Save money by cutting your own Vinyl.
There are tons of ways to spend your hard earned cash when preparing a car for the track whether it’s your first HPDE day or you are building a full race car. Masking tape numbers can get the job done in a pinch, but you don’t really want to do that, do you? You can easily drop several thousand dollars on complicated paint or wraps. Even just ordering custom numbers can get very expensive. However, with a regular size printer and an X-Acto blade you can make professional looking Numbers and graphics at home.
Whether you are making magnetic numbers for a daily driven track car, or are creating a full livery for a dedicated racecar… Why not cut it yourself?
Getting Vinyl Material::
Cheap vinyl seems very easy to find through Amazon and Ebay. Often larger “Sample Size” auto wrap vinyl is plenty for race numbers or small decals. I personally buy cheap rolls of “3d carbon fiber” in 2’x5′ rolls for about $10. It looks like a satin black until you get close to it. I’m a big fan and use it for most the vinyl on my car…. from numbers, to cage protectors, to wrapping interior panels.
Here’s what I use: (And highly recommend) 3D Black Carbon Fiber Vinyl Sheet
Getting Magnetic Sheets for magnetic numbers:
The best way I found magnetic material was stopping in local sign shops. I made a good amount different race numbers and class magnets for myself and friends . Check google for local sign and printshops..
I went into shops and explained that I needed car magnet scraps to cut out racing numbers and politely asked if they had any scraps they would be willing to sell. Two shops didn’t have/wouldn’t sell me any. One shop sold me a scrap about 18”x24” for $20. Another shop happily gave me a huge roll of assorted scrap sizes, probably all adding up to double the material of the 18”x24” piece.
I tried a few different magnetic materials before going to a sign shop: I got suggestions for Hardware Store “Magnetic Vent Covers” but they weren’t strong enough and didn’t hold. I also tried magnetic sheets from craft stores, they were also too small and too weak.
Time to get to work:
The cutting process with vinyl or magnets is the same. The magnets are a bit harder to cut through, but that’s it. You need to decide what works best for you:
I used to cut numbers out freehand but they always looked either too blocky or too cartoonish. My hand-cut vinyl started looking professional when I began using Microsoft Word and Photoshop. I would print out numbers as large as I could get them to fit on a page in Word, then placed them on vinyl (or magnets) and trace+cut.
I had to get a bit creative when it came time to make numbers larger than the standard 8 ½ x11 size of my printer. To do that I first made numbers the size I wanted (approx 24” tall) in photoshop, then exported as PDF and sent to the printer through the PDF reader as a “tiled” image… However these would lead to giant sized files and they took forever to transfer and process on my printer.
My latest process seems to work much better. I do it by designing at a regular size, in the proportions I like and upload it to “https://rasterbator.net/”. Despite it’s unfortunate sounding name, Rasterbator is a useful site for enlarging images and processing them to you download and print tiled across several standard sized pages. I have also heard this is easy enough in Excel but I haven’t tried it.
The process is pretty simple. Assemble the printed pages (Rasterbator includes very helpful refrence marks for assembly. Tape them together. Leaving a border, trim the unneeded paper around the numbers. Place the trimmed numbers on the vinyl, tape the numbers to the vinyl in a few spots so it doesn’t move while you cut. Grab the X-acto and start cutting.
I won’t draw out a huge post about cutting or applying technique… there are tons of videos and blogs that can help you. If you have questions though, feel free to leave them in the comments and I’ll answer them in a future post.
After you finish cutting the numbers, you’ll have a lot of complicated edges, especially with multiple numbers. In order to keep them together you need some sort “transfer tape” to temporarily hold your numbers together until they reach their final destination. I have always cheaped out here and used contact paper or even lint roller sheets. As you can see by the final results below, they work just fine!
Don’t want to cut by hand? There is another Option:
Budget vinyl cutting machines like the Cricut Explore Air 2 offer a very user friendly way to digitally design and cut vinyl. These machines are relatively cheap, especially if you can find one used. However, you would need to do quite a bit of vinyl work to make up for their cost and they are pretty limited in the width of vinyl.
You can attempt sell some vinyl to offset the cost of a vinyl cutting machine, but this seems to be a saturated market and it may be tough to find enough business to do so. Check your area and see if anyone is doing it.
Still a no?
If you absolutely, positively don’t want to try cutting your own vinyl, there are tons of online companies now selling custom car numbers and vinyl. Search for motorsports-specific companies, or for sellers on Amazon, Ebay, and Etsy. Ask around where friends got theirs, maybe one of your friends already has a machine and can cut you something cheap. Prices vary WIDELY so make sure you shop around for pricing.