I’m SO obsessed with all the cute ways to display sayings in my home! I have a lightbox, felt letterboard and magnet board scattered in different rooms. One thing I know about myself is that I don’t like to limit myself to just 1 or 2 of something. So being able to frequently change messages I have displayed is AWESOME! I even like to leave the letters out for guests to leave a message for us. Today I want to show you how to create your own lightbox inserts with vinyl.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I receive a small commission. You pay the same price. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials. I will always be honest about my opinion of any product.
The inserts in the store aren’t usually too expensive, but the options are limited. On mine, I wanted a phrase that wouldn’t fit with the standard letter inserts and I wanted to add designs. This craft hits the trifecta of a homemade project – you can use scraps you might otherwise throw away, it utilizes materials from the dollar store and it can be completely custom. Woo hoo!
Read all the way to the end of the post to see how to recycle your old Silhouette cutting mats for this project. I’ve also included tips on using scraps, as well as for centering and aligning letters on the plastic pieces. These tricks are helpful on any vinyl project.
Materials & Tools:
Light box — mine is by Heidi Swapp, so the measurements I reference are for that. But you can easily adjust to a different size.
Adhesive vinyl – scraps are absolutely fine because you don’t need a big size for each letter
Transfer material – again, scraps are great
Paper trimmer, scissors, craft knife or rotary cutter
Ruler — any one will do, but I love my metal magnetic one from We r Memory Keepers
Felt tip pen (optional)
Thin plastic –Lots of folks use transparency sheets from the office supply store. They send them through a home printer to add the letters. You can even usually cut these on your Silhouette machine (but it dulls your blade very quickly). They are fairly expensive because you buy them by the box, so I was looking for a cheaper option.
I found these chopping mats at Dollar Tree.
There are 2 in each pack, so that makes them 50¢ each. They are 11″ x 14”, so I can get 38 full size (or 140 mini) inserts from each mat. That’s 1 1/3¢ (or 1/3¢) per letter! This can vary depending on the font or design you choose, and because the corners are rounded I lose just a bit in those areas.
Whatever you use, make sure it’s thin enough to slide easily in the track of your lightbox.
I was initially going to make my own lightbox and post instructions for that. Then I remembered I had a gift card from a craft store plus a great coupon, so I purchased the one by Heidi Swapp. You can find plenty of tutorials for making your own on Pinterest. I’m going to focus instead on making the inserts and giving you more tutorials on things to make with your Silhouette.
Step 1: Measuring
The lightbox I purchased had a phrase included that I cut apart to make individual letters and use as a guide. If you don’t have that, measure the height of the space between the tracks and then add a bit for the part that sits behind the track.
Next measure the width of the box where letters fit. This will help you decide how many inserts maximum will fit in each section.
You can adjust the width of each insert depending on the size of font you choose and for thinner letters and symbols, but the height will need to stay consistent. If the height is too short, they will fall out; too long, they won’t slide in or will bow out. I’ll show you throughout the post how to create the inserts. I suggest cutting a few pieces from cardstock first to make sure they fit and slide correctly. Cutting a whole row will ensure that you have the right width as well.
Measure your plastic sheet if you aren’t sure of its size.
Step 2: Setting up the file
Set the page size
Set your page width to the width of the horizontal measurement from your light box. Mine is 12.75.” Make the height the length of your plastic sheet — 14″ for me. Yes, that’s longer than the mat and wider than the machine can cut. That’s fine, because I’m not cutting my plastic on the machine. I’m using Silhouette Studio, a program I am very familiar with, to see how many plastic pieces I can fit in each section of my lightbox, as well as how many I can cut out of each of my plastic sheets and how best to lay them out (more on that in Step 5). I like to see my entire page without any lines that could get in the way of my design, so I–
–Unchecked the box for Show Cut Border so I don’t see the red line.
–Selected None on cutting mat so the lines for that don’t show.
If I had not done those 2 things, here’s what I’d see:
You’ll see in later pics that I don’t have to deal with those lines. I’ll remind you later to make sure you have your cut borders showing and your page size set to your actual material size before you cut. We’re just changing it for now for ease in the design process.
Draw a rectangle the size of your lightbox section
Now draw a rectangle based on your measurements you made on your lightbox. You want the size to be very precise, so use your Scale window to input the exact numbers. To be able to set both width and height to your measurements, uncheck the Lock Aspect box. This represents 1 section of the box.
Next draw a rectangle the size you want the insert to be. Remember — the height is fixed. For the width, you can do the math if you like — take the width measurement and divide it by the number of inserts you want to fit each section. For mine, 12.75″ lightbox width ÷ 10 inserts = 1.275″ width per insert.
Or, you can just wing it on the width– draw a rectangle that looks good, duplicate it, see how many you can fit in the long rectangle you created, adjust the width if needed. Don’t forget you’ll also need a bit of space between words. If you are making inserts in more than one size, make additional rectangles. I have 3 different rectangles–
— the purple is full size
–the green is for minis (in order to use the minis, I purchased a secondary track that separates a section into 2 parts)
–the blue I already drew will work for a phrase the full width of the lightbox
This is a good time to cut a few of the rectangles from cardstock to test your sizing and adjust as needed.
Step 3: Creating the letters and designs
Type the characters
Create a text box and type out the whole alphabet, all the numbers and any symbols you want to use. Since some letters may be wider others, in this stage what we’re trying to do is make sure each letter is going to fit on the rectangles we cut from the plastic. Make a separate text box for each font you are going to use (HINT: make the first one, then copy, paste and change the font on the second). If you are typing a full phrase, do a text box for that as well.
Choose a font
I suggest picking a font with letters that aren’t very wide side to side. That allows you to make your inserts thinner, which in turn allows you to create longer phrases on your box.
For creating inserts with all capital letters, I look for one that has a fairly consistent width on the letters so that I can cut the inserts themselves the same width. It also most closely mimics a movie marquee which is what the lightbox is imitating. I used Agency FB in all caps for my regular-sized inserts. Select one you like the look of.
I used Courier New for the minis using all lowercase letters. You’ll just need to align a bit differently when you put the vinyl on the plastic rectangle.
You can use a mix of upper and lowercase if you like. Type everything in a single text box at this point.
Add a fill color
I prefer working with filled shapes, so I fill my words and designs with the color of vinyl I’m going to use. Not only does this help me visualize the final product, it makes the shapes easier to grab and allows me to cut by fill color.
Adjust the sizing
Play with the size of your text box until the letters fit in the rectangle the way you want. Move the text box around over the rectangle to check each letter, number or symbol. Be sure to leave room at the top and bottom, as a bit of the upper and lower edges will be hidden behind the track. How much you margin you want to leave besides that is completely up to you.
You’ll use more of certain letters and fewer of others. For example, you may need 6 “E”s but only 1 “Q.” Add the additional characters now.
Creating a full phrase is a fun way to use cursive fonts or make a longer saying. Or add some flowers or other designs. The possibilities are literally endless. Here’s one I did:
Step 4: Adjusting the spacing (optional)
You can make a plan at this point for the wisest use of your vinyl to minimize waste. I like to move the rectangles off the page while I work with this.
Play with character spacing and line spacing
There is often extra room around letters that you don’t need if you are using each letter individually in a project like this. Here’s a before and after example where I adjusted both:
A potential issue
Sometimes you end up with a couple of letters that aren’t working with a certain spacing while most of the others are. The “Q” and “R” get too close in the pic just above so would I need to add space just in that area. If you type a space between the letters, it will probably be more than you need. Normally, I highlight the space I added in and select a small font size for it. You can’t have multiple line or character spacing within a text box, but you can have multiple fonts or font sizes.
The only trick is that when you put that space in, the next letter (the “R”) will automatically get pushed down to the next row due to spellcheck. It originally thinks the whole alphabet is a really long single word without breaks, so just puts a line break in when it absolutely has to. When you add the space, it assumes you have ended 1 word with the “Q” and started a new one with the “R”, so puts in a line break.
So you need another solution. Try one of these–
–Live with the little bit of waste caused by adding the space.
–Create a copy of the text box. Delete the letters after “Q” in the first one and the letters before R in the second one.
–Rearrange the letters so that the “problem child” (the “Q” here) is at the end of a line.
–Put a different letter after the “Q” that won’t interfere with it. Because the “T” isn’t wide at the bottom, it doesn’t interfere with the tail of the “Q.”
Make multiple text boxes
For lowercase letters, put letters together that are similar in height. For example, type “a” and “c” together, “b” and “d,” “g” and “j,” etc. Create a separate text box for each set. That allows you to put the lines closer together. Here’s another before and after:
I decreased the line spacing for the boxes with the standard-height letters because they didn’t need room for tall letters or those that go below the line. Because the symbols are thin, I decreased the character spacing on that text box. The red group (a single text box) has all the same characters as the green group (multiple text boxes) and is the same width, but you can see how much I saved in height.
–If you have Designer or Designer Plus Edition, you can use the Nesting feature. BUT it will change your text to image, which means you can’t edit the words or identify the font. Also, you’d first need to set your page size based on your piece of material. So don’t do it right now — I’ll tell you when.
–With Business Edition, the Media Layout Nesting will maintain the letters as text. That’s because using the Media Layout options does not alter the original design. On the left is my original text box, still intact; on the right is my Media Layout Nesting. Even when I save the file and re-open it later, both remain.Another time-saver here is that you can set your material (media) size to a different height and width than your design page size. You can see in the picture above that my design page is 12″ wide while my media size is only 8 1/2″. Because of these features, it’s fine to do this type of nesting at this point, or you can wait until just before you cut.
Step 5: Making a plan for the plastic (optional)
You don’t have to do this, but I like to know how many pieces I can fit on my plastic. If I can see it visually, I can make adjustments and I have a road map of where to make the cuts on the plastic sheet. Pull your text boxes off to the side of the drawing area for now so you can work with your entire page size.
Draw a shape the size of your plastic sheet
I created a rounded rectangle at 11″ x 14” because that’s the size of my plastic.
PRO TIP: To adjust the amount of curve at the corners of a rounded rectangle, hold down your shift key and click and drag either of the 2 red circles.
Place your insert-sized rectangle in the upper left corner of the shape you just made that replicates your plastic sheet.
Fill the page
We’re going to fill the page with the insert-sized rectangles. The Replicate window has an option called “Fill Page,” but this put too much spacing between the rectangles so I didn’t use it. I selected the rectangle and chose the shortcut CTRL+→ (CMD+→ on a Mac) using the right arrow on my computer keyboard. That puts a copy just to the right of the rectangle. The left edge of the copy is aligned with the right edge of the original. This is precisely what I want.
Notice that both the original and the copy are still selected. We’re going to keep making rectangles so this is fine. Repeat the command CTRL/CMD+→ to get 4 rectangles. Keep going until you have a full row, deleting any that don’t fit.
This is where you can tweak the width to fit more on the plastic sheet if you like. If you make the rectangles a smidge thinner, you might be able to fit an extra one. Just remember to adjust your text box as well. Or cut thinner rectangles from the leftover bits for symbols (they are often thinner). Just do NOT alter the height of the rectangle — that needs to stay fixed.
Once you’ve got your first row the way you want it, select all the rectangles. Do CTRL/CMD+↓ to add enough rows to fill your page.
When you reach the bottom, you can rotate the rectangle 90° as needed to fit more. If you are doing different types of inserts, make rectangles of the various sizes. Continue tweaking the sizes and aligning. With Designer Edition and above, you can use the Nesting feature. That way the software does the work for you. Here’s my layout–
Group everything and pull it off to the side.
Step 6: Cutting the vinyl
Bring your text boxes (and any designs) back over. I recommend cutting just a couple of letters first to make sure they are going to turn out the way you want. Until you are extremely experienced, this will save you time, money and frustration in the long run.
Using a full roll or sheet
To cut from a large sheet or roll of vinyl, set up your page based on that material.
–Select your cutting mat or choose None.
–Turn Show Cut Border back on.
–Set the correct page width and height.
Make sure all the letters fit within your margins. This is the time to do your Designer Edition nesting if you want. WARNING: nesting words in this way changes the text to image, so after that you can no longer edit the text or identify the font. Make a copy of the text box and pull it off to the side of the page so you have it as a reference if needed later.
You can also add weeding lines at this point. This are lines you draw down your page so that when you start weeding you don’t have long strips of sticky vinyl to deal with.
If you are cutting without the mat, make sure to move your white right roller in on a Cameo machine, and on any machine other than a Cameo 3 (or Curio) use Load Media. Once everything is in place, send the job to cut.
I prefer cutting vinyl without the mat, but with scraps you need to use one. Here are some tips:
Use a rectangular scrap
If the scrap of vinyl is generally rectangular in shape, slip it under your cutting mat. You can see through the mat so you can see the size of the piece but still see the measurement lines on the mat. Make your page size the size of your rectangle. Fit as many letters as possible in the area. Then adhere the scrap to the mat.
It’s perfectly fine to put several small pieces on your mat at once, as long as they are all held in place firmly by the mat’s adhesive. If you want to do this, in your software set your page size to the full size of your mat. Make rectangles the size of each of your pieces of vinyl and position them in the software in the places that correspond to where you put your scraps on your mat. Place your text boxes over those rectangles, then delete the rectangles or set them to No Cut in standard cut mode, or use the cut by fill color or line color in advanced cut mode.
Draw the shape of the scrap
If your scrap has an irregular shape, create a shape in your software that mimics it. Set your page size based on the mat you are using (so 12″ x 12″ for a Cameo). It’s helpful to either turn on the grid or adjust the reveal on the mat in the Design Page Settings window so you can see the measurement lines on the mat. There are a variety of ways to make your shape.
–Put the scrap on your mat. Scan the mat or take a photo looking directly down on it. You don’t need the whole mat in the photo — just enough to see some of the lines of the mat. Open the image in Silhouette Studio. In the Fill Color window, adjust the transparency of the image so you can see through it to the mat. Adjust the image to approximately the correct size.
You can either trace the scrap or draw a freehand shape. Once you’ve got the shape, double check the sizing using the mat in the photo as a reference.
–Slip the scrap under the mat to see through it and use the grid on the mat as a guide. Draw a shape that approximates the scrap. It doesn’t have to be exact – you just need a general idea. If a letter gets chopped off when you cut, it’s not a huge deal because each one is pretty small.
Move your characters around to fit inside the shape, making new text boxes as needed. Remove the photograph and/or shape (or set it to No Cut) before cutting. Or, use the shape as a boundary for Nesting with Designer Edition. When you do this, the shape itself is not cut.
Use a PixScan mat
A PixScan mat helps because the sizing is precise. You place the pieces on the mat, take a photo or scan, then open the photo or scan in the software.
What you see on the screen shows exactly where the pieces are and they are their actual size. You can then move your text boxes to fit the characters on the piece. Or, trace the shape and then use the shape as a boundary for Nesting. Because the machine reads the registration marks that are on the mat, the cuts are in the right spot. Even if you don’t want to cut on the PixScan mat, you have accurate sizing to create your shape. For more on using the PixScan, see posts here and here.
Cut and weed
Once everything is in place, send the job to cut. While your machine is working, you can be cutting your plastic by hand (Step 7 next). MULTI-TASKING!
When all your letters are cut, weed the background. BONUS: sometimes you can use the middle of a letter that you’re weeding out as a dash or period.
Step 7: Cutting the plastic
Use the layout you created in Step 5 as your guide. There are several different ways you can cut your plastic. Cut and practice with just a few before cutting them all. You want to make sure they are going to fit your lightbox and letters and that you like the look before you cut everything. Here are some suggestions–
–If you have transparency sheets, you may be able to cut those in your Silhouette. I don’t like to because they are very dense so they dull a blade pretty quickly. Since I’m just cutting straight lines, I find other methods preferable.
–You can mark your measurements with a thin permanent marker and then cut with scissors. Since you need to cut off the black pen marks and even with lines I don’t cut straight, this isn’t my favorite option.
–I started by using a rotary cutter with a magnetic, self-healing cutting mat and metal ruler. The mat has measurement markings so I don’t have to draw my lines on the plastic.
–You can use a craft knife or rotary cutter to make scores on the plastic along the edge of a ruler, then do the cutting with scissors.
–You can use a paper trimmer. After I cut several sheets with my rotary cutter, I switched to this because my wrist was getting tired and my rotary cutter blade was getting dull. It actually worked very well and in the end is my preferred method. You can score the plastic and finish the cutting with scissors if you like.
Step 8: Assembling
Apply your transfer paper to the vinyl and remove the backing of the vinyl. Then center the letter on the rectangle, burnish the top of the transfer tape to adhere the vinyl to the plastic and remove the transfer tape.
The trickiest part of this whole project is getting each letter centered on the rectangle so your phrase looks nice and straight when you put it in your lightbox. You may be a whiz at eyeballing it to get things straight but I am completely inept at it. Nope — even the lines on the tape don’t help me. On my very first vinyl wall project I didn’t realize I had cut the tape crooked AND gotten the tape on the vinyl crooked. I tried to line up the edge of the tape and the lines on it with my level on my wall. It wasn’t pretty. But I learned a valuable lesson right out of the gate and along the way I’ve come up with some tricks.
Find the straightest edge
If you have some pieces of plastic that aren’t cut perfectly straight on one end, use the straightest part as the bottom. Because of gravity, the way that letter sits in the box will determine if looks crooked or not.
Use a generous-sized piece of transfer tape
I usually cut a piece of transfer tape larger than the rectangle in case I get it on crooked. Once you’ve put the transfer tape on the vinyl but before you’ve removed the vinyl’s backing, trim it to be parallel with the letter. Then when you are ready to remove the backing and place it you have straight edges that are easier to align to the sides of the plastic. If you trim the transfer tape to the width of the plastic piece and have the letter centered (so on each side the same amount of space between the letter and the edge of the transfer tape), it will be much easier to align as well.
Flip it over
Instead of placing the vinyl on the plastic rectangle, it’s sometimes easier to flip the vinyl over and place the plastic on the vinyl. Since we’re working with plastic that is transparent, you can see through it to the vinyl.
Make it see-through
Speaking of transparent, consider using clear transfer tape or clear contact paper with a light adhesive. When you can see through, it’s easier to line up.
Use a guide
The plastic rectangle
–Put one of your plastic rectangles down on the top of the transfer material and move it around until the letter below is centered. Then draw around the outside to show where your plastic rectangle goes as you apply. This works well with the flip over method. Trim along the lines you drew if you like.
–On a piece of cardstock, draw out a rectangle the size of your plastic one (by hand or with a sketch pen in the machine). Draw another rectangle the size of your letter. Lay one of your plastic rectangles down on the outer one and use the inner one as a guide for where to place your letter. Since the plastic rectangle is transparent you can see the markings.
–Cut 2 vinyl rectangles the sizes just described, using a color different from the one you’re using for your letters. When you weed, remove the outer rectangle only — leave the background and inner rectangle. Use transfer paper to attach those to your work area. Line up the plastic piece inside the outer rectangle and use the inner one as a guide for your letter.
–Use a tool that has grid markings. (The mat I’m using comes with that magnetic ruler set.) Cut from vinyl a rectangle the size of your letter and center it between grid lines. Center 1 of your plastic pieces on the grid too. Use a glue dot to hold it in place on your working area temporarily if you like. The vinyl shows you where to put your letter.
–Put a completed insert that is well aligned underneath a blank one to act as a visual reference.
For various letter sizes
–Lowercase letters have varying heights. A “b” is taller than an “a,” “y” dips below the line, etc. So you aren’t going to center each letter top to bottom on the plastic. Use any of the methods discussed to add a guide for the line the word sits on. If you’re using a transparent transfer material you can see the guide through it. You can draw a line or use lines on the tape itself. Notice here I’ve also marked a line vertically on my transfer tape and my guide showing the middle of the insert. That gives me 4 spots to align with one another.
Use a hinge
This works easiest with transfer paper instead of tape. Cut a piece of transfer paper the height of your letter + the margin above the letter on the plastic + 1/2″. Since the transfer tape is going to be exposed as we do this, it’s nice to work on a teflon mat or the shiny side of your mat cover. After you put the transfer paper on the front of your vinyl, draw a line on the front of it – above the letter the where the top of the plastic should be. Notice how I used a completed piece as a guide.
Trim the sides until you’re just outside the letter, or until you have even margins on each side of it (put a scrap piece of vinyl backing over the sticky parts if you like). You can even draw the rectangle all around it as we did above.
Now flip it over and remove the vinyl’s backing. While you’re still on the wrong side, move the backing down until it just touches the top of the letter and replace it on the letter. The backing should cover the entire letter and it’s edge should be right at the top of the letter. There will be some of the transfer paper sticky area showing. That’s why we left that margin — we’re going to use the sticky as a helper.
Stick it to the work surface
Flip your piece over and stick the transfer paper down on your table. It will stick, but the vinyl won’t because it’s still covered with backing paper.
Fold the transfer paper back right along the line you drew – this is the hinge.
Slide in the plastic
Slide your plastic rectangle up until it touches the fold, making sure it’s centered left to right as well. Remove the backing paper from the vinyl.
Apply the vinyl
Slowly roll the transfer tape down, holding the plastic rectangle in place.
Burnish and remove the transfer tape.
If you use the same method on each letter, they will be aligned. But don’t worry about the letters not being completely aligned – it just gives it a more casual look. If you look closely, mine aren’t all straight and even and I’m completely okay with that.
Double check the look
Slide your inserts in your box and check the look. You may want to trim the width on the plastic pieces that have thin letters. For example, in the font I chose my letter “I” has only the section down the middle, not bars at the top and bottom. This makes it a really thin letter so the spacing looked odd when I put my words together in my lightbox. Trimming the sides of those pieces looked better to me.
There are some extra things you can do that require you to work a bit differently and are more challenging.
Use it all
You can use both the positive and negative of each letter for a different look. This gives you 2 inserts from 1 cut and you have very little waste.
In this case, you need your rectangles to cut along with the letters. You also need the letters to be perfectly centered in the rectangles before you cut. Here’s how:
Set up the page
Set your page size to the size of vinyl you are using. Select your mat or choose None. Check the Show Cut Border if you are not using the mat.
I highly recommend that your text and your rectangles be filled with color. That will make them easier to select in the next steps.
Start with your letters on the drawing area and your set of rectangles off.
Edit the text
Because the letters vary in width, you won’t be able to get each one aligned vertically in the center of each rectangle with a single text box. That means we need individual text boxes. Delete all the letters but 1. Make sure your text is justified center.
Copy the rectangles
Make a copy of your set of rectangles. Keep 1 set off the drawing area as your plan for cutting your plastic. Bring the other set back on your drawing area & ungroup it. Remove all but 1 rectangle. If you have rectangles of varying sizes, leave 1 of each but you won’t need your shape that’s mimicking the size of your plastic sheet.
Align the pieces
Align your letter horizontally within the first rectangle by selecting both and choosing Align Center in the Alignment window. Don’t worry about the vertical alignment right now. While they are both still selected, move the set up to the left corner. Keeping them both selected, use the shortcut CTRL/CMD+→ to make a copy to the right.
If you want, you can add a bit of space between the rectangles. Don’t forget that the first set will still be selected along with the copy set, so you’ll need to deselect the first set to scoot the second set.
Edit the text
Backspace out the letter in the second text box and type your new one.
Repeat the alignment steps
Repeat for the second letter and the second rectangle. If while aligning the second set gets scooted over to a spot where it overlaps the first set, scoot the second set over while both the letter and rectangle are still selected.
Continue repeating steps until you have as many sets as will fit on your page side to side. When you have 2 sets, copy them both at once so you then have 4 sets and so on.
Select everything on the row and do Align Middle. This will center each letter vertically (top to bottom) in each rectangle. You now have a full row of rectangles with letters centered in them.
Copy and edit text
Select everything and use your CTRL/CMD+↓ shortcut to create a second row below the first. Move the lower set down a bit if you want.
In each text box, backspace out the letter and type the letter you need next. Repeat this for every letter. Repeat step 8 to align each letter in each rectangle. When your second row is complete, repeat the step of aligning the whole row of letters.
Continue adding rows until your page is full. When you have 2 rows, copy them both at once so that you have 4 and so on.
Cut, weed, assemble
Cut your vinyl. You may want to practice 1 or 2 before you do a full set. Just sayin’… always a wise move.
When weeding, remember you are going to use both the letter AND the vinyl surrounding it. Work carefully. The only thing you’re going to get rid of is the part around the rectangles. I then remove the letter, put it on an extra piece of vinyl backing (or the shiny side of my blue mat cover) and then use my transfer tape to pick up the background portion. After that’s applied, I transfer the letter to another rectangle of plastic.
If you have trouble getting the rectangle piece on the plastic straight, try–
–using the trick of putting the vinyl and transfer tape piece face up on your work table and then lowering your plastic piece onto it.
–making the rectangle portion of the vinyl a bit larger than the plastic piece. After you apply the vinyl to the plastic, trim the outer edge of the vinyl even with the edges of the plastic.
–using a letter as a stencil. Center a letter on a plastic piece. Spray paint the piece. When it’s dry, remove the letter. Experiment with how many coats of paint you use to great a variety of looks.
–the next section down.
Attach before cutting and weeding
You can attach your cut vinyl to your whole plastic sheet before you weed the vinyl and cut the plastic. It’s tough to get everything flat, but I will say I wasn’t using high quality vinyl for this. It’s something to try if you want the vinyl to cover all the plastic rectangle with just the empty letter in the middle. There are also other methods for getting the vinyl as a whole sheet onto the plastic which may be easier for you than this. Or do a row at a time.
Prep the page
Set your page size to the size of your vinyl. We’re going to use a piece that needs to fit on your plastic sheet, so keep that in mind. In other words, if your plastic sheet is 14″ long don’t make the page size 24″ even if you have a full roll of vinyl to cut from. We need to fit EVERYTHING we are doing on the plastic sheet at 1 time in 1 application.
Choose your mat size or set to None.
Turn on Show Cut Border.
Create the design
Follow steps 1-19 in the section just above to create your page full of rectangles and letters. BUT — do NOT leave space between the rectangles. In steps 10 and 16, copy just the rectangle, then copy just the letter if necessary. Fonts are created in such a way that they have space around the letters to account for things like commas, letters that dip below the line, superscript, etc. The outline of a text box is larger than the actual outline of the letter. Ever made a text box 3″ tall and then when you cut it the letters are much shorter? This is why. SO — if you copy the text box at the same time as the rectangle you may get a space in between due to the text box of the letter being wider than the rectangle, even if the letter itself isn’t.
I prefer not to have rotated pieces at the bottom on this one. It makes the rows unequal in length and means I need to measure more when cutting the plastic.
Group the pieces
Once your page is full, group all the letters. Group the rectangles also — just not with the letters.
Create a background
Draw a large rectangle. It needs to be precisely the size of your set of smaller rectangles. Use your Scale window for this as I described WAY up above in Step 2: Setting Up the File — Draw Rectangle the Width of Your Lightbox Section.
Select all 3 — the set of letters, the set of smaller rectangles and the large rectangle — and center them all to one another. They are now all on top of each other. Make sure they fit on your vinyl with a bit of space all around the outside. I’ve moved the large rectangle a bit on this pic so you can see all 3.
Delete the small rectangles but leave the large one and the letters.
Cut and weed
Cut the vinyl. Weed JUST what is outside the large rectangle — nothing else.
Apply transfer media
Apply the transfer tape over the letters and large rectangle — all as a single piece. If the vinyl is rolling, use tape to secure the edges of the vinyl backing to your work area. You can also attach the transfer tape above the top of the vinyl backing so that it sticks to your work surface. This anchors it and makes it easier to apply.
Flip it over and tape down the edges of the transfer paper. Remove the vinyl backing, making sure NOTHING stays on it.
Lay the plastic down on the vinyl as straight as possible. Make sure none of the vinyl sticks out past the edge of the plastic. I completely goofed this up in my designing. My plastic sheet was only 11″ wide and I forgot to account for leaving enough margin at the sides. I just decided to leave 1 column uncovered by the plastic and use only the letters from that section. Press the plastic firmly onto the vinyl adhesive.
Flip over and burnish more, then remove the transfer tape.
Use your preferred cutting method to cut the plastic right on the edges of the large rectangle.
Using the measurements you made of your lightbox, cut the first row of letters. Repeat until you have cut all your rows.
Cut between the letters now, making sure to keep your width consistent. This measurement isn’t as critical as step 18, which is why we did that one first.
Remove the letter and put it on a different rectangle of plastic. You are left with the outline, perfectly aligned on the plastic piece. If I mess up a letter while removing it I don’t mind having to recut it, but getting the outline piece onto a plastic insert precisely is tough (I was riding the struggle bus on that!).
Recycle your cutting mat
I have a ton of used up mats lying around that I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away. They are a GREAT medium for this project because their thickness is just right. The only problem is they are pretty ugly with cuts and sticky gunk. Solution? Use contrasting colors of vinyl to create an outline and a letter you use on the same plastic insert. That will cover all the mess and is yet another look. It works particularly well with designs.
You can also try removing or cleaning the sticky off before using the plastic.
If your non-sticky margins are in good shape you can use those for regular letters, particularly for minis.
Here’s another pic where I used the minis. This is in honor of my klutzy move a few weeks ago. I missed the last step on the stairs and tore the ligaments in my ankle.
Let me know what you come up with!