Introduction: Vinyl Cutter Tips After 30 Hours of Experience

About: Based in San Francisco I strive to incorporate custom lettering in the art that I design, print, and make.

After using the vinyl cutter with a variety of vinyl and for a variety of projects I am sharing some tips on how to get the best final product from your time using the vinyl cutter. In this example I am making a lettering decal with the words "Never mind the little things" as a square vinyl decal.


1-10 feet of regular vinyl
vinyl cutter (US Cutter)
knife blades
utility knife
sewing needle for weeding in addition to dental picks
contact sheet for transfer

I made it at Techshop 

Step 1: Blade Depth and Cutting Strength and Speed Balance

When choosing your blade depth and cutting speed it is best to start with a slower cutting speed until you are certain that the increase in cutting speed will not leave areas that are marred by the fast moving cutting blade. 

A good starting speed is from the lower range of 10 up to 70 for testing purposes. 
Successful cutting for letters on a 4" decal is best done under speeds of 120.

TIP: The blade pressure setting is related to using the right blade depth when setting up the blade. If on a test print you are using more than 180 as your pressure setting on regular vinyl consider moving the blade to a a greater cutting depth.

TIP: On mirrored vinyl (which is very thick) the cutting pressure was almost maxed out at 300 on a similar project. 

Step 2: Good Settings Produce Great Results

To get consistently good results you need to track the settings that you use. Many times you will want to jump right in and start cutting, but the best results will be obtained through multiple test cuts to dial in the right settings group.

A setting group will include

roller location (work holding)
vinyl type
weeding and post processing requirements

TIP: Line up the vinyl edges using both of the rulers on the vinyl cutter both in the front and the back.

Step 3: Direction Matters When Weeding : What to Do Before Weeding

Before you start weeding think about how it will be easiest to weed for best results.

Start at different angles to test weeding
make note of what letters pull away when weeding

The correct weeding angle which is unique to each vinyl piece will allow you to pull off the entire inverse image and use that as its own decal. This is not required, but the ability to use the weeded vinyl again demonstrates a great choice in your settings.

Step 4: Weeding the Inside of a Letter

Many times you will need to weed the inside of the letter. I suggest doing each vinyl decal one at a time and saving the weeded letter insides on a separate piece of vinyl backing for use if you can preserve the weeded portion in addition the main letters. The inside of the letter will come off best at an angle.

When weeding the inside of the letters start with the sharpest corner and attempt to fold the letter back on itself. 

TIP: take not of the location where the cut stops and starts and start with that portion to avoid lifting the letter away from the backing.

Step 5: Transfer Paper or Contact Sheet Usage and Application

When using transfer sheeting (which is used to transfer the vinyl to its final surface) make sure to keep the roll of the vinyl and the roll of the transfer sheeting in the same direction. If you apply the transfer sheeting at a 90 degree angle to the natural roll of the vinyl you will get bubbles and creases.

TIP: At this stage it is helpful when working solo on larger pieces to place the vinyl onto the transfer sheeting by unrolling the transfer sheeting with sticky side up and placing pre-cut sections of your weeded vinyl onto the upside down transfer sheeting.

Step 6: Hand Lettering Vs Typography

Hand lettering will produce a nice look that some people really like while others will say it is harder to read. The best results are obtained from a consistent approach to the letters. 

One technique to blend 2 approaches is to use a font for vector tracing to make your hand lettering appear more consistent and even. It is also helpful to do the hand lettering inside of a box to make sure the top and the bottoms are even. 

Typography (existing fonts) will give you the best most readable vinyl lettering for small, and medium size projects. 

Step 7: 5 Minutes Per Decal 15 Count Production Run in Black

To estimate how long it will take you to make a series of vinyl decals it is best to track your time from start to finish and divide by how many final pieces you created. When making vinyl decals it is a good target to make one every 10 minutes or about a dozen in a 2 hour period that includes all stages from design to printing and to final cutting. 

TIP: If an individual decal is taking more than 10 minutes to produce consider changing the technique or simplifying the weeding process to save time. Also consider using the weeded portion (the inverse image by placing it intact onto the vinyl backing) to get the most from your time.