Convert an Old Inkjet Printer Into a Craft Vinyl Cutter

LoopLinks has a video demonstrating how to repurpose an inkjet printer into a Cricut-style vinyl cutter.

Cameron Coward
18 days ago3D Printing

As a maker, you have a lot of tools and machines available to you that you can use for your projects. 3D printers are extremely common these days, but you can also use laser cutters, CNC mills, and more. If you want to cut thin material like vinyl or cardstock, a craft cutting machine like a Cricut or Silhouette is a great option. Those are compact and fit easily on a desk, but give you the ability to automatically cut complex shapes out of wide range of materials. Unfortunately those start at about $200 for the most basic models. If you want to save some money and have an old inkjet printer collecting dust, LoopLinks has a video demonstrating how to convert it into vinyl cutter.

Inkjet printers are practically given away, because you are expected to spend a fortune on ink cartridge replacements. That means that you can find used printers for sale at thrift stores for very little money. Heck, there is a good chance you already have one sitting in a closet right now. If you look at a Cricut or Silhouette cutter, you’ll notice that they look an awful lot like a printer. That isn’t a coincidence, because they’re actually very similar on a mechanical level. They both have a mechanism to feed paper or other stock through the machine and a linear rail to move the head back and forth across the material. The major difference is that the cutters require an additional mechanism to drop and lift the cutting blade. Fortunately, you can make your own.

As LoopLinks demonstrates in their video, you will start by completely disassembling the donor inkjet printer. You only need to keep the feed roller mechanism, the linear rails, and the enclosure. The inkjet’s motors are replaced by stronger stepper motors, which are controlled by an Arduino Uno through a CNC Grbl shield. You will need to build your own mechanism to lift the cutting blade. That will be actuated by electromagnetic solenoids. A 3D printer is practically a necessity for fabricating the new mounts for that and the motors. You can then reassemble the machine with the roller and rails in their original locations. You won’t be able to use the fancy, user-friendly software that comes with a Cricut or Silhouette, but you can create designs in free software like Inkscape and then convert that into g-code files that the Arduino can read. With less than $50 in parts, you will have built your own craft cutter!

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