How to Make Money With a Vinyl Plotter

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Making money with a vinyl plotter is fun and relatively easy. With a reasonable investment, some research and a lot of practice, producing signs and decals with a vinyl plotter can be a rewarding and lucrative business. Signs and decals are always in demand. As with any business, you will need to continually focus on marketing, advertising, producing quality work and providing excellent service.

Things You'll Need

  • Vinyl sign plotter
  • Vinyl material
  • Sign material (substrate)
  • Computer and software
  • Large work table
  • Vinyl application tools
  • Instructional books and videos

Learn your Craft

  • Many excellent books, videos and DVDs are available from sign equipment suppliers. Subscribe to sign magazines and visit online sign websites for techniques and tips.

  • Learn about your equipment and software capabilities. Knowledge and experience in the design and cutting process will help save time, address potential problems, and will save money and aggravation when your business goes live.

  • Practice making signs before offering your service to customers. Make mistakes on your own time rather than risk your reputation on a paid job.

  • Visit other sign shops. Request a tour and ask questions. Sign makers are generally helpful, love talking about the business and are are willing to share information.

  • Study signs of all kinds. Notice design cues, materials, types of printing, and installation methods. Take pictures and keep notes for reference.

Start with Basic Inventory and Equipment

  • Purchase only the basic vinyl colors. Red, blue, white, black, green and burgundy are the most popular colors. Order special colors as needed for custom jobs.

  • Stocking every type of sign material is expensive and unnecessary. Start with a roll of .030 white magnetic sheeting, one dozen 18"x24" white corrugated plastic sheets, and one 4'x8' sheet of 1/4" white plastic PVC material, which can be easily cut to size. Order additional materials as needed.

  • A 24" vinyl plotter is adequate for most work. Machines of this size are moderately inexpensive, 24" vinyl is easy to find and the material size is easier to work with than larger widths.

  • Your home computer will suffice as your vinyl plotting computer to get started. Dedicated computer systems, such as those packaged along with plotters, are not necessary until your business grows.

  • Fancy vinyl application tools are not necessary until work volume increases. A good, basic application tool kit should include:

    • Vinyl application squeegees (6)
    • Utility knife
    • Razor blades
    • Masking tape
    • 25' tape measure
    • 12", 24" 36" rulers
    • Vinyl application fluid
    • Premask tape, 6", 12" 18", 24" rolls
    • Grease pencils for marking measurements

Low-Cost Marketing and Advertising

  • Personally drop off fliers to local businesses. Introducing yourself in person to the owner or manager can reap big rewards.

  • Offer to donate sign work to local agencies. Youth sport teams, churches, nonprofit community agencies, fire and police departments all have connections to local business people. Those people often give business preference to those active in the community.

  • Classified advertising in newspapers is inexpensive, and gets your name in front of business people.

  • Use direct mail to target businesses in your community. Start a database of businesses from your local paper and those encountered in your travels.

  • Read and study books and websites on low-cost marketing and advertising. You'll be surprised at the many good ideas you might be overlooking.

Deliver Consistently Good Work

  • Under-promise and over-deliver on all jobs. If a job will be late, keep the lines of communication open with the customer.

  • Always sweat the details. Treat every job as if it were the most important. The sign business is very competitive, and you will have to produce quality work in order to compete.

  • Don't take on jobs you can't handle. Another reason to befriend other sign makers is to take advantage of their capabilities on jobs you are not equipped to produce. Many sign makers use the services of others to produce specialty work and provide overflow help when the shop is busy.

  • Offer value-added services such as installation and delivery. Learning installation techniques can add another profit center to your sign business. It also gives customers another reason to do business with you.

  • Never stop learning. The sign business changes every day and requires sign makers to keep up with trends, materials and techniques.

Tips & Warnings

  • Sign making is an art as well as a craft. Although simple signage can be produced with minimal effort and training, it takes years of practice to become proficient with all the available processes.
  • Use care when working with sharp knives and tools.
  • Be careful of damaging customer property when performing sign installations. Business insurance is recommended.
  • Become familiar with state and local signage laws in your area.

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