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Where to start?


New Member
Ok im brand new to the vinyl industry but interested in its opportunities.

I have a graphic design background and would like to get into cutting graphics for signs/vehicles and what not as a side job

Where did most of you get started? I will be running this out of my basement for now, everyone says stay away from ebay so i will.

Do most of you set up website, get a few clients and let quality work and word of mouth advertise? I think advertising my services on craigslist might be good too.

I recently sold my motorcycle so i have $3000.00 total to play with, but i dont want to waste this money and not know what im getting myself into.

I have a full time job so this would be side work.

Here are a few machines im looking at, which should i go with?

What is the popular software people use with these? Can you use Photoshop/Illustrator? Those are what i use alot at work.

Just looking for some direction, my other thread got cluttered. Thanks for all the help.


New Member
Illustrator will work. If that's what you're comfortable using, then cool. Use it. Photoshop is a raster program, it will not work.

Summa or Graphtec FC series plotter are awesome machines. The Sign Warehouse Q60 or Q100 work well too. They are simply re-branded Graphtecs. I have one myself and it works alright. Not the best, but pretty good.

You'll need a program to "talk" between Illy and the plotter, so I'd suggest CoCut. Look 'em up, see what they have to offer. It's a nice little program.

As far as advertising what you do, what do you want to do? Get into the sign industry or just get a paying hobby? If you want to get into graphics as a possible career, start figuring out what you'd like to do most (vehicles, signs, magnets, race graphics etc.) and then ask about the market etc. Figure out what sells, and start up your business!

Should start with some working equipment, business cards, a small website and make a few examples. Then just start cold calling and trying to drum up business. It'll start a snowball effect, and if you can provide decent work... you'll start to get clients calling YOU, not you bugging them.


New Member
The problem that you will find here is....

that you know nothing about the sign industry and want to jump
head first into a business where most people have worked many years to get to
the point where they are today.
That's what apprenticeships are/were for.
Try walking into a tattoo shop and ask what equipment you should buy
and how you can start up a tattoo shop.
Lay low for a while and research the resources in the archives.


New Member
A business is a business is a business. Hobbies don't make money. If you want to run a side business with short hours, then call it a side business. But thinking it's a "hobby" won't even pay off your machine.

Like Shovelhead said, do a LOT of reading on all the past threads here and gain some knowledge. Then you'll get some direction on what you need to do next.

Good luck!:thumb:


New Member
Why don't you buy a skillet and a spoon and then log on to a food forum and ask them how to open a catering business??

I didn't wake up one day and decide to be in the sign business. I was an IT weenie for 15yrs and since 2004 ran my own business doing small business IT services, including websites, brochures, business cards.

My wife worked P/T for some folks that owned a trophy shop (they cut vinyl with their laser engraver!). We decided to buy their store and start making signs with the correct tools in addition to all the laser stuff we make.

For me it was an evolution of my life's experience for the last 20 years that has led me to where we are now. That is difficult to pass to another in a paragraph on a forum.

The reason experience is so valued is because it is taked a long time to accumulate and is hard to get.

I would recommend starting out by finding a shop that needed part time help and seeing if you could work there for a while and learn the tricks of the trade using THEIR tools and materials. If you still like it then you will have a better understanding about what equipment you need and will be better equipped to strike out on your own.

If you don't do that then you should prepare a business plan (seriously!). The business plan is the equivalent to a recipe for a chef. It has the ingredients and procedures for how you are going to build a successful business. Without that you only have a skillet and a spoon...no direction.

Ask yourself:
What am I going to make?
How am I going to make it?
What equipment do I need?
Where do I buy the equipment?
What raw materials & supplies do I need?
Who will I buy them from?
What does it cost to manufacture and sell my product?
How do I set pricing for my products?
How will I market my product?
Who are my customers?
Who does my potential customers buy from now?
How will I get them to buy from me instead?
How large is my potential customer base?
Who are my competitors?
Where are they located compared to me?
What products do they offer?
How do they manufacture & market their products?
What competitive advantage would I have compared to them?
How am I going to finance my business?
What are my monthly expenses:
Rent, Electricity, Insurance, Taxes, Office Supplies & Equipment, etc..
What regulatory requirements are there: Business License, LLC/S-Corp/SoleProp, Tax ID, EIN#, City Zoning Laws.
How will I finance my business?
How much starting capital will I have?
Where will I get it?
What if I need more?
Will I buy or lease my equipment?
How will handle a cash flow problem?(customer orders 500 signs...you have to buy more vinyl than you have cash.... Or Customer that ordered 500 signs calls back next month and says they need 5000 this time...or customer that ordered 5000 take 60 days to pay!)

There are a zillion more. These are questions that you get answered when you prepare your business plan

you can sell your bike and buy a cheap cutter and some 651 and sell peeing calvins to all your buddies at the skatepark, but don't confuse THAT with starting a business.

And so...
To be helpful to you:

The CE5000-60 at about $1500 is a great entry level cutter that does optical registration (will contour cut printed stuff) and comes with a stand and rollers for holding material.
CorelX3 or Adobe Illustrator will work as your vector programs (pick one)
Forget about Photoshop for now, you are just going to be cutting vector outlines. No fills or bitmaps, unless you start jobbing out digital prints.
Make friends with a distributor. (Fellers, SignWarehouse, Beacon) Look for someone with a local distribution warehouse and try to get them to give you free shipping. Youwill want a place you can go to TODAY if you need to to fill a ruch order.
Go ahead and spend a couple hundred bucks to set up an LLC company, get an EIN#, get a sales tax ID, and open a business checking account. It will be illegal to sell products without collecting sales tax and you need those things to get a sales tax ID, check with your local state govt. It's the right thing to do.
Print some postcards/business cards to hand out to customers.
Get a web site, then set up a shopping cart (hence the need for a merchant account, and consequently a business checking account, and EIN#, etc...) otherwise you are stuck using ebay/paypal with the other noobs.
Invest in a couple vector clip art collections and printed catalogs that you can show people.
Figure out how customers are going to find you. Marketing!
Make a bunch of samples. Give them away as fast as possible. Maybe small flag decals or something
Buy raw materials, a few colors vinyl (black, red, blue, white), and transfer tape. Get a bunch of squeegees and knifes with extra blades.
Get a good safety straight edge ruler.
Look into a big squeegee or speed press if you are going to do coroplast. If just RTA's then skip it.

That should kill about 2K, and leave you with $1000 of operating capital. In 30 days tell us if you have grown or shrunk that balance.
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New Member
If you have a "true" graphic design background and proven experience working in a print shop, ad-agency etc., then you have a leg up on many of those starting out. Anyone can be taught to weed/mask and apply vinyl - though it does take a lot of practice to become proficient. However, good design usually means the ability to charge more and make more money than those offering mediocre or sub-par work. I highly suggest ordering a copy of Mike Stevens Mastering Layouts to get some helpful insights to the sign industry and good sign design.

Biggest challenge you will likely face is lack of knowledge and experience regarding materials and methods. Get to know someone in the business and see if you can find somebody local to learn from. Also, running a business is tough. Managing the work load, ordering materials, scheduling jobs, dealing with customers etc. is just the tip of the iceberg. As was mentioned having a solid business plan and access to someone that can help you with the "business" side of your business is very important.

Choosing quality equipment is also critical. I was tempted by those cheap ebay specails also and I am very glad I bought a used Roland. Quality plotters are built better and cut and track straight and true. Stay away from cheapy ebay plotters - Graphtec, Roland, Summa, Mimaki are all machines that will hold up to years of use and abuse. Keep looking on this forum and you may find a good used one like I did. Also, buy as big as you can afford, I would say 24" minimum but a 30"+ is better. There will come a time when you need to cut larger stuff. :)

These might seem to be more than you need, but are nice machines.



One last thing...If you do decide to get into the business purchase an estimating software like GraphicCalc Pro which was designed by another member here: http://www.graphixcalc.com/ It will help you solidify your pricing and charge realistic rates for the work you do.

All it does is de-value yourself and others in this industry and makes it harder for all of us to make a living.


New Member
Thanks for all the replies, im starting to think with working full time i wont have enough to make this worth my time. Maybe i should just invest the money :)


New Member
DO NOT LOWBALL YOUR PRICING IT JUST DEVALUES YOURS & EVERYONE ELSES WORK!! only to get a bad rep as doing it cheap. If it costs for equipment & you want to get money from it then its NOT A HOBBY its a Business, So treat it as such or go play golf as a hobby


New Member
We're not trying to discourage you, but trying to show you the reality of it all. This industry is plagued with some many that get into it as a hobby, create junk, charge far too little and end up just wrecking it for the remaining businesses that are trying to do it all right.

However, I've been a part timer for most of my tenure here, full time some of it, but part time mostly. In contrast, though, I take this very seriously and run it as a BUSINESS. I now have a full time employee (for most of this year now) and am in the lookout for another. This has NOT been easy in the least, but my plan is to transition back into this full-time, I just have a very good job that is hard to give up, but my PASSION is in sign-making.


New Member
i just started making beaded necklaces for nametag i.d.'s for my mom to sell at the hospital she works at for a "hobby"
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New Member
As a guy who jumped into a sign business w/ just a little "apprenticeship"...make sure you know a lot about your equipment before you buy it. If you don't do that, (which you don't always have that option) buy it from a good company that will come set stuff up, and provide tech support for the first year. ESPECIALLY if you ever go digital.

James Burke

Being a grandpa is more fun than working
A good business always starts with a customer in mind and then works backwards to create a business model.

You need to start with the customer first. Do you know what customers in your area need / want?