How a Vinyl Cutter Works?

A vinyl cutting machine is one of the most helpful inventions ever made by man.

The versatility surrounding this machine is quite exceptional. You can use to do a wide range of crafting projects—including decals, stickers, labels, scrapbooks, 3D objects, signage, t-shirt transfers, car wraps, cards, origami, and many more.

What’s more, you can now find hobbyists as well as commercial models to help cater to the needs of different users.

But how exactly does this machine work to accomplish soo much?

How does it get to cut your vinyl projects with the ultimate precision?

Below, we unmask the operation principles of this cutting machine and other details you need to know about it.

What is a Vinyl Cutting Machine?

In the simplest terms possible, a vinyl cutter refers to a computer-controlled machine that lets you trim vinyl material into letters and shapes.

A vinyl cutter isn’t a huge machine and looks like your desktop printer. You might even mistake the two if you haven’t seen the cutting machine before.

For even easier understanding, think of the vinyl cutter machine as your desktop printer…while the printer controls a nozzle to put words on a printable paper, the computer controls a sharp cutting blade over the surface of the vinyl material to be cut—resulting in precise cuts.

A vinyl cutter shouldn’t be confused with a heat press machine. While the cutting machine cuts the design out of vinyl, the best heat press machine enables you to transfer the design to a garment or any other item.


The first-ever instance of a cutting machine dates back to 1888 when a Canadian investor came up with a machine for cutting through fabric. This machine was simply mounted on a motor and then mounted on a given platform to serve as the cutting base.

Needless to say, the first machine was pretty big and bulky. And the modern-day compact and efficient machines are sufficient proof of how far this machine has come to be what we know today.

Not to forget, the first machines were only meant for commercial use, unlike today, where you can find commercial as well home/personal cutter varieties.

Enough of defining a vinyl cutter, right?

Let’s get into details on how this machine works...

How Does a Vinyl Cutter Work?

If you do a quick search today on major online shopping platforms, you’ll realize that these machines are available in hundreds (if not thousands), with varying functions and capabilities.

Despite this variation, all the machines follow the same working principle as we’ll discuss below.

We have just said it above…a cutting machine features a small blade, with the computer showing the blade where to cut on your vinyl material.


For you to cut anything with your machine, you’ll first need to feed it to the device on the cutting platform.

But how does the computer know what to be cut?

You dictate to the computer what to be cut.


By first coming up with a design that needs to be cut out from the vinyl material. You can create your own design, choose from the cutting software library, or create one scratch (using a design software).

You’ll need to open the cutting software that came with your cutting machine, and then import the design to be cut onto the software’s work area.

The software will then convert your design into a vector-based image for smooth cutting. The computer follows the vector path of the vector-based image, and this way, it’s able to control the cutting blade on whether to cut.

The result is a precisely and professionally cut design or artwork!

Once you have loaded your image and the design is ready for cutting, you can tell your cutting machine to start cutting by pressing the CUT button or any corresponding button (for your specific machine).

You’ll notice the cutter moving side by side as the vinyl material being cut moves back and forth—indicating the cutting is going on.

When the machine is done with the cutting, you can then unload your design careful and weed out any undesired parts before transferring it to the target surface.

NOTE that the vinyl cutting machine blades can only cut one color at a go. If you have a multi-color design, therefore, you’ll need to cut one color at a time. And, then, individually place all these colors on the template you’re working on to bring out the final design.

Home vs. Commercial cutter: Do They Operate The Same Way?

You might be wondering if the cutting machines meant for home use work in the same way as the commercial-based models.

The answer is, YES.

Even though both types of machine significantly vary in terms of functionality and pricing, they follow the same operation principle we have just discussed above.

The slight variations in specifications and versatility between these machine will help you determine which machine best fits your needs.

You can look out for key specifications such as size, blade force and pressure, cutting speed, and the cutting capabilities (or the types of material that are compatible with cutting with the machine’s blade).

ONE THING that hugely impacts how a given cutting machine functionality is the type of motor it comes with. The two most common motors include stepper and servo.

The stepper motor is mechanical. It’s driven using a physical gear and moves in small steps or increments. The best thing about this motor is that it’s more affordable. However, it produces a lot of noise when working and might not deliver precise cutting for the small graphics.

For the servo motor, it’s all about digitally controlled movement. And as you can easily guess, this is the type of motor that delivers smooth and precise cutting results for both small and big graphics. It even has superior cutting capabilities, which is 10x better than what a stepper can produce. Not to forget this type of motor works quietly.

What Can You Use Your Cutting Machine for?

Now that you know how a cutting machine works, you might be wondering what things you can do with it.

The BEAUTY of the cuttings machine is the incredible versatility it offers you. It lets you cut a wide range of materials and create different things with it. It’s simply the type of machine you need for all your crafting projects.

Some of the most common arts/crafts project you can accomplish with this machine include:

  • Stickers
  • Car decals
  • Signs
  • Iron-on transfers
  • Clothing and accessories
  • Cards and stationery
  • And many more!

Final Verdict

There you have it! That’s how a vinyl cutter works. The machine simply relies on the computer, which directs and controls its sharp blade on where to cut on the surface of your vinyl material, producing your desired results.

Though the market is filled with cutting machines that widely vary in terms of cutting capabilities, functionality, etc., they all follow the same operation path. Whether you invest in the commercial or personal cutting machine, both have a similar working principle.

  • Updated December 11, 2019
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