If you have a flair for design and want to enjoy your job, doing something you really love, you may be looking in to how to start a vinyl cutting business. Vinyl decals and stickers are used almost everywhere and they are popular with both businesses and domestic customers. Not only that, but it can be a fun way to earn a living.
If you want to work for yourself, vinyl cutting can be a nice way to start. While you do need specialist equipment, you don’t have to spend a fortune to get started and you can get your business up and running from your own home. You don’t even have to be an expert with a vinyl cutter as long as you are willing to learn as you go along, we recommend the Silhouette Cameo model.
Vinyl cutters are used for making vinyl decals and stickers. These can be used anywhere and they are often a better method than using traditional paper stickers. Vinyl stickers can be used on windows and removed and replaced without leaving marks. They also peel off easier in one go and they won’t fade or crack if they are left for a long period of time. Vinyl is also tougher than paper and it won’t spoil if it gets wet. In fact, vinyl stickers can be wiped down to help keep them clean.
Before You Start
If you’re looking in to how to start a vinyl cutting business, you need to consider the business side of things before you start. You may have lots of ideas in your head, but write them all down as that will help you to create a definite plan for how you will develop your business. While you do that, you can think about the other practical aspects of a small business.
Tax: This is one of the most important things you need to do. All businesses need to register for tax. The IRS have lots of useful information on their website. Once you are registered for tax you must keep all invoices and receipts which relate to your business. There is lots of accounting software available to help you keep track of your businesses expenses but as your business grows you may want to hire a bookkeeper or accountant.
Budget: Most small businesses have a limited budget when they set up. It’s important to take note of this, so plan out exactly how much you need to spend on the essentials for your business and try to keep some money back for emergencies.
Marketing: When you first set up your vinyl cutting business, you will need to market it. How you do this will depend on where you are planning to sell your designs. You may also want to work out a budget for this. Social media is a good, free method of marketing your designs and is a good place to start.
Licences and copyright: If you reproduce any popular film character or cartoon characters there may be copyright implications. You must check these out before you reproduce them and if necessary, obtain a licence to sell them.
Shipping: All your orders will need to be delivered, so before you start ask yourself if you plan on shipping locally or to the whole world. Whichever you decide make sure you have the means of shipping an order before you advertise your products.
How Vinyl Stickers Are Used
Once you have the business side of things organised, and you understand more about how to start a vinyl cutting business, you can start thinking about creating your vinyls. When you set up your business you will need to decide where you plan on focussing your business. Think about what sort of vinyls would interest you most and tailor your business around those.
As a small business, you won’t be able to make enough to supply a national chain of stores with your vinyl stickers, but you can still work with local and smaller businesses. Here are just a few suggestions to give you a few ideas where you can sell your work.
- Local businesses: Companies use stickers and vinyls for a variety of marketing purposes, so there is a lot of choice for the things you can provide, including window stickers. Corporate events often provide attendees with goodie bags which may include stickers for phones or car windows.
- Schools: Kids love stickers and schools are always looking at ways of brightening up their classrooms and creating themes at different times of the year.
- Home decor: Wall stickers are a very popular way to decorate rooms, so creating patterns and designs to be used around the home can be a good way to start.
- Other craft businesses: Contact other small craft businesses in your area. They often require bespoke designs to finish off their product or put on the packaging and they will usually prefer to work with another local, small business.
- Fundraisers: Fundraisers always need stickers to promote their cause.
- Set up your own store: Once you have created a few designs and grown in confidence, you can look to sell them through your own store or on a stall at craft shows.
- Offer to print other people’s designs: Some creators have the designs but don’t have the knowledge or equipment to print them. You can offer your services as a vinyl cutter to help them create their artwork.
If you look around you, you will see stickers everywhere you go, and where you see stickers, you see a potential customer for your vinyl cutting business. People decorate cell phones with stickers, bike helmets, windows, walls, and you even see them on cars. As you go about your daily business, try making a note of where you see vinyl stickers to give you ideas of where to target your business.
The First Step: The Right Equipment
Once you have made the decision that you want to know how to start a vinyl cutting business, you need to make sure you have all the equipment you’re going to need. The list may seem quite daunting, but most of the items you need aren’t expensive.
Here are just a few of the essentials you will need for your vinyl cutting business:
A Computer: The good news is, it doesn’t have to have a high specification. You can create great artwork on a simple model. It can be either a Windows or Mac, whichever you prefer, but if you are looking to get started and trying to keep costs down, a Windows pc is probably the best way to get started.
Desktop Printer: This doesn’t have to have a high specification, so you don’t have to spend a fortune. If you plan to sell your designs, you’ll need to print shipping labels or guides for your customers. It also has to be compatible with the PC you have.
Scanner: Again, this doesn’t have to be an expensive model, but you could also purchase a printer / scanner combination to save you space and money. If you draw your own artwork you’ll need to scan it to be able to send it to your computer.
A Vinyl Cutter
If you’re looking for the best vinyl cutter for a small business you will have a choice of two different types of drive motor. The one you choose is down to your own personal preference and budget. The two options are either a mechanical stepper or a digital servo.
Mechanical Stepper: This is the cheaper option for those starting out. As it is mechanical this type of cutter can be a little noisy and it doesn’t cut quite so well on smaller, finer patterns.
Digital Servo: This is the more expensive option, but it is quieter and performs better on more precision cuts. Once you know your vinyl cutting business is taking off, it may be an investment to get one of these.
Before you decide on your choice of vinyl cutter there are a few things you should check out first.
- Does it work with your computer’s operating system? You don’t want to spend a lot of money only to find you can’t use it.
- What will you be using it for? If you are only likely to be cutting larger pieces then you probably don’t need the more expensive version.
- Does it do what you want? Always check the specifications before you buy, and make sure you check that you have the latest model.
- Does it work with plug-in / vector software? It will need to work with this so don’t buy anything which isn’t.
- Does it have free vinyl rolls? Some cutters will come with free rolls which helps you get started without extra investment.
Don’t worry too much about the size of your vinyl cutter. Unless you’re planning on specialising in larger shop signs, a standard cutter is usually plenty big enough to get your vinyl cutting business started.
These are what you print your vinyl on, and what your cutter is programmed to cut. Not all vinyl rolls are the same and as you get more experienced you will learn to recognise which roll is the best for each job. You should always choose one which fits the width of the cutting area on your cutting machine. Then, you need the right roll for the job you are doing. If you received some free rolls when you bought your vinyl cutter, then you can practice without having to purchase more rolls first.
- The Oracal 631 is a vinyl roll which works well for vinyls which are to be used both indoors and outdoors. The vinyl will last up to 3 years, but if used on some indoor surfaces they can last longer. The finish on this roll is a matt one so they create a lovely stencilled or hand painted look.
- The Oracal 651 roll can also be used both indoors and outdoors and it will last up to 6 years outside. You can choose between a matt or glossy finish and it also has a wide variety of colors. Don’t be tempted to buy as many different colors as you can as you may not use them all. The most popular colors are white, black, silver and red. This roll is a popular choice for car signs, windows and business signs.
There are many more choices of vinyl rolls and as you start to experiment you can try out different effects on more projects.
This can be used to stick larger vinyls together. You may need to get different rolls to practice on. Some vinyl rolls work better with different types of masking tape and trial and error is the best way to identify which roll requires which tape.
Masking tape can be transparent, non-transparent, low-adhesive and high-adhesive so you may need to use a few combinations before you get the required result.
If you’ve researched how to start a vinyl cutting business, then you will know that you need Vector drawing software to print and cut your vinyl. You can create your designs by hand, or create them with graphics software, but they must be in Vector format for the vinyl cutter to process them. Two popular choices are Adobe Illustrator and Corel Draw, both if which are compatible with Vector images. Software such as Photoshop will not work with a vinyl cutter, as they produce pixellated images, and vinyl cutters cannot read these.
If you plan to create signs, you will need software specifically designed to create shop signs. There are many different versions available so always read up on all software packages before you buy.
As well as your basic equipment, you will also need some other working items to get your vinyl cutting started.
- A Cutting Mat. It’s best to invest in a proper cutting mat as it will help you get a cleaner cut and will last longer.
- A ruler. You will use this as a ruler and as a straight edge to cut against, so choose one with a metal edge.
- Burnishing Tool. Useful for sealing tape.
- Tweezers / Xacto knives. If you print a complex design, you will need tweezers or Xacto knives to remove any small pieces which your vinyl cutter has not been able to cut cleanly.
- Squeegees. Useful for pressing tape to seal two larger vinyls together.
- A work bench. Something solid and which has plenty of space for you to work.
The Next Step: Create Your Vinyl
Now you have done all the ground work and found out how to start a vinyl cutting business, you can start to have fun. With all your equipment in place, you can start to create your vinyls.
If you follow the right process you’ll soon have some original designs to start selling.
The first thing you need to do is actually create your artwork. You can draw it by hand and scan it in to your computer, or you can use your graphics software to create an image on the screen. If you want to use a popular film character or cartoon, always check first to see if you have to apply for a license before you start selling it. Remember, you must use software which can create Vector art.
The way vector art is stored and created differs from other images such as a .png or a .jpg. These image files are stored as pixels. A vinyl cutting machine does not recognise a pixel so it cannot cut these images. Vector art creates clean lines and straight edges, which helps the vinyl cutter calculate where it needs to cut. Vector art also has less colors to choose from which helps create a clearer image.
When you have your artwork design ready, you then need to import it into the vinyl cutting program. This software will let you edit the artwork so you can get it just right. The program will often let you change the size or scale, alter the rotation, add a frame, change the format and edit the tone and color as well. When you buy your vinyl cutter, check to see if it has software included as it easier for you to get started.
Once the artwork is loaded, you need to load your vinyl in to your cutter. Check the instructions carefully to make sure you load it correctly, and don’t be put off if you make a few mistakes when you first start. The cutter should have a holder where you can place your vinyl roll so you don’t have to cut a piece off.
With your vinyl loaded, you can then alter the blade itself. When you first start using your cutter you may forget to do this, but each time you cut you should check the depth and pressure of the blade. While every roll of vinyl may look the same, there may be slight differences in the thickness and this can alter how cleanly your artwork is cut.
Then, assuming you have already connected your cutter to your pc, you can set the cutter to start cutting. Depending on how large or complex your design is, the cutting process can be as short as a few minutes or as long as a few hours. Just leave your cutter to do its job then come back to see the finished result.
When the cutter has finished, you may need to do some manual editing, or weeding. If you have a particularly complex design, some of the rounded pieces may not be quite as clean as you’d like, and the vinyl cutter won’t recognise transparent areas either. To clean up edges which are not clean cut, or to cut away transparent areas you will need your Xacto knives or tweezers. Take your time to carefully remove anything which won’t form part of the final pattern.
Once your vinyl is ready you can add the sticky part. Just remember, if it’s designed to go in a window, the sticky side needs to be at the front. For this you’ll need transfer or application (app) tape. Place the tape on the vinyl, then use your squeegee to flatten it right down.
The Final Step: Marketing and Selling Your Vinyls
Now you’ve got some vinyls printed, you can start selling and making some money and you’re well on your way to knowing how to start a vinyl cutting business.
Your biggest decision when you start selling is whether to sell online or build up a customer base in your local area.
- One way to work locally is to find local craft shows and set up a stall of your own. This can be a great showcase for your designs and it can also put you in touch with other small businesses who may benefit from your services.
- The harder way to build up a local business is by contacting any businesses who you feel would benefit from your vinyls. If you haven’t yet built up a reputation then this can prove tricky and it may take a while for you to build up a client base. If you love your craft and your designs, though, your enthusiasm may well win them over if you keep on trying.
Selling online is by far the easiest way to get started these days.
There are many sites where you can set up a store quite cheaply as a show case for your work. Ebay, Etsy and Shopify are just three such sites who all have affordable monthly plans and who offer different shop designs which are easy for anyone to set up.
You will need to have good, clear photographs of all your vinyls in order to list them for sale. You don’t have to invest in a professional photographer, but do make sure you have plenty of light when you take your pictures and that they are clear. You want to show your designs off to their best advantage.
Your description of your vinyl does not have to be long, but before you list anything for sale, make a note of the important things which you need to include in your listing. These can include things such as size and if you offer different colors. Then you need a brief description which should be well written to tell all your potential sellers how good your products are.
One big advantage of selling online is that you can sell anywhere in the world you want to. If you do plan on selling to another country check out the shipping costs first so you know how much to quote for this on your listing. The UPS website will help you calculate how much you will need to charge.
You also need to consider how you will receive payment. Paypal is a popular payment provider which is used the world over, and if you don’t have an account, it may be worth you signing up for one. It also allows customers to use their credit cards to pay you, even if you do not have an account which can accept this type of payment.
Customers may well have questions about your vinyls as well, so be prepared to answer any queries quickly and professionally. Some customers may also have complaints, and no matter how unjustified you feel their complaint may be, or how unreasonable their attitude may be, never be drawn in to arguments. Always try to resolve all problems as efficiently as you can. Good customer service is the best way to get people to recommend you.
Once you have your store set up, you can start to promote it. Social media is a good way to promote any business. If you have a Facebook account, you can set up a free page just for your business and ask any of your friends to like and follow it to help get it noticed. If you use social media just remember that one or two well-designed posts with photographs are worth more than 10 random posts a day. Other social media sites such as Pinterest will let you post photographs of all your designs as a showcase for what you can do.
Blogs are another good way to help promote your business. If you have a store website, you can often add a blog to this to tell everyone how you created your best designs. Blog posts need to be well-written and easy to read, so if you are not the best writer, ask your friends and family as you may know someone who can help you out.
Step 4: Keep Going!
It may take time for you to get a name for yourself and create a good list of customers, but if you persevere you will get there in the end. When you start out, try to keep the number of products you provide limited to a certain type or aimed at a particular clientele, rather than try to aim at every type of vinyl at once. As you build and develop your business, you can add new ideas and products.
One rule of business which causes a lot of people to fail, is to be professional at all times. Communication is key. If you don’t tell a customer that their order may take longer than you quoted, don’t be surprised if they go elsewhere. As long as let them know and give them an idea how long it may take to produce their order, they are usually prepared to wait.
Now you’re creating your vinyls and building up customers, you can start to enjoy what you do and build up your business.
If you’re looking for a bit of inspiration, check out this beginners tutorial on how to get started with your vinyl cutting business.