This arcticle describes how to operate blade cutter as cheaply as possible while maintaining high quality of the output. My personal experience comes from operating a Silhouette Portrait cutter on Linux, but the tips and hints below are not necesarry restricted to it.

Content of this article flows in the same order as the cutting itself:

  1. Preparing the graphics
  2. Setting up the blade
  3. Choosing the material
  4. Cutting

Preparing the Graphics

You can save money at least in two ways here:

  • use Inkscape instead of paid vector editing software
  • avoid buying vector templates from stock galleries and instead prepare the vector template on your own in Inkscape.

Creating the SVG Template

Chances are you will find your desired SVG on Flaticon free vector gallery. If not, simply start with some bitmap image you discover via Google Images Search. As an example, we start here searching for “men shaking hands vector”. We download the JPG sample of the persons shaking hands. Video below depicts how to convert the JPG into SVG using Inkscape.

The Cutting Blade

The original cutting blade from Silhouette will cost you around 13 USD per blade and from my experience it will remain sharp for cca 50 runs.

Wondering if this is the only option, I found blogpost suggesting the blade can be replaced by a third–party solution named CB09 Graphtec Blade Holder. A typical ebay package consist of blade holder + 5 blades together for 21.5 USD, which is promising. There are also some claims these Graphtec blades last longer, but I cannot confirm that.

From my experience, the Graphtec blades operate perfectly on thin materials, but it is hard to properly adjust them to work with thicker materials. I am yet to discover why is it so, I only assume the issue has origins in the fact that the Graphtec holder is bit longer (maybe 0.2mm longer than the one from Silhouette) as depicted on the following image:

Graphtec CB09 vs Silhouette Blade Holder

Materials for Stencils

So far I am solely focused on cutting stencils, therefore I describe only this use case.

I discovered following more or less suitable materials as stencil media:

  • paper
  • laminating sheets
  • mylar sheets
  • frisket film
  • self adhesive vinyl sheets
  • x-ray prints

Below is a table summary of all these materials.

Paper

Paper is the cheapest option, but from my experience once the cutting is done, it is quite hard and nervebreaking to properly unstick the paper from the cutting mat without actually tearing up the paper – especially when the svg template image has a delicate design.

Laminating Sheets

Laminating sheets are very cheap, you get 100 pairs of sheet (i.e. 200 A4 sheets) for 26.99 USD.

They are very thin (75 microns), which is both advantage and disadvantage.

The good thing of laminating sheet thickness is ease of cutting.

The bad thing of such a thin sheet is the cutter blade may harm your design when it is too curly and very detailed. Another disadvantage of thin laminating sheet is that you should be bit careful when unsticking it from the cutting mat in order to avoid tearing it up.

Next, the laminating sheet is too flexible to be used on vertical surfaces without some frame supporting the sheet. You can decrease the flexibility of a laminating sheet by spraying it with dye color spray before actully cutting it. I also tried hair lacquer spray but dye colour spray is better.

To sum up, laminating sheets are fine when used on horizontal surfaces. Their initial high flexibility will decrease everytime you spray colour over them.

Next issue with laminating sheets is that you have to be careful with colour spraying power – too much power introduces strong air flow which easily moves the flexible sheet and breaks your design details.

Mylar Sheets

Mylar sheets are thicker than laminating sheets (typically 125-200 microns). Due to reason unknown to me they are much more expensive than laminating sheets, e.g. here we have 12 (A4) sheets for 17 USD.

Mylar sheets are strong enough to be used as stencils on vertical surfaces. They are heavy–duty and you don’t have to take that much attention when unsticking them from cutting mat. Mylar sheets also allow you to cut the most detailed designs.

X–ray Prints

X–ray prints are very similar to mylar sheets, but typically you get them for free if you know the proper person in hospital.

Unfortunately I did not had the opportunity yet so there is no experience to share, but you can check this resource.

Self Adhesive Vinyl Sheets

They are quite expensive, e.g. here on ebay one piece (A4) for cca 1.5 USD. They are not very suitable as classic stencil due to the fact you cannot use an adhesive vinyl sheet more than once. Applying the adhesive vinyl sheet is usually a delicate operation and requires time and patience.

Frisket Film

Frisket film cost is around 25 USD for a roll with dimensions 0.25m x 3.6m, which roughly corresponds to 15 (A4) sheets.

Frisket film is very thin and thus has similar properties as laminating sheets. The specialty of frisket film is its adhesive layer, which makes it even harder to properly unpeel from the cutting mat, but allows to tightly adhere on the final surface, reducing the risk of blurry edges when spraying.

Compared to self adhesive vinyl sheets, frisket film is (from my experience) less adhesive that vinyl, allowing easier stencil removal once the spraying job is done.

Summary of Stencil Materials

Material Price per A4 Sheet Can be used multiple times as stencil?
Laminating Sheet 0.13 USD yes
Mylar Sheet 1.4 USD yes
X-ray Print 0 yes
Self Adhesive Vinyl Sheet 1.5 USD no
Frisket Film 1.6 USD no

Cutting

First cost optimization is to avoid wasting sheet space, i.e. position the design elements in SVG so that you keep as much sheet area intact as possible. This way you can use the unused parts of a sheet later, typically when you will cut something smaller.

Next cost saving is to take care of your cutting blade – do not expose the blade more than is necessary for the material, otherwise the blade may wear out faster and along with cutting the sheet it will also cut into the cutting mat, which is useless.

Finally, I cut on slow speeds thus reducing the risk of wasting the sheet (mostly an issue of intricate designs being cut on thin material). I use speed 2 in Robocut.

Summary

To sum up, for most of my cutting jobs (which is horizontal stenciling), I use laminating sheets and cut them with CB09 Graphtec blades on slow speed.

If you have additional experience or any questions, you are welcome in discussion below.

Happy cutting :)