How To Buy A First Vinyl Cutter
Vinyl Cutters are printers that instead of using ink, maneuver a knife around a plastic self adhesive to make really intricate stickers. You've probably seen some great vinyl cutting work on the back windshield of cars, in the windows of your favorite stores, or the remnants of it on a great air brushing job.
There are many reasons you might buy a vinyl cutter. It could be for your small business, or it could be the very reason you're starting a small business. However, without a basic understanding of what you're buying you may end up with something way to powerful for you, or something not powerful enough. Knowing your requirements is critical.
The first requirement you should consider is how small you'd like to cut. While even the smaller vinyl cutters can cut big letters, not all of the vinyl cutters can cut really small intricate things with a great level of accuracy. Generally, the small you'd like to cut, the high quality machine you're going to need. If you need to cut things smaller than .75", you're going to nee to invest in a very high quality machine. However, if you're OK with 1" letters or designs (and this is actually very small), then one of the most cost efficient models will do.
After you've figured out the smallest you'd like to cut, it's time to consider the largest you'd like to cut. Don't be misled by the size of your vinyl cutter. Just because it's only 12" doesn't mean it can only cut 12" designs. This simply means that one of your axis will be limited to 12". For example, your letters could be 12" high. Having 1 foot letters is actually very large, and if that's the biggest you'd need to go, a 12" machine will do fine for you. However, in my experience not being limited by the axis is very beneficial and a larger machine, like a 24" cutter, will afford you a greater level of flexibility so you can spend more time working with your vinyl and less time fighting to get it cut out. Also, the cost difference in a mid-quality 12" and 24" machine is the difference of a couple of jobs. It's very important to buy as "best" you can from the start. It will save you headaches in upgrading later.
The final consideration is your existing hardware. If you run a mac you'll need to figure out if your cutter is compatible with popular mac cutting software like SignCut. If not, you'll want to consider installing a virtual windows machine to do all of your cutting from.
If you run windows, you'll have little problem finding great software as almost every cutter has a windows interface and software for it. However, just because you have cutting software doesn't mean you'll have design software.
Many vinyl cutters come with a crippled version of a popular sign software. It works really well for making letters and basic shapes, but if you want to get into anything more advanced you'll likely want to purchase their full version and this is very costly. ($2000+) However, open source alternatives exist that are nearly as good, or in some cases better as the commercial software. One such software is Inkscape. It's an open source vector drawing program that has shown exceptional results in my business. It runs on almost anything, includiing mac and linux, and doesn't need a very advanced computer to function handily.