How to start a business with a vinyl cutter machine

Written by matt mckay
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Enter the world of sign-making by starting a business with a vinyl cutter machine. Also called a vinyl plotter, these machines are computer operated and produce cut-out self-adhesive vinyl lettering and logos for application to sign materials, vehicles, windows and other surfaces. Before starting your new business, you'll need some training on the machine. Graphic design skills are essential as well, so if you aren't skilled or don't want to learn design software and best practices, consider hiring a graphic designer.

Skill level:

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  1. 1

    Develop a business plan and register your business with your local town hall and your state's department of revenue or taxation. You will need your business registration to purchase supplies for sign-making from wholesale distributors. In the plan, include a list of competitors, your strengths and specialities, your marketing research, the pricing strategies you will use and day-to-day operational information.

  2. 2

    Contact sign equipment and material distributors and inquire about equipment and supplies. Some distributors sell turnkey vinyl sign setups, which are equipped with a vinyl cutter, computer, software, vinyl sheets, blank sign materials, application tools and training materials. Large distributors such as SignWarehouse or U.S. Cutter can be found online; locate others, such as Sign Craft, in sign magazines.

  3. 3

    Purchase a training video or book from your supplier for your particular machine to help you get started in the sign business and operate your equipment with a minimal learning curve.

  4. 4

    Purchase your equipment and supplies. You will need at least a vinyl cutter, graphic design software compatible with your cutter, a computer, a selection of coloured vinyl rolls, sign materials (called "substrates" or blank sign material) and sign application tools. Sign application tools include vinyl application squeegees, rags, vinyl application fluid, air bubble needles, rivet brushes, razor knives, rulers, tape measures and masking tape.

  5. 5

    Set up your shop according to your machine's size requirements. You'll need plenty of flat workspace to make signs, so purchase as many work tables or desks as your space will allow.

  6. 6

    Create a pricing schedule for your signs. There are many methods used to price sign jobs, but one way is to figure hourly labour, machine and overhead costs, and add them to the time and square footage material costs for the job. When you derive a cost-based figure, add a markup percentage as determined in your business plan. Typical markup percentages in the sign business range from 50 to 150 per cent over cost.

  7. 7

    Market your sign business on the Internet, with ads in local newspapers and by passing out flyers, business cards and brochures to local businesses. Advertise by creating attractive signage for your place of business and work vehicle.

Tips and warnings

  • If you'll be installing signs as well as creating them, purchase ladders, drills, and other installation tools such as sign squeegees, screws, screwdrivers, and a hammer and nails. You may need a delivery vehicle as well. Alternatively, hire or contract with a qualified sign installer.
  • Consider liability insurance, if not already required in your state, to protect yourself against potential lawsuits.
  • If you contract with an installer, ensure he has liability insurance before sending him on a job.

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