Introduction: Space Invader Vinyl Cutouts

I made these vinyl cutouts at TechShop San Francisco using their computer controlled vinyl cutter.  TechShop is this awesome place (only available in select cities) where you pay a monthly fee to get access to a bunch of tools, including this vinyl cutter.  These particular patterns are fairly simple, and if you were really patient and precise, you could probably make these using just a knife and a ruler, but the vinyl cutter is way easier.

These are cut out of sheets of vinyl material, sticky on the back, sold for $2 per foot at TechShop, which is pretty affordable for almost any design.

Step 1: Create the Design

I used Adobe Illustrator (also available at TechShop) to trace the Space Invader sprites in this sprite sheet from deviantART.  I've attached the sprite sheet for reference.  You could probably trace these by hand in Illustrator pretty fast, but I used the Live Trace feature to convert a scaled up copy of the sprites I wanted into vectors.  The procedure was:

Adobe Photoshop:
    * Cut out desired sprites
    * Invert image so that sprites are black instead of white
    * Scale them up (like 500%) with a nearest neighbor resampling
    * Copy and paste into Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator:
   * Live Trace->Tracing Options
        Path Fitting: 0.1px
        Corner Angle: 85
        Mode: Black and white
        Ignore White: Checked
        Click the Trace button
    * Live Trace->Expand
    * Clean up artifacts and incorrect lines

Step 2: Cut on Your Vinyl Cutter

At TechShop, the vinyl cutting program is FlexiStarter 8, an archaic and temperamental software package designed to remind you of the old days of computing.  Yes, there is a 60 second splash screen advertising the Pro version of the software.  Yes, you sometimes have to reset the computer, the vinyl cutter, or both at the same time to get things working.  If you're at TechShop and you have any problems, ask one of the staff.  If you're on your own, you probably have better software and will not experience the problem of using FlexiStarter 8.

To use your image in FlexiStarter, you need to export from Illustrator, either as an Illustrator 3 (.AI) file (not CS3, the ancient 3) or encapsulated postscript (.EPS).  I recommend trying .EPS, then .AI if you have problems with the .EPS file.  In this case, I used the .AI file.

Once you have it in FlexiStarter, you have to hit the "cut" button, which looks sort of like an exacto knife, and enter the size of your material, position the work etc.  I haven't included the Flexistarter file, because I figure you'll have to resize it to your own dimensions etc, but I have included a .EPS file just in case you don't have Illustrator.

Step 3: Weed the Vinyl and Attach Transfer Paper

Since the vinyl cutter just cuts the vinyl attached to the non-stick backing, you still have to remove all the unwanted vinyl by hand.  There's this tool for "weeding" the vinyl which means to remove the excess vinyl you don't want, it looks sort of like one of those metal dentist tooth scrapers.  If you don't have one of those, maybe a really sharp fork would work.

You want to just grab the corners of the parts you don't want and pull off the vinyl, making sure it doesn't accidentally grab onto the vinyl you do want.  Then you can cut the individual sprites off the sheet.

After you do that, you want to put this transfer tape, which is paper or plastic with a sticky side (less sticky than the back of the vinyl) over the vinyl, so that you can apply the vinyl to a glass surface.  I used the plastic type, but I prefer the paper type because it seems easier to remove.  Once you put a layer of transfer tape on top of your vinyl, smooth it out with a squeegee to make it nice and flat with minimum bubbles.

Step 4: Put It on a Window or Somewhere

Now you can apply these things to windows or wherever you want.  Probably you want it to be a smooth surface where it would stick, like glass or plastic.

The simplest method is to just peel the non-stick backing off the vinyl, slap it on a window, squeegee it as flat as you can get it, then remove the transfer tape.  I actually did this for a couple of the vinyl cutouts.  The results were crooked and covered with bubbles.  You can fix the bubbles a little with a pin and a squeegee, but the more complex method is probably better.

The more complex method is to peel off the non-stick backing, spray the window with a bit of Rapid Tac (or windex), put the vinyl on the window, position it, squeegee it, wait 3 hours, squeegee again, then remove the transfer tape.  The reason to wait is that if you don't, peeling off the transfer tape removes the vinyl as well.

Step 5: Quick Discussion of Rapid Tac

The instructions on the Rapid Tac say to wait 30-90 seconds before removing the transfer tape.  There might be some way to do this but I don't know what it is.  I tried to squeegee the hell out of the vinyl with terrible results.  The easiest and best way appears to be to wait 3 hours or so, and the vinyl will be stuck to the window decently well by then (since the Rapid Tac has evaporated).  You can then peel off the transfer tape, leaving the vinyl behind.

TIPS:
* If you are using paper transfer tape, you can try to apply Rapid Tac to the paper transfer tape and let it soak through a bit, which should reduce the adhesion between the tape and the vinyl, making it easier to remove.
* You can also clean the window with Isopropyl Alcohol to make the vinyl stick extra well.  This should remove residue left by Windex or Rapid Tac.
* I recommend using these tiny yellow squeegees from Tap Plastics, you can get a fair amount of force going on them since they're tiny, and they have these ridges that help you hold them.

Quick TechShop story: I was having trouble with the Rapid Tac and was asking a TechShop member if he had any tips.  An expert on applying vinyl who worked at Tap Plastics happened to be standing nearby.  He overheard my questions and walked over to gave me all sorts of vinyl applying tips.  Thanks Tap Plastics guy!

While I can't guarantee experts will be standing around whenever you have questions at TechShop, it is pretty impressive how many guys there just happen to know all sorts of stuff about making things.

Step 6: Have Other People Look at Your Amazing Window

No point in having this sweet window if nobody sees it.  Best to check if it's working by going outside and asking attractive people if they like your totally awesome window decorations, and what are they doing later tonight, perhaps they'd like to grab some dinner at that Thai place nearby? Nice.

Comments

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mwatson16 (author)2014-03-12

I printed mine on heavy cartridge paper, then cut out (weeding) attach to wall with blutac. Pacman same way. decorations ready for 80s partays :-D

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