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Vinyl cutter for sticker/decal design

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Not sure if this has been covered a lot on here already, I've been out of the loop for a little while. Please direct to a relevant thread if it already exists.

I'm getting interested in the idea of vinyl cutting my own masks and stickers, but I know very little about it. Just had a bit of a chat about it with @Xeostar, @GeeWings and @urban warrior on another thread which is dedicated to a different subject. So to continue the discussion elsewhere if you gents and any others wouldn't mind sharing your knowledge on the subject🙏

What's everyone using with regard to hardware and software? What sort of grades of vinyl can you get and are they comparable to original Tamiya sticker quality?

Can you do print into vinyl and also cut it? If so what sort of quality of print can be achieved from home?


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Hey mate, I’m no expert but can share my limited knowledge…

I purchased a machine made by Cricut. My sisters (both in to scrapbooking etc) told me there were a couple of different companies to consider. The model I got; the “joy”, is pretty much entry level. I actually picked it up used, with a load of vinyl and tools for $150. I bet in the UK there are loads available. 

My process so far has been:

1. Find or draw a reference image

2. Create the proper layered artwork in adobe illustrator. You could also use photoshop or any number of other alternatives.

3. Load the Cricut software and use the wizard to guide you. It will tell you how to load the vinyl. 

4. The machine cuts the vinyl!

5. You then need to go through a process of removing the unwanted vinyl, transferring it to a special transfer tape then applying it to your car body (or whatever) and then removing the transfer tape.

6. If using multiple colours like my flames you can design so that they nestle together or lay one on top of the other. That’s simpler and is the way I went with it!


a. the machine doesn’t print as such. You are having to form designs from individual colours that get cut in vinyl and then put multiple colours together to form a design. Of course that’s not much of any issue with most RC decals as that’s the way they tend to be anyway.   

b. It does lettering very well. In fact I’ve done a load recently but just haven’t stuck them on the shells yet.

c. you can buy permanent or removable vinyl. The removal seems permanent enough to me and allows you to play around more and not write about getting things perfect first time.

d. I’ve only used the Cricut vinyl, you can get cheaper alternatives but given how little I use it didn’t seem worth cutting corners. Better machines have more functionality but even mine can cut paper, card and all sorts of other materials.

e. My machine can do very long cuts (metres) but the machine can only take vinyl rolls that are a few inches wide. For most purposes, and certainly for RC use that’s not really an issue.

e. The official vinyl is pretty thin but still thicker than Tamiya stickers. Again for most used this isn’t an issue.

f. Now that I’ve got the machine it’s made me look at lots of existing cars like the hornet which has fiddly stickers that need to be trimmed carefully and applied even more carefully. I actually think scanning the stickers, cleaning up and doing them through the Cricut might provide a  manageable process. 

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I have a professional setup and print and cut stickers for customers, so I'll share my 2 cents. I also wrote two articles for Lars at Tamiyabase a number of years ago about making stickers -> https://www.tamiyabase.com/articles/53-how-to/167-making-decals-part-2a its accurate but a little dated now as there are lots of consumer options available like the Circut. 

As far as I can tell, a proper print and cut will be out of the reach of the average user. I've only ever seen machines with that capability sell for way more than the average person can invest in one, even for a small machine. I think you can get a vinyl material for a home printer, but the inks and toners aren't as durable and would need to be coated or sealed. Also with a print and cut machine, the cutter needs an optical sensor that will read alignment points that are set around the print, this is needed so the cutter knows where to start and the whole cut is accurate. Plus you will need software that supports all this.

Vinyl cutters are still a good option, and as mentioned above you can build up layers of different colours to make multi-colour stickers. With a good setup you can cut some really small lettering, around 3 or 4 mm high. You can also get metallics like gold and silver and other speciality colours which you can't print, so there is a bonus there too. Vinyls are also more durable and don't show scratches as much.

Removable vinyl tends to be a shorter term vinyl, about 2 yrs outdoors and is designed for easier removable afterwards, but will have the same tac as normal vinyl. You can also get low - tac vinyl, designed for very short term use and hi-tac vinyl, designed for where the surface isn't great. I've used hi-tac on roads and concrete and low-tac vinyl to wallpaper houses where it has to come off after a couple of days and damaging the surface can't happen.

Vinyls come in about 3 grades, monomeric, polymeric and cast (basically) Monomeric is the cheapest and tends to be thicker, harder to contour and shape over curves. Polymeric is a little thinner and longer laster and can contour to some extent. Cast is the best and longest lasting (used for car wraps etc) and is the thinnest. I would think Tamiya decals are either polymeric or cast stickers and at a guest are screen printed with inks (not printed) to give the best colours.

As to designing stickers, you can use the opensource software Inkscape, that would be more than enough and is free. There are paid options available like Coreldraw (have used in the past a lot of signage shops use this program), Illustrator (what I use now) and a whole lot of dedicated signage software, but for the home user I can't see the justification in spending the money. The vinyl cutter just acts like a printer, and for artwork, you files will have to be vector, line artwork basically (saved as svg files in Inkscape), and not pixel based like png or jpg files. The other great thing these days is there are lot of logos available on the internet for download in svg or eps format.

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How @GeeWings described it, is also how I do it lately. Cricut machine and software. As I am product and graphic designer, I draw my graphics with Adobe Illustrator or Affinity Designer and the make the .svg file export.

Regarding the size you are limited to the vinyl material (it sticking to the glue side cover sheet) and what the Cricut can do. So tiny thin 5mm typography can be a real problem.

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I think @yogi-bear and @GeeWings summed things up very nicely. With the main points being the inability to print and cut unless you go for industrial very expensive machines so you're stuck with the colour of your vinyl or doing multi-layered.

I use the Silhouette portrait 3, with Silhouette and Cricut being the two main home options. I think Cricut are the leaders and a bit more expensive. I went with Silhouette as I got a good deal on one, £80 I think and I liked the sound of the software vs the Cricut but I forget why now. Although the Silhouette software leaves a lot to be desired, I manage to work with it but it's a bit odd, I often complain about Microsoft Office apps but compared to this they super well polished and easy to use.

I use mine almost exclusively for masking for airbrushing and to cut very light weight sheets, stencil vinyl sticky paint masking airbrush craft art sheets A4 | eBay.

The silhouette software has a good trace function. I get an image of the logo or text I want to copy, even a photo from my phone. Make it black and white with decent contrast edges where I want to cut. I drop that image in the software and it traces the outline into the cut profile. Resize, reverse and ready to print which works quite well. Tracing in Silhouette Studio® - YouTube

It can cut quite small details, here are some examples. The wild one bird was a from a photo I took from the kit box and traced around.




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