How to Make a Vinyl Decal from a Photo
In this tutorial, we’ll walk through the steps to make a layered vinyl decal from a photo using Cute Cutter, a new webapp that helps you turn photos into cuttable SVGs.
You can follow these steps for any photo you have on your computer. We’ll be using a photo of our cat, Eleanor.
Also, we’re using a Cricut Maker but these same techniques can be used for cutting on other brands of machines.
- Two different colors of adhesive vinyl, one light and one dark. We’re using Cricut Holographic Vinyl and Cricut Removable Black. You may want to use permanent vinyl, depending on your application.
- Weeding tools: A weeder is essential. Scraper, scissors, and spatula are nice to have.
- Transfer tape
- Laptop or desktop computer
- Cricut, Silhouette, or similar cutting machine
- A photo on your computer in one of these formats: .jpg, .jpeg, .png, or .gif
Step 1: Upload Your Photo
Go to cutecutter.com/dashboard to start a new project.
Click the ‘Upload New Image’ button and navigate to the image file on your computer.
Step 2: Remove the Background
Once you’ve uploaded your image, it’s time to remove the background. Click the ‘Remove Background’ button.
Click the ‘Mark Foreground’ button and color the parts of your image that you would like to keep green by clicking and holding your mouse down and drawing over your subject. You don’t need to color the entire foreground. Just put some green marks to tell the computer that this is what you want to keep.
Then click the ‘Mark Background’ button and color the background parts of your photo red by clicking and holding your mouse down and moving it over the background.
Once you have some of the foreground and background colored you should see a yellow dividing line appear. Whatever is on the outside of this line represents what will be removed from the image. It may take a second for the line to update its position once you add a new mark so take your time with it.
Use the ‘Brush Size’ slider to make your brush smaller for more detailed strokes or larger for larger strokes. You can also zoom in and out using the slider in the top toolbar.
Click the ‘Done’ button whenever you are reasonably happy with your result. Don’t worry you can always go back to this step to tweak things.
Step 3: Adjust Image Settings
Once you’ve removed your background, there will be three layers.
- The black layer which shows the shadows and darker parts of your image.
- The white layer behind it which shows highlights and lighter parts of the image.
- The pink layer in the back which is to help you visualize how the image will look when placed onto a contrasting background. In this case, it can help us see how the decal might look once it’s stuck to something.
Now you will use adjustment tools on the right to turn your image into a work of art that you can cut on your cutting machine.
There are four settings: Blur, Edge Contrast, Threshold, and Remove Speckles. You’ll want to experiment with all these settings to get the image you want.
Blur controls the amount of detail. With no blur, you can see all the fine detail of the original image and as you increase blur those details get blurred out and the image becomes more abstract. Generally we like to start blur low and then bring it higher while still making sure our subject is recognizable.
Edge contrast will emphasize where dark regions and light regions meet. It works great where you want to emphasize texture, like fur or hair. But keep in mind that for human faces, edges mean wrinkles! So for human faces we like to keep edge contrast low (but high enough to bring out the eyes, nose, and mouth). For furry friends, we’ll experiment with higher edge contrast depending on how much we want to bring out the fur texture.
Threshold controls the balance of black and white in your image. The threshold is the cutoff point where the computer determines what is a shadow (black) and what is a highlight (white). We usually adjust Threshold to find the perfect balance point, then we’ll go back to tweak Blur and Edge Contrast again.
This setting removes little speckles (white or black) from the cutout. The setting controls how big a region should be in order to count as a “speckle”. Since speckles are annoying to weed and don’t contribute much to the overall impact of the design, we’ll usually turn this up high so long as we’re not losing any important details.
Tip: If Remove Speckles is too high you might lose an important “speckle”, like an eye! If you can’t figure out why your eyes are getting lost, make sure to turn Remove Speckles down. We like to keep it down while playing with the other settings, then bring it up as the finishing touch.
Step 4: Download the SVG
When you’re done tweaking the image settings, you’re ready to download your design as an SVG and cut it out with your Cricut!
Click the ‘Download’ button in the lower right. You should find your SVG file in your ‘Downloads’ folder on your computer.
Step 5: Cut Your Layers with Cricut Design Space
Go to design.cricut.com and click the ‘New Project’ button.
Click the ‘Upload’ button on the left side of the screen.
Click the ‘Browse’ button and navigate to your downloaded SVG. You should find the SVG from Cute Cutter in your ‘Downloads’ folder.
Click on the thumbnail of your image and click ‘Insert Images’ in the lower right corner.
We don’t need the pink background so in the layers panel on the right select the pink background layer and then hit the ‘Backspace’ or ‘Delete’ key to delete it.
Click on your image and scale it to size with the handle in the lower right corner of the image. Check that the width and height will work for your application.
When you’re ready click the ‘Make It’ in the top right corner.
Make sure you select the material you’re using (eg Premium Vinyl) and follow the prompts on the screen to cut your two vinyl layers.
Step 6: Weed Your Vinyl Cutouts
Once you have both layers of the image cut, you’ll need to weed them.
If you haven’t done a project with adhesive vinyl before, notice that the vinyl is stuck to what is called a release liner. When you cut vinyl, you’re only cutting the vinyl layer. The release liner stays intact. Weeding is the process of removing the excess vinyl from the release liner.
Using a weeding tool start at a corner and carefully pull the vinyl that is not part of your design away from the liner. Take your time and make sure that you’re not removing any little “islands” that are part of the design.
- For larger, intricate pieces, we like to weed part of the piece off and then snip it with small scissors. This way you can weed a large piece in stages.
- Take your time! Make sure you have plenty of light. We sometimes wear a headlamp!
- Print the design or have it open on your computer for comparison.
- If it’s too hard to weed, try scaling the design in Cricut Design Space so that it’s bigger. Bigger designs are easier to weed since all the pieces are bigger.
- Start with the hardest part first. If you mess up you won’t have to redo everything else.
- If some parts aren’t cut all the way through, or pieces that should be cut are sticking together, check your cut settings. You may need to replace your blade. You can also try setting Pressure to ‘More’ in the Materials setting.
- If some parts get dragged around and messed up while the Cricut is cutting, then the blade is pressing too hard. You may need to replace your blade, or try setting Pressure to ‘Less’ in the Materials setting.
Step 7: Apply Your Decal
Now that you’re done weeding your vinyl cutouts, you need to apply transfer tape over the layers.
There are two ways you can apply your decal to an object.
- You can pre-assemble the decal onto a single piece of transfer tape and place the entire decal onto the object or surface — something you may want to do if you’re giving the decal to someone else to apply.
- You can add each layer to your desired object/surface individually which would require each layer having it’s own piece of transfer tape.
We find it easier to apply the decal in two steps onto a surface. It’s easier to get the bubbles out of the each layer individually this way.
Start with the bottom layer (the larger, light-colored vinyl). Cut a piece of transfer tape to size and peel it away from its liner. Now place the transfer tape on top of the vinyl.
Use the Cricut scraper tool or a credit card to burnish the transfer tape onto the vinyl design. Press firmly so that the vinyl sticks to the design.
Carefully peel the transfer tape (with the design attached) off of the release liner of the base layer.
Now place the transfer tape and base layer design onto the surface of your choice and use your scraper or credit card to burnish the design, pressing firmly so that the base layer sticks to the surface.
Peel the transfer tape off.
Now repeat these steps with the top layer (dark-colored vinyl). Carefully line it up on top of the bottom layer. Again for this step it can be helpful to have a printout of the design nearby so that you can ensure you’re placing it correctly.
Carefully peel the transfer tape off, ensuring you don’t remove any small pieces of vinyl.
And that’s it! 😸