Sign-making software is most often used in a professional sign-making business. The software works in conjunction with a vinyl sign cutter, also called a plotter. Some crafters may use a vinyl cutter and sign-making software to make signs for personal use or for other reasons, such as to make car decals or create custom scrapbook embellishments. The software creates coordinates on words and graphics and sends those coordinates to the cutter.
Though the process usually follows similar steps, capabilities of sign-making software programs vary widely. Some programs will take the user from design through the end; others require the user to design the graphics in another program and import those graphics to the sign-making software for editing. Companies that produce sign-making software may even offer several versions of their programs, with each higher level able to handle a little more of the total process.
Most programs, whatever their capabilities, use the words or graphics the user supplies to create coordinates which are sent to the vinyl sign cutter. The cutter uses the information from the sign-making software to cut sheets of vinyl appropriately. The vinyl wording and shapes may then be applied to signs and banners.
Vinyl sign cutters come in a variety of sizes, but 24 inches (about 61 centimeters) is a commonly preferred size. The larger the cutters get, the more expensive they get. While sign-making businesses may need larger cutters to meet their customers' demands, home users generally will accomplish their goals with smaller machines.
Sign-making software is generally most useful in sign-making businesses because the software is tailored to that market. The accompanying equipment, such as the cutter, may sell for a hefty price. Furthermore, the software often sells for hundreds of US dollars, so occasional home use may not justify the price of the equipment.
The term sign-making software can also refer to a totally different type of program; sometimes desktop publishing programs are marketed as sign-making software. Regardless of how they are marketed, these less specialized programs are basically visual designers. They can create smaller signs, fliers, brochures, and presentation papers. This type of software may be more user friendly to people with limited design skills. Some come with templates, ready-to-use graphics, and other features that are supposed to cut down on design time and frustration.
Choosing software may be difficult. Many versions are available. Reading reviews may clarify issues, and some producers offer free trial periods for their sign-making software. At the end of the trial period, if the user does not want to lose access to the program, he or she must purchase a license to use it.