problem with the cutter itself. Having said that, I'd still heavily consider a Graphtec FC5100 or FC7000-series cutter as an additional cutter due to their reputation and the fact that they have OPOS for considerably less than the comparable Summa.
I've sent several people to Summa for the D60, so that should say something about them.
I clicked on chinese brand just cuz it made me laugh so much i had to vote for it :Big Laugh
I was working with Gerber plotters since the 4b was out, moved to the Sprint and Supersprint (that thing had awesome speed!) and finally the shop i worked for went with 3 GSX-15. All of them were total work horses. Cutting from 8 to 5 (many times later) monday to friday, year after year.
I bought my 24" Roland Camm1 in '98 and the only time it had to be sent for repairs was in 2000. Twice in one month i touched it and static blew the mainboard. This was caused from dry winters in my basement. It hasnt caused me any problems since.
The only thing i dont like from it is cutting long straight lines. It's easy to shift off track. But this is minor and hasnt caused me any production problems. My SC-500 is an outstanding plotter!! Twice as fast as my Camm1 and tracking is awesome on 48"-54" material.
I am shocked that I am the only one that likes the allen datagraph plotter. I purchased my model 830 with gold touch head used in October of last year, that was originaly purchased in '97. When I recieved the plotter, it had been neglected, never serviced. I have had great customer suport from the manufacturer, and this thing has over 500 grams of down force. I just did a logo for the side of a trailer, 13.5' long, and I hand NO tracking problems.
Does everyone still feel the Graphtec as a winner over Summa now that 3 years has past on this poll?
Reason I ask is because I am torn between the Vinyl Express, Graphtec, and Summa with Summa coming in as a winner.
Possibly having to order a cutter today.