Years ago, vinyl cutting was an industrial process that was costly and time-consuming. Now, vinyl cutting machines are smaller and less expensive than ever. The other vinyl cutting tools that you need are readily available as well.
The emerging craft market for vinyl cutting software and vinyl cutting machines is booming. Some crafters have even turned their art into a small business! Let’s take a deeper dive into vinyl cutting machines, how to cut vinyl, and the different types of machines and tools available.
What is a Vinyl Cutter?
The answer is simple. A vinyl cutter is like a computer printer, in that you can create an image on the computer and the printer will deliver the image. Unlike a computer printer, it uses blades to cut the vinyl in order to deliver a design that can be transferred to multiple surfaces. These machines are also referred to as vinyl cutter and plotters, die-cutters, and vinyl lettering machines.
You won’t get a complete, ready-to-go vinyl impression when this printing process is done, either. When the vinyl rolls out of the machine, you’ll need to clean it up by a process known as weeding. But we’ll get to that later! First, let’s take a look at the different things you can make with a vinyl cutting machine.
What Can I Do With a Vinyl Cutter?
Vinyl cutters can cut your vinyl designs, but they can do a lot more than that. The best vinyl cutting machines may be able to emboss designs on wood, while some can work with thermal transfer materials and more.
Essentially, the basic use for a home vinyl cutter is to make decals for your car windows, laptops, cell phones, and other devices. These are great for adding a unique touch to all of your possessions, as vinyl can adhere to a variety of different plastic and glass surfaces.
You can also use a vinyl lettering machine to make t-shirts or signs, though these might require larger, more expensive machines. No matter what you are trying to create with your vinyl cutter, all designs start with a computer image.
How to Use a Vinyl Cutter
Using a vinyl decal cutter isn’t as difficult as you might first believe, though it does take some work to get the process perfect. All vinyl designs start with as vector art on your computer.
Let’s put it simply. Images on your computer screen are made of pixels, which are small dots of color that work together to form an image. Your vinyl cutter doesn’t understand these small dots of color, and therefore you can’t just print a picture onto vinyl.
Rather, you’ll need to use vector art. Vector art can be as simple and complicated as you like, and it may take some practice to get it down. It uses a series of lines and dots to convey an image or design rather than pixels. Vectors are what your vinyl cutter understands, and what it can ultimately translate into an image.
So first, you need to design your vector art. If you aren’t great at this type of design, don’t worry! Since vinyl cutting is a growing craft, there are a ton of templates and ready-made vector art available for purchase or download online.
Then, you load up your sheets of vinyl into your vinyl cutter. You’ll have to mind the size when you’re purchasing these sheets, as there is not one universal size. It all depends on the media size for your particular vinyl cutter. This information can be found in your user handbook or on the website for the particular vinyl cutter model that you’ve purchased.
Once your vinyl is loaded, you can use your vinyl cutting software (either the program included with your cutter or a separate program) to load your vector art and your cutter will begin cutting the vinyl, using the vector art as a blueprint.
After the design is cut into the vinyl, it’s time to weed out the material that isn’t part of your final design. You’ll need to cut outlines and interior spaces in order to create the design. When the design is transferred, anything you remove will not be part of the final image. Instead, it will appear the same color as the material that you are adhering the vinyl design to.
Simple, right? If you’re wondering how to cut vinyl once the machine is done, you’ll need some additional tools. These include X-Acto Knives and weeding picks, which are precise tools that can lift previously cut areas out of the vinyl cleanly.
Vinyl Cutting as More Than a Hobby
One of the greatest things about vinyl cutting is that you can monetize your hobby if you have enough practice and the right tools. You can start a business as a small online craft store selling customized vinyl decals with even the smallest of home vinyl decal cutters.
If you invest in bigger machines, you can elevate your hobby to customized apparel, signs, and home décor. However, the machines that you need to do these larger crafts are fairly expensive and require more material as well.
Cheap vinyl cutter machines are, for the most part, okay for smaller crafts like decal printing and other customization. You really do pay for quality, though, so if you need large, precise work, investing in a more expensive machine might not be a bad idea.
Large vinyl cutters can take up a lot of space in your home, so when you are looking to make your hobby into a small business, make sure that you have a lot of dedicated space set aside for the materials and vinyl cutting machines.
Types of Vinyl Cutting Machines
There are numerous types of vinyl cutting machines available. We’ve reviewed some vinyl cutting machines previously, so you have plenty to choose from when you start shopping. Before you start looking, there are a few things that you should keep an eye on.
What are you using the vinyl cutting machine for? This can play a huge role in how useful your machine will be. If you are only going to be making small designs and using the machine for personal projects, a smaller vinyl cutting machine will probably be fine.
The main thing to keep in mind is that the best vinyl cutting machine for t-shirts isn’t going to ‘cut’ it for larger craft projects, and might be too precise or expensive if you’re just printing decals at home. When you’re looking for a machine, make sure that you research the media size and maximum cutting width before you make your final decision.
If you want to break into the signage business, you’ll need to be able to upscale and downsize your designs to fit a variety of different sign sizes, so it’s best to look for a larger machine with more flexibility.
When you have a good idea of the type of machine that you need to get started, check out our reviews for the best vinyl cutting machines!
Vinyl Cutting Software
Another important thing to consider for your new hobby is the type of software that you will need. Most vinyl cutters come with their own software suites to help you along the way, but sometimes greater precision or more options are necessary.
There are some great third-party vinyl cutting software suites that help you create precise vectors and give you more freedom when it comes to making your designs. Adobe Illustrator and CorelDraw are two of the most popular software programs to help create and improve your designs.
If you want to take your vinyl cutting to the next level, you often need to start at the design itself, before the machine ever starts to cut it. That’s why more advanced software can help push you to become the best vinyl cutter that you can be!
In conclusion, vinyl cutting is a growing craft that can be as personal or commercial as you like. The versatility and ability to make just about anything you can design really gives you a lot of creative freedom. Making your own shirts and decals for your car can be fun, and if you want, you can even elevate your craft and sell your creations!
If you are looking for a new, engaging craft that takes a little bit of technology and pairs it with creativity and design, vinyl cutting just might be your new favorite pastime!