Friday, July 06, 2012

Feels like the first time

aka, Cutting Adhesive Vinyl in the Silhouette machine.

My crafty eyes are bigger than my stomach.  Even my huge almost-7 months-pregnant stomach.  So I tend to buy the supplies for projects I intend to do *sometime* in the future, and they sit for weeks, or months.  Or maybe even a year.

When I bought my (beloved) Silhouette SD die cutting machine back in 2010, I figured I'd mostly use it to cut paper - letters, shapes, etc for card making.  But it also cuts vinyl, which you can use to make iron-on T shirt transfers, or adhesive stickers for signs, laptops, and cars.

So I bought a pack of assorted colors of adhesive vinyl sheets to try it out.  And that vinyl sat and mocked me in my craft room.  I'd see it, get excited about using it, then realize I had a million other things to work on.

My Dream Lab class gave me the kick in the pants I needed.  One of the class "challenges" was to "Go Big", and put up some kind of message or sign out in the world for people to see.  I didn't want to hang something up on someone else's property, but one of the suggestions was to put a sign on your car.

And I realized this would be the perfect opportunity to try out a vinyl decal.  I'm pleased with how it turned out:

My first thought was to put up something short and sweet to the effect of "get happy" or "find joy" or something, but that sounded too much like a command and sort of annoying.  So I figured maybe this would just get people thinking.  And probably wondering what the heck it means or what I'm trying to sell them...  TJ, of course, thinks it's odd, so I guess I've succeeded.

But the project was surprisingly easy and quick.  Here's how I did it:

Supplies and Tools
  1. Using the Silhouette Studio software, I set up the page so it was 6x12 on the cutting mat, then chose a sans serif font with thick lines (in this case Franklin Gothic Heavy, conveniently included with Windows 7.) 
  2. I created one document for the "what makes you" portion, and sized the font to be as large as could fit on the 6x12 sheet (spread over two lines).  It ended up being 156 pt.  I created a second document for "happy?" because I wanted it in a different color and also larger - 204 pt.
  3. I test cut the design on a 6x12 piece of cardstock just to get a feel for how big the letters would actually be and whether they were readable from a distance.  Since I had only 1 piece of vinyl in each color I wanted to use, I wanted to be sure it was right before cutting into it.
  1. I set the Silhouette machine's Cut Settings to 'Silhouette vinyl" (even though it was a different brand), a cut speed of 9 and a thickness setting of 7, and used the blue cap (0.1mm) and made sure the 'use cutting mat' box was checked as well. 
  2. I stuck the white vinyl sheet to the cutting mat (short end in) and loaded it into the machine.  I clicked Cut and held my breath, and fortunately it cut just fine.  I repeated the process for the yellow vinyl sheet.
  3. I should have taken a photo at this point, but didn't realize I was going to write this up.  Basically, the Silhouette just makes the cuts, so the substrate (fancy word for paper or vinyl) just has faint cut lines in it, but doesn't look like the end product.   
The "fun" part is removing all the bits of paper around the design very carefully, so you're just left with the part you want.  This is called "weeding" the vinyl (see Steps 3-6 of this excellent tutorial).
  1. First I removed the cut vinyl sheet from the cutting mat and used my paper trimmer to trim the portions that weren't cut, so I could reuse the vinyl for small designs.
  2. I carefully peeled off the outer part of the vinyl (ie, not the letters), very slowly, and cut away portions as I went, careful to leave the letters intact on the backing sheet.  The adhesive is very sticky and can mar the letters if a piece gets stuck to itself. 
  3. I used the Exacto blade on a few parts of the letters where they didn't get cut completely.  I carefully peeled out the center portions of letters like 'a' and 'o' to get the little blibbets out.  (no, that's not the technical term).
  4. I then stuck the phrase together by taping the back of the backing paper in the exact orientation and spacing I wanted it on my car.
  1. I cut a piece of transfer tape to cover the entire phrase and peeled off the backing, after wrestling with it to uncurl it.  Those more patient than me would benefit from flattening out the cut piece before proceeding.
  2. I laid the transfer tape over the design, and smoothed it out with the handy popsicle stick provided.  You can use a squeegee, credit card, brayer, or any sort of smoothing implement to do this.  Make sure it's stuck on there really, really well, and all bubbles are squeezed out.
  3. I carefully peeled away the backing from the original vinyl sheet.  The letters should be adhered backwards onto the transfer tape.  Go very, very slowly and smooth down the transfer tape as needed if the letters aren't coming with it. 
  4. Hooray!  Now you have a piece of transfer tape with your phrase in the right spacing, and the sticky sides of the letters facing out.  Be careful and don't accidentally bump into things with this, or your letters will get stuck onto something.
Installation (aka sticking your sticker)
  1. Since I was putting this on my car, I used a couple of baby wipes and a paper towel to clean off the windshield and dry it before putting on the sticker.
  2. I carefully placed the transfer tape with letters facing down where I wanted it, and used the same popsicle stick from the previous Step 2 to smooth it down and get rid of all bubbles.
  3. I carefully peeled off the transfer tape, and VOILA! the sticker was stuck on the car.  Hooray!
  • The vinyl I used is not rated for outdoor use, so I'm not sure how long it'll last.  But the outdoor vinyl's adhesive is very strong, and I wasn't sure I wanted to use something that hardy on my car anyway.
  • Thicker letters and designs are much easier to work with than delicate thin ones with a lot of detail.  For words and phrases, thicker ones are easier to read at a distance, too.
  • Check out this awesome blog post for more info about cutting vinyl, colors and brands, especially for indoor wall decals.
  • I have the older Silhouette (SD) which is limited to 8.5" wide substrates, but the new Cameo can cut things up to 12" wide, which is pretty awesome.  I can't justify upgrading, though.

If you read this far, you deserve a jellybean.  Now I'm itching to cut more vinyl stickers for journals, my laptop, picture frames etc.  I'm also trying to figure out something I can cut for BabyX's new room.  Maybe a pennant banner, since I'm totally in love with those.

So, do you have a Fabulous Cutting Machine?  Have you made any vinyl designs?  Tell me!


  1. Super cute...can't wait to see more! Great question to ponder too - what a lovely way to bring some joy to the world :)

  2. Awesome! Put geeky versions in your shop. :)

  3. love your vinyl and your nice photo! and your very detailed tutorial :)

    sadly, I didn't get the jellybean!

  4. This looks like a good idea.
    I must try this out. Now to get my hands on a Silhouette Machine and a cutting mat :-)

  5. No tips. I was thinking about getting some vinyl to try, but not exactly sure of how it works. Thanks for the step-by-step here!


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