Whether you’re new to vinyl cutting machines or you’ve been cutting projects for a while, you know that naturally things don’t last forever. Inevitably things will break down or need repairing, and one of the most important things to consider with vinyl cutting machines is how long your blades should last and when to replace them. I was curious about this so I did some quick investigation.
So how long are the blades expected to last in your machine before they need to be replaced? Your machine’s cutting blades are designed to last a reasonably long amount of time (months to years depending on the manufacturer). This typically translates to about 500 to 1000 yards in material cut for vinyl, but it could be less if you’re using a thicker, coarser material.
However, a vinyl cutter blade’s longevity can very much depend on how you’re using it. A number of factors will determine how long your blades will cut your projects: frequency of use (how many projects you complete, the size of your projects, and how often you cut), the type of blade(s) you’re using, the material or type of vinyl you’re using, and whether or not you have everything set up correctly.
I will go over these topics in a little bit more detail. Before you consider replacing your blades you need to make sure that there is not some other underlying issue that could be leading to subpar results in your project.
Vinyl Cutter Blade Longevity
As already stated, you should expect your vinyl cutter blades to last for quite some time. There really isn’t any standard amount of time that all vinyl cutter blades are expected to last.
If most of your projects consist of mainly of standard materials like vinyl (which is what it’s made for) you shouldn’t have any problem cutting yards and yards of material. You should be able to get months if not years of use out of your machine with virtually no damage or dulling of your blades.
If you start to cut projects using thicker materials materials that are coarser with exotic textures (like flock or reflective material), you can expect that your blade will get dull a lot faster. It’s a good idea to have a few extra blades on hand for replacement whenever you need them.
A good rule of thumb is that you should never have your blade extended in the holder beyond the necessary amount. It shouldn’t extend beyond a few millimeters – the width of a credit card or so.
If the blade is extended too far you can expect that not only will that blade dull faster but you could actually cause some unneeded damage.
As I will soon go over, vinyl cutting blades are not very expensive, but that still doesn’t mean you don’t want to be somewhat conservative and not waste blades unnecessarily. You will still want to extend the life of the ones you’ve already purchased for as long as possible. That means exercising some common sense when it comes to use.
You can extend the use of your blades by simply varying the downward pressure of those blades in the cutting machine that you’re using. Consult the instructions in your particular machine to see exactly how to do this. There are a number of settings on your machine and blade pressure is one of those you will want to play around with when you’re using different materials.
What are the different blade angles and what are their use?
When you purchase a new pack of vinyl cutting blades you’ll notice that they’ll come in various angles: 30, 45, and 60° commonly. The angle refers to the tip of the blade that you’re using to cut the material. for most purposes, the 45 degree angle blade will be doing most of your work. This is the workhorse blade and you may sell them need to change out from this one. In general, the lower angles are used for thinner materials, and you use the 60 degree angle blade to cut through thicker materials or to create longer lines.
Usually if you’re cutting a pattern involving intricate details, you’ll want to use a 30 or 45 degree angle blade, but many users have used the 60 degree angle blade to cut all of the designs and it’s worked just fine. They usually compensate for this by varying the blade pressure and adjusting its placement in the blade holder.
How Costly Is It to Replace New Blades?
You should get plenty of use out of your blades, but inevitably after much use you’ll need to replace your ones that you already have. The good news is that vinyl cutting blades are very inexpensive. I haven’t seen many that are more than about $20, and that’s for a multi-pack That includes several blade angles.
You’ll want to make sure that you’re getting the correct blades for your machine as they are not always interchangeable between multiple brands. Check with your manufacturer to see which blades are compatible with your machine.
Since they’re so inexpensive, it makes sense that you said always have a multi-pack of blades on hand in case your old ones get too dull to be of any use.
When to Replace New Blades
You should get in the habit of performing test cuts before engaging in any major project. You can do this on any scrap material that you have left over from previous projects or just a small piece of the same material that you will be using for your finished project.
If you perform this test and you notice that the cuts are not very good, it is becoming more difficult for you to weed your vinyl or any other material, it may be time to invest in some new blades. However, if you have a fairly new machine you haven’t completed that many projects, you should be wary of buying new blades and make sure there isn’t some other underlying problem that could be causing your blade to have such a shortened life span or for you to think it’s a dull blade. Be sure that it isn’t simply that:
- Your blade needs cleaning
- The blade is overextended
- You’re using the wrong materials for your machine
If you’ve adjusted the blade pressure and tweaked everything you could on the machine and you’re still not getting the results that you need, then go ahead and buy some new blades.
Another setting you can vary on your machine to get some extended use out of your old blades is the cutting speed. Try lowering the cutting speed for intricate details.
Which Blades to Buy
As I already indicated, you use different blade angles (and the correct ones that correspond with the brand of machine you have) depending on the intricacy of the designs that you’re creating and your projects. When you get a new machine it’s going to come with some new blades already. In general, you’re probably going to get the most use out of the 45° angle blade. This should be sufficient for most purposes.
However, if you find that if you’re completing a lot of projects with longer lines and texts not involving intricate details, you may be just fine doing about 90% of your projects with just a 60 degree angle blade. You can vary the blade pressure, cutting speed, and position within the blade holder to compensate for the angle.
Cleaning used blades
A newbie mistake is thinking that your blades are dull and in need of replacement, when the reality is a simple cleaning of the tip is all that is needed.
Luckily the cleaning process is not all that complicated at all. There are a few low-cost items you can purchase to clean your blades:
- Air compression cans (The kind used to dust off keyboards and other hard to reach crevices within hardware)
- Alcohol wipes
- Alcohol swabs
Most of these items can be purchased inexpensively at your local drugstore.
Over Time, dust can accumulate in the blade holder as well. Do you want to give your holder periodic checks before completing projects. If you cut a lot of paper you’re more liable to have dust and debris accumulate in the holder. If you cut mainly vinyl, it’ll probably be a lot longer before you have to do thorough cleanings. This shouldn’t cause any issues, just be mindful of this if you cut a lot of paper projects.
While you’re at it, it won’t hurt to also or oil your blade holder as well and replace the cutting strip if you start to notice a lot of little nicks and cuts in the material that can sabotage the performance.
Disposal of Old Blades
This is not something that gets discussed very often, but proper disposal of your blades when you’re done with them is crucial. They can definitely be a hazard and they lead to unnecessary accidents.
A simple solution is to place your blades in a old plastic bottle or container and that you’re already getting ready to recycle or throw away. That way there is little risk of the blades getting loose and harming someone. Another option is that you can just simply buy a blade disposal container.
They are usually under $10. You can use these containers to dispose of razor blades, vinyl cutter blades, utility blades, also pins.
Can Blades Be Sharpened?
Why buy a pack of new vinyl cutting blades when you can just sharpen the ones you already have and extend their life, right?
The truth is, although in theory this can be done, this is usually probably way more trouble than it is worth.
Vinyl cutting blades aren’t very expensive even for a multi-pack, and the kind of metal that the blades are made of it’s not very conducive to self-sharpening. The blades are usually made of a very strong carbide material, and require some sort of green stone wheel to grind them.
The blades are not only grinded to exact specifications, but they are also polished. Each blade has a specific angle designed to cut various materials. A strong jig would be required to hold the blades in place, not merely some wooden block. Again, for the average hobbyist all of this would be excessive unless you already have ready access to these materials. Utilizing all of this just to sharpen some cheap blades would be overkill.
Supposedly there are companies out there that will sharpen the blades for you, but it’s even debatable if this is cost-effective. The blades used for these machines are so small and intricate that even if in theory they could be sharpened, this would not be a very easy task for the average person.
My research has turned up that some people swear that you can sharpen the blades with aluminum foil. I haven’t seen any evidence that this is more than anything more than an old wives tale! But if you want to test this out for yourself go ahead. In my honest opinion, you are really just better off just buying another inexpensive pack of blades.
I hope all of this is helpful to you. Always perform test cuts before starting a new project, and troubleshoot to make sure there isn’t some other underlying issue before you replace blades.