What is a vinyl cutter?
A vinyl cutter uses a small blade to cut designs in vinyl sheets. The excess material is removed and the vinyl sticker is picked up with a low-tack piece of tape called transfer tape. Because it is so simple, it is the perfect project for middle school kids! They work fairly quickly are easy to operate.
What can a makerspace vinyl cutter do?
The lettering on the side of a school bus or trailers is made using a vinyl cutter. Large and small signs are often vinyl. Almost all of the cutout stickers and bumper stickers that you see on cars are made of vinyl.
Why put vinyl cutters in a middle school?
Middle school is the best place to put a vinyl cutter! Kids are eager to put their mark on things; as soon as one kid cuts out their name or a favorite logo, they all are eager to make their own sticker. Middle schoolers also love to help out at school. The photo below is a vinyl project to label all of the school doors. Also below are the kids who put the vinyl on the side of the new school bus, saving the school $400.
Our fab lab vinyl cutters
We have two 24” MH Series vinyl cutters from USCutter. They have lasted very well over the past five+ years and have required zero maintenance (aside from new blades). We have gotten our money out of them!
Vinyl is pretty cheap when you buy a 50-yard roll. At a little over a dollar a yard, kids can cut little stickers for a long time without incurring too much expense. Another expense to consider is the transfer tape. This tape is used to pick up the cut vinyl and place it in the final position. This may cost more than the vinyl itself, depending on how much you use and the tape cost.
Common problems as middle schoolers use vinyl
Do not try to do fine lettering! Very small details are very difficult to work with and are fragile. Thus, bulky fonts are much easier to work with. Also, a very common problem is for a student to choose an image that has too many details. Keep it simple!
Advanced middle school vinyl
Kids have impressed me with two-color cuts and using the machines to cut heat-transfer vinyl for tee-shirts.
Other machines in the middle school Stem lab
A makerspace vinyl cutter in a middle school makerspace or STEM lab is a cheap way to get kids creating. Since we purchased ours, all of our middle school kids have wanted to use them!
What is great about our space is that kids have a lot of options of machines and projects to work on. Therefore, if we only had two vinyl cutters and no CNC machines or 3D printers, classes would be tough to manage. This is because having only a few work stations in the creative space would leave most of the class with nothing to do – a terrible idea. A great space will have many machines and stations for kids to work in.
Whole classes are able to work on 3D design. Because of this, I recommend getting all middle school students designing in 3D right away. Free access to my 3D printing curriculum is available on my 3D printing blog post to help teachers and students get started creating more easily!