Skill Builder: Create Custom Decals With Desktop Cutters

Art & Sculpture Craft & Design Paper Crafts
Skill Builder: Create Custom Decals With Desktop Cutters

Desktop cutters, like those made by Cricut, Silhouette, and Uscutter, are a popular craft item. Pairing them with an inkjet or laser printer opens up a range of options like custom stickers, vinyl decals, and even heat-transfer vinyl designs for fabrics, to decorate and organize your life.


Some desktop cutters use proprietary software, while others let you import many file formats. Either way, it’s important to understand the difference between vector and raster images. Vector images use paths and points to display and transfer your design. They can easily be sized up or down because the shapes are dynamically scaled. Raster images are made up of a set amount of pixels in predefined spaces, so they are not easily scaled up without losing detail.

TIP: When creating your digital design, add a square cutting boundary, called a weeding border, around the entire complete design (shown above).

Desktop cutting software tends to prefer vector files because they easily translate to cutting paths, but most software can also define cutting paths from raster images by tracing areas with great contrast either by hand or automatically.

TIP: If you’re doing multiple layers, include orientation marks in your design, such as crop marks or top/bottom marks, to help you easily align and place each layer.


Cutting standard single-color decals is easy and fun, but layering vinyl decals allows a ton of creative possibilities and lets you use the many color options available, including glitter and holographic treatments.

Cut your primary layer and use tweezers to pull out the excess material, or pin down delicate or detached areas a process called weeding. Apply transfer tape to the weeded design, and use a squeegee to firmly stick the transfer tape to the vinyl.


Lay down the first layer in the position you want the final design, then peel back the transfer paper and discard.

Repeat the process of weeding and applying transfer paper to the second layer. Position the second layer so that its orientation marks line up with those of the primary layer.

Continue adding each successive layer, orienting to the marks.

When you apply the final layer, firmly adhere everything together and remove the orientation marks.


Heat Transfer Vinyl (HTV) is specifically created for fabrics, which makes it an excellent choice for decorating T-shirts and tote bags or adding cosplay details. Like decals, you can layer HTV to create complex designs, but keep in mind that the repeated pressings can cause some HTV materials to shrink — to minimize that, choose a high-heat tolerant HTV material for your base layer.

Tote design and photo by Susy Zambrano – Instagram: @susy1017

Use a flat heat press or flat household iron, and always use multiuse paper or a towel underneath for protection. Set each layer with a quick heat press of a couple seconds. After the final layer, press for half the recommended time to adhere all layers together.


Being able to use your own cutting paths lets you create custom packaging, planner stickers, and shaped stickers of all sizes (Figure  ). Add a cutting layer when you design your printer artwork, or import your sticker designs into your cutting software and trace it to create the cutting paths.

Adoraboards design by Tamara Gray

Consider where you intend to place your stickers and what elements they may be exposed to when deciding what material to print on. Paper stickers are cheaper, but will fade in sun or moisture. Printable vinyl is stronger and can be laminated for waterproofing, but the inks can still fade. Using archival pigment-based inks may keep your stickers vibrant for longer — but it can cause some vinyl to shrink, so test it first.

Both inkjet and laser printers will print stickers well. Inkjet tends to be better for color and gradients, and while cartridges are expensive, you can refill them yourself. Laser printers are better for precision line work and graphics, and even though the upfront cost can be more, over time you will pay less in toner. Regardless of which you choose, make sure you always use paper designated for your printer type.

CAUTION: Don’t use inkjet paper in a laser printer. This can cause the vinyl sticker material to melt and ruin both your design and your machine.


Visit Make: online to learn how to use your vinyl cutter for making silk screensspray paint stencils , and even custom circuit boards.

No matter what you decide to make, most manufacturers have online guides for getting the most out of your cutter, and you can also seek help from the many active online communities.



Discuss this article with the rest of the community on our Discord server!

Light cutter, fashion trend hunter, urbex artist, and space enthusiast.

Staff Photographer and Photo Editor at Make.

View more articles by Hep Svadja


Maker Faire Bay Area 2023 - Mare Island, CA

Escape to an island of imagination + innovation as Maker Faire Bay Area returns for its 15th iteration!

Buy Tickets today! SAVE 15% and lock-in your preferred date(s).