How to Use a Vinyl Cutter for T-Shirts: A Detailed Guide

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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If you have ever wanted to get your designs onto a t-shirt, you are in luck. It is a relatively painless and straightforward task with the use of a vinyl cutter. All it takes is a little know-how and a few reasonably cheap materials to get started. Soon enough, you will have started a neat assembly line and can roll out your custom-design shirts. Here are a few things to consider when it comes to how to use a vinyl cutter for t-shirts.

Tools & Materials

First things first, you will need both a 100% cotton t-shirt and a vinyl-cutter. The choice of the t-shirt is up to you, but it is best to start with a blank one. There are a handful of vinyl-cutters out there; you will not need something too fancy or expensive. There are some other things to consider. You will need heat-transfer vinyl, weeding tools (such as tweezers and Exacto knives), scissors, and either a heat-press or a standard clothing iron.

Design

There are two ways to go about designing this. You can create the design using practical tools and equipment such as sharpies, pens, and paper. Or you can create the designs digitally using software such as Adobe Illustrator or InkScape. For the sake of this guide, we are going to follow the design process from a digital perspective.

First things first, open up your program of choice and create a new file. Make sure the blank image is set to measure in inches, with both a width and height of 12. You can now add an image of your choosing, or text, adjusted accordingly.

Cutting

Once you are happy with your design, you are going to need to export it to the vinyl-cutting program of your choice. Again, there are a handful of programs from which to choose. If you are using a Cricut machine, you can use that device’s free software. To prepare the file for cutting, you will need to mirror the design to make sure that it prints out correctly. You can also set a bound box around it, which will make weeding a lot easier.

Pressing & Weeding

Once your design has been printed and cut, you can now weed the border around it, which will leave only the desired part of your design. Be careful not to pull too hard when weeding as this can tear part of the design. When you are done weeding, carefully stick the design to the t-shirt, making sure it is positioned just how you want it to be. Place the shirt onto the heat-press platform with the vinyl sticker facing up.

If you are using a clothing iron, find a large flat surface to use. When you are ready, close the heat press or press the iron against the shirt, and wait the required amount of time (15 seconds at medium pressure, a little longer for the clothing iron). When it is ready, relieve the shirt of its hot pressure and carefully pull the plastic sticker off.

The t-shirt is now complete, and the process is easily repeatable, allowing you to create as many custom-design t-shirts as you want.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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