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A vinyl cutter is a type of computer-controlled machine. Small vinyl cutters look like computer printers. The computer controls the movement of a sharp blade. This blade is used to cut out shapes and letters from sheets of thin self-adhesive plastic (vinyl).
A symbol / label can be produced using a Vinyl Cutter such as a ‘Sticker Machine’ or a ‘Craftrobo’. These machines are controlled by a computer and operate similar to a printer. Essentially they cut out shapes in adhesive vinyl. The vinyl can then be stuck onto almost any surface.
A vinyl cutter (or vinyl plotter) is a computer-controlled plotting device with a blade instead of a pen. A vector based design is created in a software program (usually Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw) and then sent to the cutter where it cuts along the vector paths laid out in the design. The cutter is capable of moving the blade on an X and Y axis over the material, cutting it into any shape imaginable. Since the vinyl material comes in long rolls, projects with significant length like banners or billboards can be easily cut as well. The one major limitation with vinyl cutters is that they can only cut shapes from solid colors of vinyl. A design with multiple colors must have each color cut separately and then layered on top of each other as it is applied to the substrate. Also, since the shapes are cut out of solid colors, photographs and gradients cannot be reproduced with a standalone cutter.
Despite the limitations in the design process, the durability of solid, cut vinyl and its resistance to fading far outweigh any negatives in common applications. Also, in addition to the capabilities of the cutter itself, the adhesive vinyl comes in a wide variety of colors and materials including gold and silver foil, vinyl that simulates frosted glass, holographic vinyl, reflective vinyl, thermal transfer material, and even clear vinyl imbedded with real 24 carat gold leaf! (Often used in the lettering on fire trucks and rescue vehicles.)
How it works
The vinyl cutter uses a small knife to precisely cut the outline of a picture into a sheet or piece of vinyl. The knife moves side to side and turns, while the vinyl is moved beneath the knife. The results from the cut process is an image cut into the material. The material is then 'weeded' where the excess parts of the picture are removed. It is possible to remove the positive parts, which would give a negative sticker, or you could weed the negative parts, giving a positive sticker. Removing the letters would be like removing the positive, giving a negative image of the word, etc.
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The vinyl cutter is an entry level machine for every signage business. It is essential for sign making. Computer designed vector files with patterns and letters are directly cut on the roll of vinyl which you have mounted and feed into the vinyl cutter, through USB or serial cable. Vinyl cutters are mainly used to make signs, banners and advertisements. Advertisements seen on automobiles and vans are often made with vinyl cut letters. Vinyl cutters can also be used to cut out shapes from thin cardboard.
In addition to sign business, vinyl cutters are also commonly used for apparel decoration. To decorate apparel, your vector design needs to be cut in mirror image, or reversed, weeded, and then heat applied using a commercial heat press for professional results, or a hand iron for home use.
The most successful businesses will use their vinyl cutter to offer both signage and custom apparel.