How to Make Custom Projects Using a Vinyl Cutter

November 9, 2018

Some of the most popular items on websites like Etsy are customized t-shirts with names, funny quips, or mantras.

You can make your own t-shirt (or really any other fabric item) easily using a Silhouette or Cricut. 

First, make some decisions:

  1. Decide what to make (t-shirt, socks, even underwear!). Make sure the material you have chosen will stand up to hot iron. Natural fibers work best, like cotton and canvas. Synthetic fibers will melt at high temperatures.
  2. Pre-wash your item if possible. Sometimes starches added to clothes to keep them from wrinkling in store will prevent the iron-on from adhering.
  3. Find an image or customization idea that strikes your fancy.
  4. Determine what color you are going to use for your design, and make sure you have iron-on vinyl in that color.

Second, make a design by doing one of the following: 

  1. Buy a pre-made design in the Silhouette Store or through Cricut Design Access if you are in a rush!
  2. Find an open-source image on Google by typing what you are in search of, along with “open-source” to be sure the image isn’t copyrighted.
  3. Hand draw or create what you’d like to see on your customized item.
  4. If you are unsure, search Pinterest or Google for ideas, but be sure what you end up with is your own image and that you haven’t infringed on copyright.
  5. Bold, graphic images are best for beginners. The thinner the lines, the trickier it is to transfer the image onto your project! 

Third, get your image into the design software. 

  1. I have found the easiest way to do this is to take a screenshot- to capture an image from my computer OR to take a photo with my phone- to capture a hand-drawn image.
  2. Airdrop or email the picture to yourself if you captured an image with your phone.
  3. Save the image to a folder on your desktop or directly to your desktop so you can find it easily.
  4. Either drag the image into the software or import the image into the software.

Next, trace your image. 

  1. In Silhouette Studio, the trace feature is a butterfly image to the right of the screen. The yellow shading shows what will be traced, and where the trace lines will fall. The image I am using was created by my friend, Nick.

2. Within the trace feature, you can choose to only trace the outside line or trace all of the image. In Silhouette Studio,                you can choose solid fill or outline. Play around with the trace settings.

If using a more complex image, you can also adjust the threshold and turn high-pass on to capture more details. See               how the yellow fill changes by turning high-pass on and toggling the threshold?

3. Next, click trace. Red cut lines will replace the yellow                                  highlighted fill. You can delete the image you imported                               originally to see the cut lines more easily.

Then, edit the image. Here’s where you need to pay attention! 

  1. Identify any errors in the tracing, and delete any extra points. By double clicking on the image, you can see all the path points.
  2. To delete the points, click on one, and then hit delete. The dot you highlighted will turn red to highlight and indicate what dot you have chosen. This is helpful when there is a cluster of points together. I also find it helpful to zoom way in so I can see all the points more easily. 
  3. Another way to do this is to simplify the image. The software detects points that lay outside of the path, and deletes them for you. 
  4. Play around with the editing, and save intermittently if you have a version with you are happy with at some point.
  5. Be sure to check the size of your file and make sure it will fit on your t-shirt or project. I recommend 6″ or less across for a child’s shirt and 7-8″ across for an adult shirt. Larger images are the pits, if you know what I mean.
  6. Flip the image by going to OBJECT> MIRROR> FLIP HORIZONTALLY.

Be sure to flip your image, otherwise it will end up backwards! 

Cut the vinyl of your choice. 

  1. Adhere the vinyl you have chosen to your cutting mat.
  2. Load the cutting mat into your vinyl cutter.
  3. Send the file to the printer.
  4. Check the printer settings, be sure to choose heat transfer vinyl.
  5. Also make sure the blade is set to the recommended height, as seen on the print menu.
  6. Send the image to print!

Weed your design. 

  1. Cut the vinyl around the design so you don’t waste any leftover vinyl on the sheet. Don’t cut into the image!
  2. Peel any vinyl away from the image that you don’t want to include. Be sure to get the islands from inside the A, O, B, etc!
  3. Your design should be left on the backing, backwards!

Get your image onto your project! 

  1. Take the image and flip it over so the backing is facing you, and place it on your t-shirt or project.
  2. If you are using multiple separate designs, arrange them all at once. Be sure that the backing from one isn’t between the vinyl and t-shirt.
  3. Get a piece of parchment paper and put it on top of your design and project. This will protect your iron.
  4. Read the directions on the vinyl packaging to set your iron and count it out.
  5. Let the vinyl cool after ironing for about a minute, otherwise it might wrinkle when the backing is pulled off.

Gift your project or wear it! 




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