Are you just preparing for a grand opening, or prepping for an event or tradeshow? Even if you’re preparing for a milestone birthday or a yard sale, a high-quality signage can make all the difference.

If you’re trying to decide which type of signage may work best for your business or event, consider a vinyl sign. Learn how these long-lasting and durable signs are made, and why you need one to grab the attention of your potential customers and bring in business.

Signmaking Hardware

A vinyl sign is more than just a gorgeous design. It starts with having some basic pieces of hardware to help you create your masterpiece.

Gone are the days of creating designs by hand. Most sign-printing shops use computers to design projects. While Macs are fairly popular in the design world, Windows-based computers offer more software options for vinyl sign creating. Many shops use a mix of both types of hardware.

The second critical piece of hardware is a vinyl cutting machine. Most shops have many different vinyl cutters on hand. Each cutter handles vinyl signs of varying length, image detail, and media thickness. Cutters also vary based on cost and speed.

Both the computer and the vinyl cutter are necessary to start on the creation of vinyl signs.


The key to effective and well-designed vinyl signs is the software. While many hobbyists or new print shop owners spend their time choosing between vinyl cutters, the key is actually in the design software.

Make sure when you’re selecting your software package that you’re not getting a trial or pirated version. Again, the design software is the key to vinyl signs, so this is the last place you’d want to cut costs.

There are some existing graphic software programs that can be used with a vinyl cutter. Because vinyl cutters use vector graphics, the software you use must use them too.

Examples of design programs that will work with vinyl cutters include Adobe Illustrator, CorelDRAW, and AutoCAD. Programs that are raster-based, and are therefore not compatible with vinyl cutters include Adobe Photoshop, Corel PhotoPaint, PaintShop Pro, and Microsoft Paint.

Keep in mind if you planning on sending files directly from Illustrator or CorelDraw to your printer, you’ll need a plug-in.

Vinyl Selection

It goes without saying that you’ll need vinyl to create vinyl signs. There are a plethora of vinyl, adhesive-backed options on the market.

To simplify, vinyl can be sorted into 3 primary categories: cast, calendared, and specialty vinyl. Cast vinyl tends to be more conformable and can be used on compound curves – like if you were wrapping a car. Cast is more expensive, but will also be the most durable, have the best color selection, and as mentioned, is suitable for compound curves.

Calendared vinyl will cost less and comes in both an economy (monomeric) and intermediate (polymeric) options. Selection of one of the other will depend on the finish, color, curve, and durability that you’re looking for.

Choosing a Background or Substrate

Vinyl can be used on many different backgrounds or substrates. This includes banners, glass, aluminum and corrugated plastic just to name a few.

Depending on what you’re using your vinyl sign for, whether or not you’ll be shipping or traveling with it, and whether or not it will be outdoors will be some of the considerations you’ll use to choose the proper background.

Vinyl Cutting Process

Once you’ve selected the type of vinyl you’d like for your vinyl signs and you’ve created an eye-popping design in a compatible program, it’s time to cut.

Vinyl cutters will only cut through the first two layers of a piece of vinyl – the face film on top and the adhesive back. It doesn’t cut all the way through to the release liner below.

After your image has been run through the cutter, the first step is “weeding.” Weeding is essentially removing all the vinyl in the negatives spaces from the design – the middle of an “o”, or the space between the lines of a capital “E.”

With just the design left, it’s time to get the design from the cutter to your sign.

Transfer or Application Tape

In order to get your finished, “weeded” design from the release liner to your desired background, you need to use transfer or application tape.

To transfer your letters or image, lay a piece of transfer tape on top of the vinyl face film, pressing it down flat with a squeegee. At this phase, the image is considered “pre-masked.” If you were to order a graphic online and have it shipped, it will come pre-masked.

Assuming the graphic is not being shipped and is being used in the shop, it’s time to apply it to the substrate, or surface of the item being used as a background for your vinyl sign.

Peel your transfer tape up off the liner so that your graphics or letters have adhered to the tape. Now it’s time for application!

Applying Your Graphics

Your letters or image can be applied to your background using either a wet or dry application method. Dry is the preferred method. For intermediate or premium vinyl, you’ll be able to reposition your graphic if it wasn’t placed correctly the first time.

Once you’ve got everything where you want it, use your squeegee to apply pressure to the tape, and subsequently, the graphic. The adhesive side of the graphic will stick to your background and you’ll be able to pull off the tape with no problem.

If you’re a little less sure about your accuracy, you can use an application fluid. Spray it on the adhesive side of your graphic before placing it down. This will make it easier to move around should you make a mistake when positioning it on your background.

Keep in mind, not all vinyl can get wet, so make sure to check that the vinyl that you’re using can withstand moisture prior to using the wet application method.

Vinyl Signs Ready to Go

Once your graphics have been applied, your vinyl sign is ready to go. If you’re preparing for a big event, either professional or personal, and looking for high-quality vinyl signs, we can help! Send us an email or give us a call and we’ll help you design a custom vinyl sign for your event.