Vinyl Cutter

First introduction

The vinyl cutter is a versatile tool that will allow you to create designs for stickers, labels, shirts but also patterns usable for PCB making or stencil for varied uses. Because of its wide range of applications, it’ll be part of most advanced projects and can be useful in a lot of different sectors.
They first became popular in the late 80’s in very archaic forms that could only cut through a few fonts and then evolved into being controlled by a computer to cut any design. You can now find vinyl cutters in most graphic design and printing shops as most vitrine and car signs, to name a few, are made with these.
The speed at which it operates and the precision of a computer controlled tool are also huge advantages of working with a vinyl cutter.

Practical relevance

– This is what you will need the knowledge and skills for

After reading this module, you’ll know how a vinyl cutter works, and how to turn a computer design into a real piece.

Overview of learning objectives and competences

In this module you’ll first learn how the machine works, what it can be used for. How to setup the machine to be ready for a job. How to prepare a file to be sent to the machine. How to start a job. How to post process the final pieces and how to maintain the machine.

Required skills for this module

Basic computer skills and 2D conception skills learnt in module 4: 2D Conception (CAD)

Introduction

In this part you’ll learn what a vinyl cutter is, what it is used for, and how the blade and axis work to process the material.

So let’s talk about what a vinyl cutter really is.

A vinyl cutter is a computer controlled machine that uses a sharp blade over the surface of a material to cut a computer generated design.

Here is how it actually works.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

The tool is pushed down onto the material with a set force. This tool is most often a sharp blade but can be replaced with other kinds. For example, a pen can also be used to draw instead of cutting. I will be referring to this “tool” in general during the whole course.

To move around the material, the blade is put on a movable axis to go left to right.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

The other axis of motion is a roll under the material itself; it serves both to secure the material and to move it back and forth.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

All those elements together allow the blade to cut any desired path.

Now that you have a basic understanding of how the vinyl cutter works, let’s talk about what you can actually use a vinyl cutter for. There’s a large variety of things that can be done with a vinyl cutter, including, but not limited to, storefront signs, stickers, labels, shirt design, PCB patterns, stencil for a variety of uses and paper craft.

Pictures from Natasha Dzurny, https://www.rolanddg.co.uk, https://www.idealstencils.co.uk, http://archive.fabacademy.org

Security Measures

In this part you’ll learn how to engage with a vinyl cutter in a safe manner by learning about the sharp blade, which safety precautions and material you should prepare.

Before working with a vinyl cutter, you need to be aware of the danger, how to prevent them and be ready in case any accident occurs. While not being the most dangerous machine you’ll find in a maker space, the vinyl cutter is still equipped with a sharp blade. It’s for that reason that you should have a first aid kit ready close by with everything needed to treat a cut. Such as disinfectant and bandage.

In case of cuts, make sure to disinfect the wound before placing any bandage. Monitor the wound afterward and seek professional medical help in case of infection. Never place your hands close to the machine, other than the control panel, while it is operating. If approaching the blade is needed, high precaution is required. You should be using cut resistant gloves to protect your hands.

As it is a computer controlled machine, you should never place any magnetic device in the vicinity of the vinyl cutter. The room should be free of dust, moisture and direct sunlight. Be wary of any small objects, like screws, that could fall down cracks in the machine. In addition to this, the room should be equipped with a dry powder or a CO2 fire extinguisher in case the device catches fire. Do not use a water or foam based fire extinguisher as those do not work on electrical devices.

Setting up the machine

In this part you’ll learn how to start and set up the vinyl cutter, place and secure the material. The following explanations of setting up the vinyl cutter will be shown on a GRAPHTEC cutting plotter CE 7000-60. You can read more about GRAPHTEC on their website here: http://www.graphteccorp.com/

However the explanations can be generalised to most vinyl cutters, please refer to your own model’s manual for any differences in the process. The main differences will come from the user interface to achieve each specific action but those actions will work in very similar ways.

The full manual for this particular vinyl cutter can be found here: http://www.graphtec.co.jp/site_download/manual/CE7000-UM-151_ENG_Rev.1.pdf

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

The first thing to note is the actual physical placement of the machine. It can either just rest on a table or be put on a specific stand. That second approach allows you to have a big roll of material in the back for bigger projects or if the vinyl cutter is used a lot.

Picture from https://www.amazon.fr/ and https://www.themagictouch.nl/

If you’re going to use the stand, make sure the vinyl cutter is well mounted and secured. Talking about the stand, if the material you’re using is in the form of a big roll, it is highly recommended to use the stand so you can secure the material on one of the bars behind, while if you’re only using a smaller sheet of material, it can sit on a table without any problem.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Once the vinyl cutter is well set on the table or its stand and the roll of material is placed on the stand if necessary, we can plug in the power cord and turn on the switch to turn on the machine. The control panel screen should turn on to indicate that the machine is on.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

As you can see, we already have some different options to calibrate the machine to the loaded material. But before we do so, we need to actually load the material in properly. The first thing to note when loading a material in the vinyl cutter is the orientation of said material. Some, like paper, won’t need a specific orientation but in this example, I’m using vinyl sheet that is made to be heat pressed onto a textile. These vinyl sheets are actually composed of two sheets stuck on top of each other. You have a protector layer which has several purposes, as well as the vinyl layer itself.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

The protective layer has two main purposes, the first one is to keep all of the cut parts into the same sheet. This works because the blade will only cut through the vinyl and leave the whole protective layer intact. This way, the cut vinyl pieces will stick to the protective layer. This allows you to have designs with distant and separate parts while keeping their relative positions intact. The second purpose is to serve as a separator when the material is heat pressed onto the textile to keep it from sticking to the heat press.

Because of these reasons, this layer is not the one that needs to be cut and will have to be placed face down. The blade will only go through the vinyl as the force shouldn’t be set to be strong enough to cut through the protective layer. The vinyl layer is the material itself that we’ll cut our design into. This design will then be taken to be placed onto another support, in this case, a textile surface. For this reason, the surface is placed face up in the cutter.

As it’s shown on the previous images, the vinyl layer also has two different sides; the top of the vinyl layer will be the side that is visible at the very end, this side is in contact with the protective layer. The bottom of the vinyl layer is the side that’ll be cut into, for this reason, when using a vinyl cutter for this purpose, the design will have to be mirrored in one axis to appear correctly as the sheet will be turned over after the cutting process. This mirrored operation can be done easily through the machine software and will be shown in the next part.

The reason it has to be done that way is because the side that will be pressed onto the material has to be the bottom side, so we can see the top side of it at the end of the process. And we cannot cut from the top side of it as the protective layer is in the way.

When you have figured out which side has to be face up to be cut, we can go back to the machine to insert and secure the material. To do so, you’ll have to position the two small rolls that control the forward and backward axis to move the material. To be able to position these at the right spots for your material, you’ll first need to unlock them. In their locked position, they both can’t be moved into the right position and won’t let the material slide in. To unlock these rolls, simply push this lever down. Doing so will rise up the rolls.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Once this is done, you can slide the material in. Notice how some blue lines are visible at the top.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

These blue lines indicate where the rolls can be placed, they’ll both need to be placed under the blue lines. You’ll then have to take into account those lines but also try to hold the material on its extremity to get the biggest workable zone. This is what a good setup should look like.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Furthermore, make sure the material is aligned properly with the axis of the rolls. As if it’s crooked, the rolls might push the material in a position where the material isn’t being held anymore and ruin the job.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Another consideration to make is to align the roll of fabric to the back to prevent the fabric from wrinkling and creasing.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Practical Tip

Sticky rolls: Some vinyl rolls will be very sticky when you first unroll them. This stickiness might be strong enough that it creates issues during the cutting process. To avoid any issues with a sticky roll, you should unroll at least the length of your design to unstick it.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

Now that the material is placed in the vinyl cutter correctly, we can go back to the screen and control panel. These 3 options that appear as soon as we start the machine allow us to set the machine to the material’s dimension automatically. To understand what each of these options do, let’s look at the currently loaded material.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

With this information, let’s see what the 3 options do:

    1. ROLL-1 FRONT EDGE: Will detect the width of the material as well as the leading edge’s position, as well as moving the material back so the leading edge is as close as possible to the blade’s path.
      This should be used whenever you are using a roll of material as well as you want to start right at the edge. Often used so you do not lose any material at the start.
    2. ROLL-2 CURRENT POSITION: Will only detect the width of the material. Using this option won’t move the material back and forth at all. It’ll start at the position you manually inserted the material.

 

This option should be chosen if you need to manually set the starting position instead of starting close to the leading edge.

    1. SHEET: Will detect the width, the leading edge’s position but also, the trailing edge’s position. This will allow the machine to know the full dimension of the sheet that is placed in it.

 

This option should only be used for sheets of material, like in the picture above. Never use it with a roll of material as the way it detects the trailing edge’s position is by pushing the material until there is no more material, which would unroll the whole roll of material to achieve it.

To select the desired option, simply press on the button corresponding to the right character on the control panel as marked on the screen. The machine will now move parts around to detect the desired length and position the origin point. At this point, if the pressure force of the blade has already been set for the current material, you can already move on to the next chapter, setting up the software. If you’re, however, loading a new material or setting up the machine, you’ll need to test the force and change its setting to obtain the most optimal cutting result. First start by pressing the “COND./TEST“ button to get to the setting and testing screen.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

    1. Condition No. 1 is the current pre-set selected; each preset can allow you to have all 3 next settings already saved in the machine’s memory to quickly allow you to switch between different tools or material and already have the optimal cutting settings for those.
    2. TOOL: is the tool currently loaded on the machine. By default, this value will be correct as long as you do not change the tool itself. To know how to load a new tool, refer to the maintenance chapter to know how to change it.
    3. SPEED: The first of the two important settings, allow you to set the speed at which each axis will move while the tool is in contact with the material. The default value of 10 cm/s is going to work for most situations, if your cutting results are not smooth, you will want to lower the speed to get better results.
    4. FORCE: The main setting that we’ll need to adjust for optimal cutting. Too low and the material simply won’t be cut. Too high and it’ll damage the material and in the case of the vinyl we’re using, will also cut into the protective layer. The correct force might take some practice to get right as every material, vinyl cutter and blade is different. Start from the default value and change it accordingly from the test results.

The up and down arrow allow you to access more settings while the left and right arrow allow you to do the cut test, either one or three in a row to have more examples to observe.

Let’s press the up arrow to see the second page of settings:

Picture by Lévi PONSARD
    1. ACCELERATION: is how fast the axis will accelerate to reach the speed set up in the previous screen. This option shouldn’t be changed unless the tool is being changed. For example, cutting into a thicker material will need a slower acceleration as the blade has a harder time moving through.
    2. ASSIGN TOOL: allows you to assign different tools to the different pre-set. This way, if your different tools are well assigned, you won’t select the wrong settings by mistake when changing tools.
    3. TANGENTIAL MODE: will allow you to switch between two modes of cutting. Because of the mechanical aspect of the blade, the first option will slightly over-cut to make sure every angle is acute and well cut while the second option will be faster but won’t over-cut every angle.
    4. OVERCUT: set the distance of overcut used by the previous option.

 

Let’s press the up arrow one more time to see the third page of settings:

Picture by Lévi PONSARD
    1. DISTANCE ADJUST: is a value that will correct offsets in the length of cuts, which can occur depending on the material being cut.
    2. INITIAL DOWN FORCE: can be used as extra force at the start for a cutting job. This number will be added on top of the FORCE setting. This is to make sure the blade cuts through the material at the start of a job.
    3. CUT LINE PATTERN: allows you to change the lines into different perforated patterns to keep the material from falling off in cases you’re not using a material with a supporting sheet.
    4. BLADE ADJUST: will adjust the length of the blade.

Practical Tip
Do not be scared by the numbers of settings here, most of these are only small adjustments you’ll rarely have to touch. The SPEED and FORCE will usually be the only ones you need to change.

Let’s go back to the first page of setting by pressing the up arrow once more time and do one of the cut tests. You can do either the single or triple test. The result of the cut will allow us to fine tune the settings to get the perfect cut.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

After selecting one of the two tests, you’ll be prompted with this screen:

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

As the text says, you can use the arrow key to position the tool on the specific spot you’ll want the test to be done on. Once it is set, you can press ENTER to start the test. Once the cutting is done, you’ll need a pair of tweezers to remove the square bit and observe the results.

If the material has not been cut at all, it might indicate that the tool has not been installed correctly. If it has been cut through but you can’t remove the square, it could mean that the blade is dull or the force is not sufficient.

If instead, the cut goes through the protector layer too, the force value is too high.

After removing the square, you can observe the corners of both the square and triangle:

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

If the corners are round, like the left example, the offset is slightly too low and needs to be turned up.
If the corners are straight, like the middle example, the vinyl cutter is setting up correctly.
If the corners bleed further into the material, like the right example, the offset is slightly too high and needs to be turned down.

To change the setting go back to the 3rd page of the setting and change the “Distance adjust”. Change the settings and repeat the test until you get the perfect result.

Setting up the software

In this part, you’ll take a design, prepare it and send it to the machine software and then to the machine itself to cut your design. We’ll be using Inkscape as our designing software, as for sending the designs to the machine and InkCut to send the design to the vinyl cutter.
Here’s the steps we’ll go through in this chapter:

    1. Preparing the file on the design software. In this case, Inkscape.
    2. Importing the file in the machine software. In this case, InkCut.
    3. Setting up the parts to cut.
    4. Adding and setting up a vinyl cutter.
    5. Sending the job to the vinyl cutter.

 

Inkscape was chosen as it’s a free and open source vector drawing software. Vectors are needed to create the paths the tool will follow. You can find the latest version on their website: https://inkscape.org/release

Other paid alternatives that can be used are Adobe Illustrator and CorelDRAW to name a few.

InkCut was chosen since it’s also a free and open source software and it’s also made to work with Inkscape files directly. InkCut will work with almost any vinyl cutter of any brand. It can be found on this webpage:  https://inkscape.org/news/2011/03/16/meet-inkcut-vinyl-cutter-and-vectors-plotter/

Other alternatives will vary mostly depending on your specific vinyl cutter’s brand. If your vinyl cutter does also come with a software, I’d suggest you use that specific one as it’ll be a smoother experience.

Practical Tip
You’re not required to use the same software as we’re going to in this course. If your vinyl cutter comes with a software, it’ll probably be a lot smoother to use that one instead.

Let’s first start Inkscape to prepare our file. This is a design we’ll want to transfer to a t-shirt in 3 different colours.

 

The very first thing to look at is if every design we want to cut will be able to get cut. Only paths will be able to be seen by the machine. Things such as text or pictures will have to be converted. The best and easiest way to check our paths is to change the view to show these paths. In the “View” menu, you can go to “Display Mode” then select “Outline”. With this display mode on, you can see exactly what the machine is going to see too, if something doesn’t appear here, it won’t get cut. Furthermore, only the outlines will be cut, if you see text that is filled in black, it’ll also be necessary to convert those to paths in the “Path” menu then “Object to Path”.

Again, I want to be clear that this is simply a display mode that was changed here. The actual design was not modified. It is simply used to visualise what will be understood as cutting lines by InkCut later on.  Once everything we want to be cut is visible as an outline, you can now turn the display mode back to normal. As said earlier we’ll want to have 3 different colours on this design so we’ll separate them now so they can be cut in different operations later on.

Practical Tip
To make the job of separating each piece into the right layers, you can directly use the colours you’ll be using on the vinyl as an easy way to visualise the final product and to avoid making any mistakes.

Doing this operation will allow us to open only one file in InkCut and easily switch which colour we need to cut without having to play with multiple files. This part is obviously not necessary if you’re only cutting into a single colour.

The next part for preparing your file is to create boundaries around each of the colours. Since we’re going to have to remove the vinyl that is not going to be transferred onto the textile, we need some boundaries to not remove everything else on the vinyl.

The way you go about this step is going to heavily vary depending on your design. This example we have here represents one of the easiest case scenarios as each colour is well separated. But designs that’ll only use one colour will be the easiest ones

The golden rule is to make sure each boundary is not overlapping any part of the design. You should also make the boundaries slightly larger than the design to give yourself enough room so you can use scissors to cut around the design without risking cutting into the design itself.

Here is what it would look like in our example:

As I said, this specific design makes it really easy to create boundaries that aren’t going to overlap other colours. If you do not have any overlap like this, it’ll also allow you to press all the colours in one pass. Where some designs will force you to press each colour as a different pass. Here’s an example of a design that would create overlaps if the boundaries were separated by colours.

As you can see, with this example we’ll only keep one boundary that’ll be used for every colour. This is also why it’s sitting in its own layer so we can keep it activated for every colour. Now that the file is all prepared, save it

We can now move to InkCut. InkCut will allow us to open the Inkscape files, select which lines we want to cut, do some small modifications like size and rotation and then send the design to the vinyl cutter to be cut. To start InkCut, you can either start it from Inkscape’s extension menu or just launch the software manually then open your SVG file.

Here’s a quick tour of InkCut’s interface:
In red, you have the main menu where you’ll be able to load a file, setup the vinyl cutter, send a job to the device, and find help.
In green, a preview of the job will show. This allows you to easily see everything that’ll be cut. Don’t worry about the additional small blue lines you can see across your design, these are not cutting lines and will be explained later on.
In yellow, information about the design. Like its size, the number of copies we want to cut and also mirror check boxes which we’ll actually need as our design needs to be mirrored to appear correctly on the t-shirt at the end. This will be explained more in details later on.
In blue you have some more contextual menus, we’ll explore these later.
In purple, we’ll be able to monitor the job and directly control the machine.

If it hasn’t been done already, open your file from the main menu “file” then “Open” and locate your SVG file.

The first thing you can do when the file is open is to look at the preview and verify if all the paths are understood correctly, every path that’ll be cut will be a thin black line. You can also see some blue lines in-between the different objects, these are the travel paths of tools in-between cutting jobs, do not worry as these won’t be cut and are just a visualisation. As you can also see here, all of my files are previewed. To cut out only a certain part of them for each colour, we need to disable the other colours or layers. To do this, you can open the “Layer” tab in the context menus.

Since we organised our SVG file into different layers for each of the cutting jobs, we can see them directly in InkCut and disable whichever ones we do not want to cut. However, if we have not created any special layers, we can also use the fill and outline colours. These also use the colours used in the SVG file.

Practical Tip
If everything was set to the same colour, you can't disable them here and you need to go back to the design software to change it. You can go back to the start of this software setting chapter to see how it was done.

Since my file was set with the correct layers, I’ll be using those to select the correct cutting job from the material installed on the vinyl cutter. Let’s only select the blue layer first.

Always look at the preview to make sure everything is correct and that you’re not missing any cut or have any extra ones you do not need. In the “Graphic” tab with all the information about the design, you can also find the mirroring option. The reason we need to mirror our design in this situation is because we’re going to technically be cutting the design from behind. It’ll then be turned around to be applied on the shirt and appear correctly.

 

Now that our design is prepared. Let’s connect and setup the machine.

We can start by adding a device, meaning the vinyl cutter, by clicking on the add button.

You can then complete the information regarding your vinyl cutter in each of the tabs. 

In the general tab, you can indicate the general settings like the name and manufacturer of the machine. Those will mostly serve as a way to differentiate each of your machines. However, the driver and measurements are important. 

You can search for your specific vinyl cutter to know what you should put there.

In the Device tab, we’ll be able to find a bunch of different settings for the machine. I’ll only go to the “output” part of it as there’s a very important setting to change here. The other settings can be left as default.

As you can see, my scale values aren’t set to 1. This is due to a problem of size conversion between InkCut and our vinyl cutter. Each software and vinyl cutter can use different values, some might use millimetres, other inches or even pixels. This is one of the reasons I’d suggest using your own machine’s software if one is available instead of going through InkCut.

Practical Tip

To find the right scaling number. Start by keeping the scaling at 1 and cut something with precise and decently long dimensions like a 20 cm long rectangle. That way, you can cut that “20cm” rectangle then measure it with a precise tool like a calliper. In my situation, the rectangle would measure 70.65mm instead of 200mm, so I can calculate the scale I should use to get to 200mm with this simple equation : 200/70.65 = 2.83

Another variable that could give you unwanted results is InkCut rotating your design. You can use the “Graphic Rotation” option in the Graphic tab to compensate for it.

This can happen if the X and Y axis are different in-between InkCut and your specific vinyl cutter.

The next important part to setup is the connection type and port and the protocol. These are the ways InkCut will connect to your vinyl cutter and talk to it. Once again, these will vary depending on your device.

When all of this is setup, your vinyl cutter is loaded and ready, connected to the pc and the file is correctly setup. You can launch the cutting operation with the menu “Device” then “Send to device”.

You’ll get one more pop-up window to make sure you do want to send the job to the device with some information about it. You can choose to check “Don’t ask again” if you don’t want to see this pop-up window and would rather send the job directly to the device. Press Start if everything seems ready.

The vinyl cutter should now be cutting the design into the vinyl.

Important: Never let the machine operate on its own

Always observe the process to identify potential problems. An easy mistake to make when working with a vinyl cutter is that the material is not perfectly aligned. If this is the case and the rollers are pushing the material back and forth, there is a risk that one of the rollers will not make contact with the material. If this happens, the job must be stopped as soon as possible, because the material must always be held in both places.

 

When the job is over. It’s now time to remove the material. Once again, you’ll need to push back the lever. If you’re using a sheet and not a roll, I’d suggest holding on to the sheet with one hand as you’re doing so to make sure the sheet doesn’t drop to the ground.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

You can also observe the lines that have been cut. It’s quite subtle but with light reflection, you can see the design clearly.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

Post-Processing

In this part, you’ll learn how to weed out the extra parts and apply the design to a surface with the help of a heat press. Since the vinyl cutter only follows the lines we ask it to cut, both the design and the extra parts are still on top of the protective layer. So we’ll need to manually remove that part off the protective layer. Again, the part we need to remove is the extra parts and keep the actual design on the protective layer. To remove these effectively, you’ll need some precise tweezers as well as a cutter or a scalpel and a pair of scissors to remove the design from the sheet or roll of vinyl.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

Practical Tip
Before starting, I’d highly suggest you keep a copy of the design open in front of you so you can easily find the extra parts that need to be removed.

You can start by grabbing one of the corners, if the tweezers aren’t precise enough to grab it, you can start with the scalpel then continue with the tweezers. Once you have a good grip on the vinyl, slowly peel it off. If the vinyl was cut correctly, it should come off easily without removing any of the part that you want to keep on the protective layer. Repeat this for every other extra part until you’re only left with the design.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

The next part consists of cutting off around the design with a pair of scissors. This part could technically be done prior to weeding out the extra parts, especially if you’re working from a roll of vinyl and need to re-insert it on the vinyl cutter as soon as possible. This is what you should be left with at the end:

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Repeat all those steps for the other layers.

Be careful to handle these with care as any dirt or dust that’ll sit on top will get stuck in-between the vinyl and the material you’re applying it to. Ideally, you’ll want to cut and apply the vinyl as soon as possible to make sure nothing gets in the way.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

There’s several materials that can be used to apply vinyl to. In this example, I’ll apply it to a textile. Be careful in your choice of textile as it can have an impact with this process. Cotton, Polyester or a blend of both is usually recommended. Other synthetic fabrics, like acrylic, shouldn’t be used as they can melt under the heat press. 

Let’s move to the heat press with our vinyl and t-shirt. I will be using the PromaPress TS-4050MER for the explanations but the model you’re using won’t matter too much. It’s even possible to use an iron instead if you don’t have a heat press available.

Important: Burn hazard

Needless to say that these machines are very dangerous to operate if the operator is careless. The temperature they’ll reach can easily give you a burn if you touch the wrong part. You should always operate the machine with heat resistant gloves and be around at all times while it’s powered up.

 

You will need to know how high you need to set the press and how long the press has to push down on the vinyl for the best results. If those values are too low, your vinyl won’t stick correctly to the textile. If those values are too high, the vinyl will risk melting and the result will be terrible.

For this specific vinyl, I’ll need a temperature of 200°C and a press time of 15 seconds. These values can be found for each vinyl from the manufacturer. On this specific press, I can set both those values, so that every time I press it down with the lever, I will get a timer to make sure I last exactly 15 seconds.

You can press the “SET” button to alternate in-between the temperature and the press time. The PV value indicates which temperature the heat press is currently at while the SV value is the target one. The heat press will heat up until it reaches that SV value. On the second picture, the ST is the press time you can set. Which is set to 15 seconds right now. While the press is heating up, it’s a good idea to unlock it and move it away from the base. This way you’ll avoid heating up the base of the heat press. When the heat press reaches the desired temperature. It’s ready to be used.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD
Picture by Lévi PONSARD

If your textile isn’t ironed already, you can use the heat press itself to iron it first before placing down the vinyl. It is very important the surface is as flat as possible when placing the vinyl. Otherwise, any fold in the textile will get stuck under the vinyl.

To iron the T-shirt, you can simply place it on the heat press. I’d suggest being very precise when placing your textile as doing so will make it much easier to correctly place your design where it should be without being crooked.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

Once it’s placed, we’ll first need to use a sheet of baking paper to protect the shirt from being directly in contact with the heat press; this will also be used in the next step.

Once the baking paper sheet is placed, you can rotate the heat press back on top of it and press it down. You don’t need to wait the full 15 seconds when doing this step, a few seconds should suffice to iron it out.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD
Picture by Lévi PONSARD
Picture by Lévi PONSARD

Now that we have a very flat surface, we can place the vinyl that we have cut. With the vinyl directly in contact with the surface and the protective layer on top. At this point, the design should look how it’s supposed to be and not be mirrored. If it looks mirrored when you have the protective layer on top, it means you didn’t cut it.

You can make the use of heat resistant tape to help you place everything correctly and avoid anything moving during the process. Do not use a random tape as it’ll have to resist very high heat.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Don’t forget to place the sheet of baking paper again on top of everything.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

Here’s a graphic of all the different parts stacked on top of each other:

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

When you’re sure everything is in the right order and on the right side. You can turn the heat press back on top and press it down. This time, for the full 15 seconds or the desired time depending on your specific material.

If you need to repeat the operations because your layers are overlapping. Keep the textile on the base and make use of the heat resistant tape to overlap each part of your design correctly. If you remove the textile in-between operations, you’ll risk having parts shrink due to the t-shirt and vinyl cooling down.

When all the operations are done, you can remove your t-shirt and let it cool somewhere else for 5 minutes.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Once it has cooled down, you can start by removing the tape slowly. Be careful not to pull out the protective layer at the same time.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

You can now remove the protective layer, the vinyl should be stuck to the textile itself. Go very slowly and start at an angle so that you don’t have to detach from too much vinyl at the start. You should now be left with the final result.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Maintenance

In this part, you’ll learn to maintain your Vinyl cutter by replacing the tool and cleaning the vinyl cutter properly. There’s a few reasons you would want to change the tool. The tool can be worn off or you could simply want to use another tool for the specific job you need to do. Since you’re going to have to work very closely with sharp blades, the use of scratch resistant gloves is advised.

Once again, we will show the steps on the GRAPHTEC CE 7000-60. The differences for these steps here will probably be very different on other machines. Therefore, be sure to read the respective operating instructions. First, make sure the machine is turned off or unplugged.  Now let’s look closely at the tool.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

The tool itself, outlined in yellow here, is currently locked in place by the knob on the left side of this picture. To unlock it, we’ll simply have to turn that knob counter-clockwise. Once it’s loose, simply pull the tool up.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

Pay attention to the blade as it extends out from under this blue part called the plunger cap. Once the tool has been removed from the vinyl cutter, the next step is to unscrew the plunger-cap to get access to the blade itself.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

The blade, the small metal piece that sticks out, can now be removed. If you find it difficult to grasp, you can use tweezers.

Pictures by Lévi PONSARD

You can now take a new blade and do all these operations in reverse. When placing back the tool on the vinyl cutter, make sure this outer ring is on top of the grey part blocking the tool in place.

Picture by Lévi PONSARD

Practical Tip
If needed, you can also adjust how far out the blade is sticking out under the tool by turning the knob at the top of the tool. Do not randomly turn this as you’ll risk either going too low and cutting too far into your material or too high and not cutting at all.

The other maintenance is the cleaning of the vinyl cutter. This will help with the longevity of your device. Here’s a few maintenance tasks you can do daily if the machine is used a lot:

Clean the outside casing, the cutting mat and the paper’s sensor with a neutral detergent diluted with water on a dry cloth.

If the rail gets dirty, gently wipe the dirt away with a dry towel. Be careful to not wipe out the lubricant as well. Talking about lubricant, you should not lubricate the mechanisms of the vinyl cutter.

Summary

In this content unit, it was explained what a vinyl cutter is, how it works, what you can do with it and how to operate it safely. You’ve also learned to prepare a design in Inkscape and send it to the vinyl cutter with InkCut. Then how to post process what comes out of the vinyl cutter. And finally how to maintain the machine.

In the first part, it was shown how the blade is pushed into the material and how the 2 axis move the material around to cut in any desired path. You’ve also learned about a few different possible uses like stickers, labels, shirt design, PCB patterns, stencil and others.

In the second part the precautions to use when working around this type of machine were presented. It was shown to keep a first aid kit and be wary of being cut from the blade.

In the third part, it was explained how to start the machine, load in a material correctly and go through the settings. It was also presented how to do test cuts so you can change the settings until they’re correct.

In the fourth part, it was explained to prepare a design in Inkscape by making sure everything you need to cut is a path and also to separate the different colours you need into different layers. The importance of boundaries and how to place them was also presented.

Furthermore, it was shown how to open the file in InkCut, how to setup and connect InkCut to your machine and how to send your file to be cut.

In the sixth part, it was shown how to weed out the extra bits from the vinyl and how to use a heat press to transfer the vinyl onto a textile.

In the seventh and last part, it was explained how to maintain the machine by changing the blade and cleaning it to keep the vinyl cutter working properly.

Quizz