Introduction: Making a Really Big Sign With the Silhouette Portrait

Maui Makers is a Makerspace on Maui that is still in its early stages. We moved into our very own space in February of this year and are still growing our membership. We needed a large sign to let everybody know where we were, but don't have a large budget.

That's where our June Instructables Build Day came in! We decided to see if we could use it to build a large sign for our windows and advertise our Maker Space.

We don't yet have a large vinyl cutter, so we decided to push the Portrait to its limits. It will only cut about 9" wide...but that wouldn't do. We needed something bigger.

Step 1: Planning Your Sign

Measure your windows and plan out your sign. You're probably putting the vinyl letters on the inside of the window. That means that you will be working with a reverse image.

Here's the rough sketch with a couple of different ideas. Notice that the letters were backwards.

Measuring the window:

The goal was to make as large a sign as possible so it would be visible from far away. Therefore, it was important to measure the window panes to know precisely what the largest size that each letter could be, while keeping in mind the limitations of the Portrait, which can only cut about 9 inches wide, but can do very long cuts. Notice in the picture that each pane was divided into sections. If each letter was printed using two strips of vinyl each, the maximum width would be about 17 inches (8 1/2 inches times two). Since the width is the limiting factor and the goal is size, it made sense to start from here.

Step 2: Making Big Letters

Again, the goal was to make as big of letters as possible using the Silhouette Portrait (because that is what we had).

We typed each letter into the software, enlarged the text size to 1400, and flipped the image horizontally for every letter and chopped letters that were too large for one sheet. The large M in the first picture would be cut in the middle and put into two separate files. Both files would be "printed" (cut) and would be reassembled in a later step.

The second picture shows part of the "u" and "i" in the word "Maui". We fit them onto a single sheet to best conserve as much of the vinyl as possible.

Step 3: Putting Your Letters Together

Now that you've cut your vinyl, you want to "weed" the vinyl. This means that you remove any of the vinyl that is not part of your final sign.

Then you need to assemble the portions of letters together to make a full letter. I started out using blue painters tape to keep the pieces together but eventually went to using small pieces of the contact paper for tape. The blue painters tape tends to stick to the vinyl and stretch it, as well as leaving air bubbles.

Step 4: Transfer the Vinyl Letters Onto the Window: Part 1

What you really need for this step is patience. A lot of patience. Work slowly and carefully. It helps to have someone helping you.

I used clear contact paper for my transfer medium. This is the best thing that I've found for transferring vinyl. I tried vinyl transfer paper before and it was way too sticky—it stuck to the vinyl and would not release!

This is a two step process. Attach the transfer material to the vinyl, then position the vinyl on the window and peel the backing off the vinyl. Do not peel off the vinyl and try sticking it onto the window directly. Vinyl sticks to anything, including itself. Without the transfer medium, you'll have a big roll of sticky vinyl, rather than a nice neat sign.

Take your transfer medium and apply it to the vinyl. You want to slowly peel off the backing and cover your vinyl letters with the contact paper without creating any air bubble or stretching the vinyl. I found that peeling back a few inches at a time and keeping a low contact angle worked best. Work slowly and check for air bubbles often. I had some air bubbles, but they were fairly small. They should work themselves out over time.

I stuck the pieces of the letter together and transferred them as one piece. To make this easier, you could use registration marks to determine how to put it together, but I just eyeballed it.

Step 5: Transfer the Vinyl Letters Onto the Window: Part 2

Now comes the really tricky part. For this you need an extra helping of patience. Again, work slowly and keep your angles shallow.

Make sure your window is clean—really clean. I cleaned the window with denatured alcohol. If the window is dirty, the vinyl won't stick.

Align your letter on the window and slowly peel the vinyl backing off, while smoothing the vinyl onto the window. I found it easiest to peel back a few inches of the vinyl backing and fold it. I then slowly pressed the vinyl and contact paper against the window starting from the fold. For this step I found a squeegee helpful to smooth the vinyl and keep air bubbles from forming. Continue to slowly peel off the backing. If you see air bubbles, you can slowly lift the vinyl up and put it back down—be very careful not to stretch the vinyl.

Once you have the vinyl and contact paper on the window, peel the contact paper off slowly. This should be easier than the earlier transfers, because you should have a good stick between the vinyl and the window. Again, if the vinyl peels off, reverse and use your squeegee to stick the vinyl to the window.

Step 6: Halfway There

We got the first row of letters, "Maui" on the window. Since we're looking from inside to outside, the letters appear backwards from the inside.

Step 7: And We're Done!

It's afternoon, so a little shady, but the new sign is bigger and better than the old one!

Suggestions for improvements:

1) Use registration marks to align the cut letters.

2) Build in a slight overlap in the letters to get better alignment and get rid of the double cut. The trace function tends to trace both the inside and outside of a thick line. We figured this out near the end. It would have made things neater and better aligned.

3) The letters still need a high contrast background to make them pop. Since we need shade to keep out the afternoon sun, we'll probably use curtains to create the high contrast.

4) Patience. Work carefully and slowly. Practice on some small projects before tackling this one.

5) Enjoy pushing your vinyl cutter beyond its limits.