Did you know that decorative and informative decals have been around since 1750? Simon Francois Ravenet created the first decal using heated copper plates, coloring and tissue paper. This method quickly became popular for decorating fancy dishes for rich people.
The process was time-consuming, but the result was often beautiful. In the 1890s, Duplex Paper hit the scene. The two-part paper included a top layer of tissue paper and a bottom layer with paper that was stiff and thicker. This innovation meant decal printers could work faster and produce more.
Vinyl hit the market in 1956 in the form of a pressure-sensitive film that was easy to peel. Small technological advances continued until the late 1990s when high-quality printers began to reach consumers. Today, vinyl decals are popular among business owners as methods of advertising on vehicles or in windows. Others use a vinyl cutter to create their own designs such as stickers to decorate personal items. Check out these tips for getting started with vinyl cutting as a hobby or business opportunity.
1. Choose the Right Vinyl Cutter to Meet Your Needs
Choosing the right vinyl cutter is essential for creating designs you’re happy with. First, consider the drive motor. This motor is what powers the roller and moves the cutter’s blade across your designs. There are two types of motors.
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- Stepper Motors: A stepper motor is mechanical. It uses gears to move across your design in tiny increments. While this method is old technology, it is also the more affordable option. However, keep in mind that stepper motors can be noisy and often aren’t precise.
- Servo Motors: A servo motor is digital. It uses an encoder that translates your instructions into binary code (a code comprised of nothing but zeros and ones). Servo motors are more precise and quieter; also, they are better at maintaining a straight line on the vinyl. These motors are usually more expensive but worth the price, especially if you hope to sell your designs.
The size of your cutter matters as well. Tiny decals, such as those used in scrapbooks, work well with an entry-level cutter. If your designs are larger than those used in a scrapbook but smaller than 10 feet long, opt for a desktop cutter. If you intend to make large decals for walls or vehicles, you’ll need a larger cutter.
Consider other features as well. A vinyl cutter with media cut-off makes it easier to end your jobs with clean edges, and an adjustable pinch roller allows you to customize the amount of pressure applied, which makes it easier to work with different materials. Don’t forget to research the warranty as well.
2. Purchase High-Quality Software
When you purchase your vinyl cutter, it will probably come with its own software that includes basic designs and templates. This software is a good way to learn how to use your machine and practice your design-making skills, but if you want to create truly high-quality designs, you’ll need to learn how to use high-quality design software.
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You have probably heard of Adobe Illustrator. It is a great tool for creating your designs. CorelDraw and AutoCAD are popular options as well. If you go with Adobe, be sure not to confuse the Illustrator version with Photoshop. Photoshop works for graphics, not vector illustrations. Vinyl cutters cannot transfer Photoshop’s dots and pixels into a usable design.
3. Gather Your Other Supplies
It is important to purchase the rest of your supplies and set up a workspace before you begin designing. You don’t want to be in the middle of a project only to discover you’re missing a vital piece of equipment. This basic checklist will get you started.
This might seem like a no-brainer, but an increasing number of people are doing everything on their phones these days. If you don’t regularly use a computer, you may need to purchase one. You can choose Mac or PC, but PC is more affordable and creates results that are just as good.
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You may need a scanner and a printer. You will need a scanner if you intend to draw your own art rather than using templates for every project. This way, you can scan your work into the computer to turn it into a decal. If you intend to sell your designs, you’ll also need a traditional desktop printer so that you can print shipping labels and instructions.
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You’ll need a variety of small shop tools to make your job easier. A cutting mat will protect your tables and counters, and a metal cutting ruler ensures you get a perfect measurement. A traditional wooden ruler is a good idea as well because it helps you create straight cuts on smaller projects. You’ll also need squeegees, X-acto knives, a burnishing tool, and tweezers.
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Of course, you’ll need vinyl rolls. There is a wide variety to choose from, so consider the design you want to make and how long you want it to last. Then make sure to read reviews from previous customers. For example, if you’re decorating your child’s backpack for school, the design only needs to last a year, but if you’re decorating a bedroom, you’ll want the decal to last much longer.
4. Think About the Variety of Designs You Can Create
Before you start creating your designs, consider what you’re making them for. You can create vinyl decals for practically anything, but they are most often found on bikes, skateboards, laptops or cars. Some people use them to decorate backpacks, label jars or as art on windows or walls. If you intend to make multiples cuts of the same design of decal, group the projects together. This way, you won’t have to make as many adjustments to your machine and software between projects, which will save time and prevent the possibility of mistakes.
5. Learn How to Weed Your Vinyl
The term “weeding vinyl” refers to removing extra pieces from your design after it’s printed. The process can be tricky and time-consuming, especially if you are working with small, detailed designs. Luckily, you can make the process easier.
Start by laying the full piece of vinyl on your table and begin the weeding process at the top right, working toward the bottom left of your design. If you are working with designs smaller than one-half inch, tape out the entire design first, which will help it to come up in one piece. Place it with the sticky side facing up on the weeding area, using clamps to keep it from moving around. This helps to prevent alignment issues.
When weeding your vinyl, only cut the border. Avoid cutting any lines unless they are separating your groupings. Be extra careful when working with small openings, such as holes in the middle of letters or numbers. From there, you can use transfer tape to cover your design the way you normally would. Once covered, remove the backing paper as usual. If done properly, you’ll be able to remove the excess vinyl and transfer tape in one fell swoop.
Hint: After you finish the cutting process, freeze the vinyl for an hour. The cold temperature shrinks the vinyl, which makes it easier to weed it.
6. Network With Other People
Even if you only intend to do vinyl cutting as a hobby, you can find excellent ideas, swap tips and make friends if you network. A quick search on Google will bring up plenty of blogs by people who make vinyl designs as a hobby or as a source of income. There are also groups on Facebook, hashtags you can follow on Instagram or Twitter, and even forums dedicated to vinyl cutting. Check out Pinterest as well. Searching “vinyl cutting” pulls up hundreds of helpful pins and boards. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Positive feedback and constructive criticism are important for improvement, especially if you want to turn your hobby into a business.
7. Understand the Law
If you plan to sell your designs, you’ll need to understand the local, state and federal laws regulating small businesses, as well as the laws surrounding trademarks and copyrights. In almost all cases, you cannot use someone else’s name or artwork to create your own designs, even if you heavily alter them. If you do want to use someone else’s work as a jumping off point, you’ll either need to find art that has a creative commons license which allows for resale, or you’ll need to ask the artist’s permission and sign a contract with him or her.
In terms of running a small business, you may need to obtain a commercial business license. Since your business will mean you are self-employed, you’ll be responsible for your own taxes. The IRS suggests that small business owners pay estimated taxes each quarter to avoid large bills or fines in April. In some areas, you might also need to purchase business insurance, and if you ever hire employees, you will need to pay minimum wages (at least) and might need to purchase workers’ compensation insurance or provide health benefits for your employees. If you are just starting out, this is all probably far down the line, but it doesn’t hurt to start thinking about it now, so there are no surprises.
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Using vinyl cutters to create stickers, decals, t-shirts and a range of other products can be a fun hobby or a lucrative business. The key is not to get discouraged. Just like anything else, perfecting your methods will require trial and error and take time as you learn a new skill. Don’t be afraid to ask experienced designers or vinyl cutters for help when you need it. When it comes to new design ideas, remember that inspiration can pop up anywhere. With the right supplies and a creative mind, you are well on your way to becoming an established vinyl designer.