Photo by Hep Svadja, sticker design by Caleb Kraft. Vinyl Cutter.

Photograph by Hep Svadja, sticker design by Caleb Kraft

Of all the digital fabrication tools explored in our Digital Fabrication issue, cutting plotters have spread the furthest into the consumer marketplace, thanks in part to the evangelism of Oprah, Martha Stewart, and thousands of Etsy crafters worldwide.

These are no longer just for Christmas design patterns you can buy from retail outlets. At the heart of these plastic shells lies a computer-controlled craft robot that drives a selected tool (often a blade) along paths set by the vector-graphic design file submitted to the device’s control software. If you notice a similarity to some 3D printers, it’s no accident: Cutters played a crucial role in inspiring the designers of desktop extrusion-based 3D printers.

There are many names for these tools, varying based on the device’s intended use, but “cutting plotter” is the most broad, and “vinyl cutter” is one of the most common. Don’t pick a machine just based on speed, force, and price — look at drive motor, tracking, form factor (craft cutter or roll-feed plotter), and your intended use. The three machines you’ll see here are all useful for projects from stickers and labels to foamcore prototyping and building PCB circuits. So skim past the “Buy Here” links for holiday trifles, flip open the hood of the cutter, and consider the diverse range of uses at your fingertips.

Here are a few projects to get you started:

Simple Silk Screens

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Use a vinyl cutter to make the task of creating silk screens much easier.

 

Custom PCB Resist

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Custom PCBs require a stencil. Cut down the time it takes to create them by using a vinyl cutter.

 

Make a 2 toned sticker

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You know you want to make your own decals. This tutorial shows you how to layer things for 2 toned results.