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What is a Vinyl Cutter Plotter?

Sherry Holetzky
Sherry Holetzky

A vinyl cutter plotter, frequently referred to simply as a plotter, is a piece of computer equipment frequently used for signmaking. A vinyl letter machine may be large or small and can be used to cut out vinyl sign lettering and other graphics, to make everything from bumper stickers to billboards. The vinyl used is like a decal material, with a vinyl facing and adhesive backing attached to a paper liner. Certain types are more durable and made to withstand exterior use. Heat-transferable vinyl, such as for making T-shirts, is also available and can be used with plotters.

While lettering was often stenciled, hand-painted, or hand-cut from vinyl in the past, a vinyl cutter plotter does the job much more accurately and efficiently. It doesn’t require an artist to make simple signs or wall lettering, just some basic instruction. A true artist or designer will obviously be more versed in space usage, color theory, and other important factors, but being able to cut lettering with a vinyl cutter plotter makes many simple lettering tasks simpler and more attractive than other alternatives.

Plotters automate the process of cutting vinyl, making the finished piece more accurate.
Plotters automate the process of cutting vinyl, making the finished piece more accurate.

Some of the more compact versions of the vinyl cutter plotter can be used with a desktop computer and printer. These versions are affordable and useful for small businesses, schools, clubs, churches, and even for use at home. Signs, posters, exhibits, and wall art can be created by typing in verbiage or adding graphics. Instead of paying top dollar to decorate or advertise, lettering and graphics can be done in-house, without the dreaded stencil and spray paint signs that tend to look less than professional.

Of course, there are also commercial versions of the vinyl cutter plotter as well. Some of these machines are very large and can cut lettering large enough to letter entire walls of large buildings or be applied to huge billboards. Commercial plotters tend to cut quickly, not to mention accurately, and allow for simple adjustments that improve spacing. Various fonts, or letter styles, may not space certain letters accurately, and this can be adjusted with a process called kerning.

The vinyl cutter plotter is still in use in many shops but many are being replaced by wide-format ink-jet printers. Imagine a huge printer capable of printing, or even mass producing, a banner large enough to cover a billboard. These printers are also able to create more in depth art and graphics as well as reproducing photographs, which a plotter cannot do.

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Discussion Comments


For anyone looking to go into the sign making business they must have a vinyl cutter. Without a vinyl cutter, they will be stuck with cutting by hand, which is not at all cost effective and would make anyone regret getting into the business. I make signs in a small rural town and it proves to be a decently lucrative enterprise. People need signs for various reasons (not street signs) and I am the one they come to for that, because there is no one else around to do that sort of work.

Because of the demand for my work I am not able to do the work by hand and *have* to utilize the wonderful machine known as the vinyl cutter. I guarantee the vinyl cutter I have will turn a two hour job by hand into no more than 20 minutes. Since the machine works on its own, you can do more work while it is doing the job or you can even take a break.

The only extra costs incurred with the machine is the program and all the other things that are used, like the special tape all come with any sign making business. Little pricy but they pay for themselves very quickly. The last one I got was paid for with one nice sized order.


@JimmyT - Oh boy I remember the days of cutting by hand. Those were days which I do not like to remember. It was so tedious and so time consuming it almost made the business not worth it, which is why I preferred to paint the signs instead.

Ever since they have invented and perfected the vinyl cutters business and my efficiency has picked up dramatically. It really is incredibly easy to decide on the designs you want on the computer, it is just like drawing on any Microsoft Word program that has drawing features. When you decide on what you want all you do is put the color vinyl into the machine and let it do its job. All that is next is to make sure when you remove the design (which you do with special tape) to make sure you place it straight without creases.

Considering that all I have to worry about now is to make sure I do not make creases I feel that my job is a lot easier and once buying the machine, was able to turn high profits from a small business.


My mother has been a sign maker for twenty five years and I remember when she first bought a vinyl cutter. Back in the late nineteen nineties she bought a vinyl cutter for five hundred dollars, much to the chagrin of my father. However, she nearly tripled her business due to the effectiveness of the machine.

For anyone that has ever cut vinyl by hand it is a very pain staking venture. I have tried my hand at it on numerous occasions and have not been very successful. It requires artistic talent and a very steady hand in order to accomplish good cuts by hand. That is why it was necessary for my mother to buy the vinyl cutter.

All that anyone needs to do in order to operate a vinyl cutter is buy the program for it and understand it well. My mother uses an older program called Arts and Letters and all she has to do is shape the lines she wants, which anyone can do, and draw, using the mouse on the computer the design she wants. Once she does that then she moves on to the vinyl cutter and lets it do its job.


A vinyl cutter plotter is usually very expensive but is an incredible pay off. The usual vinyl cutters usually cost around one thousand dollars and that does not include the programs that go along with the machine. Usually if you find a vinyl cutter, that is of high quality for under one thousand dollars, like one I bought for eight hundred dollars once, you need to jump on that opportunity.

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    • Plotters automate the process of cutting vinyl, making the finished piece more accurate.
      By: jurra8
      Plotters automate the process of cutting vinyl, making the finished piece more accurate.