Keith's Notes


Apr 2, 2023, 1:42 PM


About eight years ago (my god, time does fly - my brain wanted to say 2-3 years ago) I got something called a Silhouette Portrait vinyl cutter. You might have heard of the Cricut machines that are somewhat popular among crafters these days. This is essentially the same thing, just a slightly less popular brand.

Silhouette Portrait vinyl cutter

This image is the more up-to-date Portrait 3, but it looks pretty much the same. It's the size of a small printer. That unit inside holds the cutter and slides left and right on a rail. You feed the vinyl in underneath it and the rollers move it in and out. So it cuts in two dimensions, but the cutter moves on one axis and the vinyl moves on the other axis.

Of course, you can put things other than vinyl in there. Paper, cardstock, etc. and make all kinds of things. There are even other attachments, such as pen holders, so you could use this as a plotter. I've only made a few tentative tests using it like that though. None were super promising, but with enough trial and error, I bet I could get something decent out of it. Though probably not comparable to an Axi-Draw.

The Portrait can take material up to about nine inches wide. But you can use a roll of vinyl, so if you wanted to make a huge, several-foot-long banner or something, you could. I've been eyeing the Silhouette Cameo, which is the newer model that can go twelve inches wide and has all kinds of other bells and whistles. There's even a souped up twenty-four inch wide version.

The reason I first got this was back when I was making knives. I wanted to electro-etch a logo in the metal. I built my own electro-etcher machine and it works great. I cut out a sticker to serve as a mask - where the logo was the open spot and the rest of the sticker masked the metal. I haven't used it for that purpose in many years though.

When I started my current job, I made various stickers for my coworkers, some of them using the faces of said coworkers. This was fun.

Vinyl sticker of a coworker's face


Though I haven't even made any of these stickers in a few years, one of my coworkers asked about them, so I whipped up the batch you see above. This sparked a bit of a creative streak in me and I've been designing and making stickers for the past few weeks. Here's a bit of a gallery.

Vinyl sticker of the Led Zeppelin logo Vinyl sticker of the Rolling Stones logo

Just realized I need to weed out a piece of the "n" in "Rolling"!

Vinyl sticker of Felix the Cat

Felix is my favorite so far! It came out so good!

Vinyl sticker of the Fireflies logo from The Last of Us

Fireflies logo from The Last of Us. This one has a bit of a design flaw - those sharp corners start to peel really easily. I'm surprised how well this has held up being on the back of my phone, going in and out of my pocket so often. But its days are numbered.

Vinyl sticker of a cartoony skull Vinyl sticker of another cartoony skull

I found this skull design on a royalty free site and altered it to make four different skull shapes.

Vinyl sticker of a peace sign

The Process

You need a vector graphic to be able to cut a sticker. I usually start with Inkscape on my Linux laptop. If I can find a nice SVG to start with, that's great. But as long as I can get a decently high-res, clean, ideally black and white image, Inkscape's "trace bitmap" function does a fantastic job at turning it into an SVG path. Sometimes I might tweak it a bit as needed, and then save it as a DXF file. Why DXF, you ask. Hold that thought.

Then I open up the software that Silhouette puts out - Silhouette Studio - on my Mac. It's ... OK. There's actually a plugin for Inkscape that will send drawings to a Silhouette machine. I got it to work with decent quality, but it's pretty clunky and takes a lot of fiddling. The official app isn't great, but it has lots of built in presets and useful functionality. I'm using the free version of the software, which is pretty limited. Like, it doesn't even import SVG files. That's why I saved the drawing as DXF from Inkscape. It does open those. Maybe eventually I'll pay the extra $25 for the next step up in features, but since I like Inkscape as a starting point anyway, that's fine.

I size and position the graphic as needed. Usually once I do a successful test run, I'll tile the shape and cut a bunch of stickers at once. If I'm using a roll of vinyl or a full sized sheet, I can just insert it directly. But if I'm using up some smaller scraps, there's a plastic cutting mat you can use. Its surface is a bit sticky, so you can put the vinyl (or whatever) on the mat and feed the mat in.

You have to set the depth of the cut so that it just goes through the layer of adhesive vinyl, and not through the backing paper. The software has presets for this though, so it's pretty simple. I have found that I have to make my cuts one notch deeper though, as it wasn't going fully through all the time. Might be time for a new blade.

Once the piece is cut, you have to peel off all the parts that aren't part of the final sticker. This is known as "weeding". Then you cut a piece of transfer paper that's just bigger than the sticker. The transfer paper itself is a bit sticky. You peel the backing off the transfer paper and stick it onto the front of the sticker and smooth it down and trim it to size if you want. Now your sticker is ready for application, or distribution.

When you're ready to apply the sticker, you peel the backing paper off the original vinyl sticker, leaving it stuck to the transfer paper. Then you put the sticker on a surface, smooth it down and peel off the transfer paper. Done.

The Future

There is no real future. Just having fun. I'll keep making these and keep sticking them to various devices and surfaces around the house, and I'll give them away to friends, coworkers, family who want them. I'm not going to try selling stuff that is pretty often copyrighted and someone else's creation.

But if someone has an original design they'd like to make stickers out of, hit me up and maybe we can work something out. That'd be fun.