A Case For The Desktop Vinyl Cutter

As far as desktop workbench fab tools go, it’s too easy to let 3D printers keep stealing the spotlight. I mean, who doesn’t appreciate that mechatronic “buzz” as our printer squirts a 3D CAD model into plastic life? While the 3D printer can take up a corner of my workbench, there’s still plenty of room for other desktop rapid-prototyping gadgets.

Today, I’d like to shed some light on vinyl cutters. Sure, we can start with stickers and perhaps even jumpstart an after-hours Etsy-mart, but there’s a host of other benefits besides just vinyl cutting. In fact, vinyl cutters might just be the unsung heroes of research in folding and papercraft.

Our Pen-Plotting Grandparents

A 1985 Roland DXY-1300 [YouTube]
Vinyl cutters are one baby step forward in the family tree of pen plotters and digital cutters. (Digital cutting and numerical control and the birth of CNC is an entire article unto itself!) Pen plotters arrived on-scene in the late 50s and early 60s. Rather than punch out a grid of pixels like modern images, which comes with a hefty memory pricetag, plotters traced out vector graphics, which simply took up less memory. In fact, memory was such a premium back in the day that one of the first published algorithms for CNC control of a pen-plotter [PDF] goes so far as to hightlight it’s efficiency “with respect to speed of execution and memory utilization.”

The actual transition from pen plotting into sign-making is vague, but, at some point, a handful of pen-plotting companies also started adding vinyl cutting to their repertoire. Their target audience ranged from everyday signmakers to aircraft giants like Boeing. Luckily, the math and CNC control for vinyl cutters were already a solved problem thanks to a lineage of pen-plotting.

Less-than Conventional Uses

“What else would I use it for?” It’s the age-old question holding us back from getting a vinyl cutter up-and running on our desktop. It’s so common that Make featured a sizeable list of 34 use-cases. Fear not! I had faced this question too. Rather than run through this list again though, I thought I’d pick a small handful and give them some real-world context. Here’s a taste from the community at large using them now.

Paint Masks

Stencils used to come from the cubbies of my teacher’s art supplies. Now I can make them at will for all sorts of precision paint jobs. Here, a few friends and I gloriously anointed our college rocket experiment with a vinyl stencil of our rocket’s name: “Hobbes.” Just after spray-painting, we quickly peeled off the vinyl to let the paint dry undisturbed. Let’s be honest: years of vandalism couldn’t make my paint skills this classy! There’s a computer at work here, and the vinyl cutter is the precision instrument to go from digital input to digital output.

Little did we know, it turns out that vanilla vinyl isn’t actually the best bet for this paint mask application. Typical vinyl has a pressure-sensitive adhesive. Sticking it down firmly to a surface with our hands kicks off this adhesion process, making it all-too-happy to tear up a recent paint job. Thankfully, a paint mask vinyl exists exclusively for getting around this issue.

Paper Costumes

For the uninitiated, papercraft costumes have become a smashing hit in the last few years. With an inexpensive software package called Pepakura, you too can start flattening 3D models into panels that you can print, cut, and reconstitute back into real life from folded paper. Here, Pepakura takes care of generating a vector graphic from you model, and the vinyl cutter actually eliminates one of the biggest pinch-points in this process: labeling and cutting out the paper. While mere mortals armed with vanilla inkjet printers will then need to don a pair of scissors to actually cut out the model, a vinyl cutter will cut everything out for us automatically.

Just how does the cutter work its magic? These days, many hobbyist vinyl cutters also come with a plastic “sticky” mat that will hold paper down so the cutting tool can lay down its pattern. Simply tack down a piece of cardstock onto this sheet and then load the mat. Within this domain there are two options for getting a crease pattern and labels on the individual pieces. Some modelers will print the design with a normal printer, align it to the cutting mat with registration marks, and cut the image from the printed paper. Others, with the right vinyl cutter model, can actually swap the blade for a pen and run two separate options: plot the fold pattern and labels; then, cut the pieces out. Turning the old Silhouette Cameo Vinyl Cutter into a plotter used to be a hack, but now plenty of third parties sell pen holders for various vinyl cutter brands.


A taste of [Sam Calisch’s] creasing endeavors
Remember those complicated origami pieces of yore? Wouldn’t it be nice to pre-crease those papers before our sloppy fingers put fold-after-fold in the wrong place? Now you can!

Possibly one of the most overlooked features of the vinyl cutter is simply not-cutting-completely-through our media. The path of the partial cuts become “score-lines,” which makes folding a cinch. Presto! What may have taken hours by hand now takes a mere matter of minutes–and the execution is flawless every time.

Sure, nothing is perfect. Here, scoring works well for folds on one side of the paper, but to get the full benefit, we’ll need to score both sides accordingly. While the vinyl cutter leads a quiet life among hackers, it’s a go-to tool in the folding research community. [Evgueni Filipov] is iterating variations of “zippered tubes” for deployable structural applications. [Cynthia Sung] is prototyping robots that fold themselves together.

Curved Scoring

Most of us have almost certainly folded up a paper plane or origami crane before. Most of these pieces involve straight creases. Boring, right? It turns out that, with some patience and finesse, it’s possible to put together models composed of curved folds. Unlike straight folds, curved folds are nigh impossible to get straight (whoop!) without some sort of reference. (A paper printout should do the trick.) To get a sense of how labor-intense this can be, have a go at this curved folding tutorial [PDF].

As far as putting curved creases into paper by hand goes, individual results may vary. Fortunately, with the paper-creasing vinyl cutter trick, we can spare ourselves hours of tension and cut to the chase by removing the manual effort of creasing entirely.  What may have been otherwise inaccessible for most has been tamed and democratized by a CNC creaser. It’s applications like these that make me take a deep breath and think: ah, what a marvelous digital age we now live in.

For the curious eager to jump into more curved folding, check out the works of [Cody Reisdorf] and a brief history by Erik and Martin Demaine.

Our Only Hope for Cutting Vinyl

Here on Hackaday, it’s so tempting to use the wrong tool to get the job done quickly. (I’m looking at all those in the audience with chipped teeth from a naughty history of wire stripping.) If you had a laser cutter and wanted to make some vinyl stickers, you could be forgiven for turning your remaining eye in that directioni. But burning through vinyl with a laser cutter will actually release chlorine gas which has the nasty side-effect of corroding laser optics and being fatal for humans. Here, precision burning vinyl wont make the cut.

After all of the folding and stencil-making uses listed above, it’s easy to forget to use the tool as it’s intended, but when it comes to cutting vinyl, the right tool is a vinyl cutter.


61 thoughts on “A Case For The Desktop Vinyl Cutter

    1. The Roland Stika SV-8 and I suspect others in the series also accept hpgl thrown over their /dev/lp0 emulated USB ports.
      Inkscape lets you save as .hpgl so “cat file.hpgl > /dev/lp0” is all you need under Linux to drive them.

        1. Most sign companies use a dedicated RIP program to communicate to their professional Printers/Plotters.

          I use SignLab 9.0 with VPM to RIP and cut at work, on a Mimaki CG-130 FX II and a Gerber HS-15+. But I can also direct cut straight from Signlab using HPGL on both machines over USB, if the file is too large (very seldom are files over the 20-30MB limit of the machine, and that is with a lot of curves or large label runs).

          Usually the only time my plotter errors out, is if the head gets caught on the side of the roll of vinyl when initializing it or it tries to feed a heavy roll of vinyl too fast.

          I’ve been around the sign industry most of my life. He started full time in 1998 when he bought his first cutter ( Ioline Studio 7, then we got 2 graphtecs FC-5100-75&130 and a Gerber GS-15+ before getting our current machines) after hand letering on the side since 1983. I graduated in 2006 and helped him until he retired, after I bought him out in 2014.

          1. I was lucky enough to get a job at a small vinyl/screen print/graphics shop doing the screen printing. After a few months the owner had me sit down and learn how to use Illustrator to design some easy vinyl cuts and screen print designs (and how to convert those designs to screen masks). After a couple of years I ended up doing almost all of the design work while he was in the back working the screen prints (he was such a perfectionist that he kinda preferred to be in the back making sure the finished product was perfect, rather than doing the design work).

            Ever since then I have always wished I could buy my own vinyl cutter (and especially one of the printer/cutters). Vinyl work was always a lot of fun for me. I kinda liked weeding the vinyl as a change of pace from sitting in front of the computer, and it offers a sort of Zen experience if you can get past the monotony of a large batch of difficult lettering. In any case, having a vinyl cuter opens up a lot of interesting options for a makerspace that nothing else can really accomplish satisfactorily.

      1. The COPY command works in any DOS or in a command prompt window in Windows to send PLT files directly to a plotter. For HPGL/2 that uses characters outside the standard ASCII set (HPGL original is pure ASCII) you’ll want to use the /B switch.

      2. I have cut vinyl with Inkscape and a few custom made files using the plotcut.sh script for many years now. (oldest I see is 2008)

        Export file as “newplot.sh”, click the “cut_newplot.sh” on the desktop, choose run in terminal. A window pops up showing an image of the file to be cut. If it is wrong, switch to the terminal and CTRL+C out of it, otherwise close the window and the plotter fires up. Saves an eps and hpgl to /plotfiles named by time and date for future refrence.

        Largest I see from this year is 19.9 megs. 8 paragraphs of text for a museum exhibit. Perhaps the buffer overflow is from one of the stika machines. I am using a 48″ graphtec plotter.

        If you want to try it, will certainly share what I’ve got.

        And if you can improve it… OH YEAH!

      1. You can make antennas out of anything. Remember tolerance like requirements are related to wavelength. So a +- .4 mm accurate drag cutting knife on a vinyl cutter is likely good enough for up to 3ghz (in low dielectric antennas). For frequencies below 300mhz, you need tolerances in the order of a few mm… So tape measures and a wire cutter are great.

        In frequencies below 30mhz, you are likely using matching network and electrically small Antennas, so tolerances are pretty lose.

        1. loose*

          It;’s interesting that to say ‘lose’ for ‘loose’ is now so common that you practically don’t come across the word ‘loose’ anymore I noticed. It’s a bit odd.

    1. The issue with cutting vinyl with a laser, is that vinyl includes chlorine as part of its chemistry. The chlorine is released when cutting it with a laser, and chlorine is very corrosive to metals. Consequently, it is generally not used, to avoid degrading the machine itself.

      1. I think you misunderstood my question. I was asking if there is an equivalent thin self adhesive flexible film that doesn’t contain PVC or anything else that releases chlorine under combustion. [DD] seemed to get what I meant and thinks there is.

    2. There is such a thing as PVC-free vinyl. I fellow I know bought a large roll for use in laser cutting. Don’t know about sources though, but he bought an entire roll/reel/whatever from 3M. It does exist.

    3. A ‘real’ vinyl cutter has a special little knife attachment, that you could buy separately, and then somehow build a mount to attach it next to the laser. Then you’d have a combined laser/vinyl cutter.

      1. the fumes from the heating of the god knows what kind of plastics, it is exactly like it was with the smoking or with the coal burning or with it is right now with the diesel or gas cars, i even think that in the future there will be some kind of health issue because of the radio waves

        1. “god knows what kind of plastics”

          MSDSs are a thing. Also, the toxicities of the fumes from various kinds of filament have been discussed ad nauseam all over the internet. You don’t even have to read you aren’t in to that, you can find it on YouTube. You certainly don’t have to be ‘god’ to find out what is/isn’t a safe and healthy way to use your printer. Do yourself a favor, stop guessing and just educate yourself.

          “it is exactly like it was with the smoking or with the coal burning or with it is right now with the diesel or gas cars”

          Because you used the past tense I assume you are talking about the early industrial revolution variety of coal burning. That was way worse than any of the things you mentioned. Also, we do still burn a lot of coal. Most electricity is generated that way. I’m not trying to defend a future of still burning coal but it is done a lot cleaner than it once was.

          Smoking has way more of an effect on the individual smoker and people who spend a lot of time in their vicinity than it does on the environment as a whole. Most of us however do not run our cars in enclosed spaces so the effect their is almost completely an environmental one. One is dangerous to individuals, the other has a cumulative danger for the planet.

          But.. you conflate all these things? This does not bode well for you actually having a valid point about anything.

          “i even think”

          Well.. we all have the right to thing whatever we want but that doesn’t mean everyone’s thoughts are actually correct or of any value.

          “that in the future there will be some kind of health issue because of the radio waves”

          There will be a health issue in the future that doesn’t exist now? Is our species going to evolve a sensitivity to radio waves? I suspect you mean that a health issue will be discovered. Sorry, it will not. Researchers have been trying very hard to prove a link between radio waves and health issues for decades. Smarter people than us have spent a whole lot of time and money on this. If there was a link they would have found it.

          Do you think increasing amounts of technology will get us to a point where we are exposed to more RF finally reaching a point where it does affect our health? Nope, wrong again. Newer technology is taking us to lower power levels, not higher ones. The highest powered transmitters are already museum pieces.

          Of course any internet argument wouldn’t be complete without the obligatory anecdotal ‘evidence’. I have personally warmed my cold hands over a dummy load dissipating the output of a 15.5KW transmitter on multiple occasions. almost 20 years later I am still going strong!

          This sounds to me like the same sort of “I can’t be bothered to learn about things” therefore “things just cannot be or are not known” and “the unknown is scary and dangerous” sort of argument from ignorance crap we see from anti-vaxers and young earth creationists.

          1. we can not know for sure how things are working exactly, anybody who is telling you he does, is a crook for sure :) so please don’t say to me or to the internet, that is perfectly safe if you are melting plastic in near vicinity, how do you know for sure what the chinese are packing with the filament? :) they even say don’t eat a burnt food because its carcinogenic, and yes the cigarette example was very good because once they thought it is very ok, even doctors suggested some brand :) then now we know the absolute horror of it, so the common sense is that do not burn/melt plastic near you :) that’s it, as for the radio wave thing, there are some research for example that the cell-phone is causing brain tumor, again the common sense is that i will not put a radiating source near to my brain, because i will need it for a long time, so i never got any cell-phone (if i ever need one, i will ask for it :) about the car gasses, it is really a shame that even now, when we have wonderful technical things about the electric motors and batteries, i still need to breath that shit form the cars!

          2. “we can not know for sure how things are working exactly”

            If you believe that then why are you even here? If you don’t believe that we can know things then how can you know how to build or ‘hack’ something? You say you are going to need your brain for a long time. For what? For not knowing things? If you care so much about it then use it! Learn about those things that concern you.

            “so please don’t say to me or to the internet, that is perfectly safe if you are melting plastic in near vicinity”

            Ok. I won’t. Why would I? I didn’t say that before either! I said you CAN know what it is and what the risk is. People have been working with these same plastics in factories for decades. This isn’t new stuff. Do some basic research and take the necessary precautions.

            “how do you know for sure what the chinese are packing with the filament”

            If you are concerned about that then buy your filament from a brand you trust. How do you know what kind of meat that shady looking street vendor is selling you? I guess you just shouldn’t eat any food sourced from anywhere then?!?

            “we have wonderful technical things about the electric motors and batteries”

            Those batteries are just short lived boxes of future pollution. The motors are only as efficient as they are because they are made with rare earth elements obtained by a whole lot of strip mining. And, the whole car depends on electricity, mostly produced by burning coal and distributed by a grid that wasn’t optimized to be used that way and would immediately collapse if it had to supply the energy needs of any significant portion of the population’s commuting needs.

            Yah it’s a shame that we don’t all just trade in our internal combustion engines today isn’t it?

          3. “yes the light is a radio wave also, but the big difference is the frequency”

            That’s right. And which light has been linked to cancer? Ultraviolet. That’s the high end. Where do radiowaves fall on the spectrum? Way, way down below visible light, not above it. And yet many many scientists have looked for that link. A few studies did show slightly higher numbers for the most frequent cellphone users but not enough to really establish that it wasn’t coincidence. The majority however found no link at all.

            Likewise, no one has been able to even suggest a mechanism by which RF might cause a tumor. Types of radiation which do cause tumors do so by punching holes through a person’s DNA. RF is known not to do this. If it did cause a tumor it would have to be through some wholly unknown mechanism that no one has ever observed before. Sure, there probably are mechanisms for causing cancer that have not been discovered yet but why single out RF as potentially being one of them? If you must invoke the unknown then anything can cause cancer. Maybe arguing with technophobes is going to cause me cancer. Maybe I should stop. Or.. maybe not arguing with technophobes is what causes cancer. OMG, what shall I do? Ahhhhh!

          4. you can know things up until a certain level, and there is a strong unknown with every little thing in our lives, just one example, in the beginning of 20th century the absolute top medical scientist (i mean absolute top, because if you have some problem with your health and had enough money then you can go to the absolute best doctor in the field, but you can not go to a better one, because that doctor is not exist yet) so these doctors thought that it is very good for your headache if you inhale some mercury fume :) so that doctor at that time know everything about the mercury fume, but still caused more harm than good to his patients, so my only point is that, during your life, you need to develop some kind of warning system about the things that you get in contact with, as for the meat i eat, i only buy it from my butcher and try to avoid the shady ones, but i also know even if i ate a bad one, it can not cause a too big problem for me, but when there was the chernobyl disaster even we was far away, my family won’t consumed any lettuce because of the radioactive poisoning, i’ve seen many who brought lettuce from the store, but i know that it is a big risk, yes i know many worker working in the plastic factory and i also know it can be dangerous, there are many scandals you can read in where the factory workers getting real sick because of the chemicals and it doesn’t matter how well they know the process itself, something new come along and then you got the cancer, buy why??? it’s easy, because you are worked in a chemical factory :) so yes, me and my brain try to work elsewhere :) as for your limited knowledge with the efficient electric motors, i can tell you that you can build an efficient motor without the rare earth element, try the induction motors or the switched reluctance motors, for the batteries i can agree with you that we still need to develop a bit, concerning the used ones as waste, as for the radio waves as far as i know the problem is that the uhf, used in the cell-phones, is penetrating into the brain and heating it, just like with the microwave oven, and they found that it is not so good thing, but also the low 50/60hz can be dangerous, there is a strong link between the electrical transmission lines and the cancer occurrence near by, so my point is better safe than sorry :)

          5. Don’t worry alfcoder, some of us have half a brain and understand what you are trying to say. And appreciate the point, and know there are myriads of examples of your point.

            As for the argument put out to you of ‘educating yourself’, I think that if you do some research you’d be freaking astounded by how many materials we have been using and are using are not properly investigated and only very basic simplistic toxicity determinations are done, often ignoring the long term and small doses effects completely, probably because it’s too ‘unsettling’ for the industry to do such research (a conclusion I base on the time that goes by without any such research in compounds that are used massively).

          6. @whatnot – Let’s reel this conversation back into where it started.

            I was responding to the assertion that one should not have a 3d printer on their desktop because it is toxic, ‘god knows what kind of plastics’ are in the filament and a likening of 3d printers to smoking, car exhaust and coal burning.

            I did mention taking precautions. It is common knowledge that 3d printers should be operated with sufficient ventilation. Does this mean not on a desktop? Well.. how many windows do you have in the room with your desk. No doubt that varies so general statements are going to be incorrect. Another valid option of course would be to use an enclosure and cycle the air through a charcoal filter. That is not a very hard thing to build. (heat it and get better prints too)

            Then the ‘god knows what part’. There might be a point to that if you are talking about buying from random Ebay sellers. If you are worried then buy name brand. A well known named company is not going to want to kill their reputation by selling mislabeled, contaminated or even sub-quality filament. That would cost them money in the long run.

            There is also an argument about the limits of human knowledge here. Certainly there are still gaps. There probably always will be. We know so much about health, what hurts/helps us and how things work. So many people have dedicated there lives into studying this for centuries now. It has made our lives much better. Take a walk through an old cemetery and read the ages off of the gravestones if you don’t believe me. You can point out things that people thought were healthy but turned out to be deadly all day long. Where you see an example of science failing I see a success. Science is how we discovered that those things hurt us! Where did people get the idea those things were good? Old superstitions? Tobacco industry lies? Does the 3d printer industry have that kind of power?

            @alfcoder, you mention scandals in plastic factories. Certainly in the earlier days of the industrial revolution people were exposed to a lot of bad stuff just because nobody knew any better. Today isn’t it mostly a scandal when people get hurt this way? It isn’t because we don’t know that this chemical or that is bad. It’s because scandalous factory owners and management use materials they already know they are not supposed to or use insufficient safety practices in order to make more money. Again, we started talking about personally owned 3d printers. It’s up to you to chose the right materials and follow the right safety practices. Why would you not do this when it is also your body that is harmed if you do not?

            How can anyone say there has not been long term exposure studies regarding ABS or nylon? How many years have people been running injection molding machines in factories using those materials? Either they have increased cancer rates or they don’t. Not that that is a fair comparison. Spending 40+ hours a week for about 50 years of ones life in a building full of industrial sized plastic melting machines vs occasionally popping out a little one-off print on a hobby printer are very different scales.

            Then there are those awful comparisons.

            3d printer vs smoking
            Smoking is an addiction. When the addiction has fully taken hold a person will usually smoke 1-3 packs a day every day without exception. Also, they are purposely sucking the smoke right into their bodies. How often does a hobbyist use a 3d printer? How likely are they to stick their faces right up to the extruder and take a drag?

            3d printer vs car exhaust
            go start your car if you have one
            hold your hand near the exhaust (not too close, don’t burn yourself)
            feel the pressure, imagine the volume of exhaust that car is producing
            Imagine a printer producing so much!
            I really wanted to find a world estimate for the number of cars on the road but I couldn’t. What I did keep finding was about 250 million just in the US. How many 3d printers are there?

            3d printer vs coal (modern)
            Most of us don’t burn coal at home any more thankfully. We do still use electricity though and most is produced by burning coal. This makes coal the number one non-natural source of greenhouse gasses on our planet. It is the main reason that the Earth is warming.
            How does 3d printing compare to this?

            3d printer vs coal (past)
            Industrialized cities used to rain coal ash like it was some sort of natural weather phenomenon. Coal in England is famous for actually directing the evolution of the local moth population from light to dark colored. Are 3d printers going to do anything like that?

        2. What radio waves? The ones from the LED’s? Because light is the same sort of stuff. For that matter, dc current, which most printers use almost exclusively, does not create the sort of emf that say, a florescent light would. You know little to nothing. None of the rf a printer uses, even a WiFi equipped one, is more than a watt of radiated power, and thanks to inverse cube, the effective power falls off so fast even if it’s not blocked by a metal case it’s laughable.

          1. not from the printer, i was talked about the radio waves in general, and yes the light is a radio wave also, but the big difference is the frequency, for example if i put some natural light into your eyes, if it is not so bright, you can tolerate it very well, but if i put some uv light into your eyes, then maybe you will say nothing at the moment, but at the night you will not be able to sleep because you eyes will be burning :)

  1. The silhouette desktop vinyl cutters will import DXF files, which makes them easier to use for hack-type purposes. Also vinyl labels look really, really nice on things and a cutter makes them effortless. It’s a great tool to have in your repertoire, especially if giving things a finished and professional look is important to you.

  2. Another use: screen printing. Cut a stencil out of iron-on vinyl, affix it to your screen, and iron it on, of course, then put it on your frame and you’re done. Takes less time than photo-developing a screen. It has limitations but if you’re only doing a few colors and they’re mostly separated then it works like a charm.

    1. 2nt – I used a vinyl cutter to print a stencil and then used lemon juice, salt, a couple of 9v batteries, q-tips, and alligator clip leads to put a nice, etched monogram on a Yeti cup. (Sorry, no Arduino or even 555.) :-)

  3. Hey! I’m finally making progress on getting my 3d printer assembled. I still see a laser cutter and a CNC router looming somewhere in the uncertain future. Now you are trying to convince me that yet another tool is necessary?

  4. Yesss… Finally a reasonable HaD OP about Vinyl Cutters. IMO cheap Vinyl Cutters are probably the most Un-Hacked low-hanging fruit out there. More please on this subject HaD. In-fact I think HaD should Drive the movement to hack these devices! You have the POWER HaD, use it…

    1. I was just about to post the exact same thing. As far as bang for the buck, it is hard to beat inexpensive vinyl cutters — quick, easy, affordable and they rival the accuracy of laser-printers in many cases. There are even plotting programs that will pre-orient the drag blade before straight cuts, and compensate for the blade’s trailing dynamics on curved sweeps so that you get the best possible accuracy.

      Here’s a video of a quick “test hack” that I did to establish the feasibility of putting a laser in where the knife normally goes. Basically, it’s feasible, so you can hack one of these to be a low-cost system for simple laser-etching, or maybe as a way to expose photo-sensitive PCBs or even as a way to expose photo-curing epoxies for microfluidics.

      I did not read all comments, but if no none has mentioned Pepakura .. it’s worth checking out: http://www.tamasoft.co.jp/pepakura-en/

      Vinyl cutters rule!

  5. I used my vinyl cutter to cut out fuselage shapes in balsa for a model plane. Getting the shapes from a pdf into the cutting software was a pain, as the software I used is targeted towards crafts, not “precision engineering”.

    1. Hmm, @ftkalcevic what type of vinyl cutter are you using? I recently picked up a Silhouette Cameo. After buying the $25 software update, I was able to natively import and trace vector graphics live SVGs, which is a huge win. What’s more, I can selectively cut by color, enabling me to actually draw origami crease patterns and then cut them all in the same machine. (Not to sound like a champion for the Silhouette brand, but for sub-$300, this feature is giant win.)

      1. A KNK Max. The Make-the-Cut software that came bundled, doesn’t support many 3rd party file formats. I ended up getting KNK-Studio, which is a lite version of SignLabs software, which was able to import pdfs and dxfs.

    1. That’s a big project to dive into without any experience. It all depends on the details, or rather how detailed of a design you want. And regular vinyl won’t do much to protect a laptop from anything but scratches..

      1. I was thinking a big square with rounded courners for the top lid, then some palm wrest covers. Those would be a bit more of a challenge to mock up but I could get some help from our marketing person who has experience with using inDesign. Im sure I can hack my way using the “cut and try” method. My biggest concern is material selection and the time it would take to cut and apply them all. I could do a 15″ desktop cutter for a few hundred, or spend up to $1500 on a 24″ roll base cutter. We would probably get some use of it after for custom signage. As for materials, I am thinking a 5mil thick film, as that is what decalGirls uses. I have heard reference to films that use pressure sensitive/ activated adhesive so they are easier to align and apply. Unfortunatly, the only brand of film I have seen in passing has been 3m ScotchCal changeable graphic film. ballpark quote from Decalgirl to do it is approaching $3k, so that is why I am looking to do in house!

    2. I know this is an old thread, and far too late for your project. But there is an alternative that might be viable if it’s an ongoing thing.

      I’m talking about die cuttig. Basically a special metal Edge is hammered into a piece of plywood. The dye makers charge by the inch, but it is not outrageous. You lay the material to be cut onto a surface. And you lay your dye on top. Hit it with a hammer until it’s all cut.

      For serious production work, you use a special press which helps make it easy to cut through multiple layers of your material.

  6. I had a mini vinyl cutter that I used to cut lettering and graphics in reverse. the graphics are applied onto the inside of lexan bodies of RC cars. The racers would then spray paint the inside of the car body.

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