Back in the Fall, I attended the Hand Building Clay Conference and among the presenters was Chandra De Buse. Along with some great demos, Chandra happened to mention she purchased a Zing Computerized Cutter and was using it to cut out craft foam molds, stencils and texture sheets. I asked her a little more about it during the break, and being a graphic designer prior to my potting life, this sounded right up my alley.
The ZING is a laser driven, blade cutting machine put out by the 'Klic-N-Kut' division of Accugraphics. It hooks up easily to any computer (Mac or PC) and will basically cut anything you can draw on your computer into a wide variety of material. The Zing comes bundled with its own 'Make the Cut' software that is used primarily to tell the machine what to cut, blade pressure and speed. I own a Mac, and after initially getting over the shock that this software does not look, or operate, like any Mac software you'll ever use (it's basically a windows program made to work on a mac through a bridge com utility), the software itself is fairly intuitive and after watching a quick video online, I was up and running shortly after I plugged the machine in.
Prior to getting the Zing, I was painstakingly cutting craft foam texture with an xacto knife. Craft foam, found in your local arts and crafts supply store, is fabulous for working with clay. It's non stick - you can run it right through your slab roller, easy to cut, and inexpensive; plus, you can build up the texture by gluing shapes on top of each other for a variety of relief texture. The Zing has made this process SO much easier.
I started by drawing patterns in Adobe Illustrator, mostly because I've been working with that program for years. The Zing software will import a large variety of file types, so you can choose your own favorite application. The leaf pattern you see here was done in Illustrator (pic 1), then imported into the Make the Cut software that tells the machine to cut it. (pic 2). The resulting texture cuts and examples are pictured below; the last photo being layered paper stencils over a raw glazed plate. Click on the photos for a closer look.
I should also give a shoutout to a great iPad app that I use for a lot of my patterns. iOrnament is the best .99¢ you'll ever spend for an app. I will often create patterns in this, then export them via share or email to my computer for the Make the Cut program to cut. There is a free version available too, but for just .99¢, the full version is much, much better.
My latest Zing adventure has been cutting out dies for my extruder with PETG craft plastic. When I read that this was one of the materials the machine could cut, I had never heard of it before but immediately thought of extruder dies. After sending away for the plastic (about a dollar per 12x12" sheet), I saw right away that it was way too thin and flexible for any sort of die. I then had the idea to cut a few out, sandwich them together with a plastic epoxy, and see if that would create a strong enough die to work. It did! Very strong and did the job nicely. Now that I know what shape it produces, however, I need to beef up the foot a bit and add some height and maybe some decorative ridges in it. The inside of the extruded trays were done with Zing cut foam texture sheets as well.
I'm still discovering, and imagining, more that this machine can do. Future experiments include using the new embossing tool they have out, and most likely first - the glue pen. Take out the blade holder, and the machine can easily adapt any sort of pen or marker. Next up, glue pens on craft foam - I'm thinking some great linear texture designs may be able to be produced this way. You never know until you try. Stay tuned!