Getting Started With the Vinyl Cutter

NOTE: This is a little less of a project and more of a guide on how to get started using the MakerSpace vinyl cutter. We'll have more project-based tutorials coming to you soon!

The vinyl cutter is one of the tools we've had the longest, and one of the easiest tools to bring in for a small MakerSpace - and we are very happy with our latest vinyl cutter! It's very reliable and since it works a lot like the laser cutter, it's a great learning tool for the MakerSpace.

What makes this machine so awesome?

  • It can cut vinyl, when the laser cutter can't (no toxic gases here!).
  • It's cheap to use, with a $0.75 piece of vinyl than a $10 piece of plywood.
  • Laser cutter files can easily be turned into vinyl stickers, and vice versa.

Step 1: Create a New VinylMaster Cut Document

Like many pieces of equipment at the MakerSpace, the vinyl cutter has a program of its own to help control it: VinylMaster Cut.

Double-click the VinylMaster Cut icon on your computer desktop to launch your vinyl cutting software. After the program starts, click on "New Document" for a blank vinyl-cutting canvas.

You're ready to start designing! Today, we will show you how to create a new text design from scratch, and give you tips on tracing or creating vector designs.

Step 2: Typing Text

Vinyl-cut text is pretty popular at the MakerSpace! People love to cut them to celebrate their favorite fandom with a quote, mark their bedroom door with their name, or add some style to an office wall or a car. Here's how to do it!

  1. Click the Text Tool
  2. Click anywhere to start typing text
  3. Choose a font from drop-down menu
  4. Choose a size from drop-down menu. Other option: leave font size as is, resize whole object.
  5. You're ready to cut your sticker!

There are many options to choose from for text: play with the size and fonts available, see what you like and move on to the next step!

Step 3: ​Positioning Your Vinyl

Positioning your vinyl sheet in the vinyl cutter is pretty straightforward:

  • Pull up the clamp lever in the back of the vinyl cutter
  • Feed your vinyl through the front of the vinyl cutter: make sure your sheet has at least two sets of wheels on it
  • Straighten your vinyl, making sure it's parallel with the ridges on the front of the cutter (you can also straighten it with the rulers on the front of the vinyl cutter)
  • Push down the clamp lever in the back of the vinyl cutter

Next, it's time to tell your vinyl cutter where to start cutting from! Here's how to do it:

  • Press the MOVE button on your vinyl cutter: the screen will read MOVE X Y.
  • Move the blade cartridge to the corner of your sheet with the UP, DOWN, LEFT and RIGHT arrows
  • Push the ENTER button when you are happy with your cartridge holder position: the screen will switch back to Strength and Speed.

Your vinyl is positioned: time to run a cutting test!

Step 4: Running a Cutting Test

Now that everything is set up, it's time to test your vinyl cutter settings and find out if they work for your material:

  • Draw a small circle on your workspace - we usually like to make it about 10 millimeters or half an inch. Nothing elaborate, we're just trying to see if your settings cut!
  • Select the cercle you just drew.
  • Click on the Cut icon.
  • In the new Cutting window, click Cut Now and confirm.

Signs that your cutting settings are correct:

  • The blade does a "kiss cut" that only went through the top layer of your vinyl.
  • Your vinyl comes off the carrier sheet very easily, without any jagged edges.
  • The carrier sheet hardly feels like it's been scored.

Signs that your cutting settings are not correct:

  • The blade barely cuts through the vinyl.
  • Your vinyl detaches with jagged edges.
  • The blade cut through the vinyl and the carrier sheet.

If you're getting any of these problems, then you need to adjust your vinyl cutter settings! Play with the speed and strength settings until you get a nice clean edge and an unscored carrier sheet.

NOTE: Is testing time-consuming? Sure! But it's also the best way to make sure you won't waste material - not a huge deal when you are cutting basic sticker vinyl, but you will be pretty happy to know how to run these tests when you're using Heat Transfer Vinyl or more expensive specialty vinyl sheets.

Step 5: Area Tests and Resizing

Another way to waste material is by (not) realizing your design is too big for your piece of vinyl: that happens a lot when you are reusing vinyl scraps from previous projects, or when you are trying to use as much of a vinyl sheet as possible. An area test will show you how your sheet of vinyl behaves in the cutter. Here's how to do it:

  1. Load your final design if you haven't already.
  2. Select your design.
  3. Click on the Cut icon.
  4. In the Cut window, click on Area Test.
  5. Click Yes to proceed

The vinyl cutter will move your vinyl sheet up and down, then move the blade cartridge left and right, going as far as your design needs it, and briefly touch the blade cartridge down so you can see where it is.

If the blade cartridge touched vinyl everywhere, great! If not, you can resize your design two ways:

  • by hand with the corner or side hangles
  • by typing in your target size.

Once you're ready, run another area test: if it's successful, you're finally ready to cut!

Step 6: Cutting Your Design

On your vinyl cutter, change your Speed and Force settings by using the corresponding arrows. We usually recommend:

  • for regular sticker vinyl, 50 Speed and 216 Force.
  • for iron-on vinyl, 75 Speed and 212 Force (you might also need a change of blade - check with your facilitators).

Finally, click on the Cut icon and check if you need any of the following options:

  • Mirroring will flip your design horizontally. Very important if you're going to put up your sticker on the inside of a window!
  • Weed box will cut a box around your design so you don't have to struggle with the whole sheet when it's time to clean the excess vinyl.
  • Registration marks will create marks to help you line up vinyl layers on top of each other. It's definitely an advanced feature for experienced designers and outside the scope of this tutorial - but at least you will know it's here when you need it!

When you're ready, click on Cut Now and confirm! When the vinyl cutter has finished cutting, lift up the clamp lever and take out your vinyl sheet: we will show you how to clean up or "weed" your design in the next step.

Step 7: Weeding Your Design

Now that your design has been cut, we can clean it up by removing the excess vinyl, or "weeding" it.

You can use the pick tools and the X-acto blades next to the vinyl cutter for weeding. If you need more space and light, feel free to move to one of the bigger tables in the MakerSpace!

Don't feel like you have to weed your whole sheet in one long peel off the vinyl sheet. Weeding also means:

  • breaking down the excess vinyl into smaller pieces with cuts in strategic places.
  • protecting fragile or tiny parts of your design with cuts that will stop them from moving or tearing.
NOTE: Weeding can take a while, but don't rush it! If you spend the time you need to clean up your design, it will look that much better when it's done.

Step 8: Transfering Your Design

Now that your text has been cut and weeded, it's time to prepare it for final application using transfer tape:

  • Cut off your design from the rest of the sheet with a pair of scissors
  • Put it face down on the transfer tape.
  • Flatten it in place with our rollers or squeegee.

When you're ready to transfer your text to the final surface:

  • Peel off the carrier sheet from the back.
  • Apply your transfer tape and vinyl on a clean surface.
  • Squeegee your design nice and flat (use the roller if you're at the MakerSpace, or anything like a plastic card).
  • Peel off the transfer tape, working from one side your sticker to the other.
NOTE: Does it look like your vinyl is not sticking to the surface as you peel the transfer tape off? It's OK, just put the transfer back down gently, squeegee some more and try again!

Step 9: Frequently Asked Questions

Can I pick the color of my design?

Yes and no! You can design something with a specific color in mind, but since the vinyl cutter doesn't print anything, it will come down to the vinyl color you chose! If you need a specific color, check the Friends of the Library Bookstore at Central Resource Library to see if you can find what need - you can buy by the sheet - or shop around at your favorite crafts stores or online.

Can I prepare designs ahead of time?

Absolutely! You can use free software like Inkscape, or commercial software like Illustrator to make your design at home. On top of that, any big design with clear shapes and bold colors is pretty easy to trace in VinylMaster Cut, so you might be able to get away with something you made in Photoshop for example.

  • If you use Inkscape or Illustrator, save your designs as Plain SVG format or Enhanced Meta File, and check which one looks better in VinylMaster Cut.
  • If you use Photoshop, save your design with a transparent background and as a PNG picture.

And of course if you need any help, ask your MakerSpace facilitators!

Can I use a roll of vinyl instead of vinyl sheets?

It might work...depending on the size of the roll! We've seen people use the kind of rolls you can find in craft stores (around 48 inches long) with little to no problem, if you give your roll enough space between the wall and the back of the vinyl cutter. Of course you could go bigger - much bigger! - but the heavier the roll, the harder it will be for your vinyl to move reliably in the vinyl cutter.

Can I cut anything with texture, like glitter or fur vinyl?

It probably won't work well. People have tried before, and it never really worked out: textured vinyl tends to resist or dull the cutter blade and makes it very hard to get clean cuts. But you can find (and easily cut!) faux-textured printed vinyls at craft stores!

I have another question and it's not listed there!

No problem! Use this page to contact us over the phone, email or text and we will get back to you as soon as possible.

Step 10: What's Next?

Did we mention the vinyl cutter and laser cutter are very much like each other? Because of that, both of them work great with vector designs. You can make your own using Inkscape or Adobe Illustrator, or look them up from your favorite search engine by adding "SVG" or "vector" to your image search requests.

You can also import from a regular, "raster" picture and use VinylMaster Cut's "Vectorize" tool to trace it for you - but some pictures work better than others:

  • Bigger pictures will give you better vector traces, since they will have more detail built in
  • Pictures with high contrast give you better vector traces - extra points for black designs on white or transparent backgrounds!
  • .PNG and .JPG file formats are your friends if you can find them - but no big deal if you can't.

Once you feel comfortable using vector designs, take it to the next level using layered vinyl designs for multi-colored stickers. Good luck!

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