Introduction: How to Customize Any Surface Using Vinyl

Picture of How to Customize Any Surface Using Vinyl

This is an explanation of how to use vinyl sheets to customise any surface, which in this case is a trashcan. This instructable is an easy-to-follow, step-by-step process of how the signage ‘ProtoTrash’ came to be.

This project was inspired by a desire to do something with the dull-looking trashcan in our ProtoTank office. Fortunately, this project was easily carried out using the Vinyl Cutter tools and machinery located in TechShop San Francisco, which just so happens to be where ProtoTank is based as well.

Again, the methods explained in this instructable can be applied to create any type of vinyl signage, for any type of smooth, curved and non-curved surfaces.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Picture of Tools and Materials

Tools Required:

MH Series Vinyl Cutter
Computer with FlexiStarter software
Weeding Pick

Materials Required:

Vinyl for signage and test pieces
Transfer Paper

(All of this is provided in TechShop SF)

Step 2: Setting Up the Vinyl Cutter

Picture of Setting Up the Vinyl Cutter

1. The first thing to do is to adjust and lock the height of the blade within the blade holder.

2. This is done using the two screw rings, A and B.

3. The protruding blade height should only be enough to cut through the vinyl but keep the backing paper intact.

4. To test the blade depth, scratch the blade holder on a scrap piece of vinyl. If the blade goes through the entire thickness of the vinyl, than you need to reduce the height of the blade.

5. Next, place the blade holder within the rear slot of the carriage assembly, located along the cutting area of the machine.

6. Make sure it is seated properly within the slot. Hold the blade holder in place by tightening the lock knob until the tension becomes moderate, but not too tight.

Step 3: Loading the Vinyl

Picture of Loading the Vinyl

1. The vinyl must be placed on the aluminium rollers along the cutting area, with the vinyl coming off the back of the roller, and the actual vinyl side facing up.

2. To do this, unlatch two or more of the pinch roller levers (depending on the size of the sheet) by pushing upward gently on the back of the levers.

3. Insert the vinyl from behind, face up, and spread the rollers evenly along the width of the vinyl.

4. Make sure to push the pinch-roller levers down to hold the roll of vinyl in place.

Step 4: Interface Panel and Testing

Picture of Interface Panel and Testing

After the vinyl is placed in the machine, certain non-mechanical adjustments need to be made to machine to ensure that you get the best possible cut:

1. The first thing you need to do is set the origin point. This must be done each time you set up a job on the vinyl cutter.

2. To set a new origin location, click the Offline/Pause button. Use the directional arrows to choose your desired location. Once complete, press the Origin button and this will set the chosen location as the origin.

3. Alternatively, you can click the Reset button, which sets the origin to the rightmost position on the machine cutting area. This can be done to avoid having to manually choose a new origin point but means you must reposition the vinyl under the new position of the blade.

4. The next step is to adjust the cutting speed. This determines the speed at which the job is completed, as well as the level of quality of the cuts.

5. 16 in/min or 10 mm/s is a good setting for this job. However, you may find that it is not providing good quality cuts. Hence, you may need to increase or decease the cutting speed. This is done using the V+ and V- on the interface panel.

6. The blade pressure, the downward pressure of the blade on the vinyl, must also be adjusted.

7. Set this to 100g for this job. Again, if you are finding that the vinyl is not being cut properly, you may need to increase or decrease the pressure. This is done using the F+ and F- buttons on the interface panel.

8. Test the current speed and pressure settings on a sample piece of vinyl, similar to the one to be used, by pressing the Test button on the interface panel. This will cut a small test shape, which in this case is a star.

9. If you are satisfied with the test results, continue to use these settings for the proper cut and load the orange sheet of vinyl for the first half of the sign. If not, keep adjusting the speed and pressure settings until you produce the best quality cuts.

Step 5: FlexiSTARTER Software

Picture of FlexiSTARTER Software

You are now ready to create a file and generate your desired cuts using the FlexiSTARTER software, a vinyl cutter program used to create text or image files to be cut on to the vinyl.

1. Launch FlexiSTARTER on a computer connected to the vinyl cutter.

2. It is possible to import your designs from other drawing tools, such as Adobe Illustrator or CorelDRAW, into FlexiSTARTER for more complex designs. However, for this example, it is not necessary.

3. Select the Text tool on the main toolbar to the left of the screen.

4. Move the cursor onto the design window and click to set the insertion point for the text.

5. Type ‘Proto’ as your desired text.

6. Choose Font from the Text menu and choose a typeface from the Font menu.

7. Select the Cut/Plot icon on the top menu bar.

8. Input the vinyl dimensions into the material sizing section. It is a good idea to input dimensions slightly smaller than the vinyl you are using to ensure that you will never cut outside the edge of your material.

9. Resize or scale the text as needed with the artwork sizing tools.

10. When you are satisfied with the layout, select the Options tab.

11. Activate the Weed Border and set the weeding margin to 0.125 inches. This will cut a square around the text, making it easier to remove the extra vinyl around the text.

12. When you are ready, press the Send Job button and the machine will begin cutting the design.

Step 6: Weeding and the Transfer Process

Picture of Weeding and the Transfer Process

The next step is Weeding. Weeding is the process of removing the extra vinyl from around the text. This is then followed by the Transfer process, which will place the text onto the trashcan.

1. First, using a weeding pick, peel away the excess vinyl around the text. This should be easy because of the checked Weed Border option within the Cut/Plot window.

2. Next, you must use transfer paper to transfer the adhesive part of the text to the desired surface, i.e. the trashcan. This is a sticky-backed, semi-transparent paper that you place on the face of the piece to transfer it to the receiving surface in one whole piece.

3. Cut a piece of transfer paper a little larger than your cut vinyl.

4. Place the transfer paper on the face of your object and smooth it out with the squeegee. Make sure to press firmly on each letter and remove all bubbles.

5. Peel the paper backing away carefully, picking up your vinyl on the transfer paper as you go along.

6. Place the vinyl cut piece to your intended location. Smooth and press firmly on it with the squeegee to remove all bubbles.

7. Carefully pull away the transfer paper and pull at a sharp angle away from the vinyl letters.

8. You should be now left with the vinyl text on the trashcan.

Step 7: Repeat

Picture of Repeat

Finally, repeat the above procedure to create the ‘Trash’ part of the signage on a different colored sheet of vinyl, and then place the two parts of the logo together


motherprune (author)2014-06-14

Its splendid :)

cobbledbeard (author)2014-06-13

I am with Fstedie......Don't have an expensive vinyl cutter sitting around waiting for me to 'discover' it!

mousepaper (author)2014-06-12

Thats cold...

mousepaper (author)2014-06-12

Sensational looking

Christopherhenson88 (author)2014-06-11


gorgeddamp (author)2014-06-09

Thats trendy

illrings (author)2014-05-26

Thats sweet

airbugger (author)2014-05-22

so simple yet so powerful

williamsjavellana (author)2014-05-19


headlymph (author)2014-05-08


tealrink (author)2014-05-08


grousebandit (author)2014-05-05

Its sensational looking :)

grousebandit (author)2014-05-05

Its sensational looking :)

grousebandit (author)2014-05-05

Incredibly good...!!

harechubby (author)2014-04-28


jiffymanager (author)2014-04-25


calmlunch (author)2014-04-20


clapfilk (author)2014-04-07


NumerologyAnswers (author)2014-04-03


spongeraffle (author)2014-04-02

This is so great!

workexaminer (author)2014-03-28


clickyummy (author)2014-03-08


Mariska Botha (author)2013-09-04

Nice Instructable.

BunnyRoger (author)2013-09-03

Very cool indeed. Nice one

Amanda Culbert (author)2013-09-02

Would have been very cool if I actually had a vinyl cutter I could use. Don't think everyone just has one lying around.

MAApleton (author)2013-08-29

Hhhhmmmm.... Wonder if anyone maybe has a MH Series Vinyl Cutter lying around that I can borrow hehe....

SelkeyMoonbeam (author)2012-07-31

You should enter this in the Hurricane Lasers Contest!

richb77 (author)2012-07-30

If only there was Techshop (or anything similar!) in the UK!

t.rohner (author)2012-07-27

You can get decent 24" cutter including a plugin software for Coreldraw, Illustrator and the free Inkscape for 500$.
(GCC Expert 24)
Of course, these cutters wouldn't be my choice, if money isn't a issue. (I would go for a Summa S-Class...) But the GCC work quite well and the supplied software is pretty good.
The noname (chinese) cutters i inspected at tradeshows, are a waste of money. This may change of course.

I sell cutters and other signmaking machinery for the last 25 years.
When i started, a cutting system (flatbed cutter, software and PC) was over 100k$.

But then, as another commenter pointed out, bring your design as a vector file to a sign shop a have it cut. They have all the vinyl colors around and know how to set up the machine.(mostly;-)

MakersBox (author)2012-07-26

Does the vinyl have adhesive on one side or is it more of a static cling?

syates3 (author)MakersBox2012-07-26

You can buy vinyl that does either, adhesive and cling vinyl are not terribly expensive and can usually be bought by the yard or roll.

paulstaf (author)2012-07-26

I am with Fstedie......Don't have an expensive vinyl cutter sitting around waiting for me to 'discover' it!

eschneck (author)paulstaf2012-07-26

Same here. I've been out looking in my garage for that CNC machine I lost. Maybe it's next to that ...

Frankie Daileigh (author)2012-07-26

next up how to sew your extra diamonds into that mink coat thats just lying around on your platinum plated rolls royce.

bpenner (author)2012-07-26

As a sign shop owner with the cheapest cutter in the shop being around $4500 I can tell you that for a job like this or any other simple job you can print your design on thick paper and cut it out to use as a template and just score the vinyl by hand with an exacto knife. Investing in a cheap machine like a USCutter will simply end up with you being agrevated and feeling jiped out of your hard earned $$$. The cheapest and best bang for your buck for home use or a small shop is the Graphtec Craft Robo Pro about $1200 but you would feel like you got an actual capable machine. Just my 2 cents :-)

chaydgb (author)bpenner2012-07-26

I have a Chinese cutter I brought non-working for £30 (around $50-$60), after a replacement motor driver (another £7; $10) it's been great. You can also make stencils for silk screen printing, precision papercraft, lettering and graphics for large scale vinyl banners, stencils for spray painting (a friend used some for marking up his flightcases), personalised slates for low budget movie makers, and of course, signmaking (customised flying helmets and aircraft graphics, vehicle graphics for boy racers, frosted window graphics for our datacenter) etc etc etc. I'm not sure how reliably a cheap cutter would be for day to day use, but for the odd job here and there, it's more flexible than you'd think.

Edit: ...and electro-etching!

ManifoldSky (author)bpenner2012-07-26

I suspect the ~$150 Cricut works just fine for home and even small shop use.

fstedie (author)2012-07-26

Wow, and I thought that this would be a unique Instructable about making vinyl letters WITHOUT a vinyl cutter. Silly me.

snoopindaweb (author)fstedie2012-07-26

There's still the avalable Numbers $ Letters "Kits" avalable all over any Town of 1,000 People or more.

keithstanley (author)2012-07-26

A very good Instructable. I just wanted to point out that if you have a steady hand, a bit of creativity you can cut the vinyl with just a scalpel / very sharp knife to accomplish a unique result. The benefit of using a machine for someone like me is that I don't have a steady hand and without a computer I have only limited creativity. I have seen many people who can do it FREEHAND and get GREAT results. So go ahead and get some vinyl and a sharp knife and have a go. :-)

hammer9876 (author)2012-07-26

Can a steady hand, an X-ACTO knife, and tracing paper do the same thing as a £200 ($313) device?

FastElder (author)2012-07-26

AMAZING! Using a vinyl cutter to cut out vinyl letters.

HugoVonStype (author)2012-07-25

Not really a DIY subject is it? I'll have a root around the loft and see if I have a spare MH Series Vinyl Cutter and FlexiStarter software

ummmm.........vinyl cutters are far from expensive. I got one for under £200 for DIY projects, thatsright D I Y Projects.

HTWTUSA (author)2012-07-23 all need is umpteen thousand dollars worth of software and machinery, then I can D.I.Y. my own vinyl?

xD....just sayin'...but nice to know the process,anyway!

barista (author)HTWTUSA2012-07-24

I have one of these.
Machine, one roll of vinyl, one roll of transfer paper for around £300 if you shop around.
Can be used for very accurate cutting all sorts of things.

HTWTUSA (author)barista2012-07-24

Now that's cool, for sure.

painterkat (author)2012-07-24

I'm sure you could take your computer file to just about any sign shop and have them cut it for you for a reasonable price. I work in a sign shop and know just how easy it is to do.

About This Instructable




Bio: Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering student at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland. Interned at ProtoTank in TechShop San Francisco, 2012.
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