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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Viny Cutting Machines: More of What you Wanted To Know

LOTS of interest on this topic! Vinyl cutting is a lot of fun and can be done on LOTS of different machines, including hobby craft cutters. I own a QuicKutz Silhouette but the ProvoCraft Cricut, Xyron Wishblade, Pazzles Inspiration, Graphtec CraftROBO and the Klick-n-Kut Element all have the ability to cut vinyl. Here's how to begin:

1. Get comfortable using your machine. Paper is cheaper than vinyl so experiment with it.

2. Order your vinyl & materials. I prefer Oracal 631 matte vinyl from simply because they are closer and ground shipping costs less. For a list of all the materials you will need to buy, view my blog post on Vinyl Cutting: Everything You Wanted To Know.

3. Start cutting and having fun!

How To Figure The Vinyl Roll Size You'll Need To Buy: Vinyl typically comes in rolls of 15 or 24 inch widths but craft cutters don't accept vinyl that wide so you'll have to cut it down before you can feed it through your machine. A smart thing to do is take the minumum required material width your machine accepts and see if it divides evenly into 15 or 24. For example, my Silhouette requires material be a minimum of 8.5 inches wide (and it does best with 9 inch wide material). Neither one divides into 15 or 24 evenly so I then consider what I will mostly use the vinyl for: small to medium craft projects. Based on that info I buy the 15 inch wide rolls and then cut 9 inch strips from the roll, giving me 9x15 inch sheets every time which are perfect for all the little quick-runs I do. If I know I will be cutting larger vinyl for wall hanging or sign boards, I'll go ahead and order a 24 inch roll, repeating the same steps to cut 9x24 inch strips.

I'm going to describe this fast-cutting technique further, since I know it can be confusing without pictures: Set the roll on it's end so it stands up on it's own nice and tall. Unroll 9 inches of vinyl. Cut the vinyl VERTICALLY (from top to bottom) to produce a tall, skinny sheet that is 15 inches tall and 9 inches wide. Feed this into your Silhouette. Repeat with a 24 inch roll.

What Length Should I Buy? Once you have determined the width you want, it's time to select the length. Rolls are usually 10, 50 or 100 yards long. I personally opt for 10 yard rolls (15 inch width) because I do not sell cut vinyl online and the lower cost per roll allows me to purchase more rolls in different colors. However, less than a year after buying my machine, I am on my third roll of white and second roll of ivory and chocolate brown so if your supplier gives a discount for buying larger rolls, consider this option for colors you use frequently.

Other Vinyl Ideas, Tips & Tricks:

- For the easiest weeding and best-looking results, buy good quality vinyl.
- Application tape can determine whether your vinyl will make it on the wall or rip the paint straight off the spackle. Spend good money here, too. This is extremely important if you intend to sell your vinyl because the general public expects vinyl to apply flawlessly to ALL wall surfaces. Good application tape helps deliver on that expectation.
- To be honest, craft cutters don't cut as cleanly as commercial cutters so you won't be able to cut items quite as small. If you're looking to start a business, skip the craft cutters and consider a 24 inch desktop cutter. You'll be so glad you did!
- If your machine is producing rough-edge cuts but the image appears smooth on-screen, increase the threshold of your auto-trace. If you purchased the graphic in one of those big bulk-packs and are importing it directly into your software (no auto-tracing), it's probably the graphic causing this. For companies to provide so many shapes at regular intervals, quality must be sacrificed.

Frequently Asked Questions from my Inbox:

To cut down on the e-mails I get, here is what you're dying to know about vinyl!

• Why doesn't my machine accept JPGS?

A few do, most don't. Quite frankly this is so the retailer (who is not actually the manufacturer of your machine) can also make money selling shapes you buy & download to cut.

• Why won't my machine import/open/cut JPGS I found online and saved?

Most machines reject these images because a) they aren't clean or smooth enough to cut well and b) so you can't save the online picture of the shape the retailer is trying to sell and have your machine cut it.

• Why don't all my fonts show up in my cutter software when I want my vinyl machine to cut text? Where are they?

Only True Type fonts are available for use in vinyl cutting machine software. The missing fonts are Open Type and cannot be used.

• My machine can't find files that I know are saved on my computer.
Select IMPORT, not Open, to import purchased files. This is true for almost every personal or commercial cutting machine unless you have purchased files with specialty file extensions. Those you can open directly from the software File>Open menu.

• My Silhouette cuts along the edge of text and objects with a dashed line instead of a solid line. The letters are not cut out.

Your software's metafile settings and the image file settings are different colors. Click on Insert>Metafile Settings. The solid line color is red by default. Your image file should also have red lines when it is NOT selected. If your image file has lines any other color than your metafile line colors (red by default) then your machine will cut everything with dashed lines. Change your software metafile settings or, more simply, change the image file line color (Select image>Right Click>Line Settings) and then save over the original with the correct line color.

*Since Robo Master software uses red as it's default line color, I design and package my GSD files with red image lines. They will open and cut without these issues. (Unless you have changed your metafile settings of course!)

• How can I be sure that your designs will work with my machine?

Download my cute FREEBIE, which has all the file extensions we offer in one package. Once you find the file type your machine imports, you can confidently purchase additional graphic packs.

• Why aren't all the shapes in the commercial category also offered in the personal craft cutter category? I want the same shape in SVG.

Some of my designs sold in the EPS file format and are intended for commercial use only. This is to give small vinyl businesses fresh, new designs that grab attention in a very competitive market. It's my way of helping other stay-at-home moms and entrepreneurs provide cut vinyl designs every bit as appealing as the larger, over-priced companies. In order to truly help, and not compete with the businesses I'm trying to assist, I don't offer the shapes for personal cutting use.

Since some commercial vinyl cutters (ie: 24 inch desktop cutters) only import SVGs, I do offer the same exclusive shapes in the SVG file format with a commercial license for the same price as the EPS packs. This is a specialty purchase, please use the Peppermint Creative Contact Form to arrange this option.

• Where do you get your fonts? Are they free or do you have to buy them?

I get nearly all of my fonts from and because I am using them commercially, I do (and must) pay for commercial use fonts. Free fonts can be used for personal cutting projects but they are usually lower in quality than a pay font so make the investment and purchase some pretty fonts that cut nicely; they're usually under $20 each. Who's my favorite? Ronna Penner!!!!!
Please do not download and use illegal font copies! Font designers don't make as much money as you might think and designing a font takes nearly a year. If we want gorgeous new fonts in the future we need to make sure to pay the font designers for their work so they can continue designing!

More of What We're Up To

A warning to all you moms: drinking syrup is similar to eating too much Halloween candy. The sugar overdose is going to make your child sick. But, even if the first gulp is at noon, the puking never comes until the middle of the night. 1:42 am to be exact. Luckily I was still awake (working) and sat holding Aiden in the bathroom until the heaves passed. Once I was sure he wouldn't spew all over his room, I put him back to bed around 2:15 and went to bed myself. This morning he wanted pancakes and cried LOUDLY for the 20 minutes it took me to mix the batter and get the first ones off the gridle. I shouldn't have been surprised when he took a whiff off the warm, syrupy stack and burst into tears over, what I guess, was a fresh wave of nausea. I don't think he'll be drinking syrup again today! LOL!

Working at 1:42 am? Yes, I WORK! I am very lucky to be able to work from home in the evenings, and during some nap times, as a graphic designer while enjoying raising Aiden during the day. Problem is I don't have the benefits of going to a nice, quiet office somewhere away from the distractions of home to get my work done. So I simply hit the computer when Aiden goes to bed at 7:30 and quit working when I go to bed at 1 or 2 (or 3) in the morning. I absolutely love what I am doing, the only downside is that I don't appear to be a working mom! My friends who see me at the park or church luncheons assume that I'm just oblivious, clumsy and neglecting to call them when in reality I'm running on four hours of sleep, fumbling and dropping things in my delerious half-awake state and forgetting to call them because the grocery shopping needs to be done, my errand list is growing by the minute, graphics clients are e-mailing urgent questions, my responsibilities for the craft days need to be met, my jewelry orders are backing up, voice mails have gone unlistened to, floors un-mopped, Aiden has destroyed yet something else that requires industrial-strength cleaners (thank you ACE Hardware for stocking these), a friend is calling needing an emergency invite made/vinyl item cut/gift jewelry set, the laundry is backing up, Aiden is finger painting on the floor with melted popsicle AGAIN, I remember that yet another week has passed without me mailing that thank you/scheduling my doctor appointment/dusting the blinds & ceiling fans, the kitchen and highchair need their fourth? fifth? scrubbing of the day because my child still throws as much food as he eats, the dog is spotted with wet, sticky patches of fur in the shape of Aiden's little handprints - ah, it's syrup/liquid soap/pasta sauce/toothpaste, the tomato plant is lying uprooted on the back porch again, the trash is in the bath tub and all the bath toys are in the trash can, the dog wants to be fed and Aiden wants his afternoon outside play time, I must get the mail stamped and to the box before the mail lady comes, Aiden has to be stopped two dozen times from dashing towards the street and reminded in non-hysterical tones that "cars run over babies", the house needs it's quick pick-up before Brian gets home to see what a mess his son can make and dinner needs to be cooked. Oh, got a phone call, dinner needs to be cooked for us AND a neighbor in need and now it's 7:30, time to start work. WHEW! I forgot to call my girlfriends. :( Tomorrow, I promise myself. I really will call them and tell them how much I adore them tomorrow!

I love you gals. Sorry I'm so busy. It won't be like this forever, just for now. :)

OMGosh, Aiden just put candy up his nose - gotta go

Monday, March 30, 2009

Aiden Stories & Practical Jokes

The Practical Joke: We've been playing this practical joke on Aiden, which started out as an accident, became a total riot and then blew up in our faces. A couple weeks ago I hopped on eBay and bought a Pongo (101 Dalmatians) toy for Aiden since he has been loving the movie. When it arived one day last week, I didn't open the package until after he had gone to bed. In a moment of inspiration, I decided to set Pongo on top of the DVD player to distract Aiden from pressing all the little buttons, as is his morning routine. Plus I thought it a great way to not spoil him too much by having the toy just 'appear'.

The next morning Aiden gets up and walks past the toy several times. (Oblivious. He is SO my child.) Mid-morning he asks for the "puppy movie" and, since I'm already mopping up his messes, in goes the movie. The opening credits were playing when he spied Pongo. His entire expression changed - his eyes bulged, his mouth fell open and I'm pretty sure he went a shade whiter than usual. For the next three *SILENT* minutes he carefully paced the floor in front of Pongo, examining him from all sides and putting his face slightly closer to it to see if it would move. But he wouldn't touch it! Finally he got up the nerve to gently pet the toy and, discovering it was plastic, shouted "PAWGO" and delightfully played with him the rest of the morning. About 30 minutes later I caught Aiden peering in the tiny speaker holes on the TV to see if there were any other characters in there. Then I realized Aiden thinks Pongo came out of the TV!

Being the terrible mother - who feeds fruit snacks before 10 am - that I am, I couldn't resist repeating the joke when his Nemo bath toys (also from eBay but for his birthday) arrived a couple days later. The next morning was a complete repeat when Aiden saw Nemo sitting on top of the DVD player, grinning at him. That day he began looking in the speaker holes of the TV once every couple of hours while I kept my hand clapped over my mouth to muffle my hysterical laughter! Since Brian had missed all the fun before, Dory came out to play that evening after he got home. It wasn't quite as exciting because Aiden was starting to expect that Disney Characters escape the television set every so often and wait for him on top of the DVD player.

Of course nothing ever works out as smoothly as I plan with Aiden. The day after Nemo and Dory appeared I heard this awful racket and found him trying to send his entire duplo train into the TV through the same "magic portal", which resulted in me fishing duplo pieces out of the X Box disk tray and from behind every crevice of the TV stand. He looked at me in cynical disbelief when I explained that things could neither come out of or go in to the TV. I admit I had set myself up for this.

And I just couldn't quit. When Aiden's birthday gift from my parents arrived with a new Disney Cars toy inside, I decided to save it for an 'emergency' when I would desperately need something to distract him (read: less than 24 hours later when I wouldn't let him flood the tomato plant with any more water from his watering can). Since it had been a day or two since a character came out of the TV, I ran for the toy and plopped the brand new Red the Fire Truck on top of the DVD player while he was throwing the contents of my tupperware cabinet in the garbage can. (He'd obviously found his own activity to replace tomato drowning.) I plopped Aiden directly in front of the new toy so I could retrieve the plasticware and put the cabinet back together. Aiden cautiously poked with one gentle finger at the fire truck and WHEEEW - WHEEEW - WHEEEW it's siren went off. He was TERRIFIED. In fact he utterly refused to touch the fire truck again and, to this day, still has not played with the gift from my parents. (Sorry mom & dad.) Red now guards the tupperware cabinet.

The Syrup Story: This morning I decided to clean out my office. Ten minutes into the ordeal and I realized I had way too much cut vinyl sitting around so I e-mailed neighbors to come and get it for free. I took one TWENTY SECOND phone call from a friend to let me know she was on her way, hung up the phone and heard Aiden, who had suddenly appeared beside me, exclaim "YUMMY!!!!" and squeeze a nearly-full syrup bottle so a stream shot volcano-style out the top while he tried to catch it in his mouth. I'm pretty sure I nearly fainted when a river of syrup splashed across our five month-old office floors and pooled in the bevels between each board. I stripped Aiden on the way to his crib, thanking the Lord he's too afraid of falling to climb out of it, and raced back to the office praying that syrup was too cohesive to slip between the tongue and groove planks. On the way back I noticed the drip-drip-SPLAT pattern of syrup that extended from the pantry, down the hall, covered the entry way and drenched the office, marking exactly where Aiden had been standing when he made another syrup geyser to drink from.

I had just thrown the last paper towel in the trash when my girlfriend arrived. (This stuff is always instantly funny to anyone not experiencing it but I was able to laugh, too!) The now half-empty syrup bottle went back in the pantry and I was extra careful that the door stayed closed all day and that Aiden had plenty of water to try and dilute the pure sugar he'd just drank.

Along comes 4:30 and Aiden's sugar rush is in full effect. He's running FULL SPEED from the back door to the front door, pushing his ride-on toy and smashing it into the doors at each end with every pass while screaming giddily at the top of his lungs. You can imagine the headache that is building. I was currently doing the dishes when I made Aiden stop and wipe down his little table to end the SQEEEEEEE *BANG* cycle of repetitive noise. I throw something in the trash and instruct him to throw his paper towel away when he's done with the table. I have my back turned but I'm mentally counting the seconds, knowing I'll need to close the door once I get the big pan I'm working on scrubbed and rinsed. It's then that I hear "YUMMY! PANCAKES!" and whirl around in horror to see Aiden sitting on his ride-on toy with the syrup bottle completely vertical and his head tiled back, chugging the stuff like Buddy the Elf.

My eyeballs are throbing by the time I strip him out of his second syrup-soaked outfit for the day and rinse his face, hands and chest free of sticky residue. I call Brian to tell him today is one of THOSE days where he kindly needs to come home as fast as possible, which is never fast enough but I can at least collect my thoughts knowing help is on the way. I cleaned up the mess and made dinner while Brian came home to find Aiden strapped in his high chair watching a disney movie over the only patch of un-sticky tile in the living room with his bare diapered body still reeking of maple syrup. And my friends wonder what I am busy doing all day long!