Design Software

The best printing and cutting equipment is nothing without a great design.
Tech Review: Design Software

It’s no secret that new equipment purchases often require an additional purchase of complementary software. But while a RIP powers digital printers and other programs drive plotters, routers or engravers, your shop’s design software impacts every kind of sign you fabricate.

If you are in the market for a new design package, then you should inform yourself of the ample options to choose from and many factors to consider before making a decision. First and foremost: What kind of equipment will you be designing for? For example, if you only have a vinyl cutter, then tools for manipulating images may not be needed. Vinyl cutters work with vector or line drawings, so you need to be sure the package supports a format that your cutter will accept. You may think that a drawing package can provide what you need. That might be the case, but you may give up sign-specific features that handle tiling, scan and trace, and nesting, to name a few. Some bridge programs work with many of the popular drawing applications by adding these additional features during the output step. Just be aware that this will cost more, but if your designers are familiar with the programs, you may save money in training them on a new package.


If you are working with images for output to a digital printer, then you have an additional wrinkle to consider. In many cases, the sign-specific software package will offer rudimentary-to-good tools for manipulating images. You can, of course, use a high-end package for image editing and then import the image into the sign-design package to be used as a design element. The design software will, again, provide functionality that may be difficult, if not impossible, to accomplish in a photo-editing application. For example, you may be creating a full-color, 8 x-10 ft. banner, but your printer may not be able to print at that width. The sign package can print the images in strips and allow for a butt or overlap seam. The package may also be able to take into account the banner hems and calculate the placement of the grommets.

Sign-specific packages can also take care of a very important aspect of printing: color management. You may want to use third-party inks and or media. In some cases, the manufacturer will provide ICC profiles. If not, then you are on your own. Maybe blue will print purple. The higher-end design packages provide interfaces to popular color management equipment and make building proper profiles a breeze.

Another consideration should be future expansion. Some applications can be purchased outright, or you can buy a subscription that provides all or part of an offering. The number of users and whether you want to provide collaboration services with your customer may be something to consider. If you have no immediate plans to expand your shop, then purchasing a package that suits your present needs, or using an existing drawing application that you already own and a bridge application may be just the ticket.

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