Vinyl cutting for window decals


Chiara Esposito
The goal of this project was to give passersby a partial but quick grasp of what goes on at PlugnMake FabLab Delft, even if they might be not that familiar with the concept of FabLab yet.
After long yearning, finally summer brought nice weather and… Suitable conditions to apply some vinyl decals on our glass door
Materials and tools:
– Vector graphic software: Inkscape
– Whiteboard marker
– Painter tape
– Vinyl roll
– Application tape (film)
– Cutter
– Hook and tweezers for “weeding”
– Vinyl squeegee
– Glass detergent
cutter, tape, ruler and marker

Tools for application

DESIGN

Before even starting designing, you need to make a major decisions:
Do you want to apply your decals on the inner or outer side of your glass?
Instinctively, my first idea was to put them on the inside, where they would have been protected from all weather conditions and lasted longer. This is definitely a good point, but then you have to deal with the kind of vinyl you’re going to use and with light reflection that may seriously affect the readability of your graphics from the outside.
So, my constraints were:
– Application: as you might have foreseen, I decided to apply the stickers on the outer side of the door. This also meant no graphic mirroring
– Dimensions: I measured the space on the door where I wanted the stickers to be placed;
– Kind of vinyl: for outdoor application;
– Color: I went for black vinyl because, in the spot where it would have been applied, it gave the best contrast with the background;
– Finishing: between gloss and mat, I went for the latter in order to avoid possible reflections on the vinyl itself.
I realized the whole design in Inkscape and exported it in dxf.
screenshhot of the design in Inkscape

Inkscape screenshot

Then I imported the dxf in Silhouette Studio, the software that comes with and manages the vinyl cutter, “Silhouette Cameo”. Given the dimension of the graphic, I cut the design in two parts in order to make it fit our vinyl cutter’s max width (ca. 30 cm). This way I obtained two long strips, an upper and a bottom one:
screenshoot with design and settings in silhouette studio, software to vinyl cutting

Silhouette Studio screenshots

By now Silhouette Studio has also design functions, but I still feel much more comfortable and in control in a CAD or vector graphic software.

VINYL CUTTING

I uploaded vinyl on the roll, with no cutting mat. You could do so with paper backed materials. In fact, if well set, the blade will cut the vinyl but won’t go through the back paper.
Keep your graphics slightly smaller than the vinyl’s width allowing always some extra space on the sides. While uploading your media, pay attention to the position of the rollers adjusting them to the width of your vinyl for secure grip. Make sure that both rollers are on your vinyl, but not on your graphics, the whole time.
Cameo’s default settings for vinyl worked great:
Blade setting: 2
Speed: 8
Thickness: 9
Cutting mat: none
In a few minutes, both the strips were cut and ready for weeding.

WEEDING

Weeding is the process of removal of the excess vinyl, that is the negative of your graphic. To work comfortably, I suggest you fix your cut vinyl on a cutting table and use a specific hook. Keep also tweezers at hand reach (very useful for small pieces). This phase can be quite boring, depending on how complex and detailed your graphic is. Take your time then, and check that you are not removing useful parts, especially if small.

APPLICATION TAPE

Now it’s time for application tape. It allows you to apply the stickers on the surface keeping the relative position of the elements of the graphic. Application tapes come in paper or transparent plastic film. The latter can be very useful when you need to look through it during application.
With your weeded vinyl still flat, apply the tape trying to exercise even pressure on the surface so as to avoid bubbles or wrinkles that may cause deformation of the stickers. You want your transfer tape to adhere very well to the vinyl underneath, so use a squeegee to improve adhesion and minimize air bubbles that may have occurred:
applying the transfer tape on the stickers

You could use another roll/tube to unroll the application tape on your stickers

Usually you don’t remove the back paper now, but only during the application phase. In my case, I preferred to remove it as I had Mario helping me hold the sheet on the door, and I could better look through the application film.

Removal of the back paper

APPLICATION

At this point, you only need to apply the stickers on your surface. First of all, clean the surface and be sure not to use greasy detergent.
For large graphics, you may want to create some reference on the support to correctly place and align them. In my case, I used a whiteboard marker and some painter tape to draw my frame on the glass:
designing guidelines on the door' glass

Guide frame on the glass

Here, another couple of major decisions come:
Would you go for dry or wet application?
In general, vinyl adhesion is guaranteed by producers only for dry application. But if you don’t feel confident, go for the wet one. Spraying little soapy water on your support before application will allow you to slightly adjust the position of the vinyl in case of mistake.
I actually went for dry application as this requires more attention, but also makes impossible to move the stickers accidentally.
What method would yo use: top, bottom or middle hinge?
Regarding the technique, the most proper one is mostly related to the dimension and proportion of the graphic. In case of an accentuate rectangular shape I would rather choose the middle hinge method, as I did for this project. This means starting applying vinyl from the center and then moving to the right and to the left side.
When you apply the stickers, do it slowly and always using the squeegee to proceed from the center to the sides. Also, if it’s not a small job, having someone helping you will also make the difference. The other person could for instance hold the right side while you are moving left, or vice versa… And that’s the reason why there are no pictures about the application
Now you need to remove the application tape. The adhesive power of the vinyl itself on your surface is much greater then the tape’s one, so no vinyl pieces should come off the glass. However, proceed (again!) very slowly, and always at a sharp corner:
Removal of the application tape

Removal of the application tape

first line of the sticker applied on the glass

Upper part is done!

I followed the same process for the bottom strip as well, and here is the end result:
the complete sticker applied on the door

Final result, quite happy with it!

Thank you all for reading! I hope you enjoyed this as much as I enjoyed sharing it

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