Thursday, April 29, 2021

Tips & Tricks: Maintaining consistency, when YOU are not hands-on, through tracing

Recently I was researching personality types. Why? Well, it seems that is part of my personality type. Where most would refer to me as a very type "A" personality, by definition, I am actually more type "C." Without going down that rabbit hole, let's just say that it's difficult for me to be involved in a project without being hands-on. Little variations and discrepancies from one product to another are the things of my nightmares. But unless I can let go, every detail will be on me. Not only is that not fair to my partner who is very capable herself, but it is crazy hard on me as I burden myself with all the pressure of unachievable perfection. 

Therefore, here is a tip for those of us who cannot let go. This is actually a time-saver for me as well, so it serves double duty.

The example I'm using is a cut file for an 18" x 5" sign. Using my Cricut Explore Air 2, I cut the vinyl, did the weeding, taped down the weeded vinyl (squarely), and flapped it with a piece of tracing paper taped to the desk at the top. From there I used my T-square to draw baselines along every letter. I also blocked in the smaller type at the bottom since it is easier to trace the larger letters above it. I then proceeded to trace some, if not all, of the larger type. Every letter is not necessary, but do as much as feels right. The real trick is to run your pencil along the edge of the vinyl letters which are raised above the surface. With light pressure on the pencil, it is very easy to exactly trace the characters by pressing up against the edge of each letter.

After completed with the tracing, remove the vinyl from the desk and burnish it onto transfer tape. Tape down the sign or item that will have vinyl applied to it. Position this item by using the pencil tracing still attached to the desk. Place the non-stick side of the leftover paper, peeled from the vinyl, under the transfer tape/vinyl layer only allowing maybe a 1-2" strip above the taped-down item. Lighty tack this strip (of transfer tap) to the desk as it will hold the vinyl in place as you slide the image (type) under the tracing. After you align the image, slowly peel away the non-stick paper, from top to bottom, away from the type/vinyl layer. Carefully rub down transfer tape, again from top to bottom, onto surface of sign. Burnish type onto surface. Then, carefully peel away transfer tape.

You now have the type/image perfectly aligned to match all other signs of the same shape and size. And in the process, once the tracing is complete, no ruler is necessary. This means that someone else should be able to duplicate the application process with consistent results. This is very good news for a type "C."

Create tracing from cut and weeded vinyl

Use tracing to consistently place type/item in same location

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Tips and Tricks: Now let’s get this straight! Using a T-square, ruler, and tape center mark

Ever have trouble getting your type lined up properly when applying vinyl or a vinyl stencil? I’m sure we all have. So here is something I do that ensures all the other completed work does not end in disappointment. Crooked or poorly centered lettering on a sign just looks amateurish, and it can be avoided if one takes care and uses a few simple tools.

Mostly what I see, on YouTube videos, is that folks line up type simply by eye and then call it good. Now I must admit, from what we see on the videos, it usually looks pretty good at a glance. But we’re also not passing by these signs day in and day out as they hang on our walls. When things are not aligned, especially when they are close to the straight edge of a sign for example, they become more annoying and obvious over time. It’s like that photo frame on the wall that is just slightly crooked and screams for someone to make the adjustment.

First I use a desk that has a solid left edge (I’m right-handed) so that I can guide a steel T-square along its width. If you don’t have one, it is surely worth the investment. I tape down the sign with painters tape after aligning it with the T-square. If the surface of the sign was not an issue, I would simply mark a centerline at the top after measuring the width dimension and dividing by 2. However, not wanting any marking on the surface, I will stick a piece of painters tape perpendicular to the top of the taped-down sign with the left edge considered center. Now I take my transfer tape, already having the stencil burnished to its sticky backing, and I carefully fold (loosely) the type image and align the beginning and end of the longest words that will be centered. I pull the transfer tape/stencil combo down at the top edge and make a small crease in the tape (transfer tape should exceed the size of the stencil so the stencil is not creased). This is now my center mark that I use to align with the perpendicular painters tape stuck to my desk. Top to bottom is usually a much easier measurement visually, but the same method could be used as well. Personally, I just consider my descenders of the type and realize that, visually, all items on a surface tend to look like they are dropping. This, by the way, is why most framed artwork should have the bottom edge of a mat cut slightly larger than the other 3 sides.

When placing down the transfer tape with the stencil, use your steel T-square over the surface of the item and overlap the stencil to keep it from sticking at the bottom while you align the top. If stuck to the T-square, it acts as a vertical slide for up and down adjustments of the stencil. You can also use transfer tape or vinyl backing paper (shiny side up). Press down the transfer tape from the center outward to help avoid bubbles. 

In reality, whatever works for you is good. This is just one way to use simple tools, and actual measurement, to help your eyes make the right decision when trying to get things straight.

Align the left edge of painters tape with the crease in the transfer tape

Use T-Square to align type with bottom of sign; acts as a vertical slide for stencil

Monday, April 12, 2021

Tips & Tricks: Lint roller is your cutting mat's best friend

Cutting mats showing their massive buildup of gunk from multiple cuts and projects? Craft foam or sparkle paper leave lots of little friends behind? We've all been there. My go-to solution has always been clear packaging tape, pressed down and pulled up in succession across the mat, to pull up most of the lumps and residue. But I recently began using a better solution: lint rollers

Peel back to the sticky surface and go on a roll! Although this will not turn your mats from jeans and a hoodie into a three-piece suit, it will at least remove the speed bumps that always rise to the occasion when burnishing down vinyl. And best of all, they are quite inexpensive.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Learning: first venture into stencil use

Our first venture into trying a stencil cut from our Cricut Explore Air 2 was what I would consider a success! No one was hurt by the project, no material or goods were wasted, and the finished product and process provided us with loads of data moving forward for similar undertakings.

Ron (me) created a cut file in a vector drawing program (no, not Illustrator or Inkscape), saved the file as a .svg, uploaded it to Cricut Design Space, and cut the stencil using the standard Vinyl Stencil setting and Oramask 813 stencil film. After weeding the stencil, and applying transfer tape and burnishing well, I applied the stencil to the pre-printed blank which had a black chalkboard look. Then I coated the lettering over the stencil with a thin coat of Modge Podge®, allowed it to dry, and proceeded to use Krylon® Chalky Finish Classic White spray paint over the Modge Podge. Two light coats of paint later, with drying time in between, of course, I peeled back the stencil and voila–a plaque waiting for finishing embellishments before listing for sale.

  • Stencil material worked very well, just tacky enough, and thick enough to work with easily
    • did not pull up any of the pre-printed surface
  • Modge Podge sealed edges of stencil to plaque keeping bleeding to virtually non-existant
  • Paint was clean and dense, and perhaps one coat might have been enough
    • lighter coat might have shown of the properties of this special Chalky Finish paint better than using two coats