Wizard CMC 8000 and CMC8500 CMC8500e-SBT/ CMC9000
Updated 2017 -additional service/notes on the 8500.
The wizard 5000, 8000 and 9000 series are an American built CMCs (Computerized Mat Cutter). This is personal review and guide to the models CMC8000 and CMC8500 based on our own Wizard machines This isn't a sales pitch or a testimonial for these machines, I've tried to be objective and list the bad as well as the good points for anyone interested in buying or renting a CMC. It's based on our current 8500e and our previous cmc8000 which cut over 1.5 million. If considering buying or renting a CMC of any make, do your homework, and see some working in the real world, not just at trade shows. These are a few notes and observations about the machine we use, the Wizard. I hope its some use if you are deciding on a machine, all CMCs have their plus points and their negative points and the Wizard is no exception.
Comparing the CMC8000 and CMC8500: (9000) What are the main differences?
There are two main and important differences between the 8000 and the 8500. The 8500 is faster, and it has a different cutting head unit incorporating the "switchblade" system to cut 90 degree outsides which is pretty important if you are in, or entering the "mounts only" market. The 8500 has a mechanical clamping system where air activate clamps grip the board on two sides, and the older 8000 has a pneumatic clamping system where captive inflatable tubes in the side rails clamp the board in place.
Both clamping systems are automatic. The 8000 system is quieter, although you will need to replace the air clamps from time to time. These are inexpensive, easy to replace and readily available. The 8500/e/sbt clamping system works on air pistons which bring down clamps along the full length of two sides of board. It is not quiet and comes down with a bang!
The software is generally accepted in the industry as the best around, and is also used by Zund on their cutting machines. A new user or untrained member of staff can be up and running using the machine in half an hour. In the UK initial and ongoing training on the machine and software is free from the UK distributors (Framers Corner, Leicester) Software upgrades are provided at no extra cost. Free demo software available freely on request.
Technical support is available from the UK distributors, from Wizard EU in Germany, and from Wizard in the US, so you almost have round-the-clock support if required.
Wizard CMC are all big enough to take most makes of Jumbo (double size) boards as well as standard (regular) size boards. This makes the machine rather large. The build quality is quite industrial, very solid and straightforward American engineering.
The 8500 and 8000 series cutting head is on one side of the moving gantry arm, which means less pieces of fallout (cut out board) getting jammed or trapped during operation, and keeps the cutting area clear so that the operator can see what is happening. Cutting can be paused at any stage, you do not have to wait until it has finished the mount or the array to change a blade or pause to clear off-cuts.
The Wizards require a small compressor and like all CMCs of whatever make, they use very little air. So basically any small compressor will do the job. A filter to trap oil in the air lines is essential to stop oil and condensate building up over time in the cutting head valves.
There are three main components: The PC (supplied with all machines), the CMC itself, and the ECU (Driver pack). The driver pack translates the windows based software ino the cutting process. Later 8500e machines have an upgraded driver pack (ECU) with considerably more powerful cooling fans, so there is a fair amount of fan-noise. The actual CMC has few moving parts, a travelling gantry which moves back and forth using a stepper motor on fixed grooved belts built into the side rails, and a cutting head which uses a further stepper motor to travel up and down the moving gantry, the cutting head has another motor to rotate the blade holder as required and an air activated "plunge" in/out for the blade. All of this is controlled by the ECU.
The Wizards are reasonably quiet in operation although I'd recommend that the operator takes a break every hour or so as the sound from the ECU cooling fan can be wearing on the ears. You could of course relocate the ECU unit out of the way, but you will need to ensure adequate ventilation for cooling.
Over the years we have replaced 2 ECUs, and two cutting heads. Replacement of these parts is again straightforward and easy. Replacing the ECU is a simple plug-and-play two minute job, USB into the PC and connect up the big outpiut cable to the machine gantry and it's good to go. Cutting head replacement is a quick job, just an allen key (hex key) to remove the old head and fit the new. After head replacement calibration will be required. This recalibration is all done in the software and will take around half an hour - before calibrating, do read tha manual!
Occasional calibration may be required, although most wizard owners manage to get away without calibrating sometimes for years on end. It is actually quite easy. but one of those jobs that is so infrequent that you have to get out the manual each time. The wizard manual when printed out is huge and totally comprehensive. No special tools are required, although you will need three or four American (not metric) allen keys (hex keys). These are supplied with new Wizards. In the current software calibration settings are easier, with a screen for each different calibration (overcut, undercut, depth etc) and each different cut type (front of mat, back of mat, v groove reverse cut, straight cut etc) Also a separate calibration plugin (Kwik Kat) for circles and ovals.
The drive belts are very simple to adjust, basically a case of slackening off a couple of hex bolts (allen bolts) so that the tension is taken up on spring adjusters, then tighten back the bolts. There are two belts on the machine base, one in each side rail, and one belt in the gantry. These start out a nice grey colour when new, and after a few years turn the colour of snot. Black belts would be a huge cosmetic improvement, but looks are not a high priority for Wizard.
Blade holders are inexpensive, and one is supplied free with each pack of 500 blades. They do wear out though, and should be thrown out when you start a new box of blades.
Blades are available in packs of 500 (five hundred) bevel cut at approx £75 plus VAT per box, and 50 - (fifty) 90 degree cut also at approx £75 plus VAT per box. Delivery is usually 24/48 hours one working day. This is based on our experience in the UK. Premium blades are available, and these are preferred by a lot of users, specially for bulk cutting as the blade life is approx 10x the life of regular blades with no loss of quality.
So what was the deal-maker that made us go for Wizard? Simply it was the software that was the clincher. Plus we needed 90 degree outside cuts as we have a big market in mounts-only.
What to pay for a used Wizard. That's a very simple question to answer. Older CMC5000 models (a great machine) are available from £2500 used. They are still supported. CMC8000s can be had from £3500 right up to £7000 used, usual-price 8500 models in 2011 are changing hands around £8,000 to 9,000, and CMC 9000 models are still too scarce secondhand to price properly.
Being the latest models the 8500 and 9000 are almost all still with their first owners and won't start surfacing in any great numbers than they do already onto the used market at least until a newer model arrives. The 8000, 8500, and 9000 are all available in the UK and US and EU on rental. Note that there is a rarer model "Hybrid" 8500e-sbt running 9000 heads and cutting tools which are to all intents and purposes 9000 machines in 8500 guise. But it would not be economical to buy an 8500 and try and modify it, you would save money by going for a 9000. Modifications of most types would of course invalidate your warranty and create confusion if you require support.
Rental is a very sound business option. Your machine is available to you on a fixed cost, and as a fixed cost piece of equipment you can make the most of its high volume abilities. (we run our 8500 around 15 hours a day, 6 days a week when it's busy). But see your accountant or financial avisor about which is best for you.
One feature worth mentioning is that the 8500e-SBT model can be easily converted to full 9000 specification by fitting the 9000 head. This immediatly gives you the pen drawing facility, plus all the other 9000 model's cutting facilities. You should contact your wizard distributor or information about the cost of a new head, You will need the latest software (free update) to unlock the additional features.
Software: Software comes in three types: Full (design and the files can be cut on any wizard machine) and Save Only License. This version is usually free on request, so you can also work on your office or laptop computer and then cut the files on your own machine or any wizard CMC. A full version is required before you can obtain a Save Only License. And of course Demo Version (will not cut or produce cut files that can be used on wizard machines). This is what it says, a demo version to try before you buy the machine. does not expire. Available free on request.
Wizard Pros and Cons:
- Reliable, durable and no stated limitations on work volumes. (Some wizards are run 24/7 7 days a week. Our own is usually working from 7am to 10 or 11pm six days a week, and our last 8000 had cut 1.5 million).
- Easy to use software. No big learning curve, no additional software is required for custom designs, the software package incorporates an extra design programme as a unit called "PathTrace" which is essentialy a 2D CAD programme which is an updated version of trusty old VCADD.
- Bevel cut blades are high quality and inexpensive and reasonably long lasting.
- Very quick to change blades (a second or two snap in cartridge). This also applies to changing from bevel to straight cut on the 8500 and higher models. Blades can be changed by pausing any part of the cut cycle, no time wasted returning the head to the "home" position, and the head helpfully moves down the gantry for you and rotates to face the right way to click in the new cartridge. (the old blade is discarded and you put a new one in the spare cartridge ready for the next blade change, it is located properly by a magnet in the cartridge)
- Undemanding maintenance requirements - usually no more than checking belt tensions and cleaning the machine.
- Support and spares are excellent (based on our UK experience between 2005 and 2012)
- Will cut "jumbo" board sizes.
- Software "nesting" of different mounts out of one sheet is a breeze and a materials-saver
- Will cut certain types of backing boards as well as mats - check with your Wizard distributor.
- Also cuts V grooves, debossing (embosses), large library of cut art and aperture templates, exceptionally good at cutting "letter mats" for name photo frames etc, cuts Trutype and special fonts.
- Large Size: Wizards are big. Whilst this is a necessity for cutting over-size boards they take up a lot of space in your workshop. This is only a downside if you are tight on space.
- 8500e/sbt board clamps activate very quickly and snap down hard. They make enough noise to cause a new operator to jump until you get used to it. 8000 air clamps are virtually silent, but they do need occasional replacement. It's advisable to have a couple of spares to hand.
- There are faster machines out there! There are cheaper machines out there! There are arguably "prettier" machines out there!
- Straight cut blades are 10x the cost of bevel blades but do last. 90 degree cut blade-cartridges (plastic snap in holders) are easily broken, but this can be forgiven with the ease and speed of blade/tool changing.
- A small spring in the footblock can wear, but a replacement footblock is a very quick and easy replacement. All these spares are always in stock. There is a flat platic sole on the footblock, known as the Floating-Footblock which wears over time, but it is a simple replacement (one small screw) and takes a couple of minutes, the part is very cheap.
What to look out for:
Almost all CMC's have "counters" in the software. In wizard software you will see two figures: "Corners" refers to the number of blade plunges, divide this by eight to get an idea of how many mats the machine has cut (4 inside, 4 outside, equals 8 plunges per single mat). This will give you a very rough idea of the use the machine has had. The other figure "mats" gives the number of mats that the machine has cut - however this will almost always be on the be on the low side, because it counts nested arrangements as one mat (it is possible to cut, say, 36 6x4 inch mats out of one nested array, but the system will count it as only one mat). And if the system computer has been changed, and the license renewed, the counts may start again at zero. Just like buying a used car, take any mat-count with a pinch of salt (this applies to most CMC machines, whatever the make).
Drive belts: These are made with a steel core, so they are not prone to breaking. The belt itself does not move, the motors move nack and forth along the belts just like a caterpillar track vehicle or tank moves on it's tracks. Exposure to UV light will initally discolour the cobering material, and they may show signs of cracking and deterioration. This is absolutely no big deal due to the steel core and they don't break. They can, however, stretch very slightly over a long period of time. Replacement is simple, and cheap, but rarely needed. It is so unlikely that a drive belt will fail, that you won't need to keep a spare.
Belts offset from the centre of the track and/or noisy rumbling/squeaking noises from the gantry when moving horizontally.
This may be a sign that the gantry wheels (on earlier models using the gantry from the 8000 parts bin) have worn away badly and the wheels need replacing. Other symptoms may include a propensity for the 90 degree cut blade to dig-in (also a symptom of a worn floating footblock plate which is an easy fix so don't confuse the two) and difficulty calibrating all four corners of a square mat. When these wheels wear, the entire geometry of the gantry (and therefore the cut angles and depths) will be upset, once on their way they deteriorate rapidly and the next stage will be the machine cannot make a 90 degree cut without the blade digging in and jamming into the board and base layer so deeply that it will physically jam the head and stop the gantry moving. 90 degree bevel cut corners will also be pretty poor quality if these wheels have worn a long way, even with some oddball calibration settings to compensate. Basically they are "worn out".
So these 4 small plastic wheels which cost peanuts have worn out and your machine is totally useless. On the bright side it's a fairly easy fix, if you have only mediocre mechanical skills.
If you are thinking of buying a machine with any of these symptoms do speak to the wizard distributor (you will have to to get the parts anyway) for availability of either the old-style wheels, or the procedure for changing to the new style wheels with bearings)
Note that the wheels were upgraded by 2016 with proper bearings rather than just a wheel rotating on an axle, but if you cannot get the old style wheels you will be in for a bit of dismantling which will necessitate removing the gantry and belts, then removing the entire top motor assembly from the gantry simply to get access to two bolts you need to swap out for ones which carry the new style of wheels. It is a two hour job if you are familiar with the machine, but quite easy for anyone with basic mechanical skills.
The alternative if you can't get the right wheels, or you are not happy to dismantle the gantry, is a replacement gantry from Germany if you are in the UK/EU costing 3500 euro (ex-VAT, price based on 2017), or send your old gantry for a refurb to the distributor in your country.
Check for the type of wheels by removing one of the end covers and see if there is any wobble in the wheels either side of the belt drive spindle. (the wheels and the spindle form a triangle, with the spindle at the top and the belt tensioned around the wheels and over the spindle) Note- these are not the black horizontal wheels (4-off on each side which ride on the top/bottom of the gantry).
On rare occasions the motors can "skip a tooth" on the drive belt. Usually provoked by debris. Very rare and very simply fixed by slackening the belt and lining up marks on the belt and motor drive cog. Two minute job, which you may have to do once every few years.
Routine maintenance involves cleaning the rails, making sure there is no debris beneath the drive belts, checking belt tensions, and ensuring that the water and oil filters between the compressor and the main board air lines are drained periodically. There is absolutely nothing difficult or demanding at all that you need to learn to maintain the machine. If you have had a manual mount cutter, you will find that a Wizard CMC requires less maintenance and adjustment.
Specific problems we have had over the past few years would have been serious if the support was not in place for these machines: PC motherboard failure (PC replaced by UK suppliers within 24 hours), cmc8000 cutting head failure (replaced by UK distributors in 24 hours) cmc8500 ECU/Driverpack failed (replacement upgrade unit arrived in 24 hours), cmc8500e Head unit replaced (small retaining pin had fell out after about one year) the head was replaced with the upgraded/newer type head within 24 hours. All replacement parts are easily user-fitted. We have also had one machine replaced by wizard due to an intermittent fault - diagnosis "dropped on its head at birth". Try getting a two year old car the same value replaced, and this speaks volumes for the customer care.
Support and service: excellent. we can't fault the spares position - every part is in stock, nor can you complain about the delivery times - usually next day. Technical support for the wizard is exceptional whether you are talking to Germany, or the UK.
There are user forums for Wizard customers. However CMC forums are pretty quiet and dull places. The wizard web site has a customer area (login and password required) where you can get a few free downloads (patterns/designs/marketing tips books).
The type of business that goes for a Wizard rather than the (slightly) cheaper and copycat alternatives seem to be those for whom reliability and consistent high volumes are important, but the machine is equally suited to the small custom frame shop.
One very important difference with Wizard is that they do not have one model for custom-framing/light-use and others for "production" environments. So there isn't any danger of them refusing warranty or support claims because you have used it too much. This is something to check if comparing CMCs with one another.
Residual value: Wizard CMCs hold their value well. Older models (5000 and older 8000s) seem to change hands without any further depreciation year after year, in fact some old 5000 machines with the wall mounting kit which saves a lot of floor space are pretty desirable but very cheap now on the used market (if you can find one) They are slow compared to later models.
Which is "top of the range?" The most expensive is the CMC9000. The basic difference between it and the 8500 seems to be a pen drawing tool (and pen software). Whichever CMC people have, they seem a bit disappointed by the pen drawing tools that various machines come with, so unless you plan to invest plenty of time getting the pen drawing on mats right and you think your business really needs such a service, the 8500 does everything else that the 9000 does. The 9000 is reputed to be Wizards most field-tested machine prior to its market release and it surprised many 8500e owners as it came out only about a year after the 8500. For a while the 8500e/sbt was seen as a "stopgap" 3rd Generation machine, but owners now seem to look on it as a proven 4th gen CMC that simply doesn't have a pen attachment. The 9000 is prettier, though. More like it's built by the Borg rather than Klingons.
Talking of Klingon, you can even get Klingon symbols in the V1 cut art library (available at extra cost). It's doubtful whether you'd recoup the £100 cost of the library cutting "today is a good day to die" into letter mats, but the library does have a good selection of other cut art including Celtic knots etc which is bundled in demo form on the Wizard mat designer software. (you can view but not cut from these).
One issue with Wizard software - you can create designs in registered or demo software versions, however you will not be able to cut designs edited in the demo software even if you import them into a registered system. Many people who do not own wizards use the demo-version wizard software as a design and layout tool to manually cut mounts.
Pathtrace is an included design utility which allows you to create custom "cut art" shapes. it is a basic cad programme. More complex shapes (for logos etc) can be sent to Wizard and they'll send you back a certified cut art file of your logo or whatever (certified in this case means "it will cut ok"). Prices for this can be up to $200 USD for a "rush" job. So it is worth learning PathTrace.
In summary - I'd describe our Wizards as real tough workhorses, and fairly idiot proof. Great if you have staff because the software works the way framers do, it is very intuitive. I have never seen one offered for sale "for spares", which indicates that they are either very reliable and go on for ever, or they are easy to fix.
Would I have another? Yes.
Would I consider any other machine in the same price range? Yes.
I looked long and hard at the Gunnar F1 Hybrid which was particularly attractive to us because of the straight cut outsides with no blade change and because it was available in a smaller footprint (no jumbo board facility). However I never found out if it was suitable for the volumes of work we do, and it's marketed as suitable for small frame shops rather than our double-shifts and sometimes through the night operations, and the software was nowhere near what we had got used to with Wizards Mat Desinger. Definitely one to keep an eye on, though. Check with Gunnar regarding volumes, you will find their (UK) people very helpful, and there may be some flexibility.
Valiani? Although it's a well made machine, and sound engineering, I ran away when I found that special tools are required to change the cutting tools between straight and bevel cut, embossing etc back and forth, and software not quite all we want. So that wasn't for us (although some people rave about them). But don't take my word for it. If you have read this review this far you are fairly serious about getting yourself a CMC (or maybe you already have one). The (UK) Valiani sales people are very helpful, and there is a support group.
Trucut. Owners that I know are very pleased with them. Reputed to be very reliable and produce good quality mats. Blade life is good, and support is good. There are several models from very basic frame shop CMCs right up to heavyweight "industrial" cutters.
"Industrial" is a term coined by the makers of some machines to denote higher volume capabilities - usually faster or twin headed machines, invariably bigger and more suited to the very high volume custom mat business.
Over the years I have found that all the people concerned with supplying CMCs, of all makes, are very helpful and open to enquiries. Mostly they are not keen on selling you something unsuitable. But they are not mind readers! You need to tell them what you want from the machine before they can give you the proper advice
The best advice I have is don't be swayed by demonstrations at trade shows. These are invariably demonstration of what the machines do best, and often include a lot of fancy (but impressive) stuff that 99% of frame shops will never be asked for. See if someone will bring a demo machine for you to try in your own premises, or ask if there is a machine near you which they wouldn't mind you seeing in action. And remember that even with all the bells and whistles in the world, 90% of your mounts are still going to be a square window in a square mount.
Whichever CMC you get, it is going to be a big improvement to the mount cutting side of your business. Take your time, there are plenty of machines to choose from, and none of them are bad, they are all just different. You want the one that is right for you and your business. Some owners are fanatical about their own brand of machine for various reasons (Stockholm syndrome springs to mind).
Don't be persuaded that one CMC is great and all others are inferior just because a couple of people seem to make a lot of positive noise about brand x y or z. In the end it may probably boil down to the depth of your pocket, and if you go for an older and cheaper machine you can still live happy in the knowledge that when you come to sell it you won't lose much, you might even break even or sell it for a bit more. It all depends on supply and demand at the time, how many are actually available on the market, and who else wants the one you are after.
Alternative CMC makes to compare before you buy : Gunnar, Valiani, Trucut, Zund, Crescent, Eclipse... (and there are others, but these are the most readily available in the market at the time of writing this guide).
If you have a guide to any other type of CMC please let me know and I'll add a link to your guide in here, if there is anything missing or information you think I should add don't be shy, let me know! And if you have found this guide useful don't forget to click the tab!