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Getting Started With Vinyl Cutting

Introduction to Vinyl Cutting


We have put together this section for those who are just starting out in this exciting area to ease the learning curve and to assist in getting you up and running a little quicker. The information supplied here is however just a guide and further research and testing may be required.


What will you need


Some flex films (Vinyl)

A vinyl cutter

A computer with some graphics packages, like SignMaster, SignCut, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, Artcut, Flexisign or other equivalent packages.

A heat press


What you need to know


Firstly, it is important to understand the difference between bitmaps and vector graphics. Bitmap (or raster graphics) are made up of pixels (dots) and can be saved in a variety of file formats. We are all familiar with this type of graphic as it is the most common way to store images. Jpeg or .jpg files are just one of many bitmap formats out there that we use to store anything from our company logos to our photos. Unfortunately these files cannot be used for vinyl cutting.


The file type required for vinyl cutting are vector files. Vectors differ from bitmaps in that they are not made up of pixels, but rather mathematically defined curves and shapes and therefore also have the added benefit that they can be enlarged without loss of quality as the curves and shapes are recalculated when enlarged.


While bitmap files often serve as a starting point, they will need to be converted to vector format so they can be used for vinyl cutting and there are different ways of achieving this. The method used will be determined by the resolution of the bitmap and or complexity of the design/image.

This is most commonly done in CorelDraw or Adobe Illustrator,  although there are other software packages that could also be used. Firstly you could try the automatic tracing facilities in these packages to see if you can get  a usable result, image trace in Illustrator or power trace in CorelDraw. Quality and resolution of the jpg and complexity of the image may affect the successful outcome. Best to google/youtube the function for the software you are using to familiarise yourself with its operation and limitations. The file may need some editing to fix problematic areas.


Should the automatic trace feature not produce a usable result, you would need to trace the design "by hand" using the appropriate tools in your chosen software package. Now that we have a usable vector file we can cut our design with our chosen software, often SignMaster, Artcut, Flexisign or similar. The format you choose to save the vector file in will determined by the software you are using, but usually .eps and .plt files are widely supported.


Remember that most films require that your design be cut in reverse (mirror image) so that they are correctly displayed once pressed to the fabric. You do not need to design in mirror image, but may need to enable mirror image cutting in your cutting software if it is not set by default.


Things to keep in mind


For best result it is recommended that design element thickness not be less than 1.5mm and spacing between elements not be less than 1mm. The reason for this is that it becomes difficult to weed the excess film without lifting these delicate parts of the design off the backing film and they may distort or not adhere properly to the fabric.


Especially large designs are not as comfortable to wear, as the film reduces the breath-ability of the garment.

Especially large designs may crease or crack after a few washes (we recommend ironing the shirts inside-out).

Ensure you are cutting through the film but not through the backing film.