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Using a Plotter/Vinyl-Cutter to produce model parts


Here’s an idea that I hadn’t seen before, spotted at the Stevenage Model Railway Show last weekend. There was a demonstration of a plotter/vinyl cutter being used to produce parts in plasticard from a CAD file.  Apparently these machines, which are used to produce cut lettering and graphics for signs and vehicles, can handle material thicker than the usual sticky-backed plastic film. The actual thickness depends on the machine but a figure of up to 40 thou was quoted.

The machine doesn’t cut all the way through the plasticard, it just scores it enough to bend and snap the joint. Tight curves might need a little extra scoring by hand to produce a clean break, but that’s a minor problem. Apparently the plotters/vinyl cutters retail at just over a hundred pounds and second-hand ones on ebay can be considerable cheaper, so not out of the question for model making use. They come with software but files from other programs such as Illustrator can be imported.

This could be a great way to make your flat parts from sheet plastic. All the lines and curves will be accurate and exactly as they appear on your plans and this would be ideal for making repeating parts that are all exactly the same. The only consumable is the sheet plastic which I’m told can be the cheapest available on ebay. (The demonstrator didn’t mention the life of the cutting blade when used on this material but I would expect that it would need to be changed from time to time).

He had several models on show that had been made on this plotter/cutter including this railway gun wagon. I’m thinking of building a military fire truck based on an M35 truck chassis, so lots of flat panels and doors which would be ideal for this type of production. If I can lay my hands on a plotter/cutter I might see how easy/difficult this process is. In the meantime please post your comments below.


The plotter/cutter used in the demonstration was a Silhouette Portrait.


1 Comment

  1. This would certainly simplify scratch builds, but are they then still classed as scratched when
    using this method?

    JP replies: Hmmm, interesting one Paul. In my opinion, scratchbuilding is making something that isn’t available from a manufacturer. So yes, it’s a scratchbuild. It’s just that instead of drawing out a plan and spray-mounting it onto a sheet of plasticard and cutting it out, you’re using a computer and a machine. However if you start selling the precut sheets of plasticard to others it becomes a kit. That’s just my opinion as Adjudicator of the Nationals Competition. Comments? JP