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Craftcutter Applications for Hobbyists

Introduction to Craftcutters Redux, a rewrite of our original article on the subject, because of product discontinuations and other updated. Click to go to article.This article is a supplement to our Introduction to Craftcutters Redux article, which has been rewritten, because so many things changed in the few years after I wrote it.

Although the earliest home craftcutters were targeted to scrapbookers and other crafters, a craftcutter that can cut 3rd-party designs, including your own, can be helpful in hobbies like model railroading, putz house building, and more.

Which Craftcutter Should I Buy/Use?

If you already have a craftcutter, don't rush out and buy another one because of this article. If you already have a Cricut that you can only use with cartridges, don't rush out and buy more cartridges because of this article.

The truth is that most of the kinds of projects overviewed in this article work better if you have a craftcutter and software combination on your computer that allows you to cut original and third-party designs.

If you're considering such a setup, there are currently two major choices:

  • ANY Silhouette Cameo, even the first one, will easily perform the tasks on this page and many more. I mention this because it can be cheaper to buy a used Cameo and download the free software than it is to buy another cartridge or two. That's why I say not to buy any additional cartridges just to do any projects I mention.

    Unlike Cricut, Silhouette supports their older machines with driver updates and brand-new software that's free to anyone who can plug a Cameo into their computer.

  • If you're already a Cricut user:

    • If you already have a bunch of unlinked cartridges, you might want to consider the Cricut Explore, Explore Air, or Maker. Unlike Cricut's earlier, now discontinued software, Cricut's current software - free to owners of these machines - allows you to import graphics fromo other sources. The only reason I don't mention the Cricut Joy up front is its small cutting mats. A Joy can be used for some of the projects on this page, however.

    • If you already own a first-generation Cricut that is in good working condition, you may be able to use it to cut original or downloaded designs with Sure-Cuts-A-Lot5 and third-party add-on that many folks have found useful. An overview of that approach and a list of the machines it works on are provided here.

      Do not spend "real money" on a used Cricut just to try this out, though. There are better approaches.

    • When a project could be done with a cartridge-driven Cricuts and no computer connection, we try to provide some direction there as well.

      For more tips and tricks about first-generation Cricuts, please check out our article "Legacy Cricut FAQs."

We hope to keep adding to the list of suggestions below, and maybe even "breaking out" more of them into separate articles.

Please contact us with yours suggestions as well.

Cutting Windowframes and Other Details for Model Buildings

Many city buildings and industries have a lot of windowframes. After I used my craftcutter for some simple projects, it occurred to me that I could use it to cut vinyl windowframes that I could stick straight onto plexiglass, avoiding a lot of the hard work that goes into building industries and certain kinds of city buildings.

I'm sure that there are other projects that would be just as useful.

Using a Craftcutter to create building fronts. Click to go to article.SVG-Compatible System Required - A very enterprising person could probably figure out something like this with the rectangles in the George and Basic Shapes font, but it would be pretty time-consuming. While researching the feasibility of such a project, I created a number of SVG files, then used my cutter to cut three layers of vinyl that make up the little building front shown at the right.

No, it's not THAT impressive, but I believe it's a good indicator of the sort of things that can be done along these lines, and I hope to get back to working on this sort of project eventually.

SVG files for two different storefronts in Large Scale, O, and S are provided in the article.

Cutting Out the Parts for Cardboard Buildings

As a garden railroader, I really don't have much use for this option, but I have a lot of friends who make cardboard "putz" houses for their Christmas villages. With a craftcutter that can work off SVG files, and with some less "Christmassy" designs, you could easily create many of the structures for an indoor model railroad.

Cartridge-Based Cricut - If you have a cartridge-only craftcutter, your options are limited, but you can still get a 3D haunted house from the Happy Hauntings cartridge, or a 3D Colonial house from the Winter Woodland cartridge. There are likely others, but I have not made a big investment in cartridges.

SVG-Compatible System - If you can drive your craftcutter with a computer-based program that can use imported or original graphics, you would need to track down or create outline files.

The building below left was designed by my friend Howard Lamey for his "putz" house collection, but a similar plan could easily be used to make, say, a farmhouse. Since I'm using an early craftcutter without a scoring option, I litterally put dotted lines where the folds would have to be, and it worked fine. I don't offer any svg plans for this sort of project, but other folks do.

I have drawn one of Howard Lamey's plans into CorelDraw, converted it to and SVG, imported it into my cutter software, and cut it out on posterboard. A cardboard 'putz house' frame cut from posterboard. Of course the same technology - with good designs - could be used to cut a city full of model houses for your indoor railroad.  Click for bigger photo

This is an SVG file for cutting windowframes out for putz houses.  Click to go to the article that includes examples and .svg files. In a related project, I created a .svg file with most of the common window shapes used in the old putz houses. If you go to the article I wrote for the Cardboard Christmas site, you'll see the results of several experiments.

Even if you're not into putz houses, you may find useful information about what it takes to cut such small details precisely, as well as SVG files you may be able to tweak for your own needs.

Cutting Signage and Labeling for Scale Buildings and Model

One of the tasks that craftcutters have always excelled at is lettering. Whether you have a cartridged-based machine or an SVG-compatible system, you can cut vinyl letters for your businesses.

Cartridge-Based Cricut - If you have a cartridge-driven Cricut, you can still get a lot of mileage out of font cartridges like Plantin Schoolbook. Also, the Cricut Storybook font (below left) can stand in for a western font in a pinch.

The "western" font in the Cricut Old Western cartridge is a little cutesy for me, and the font cartridge is still in high demand because of the iconic images it includes (boots, horseshoes, etc.). So don't spend more on a used Old Western cartridge than it would cost you to buy a used Cameo and start downloading better fonts. But if you have one already, you may find it useful for creating signage as well.

SVG-Compatible System - if you have a craftcutter/software combination that allows you to import .svg files, you can take advantage of a host of vintage and western typefaces on the internet. The fonts in the picture below right are all easily downloadable from the Internet.

Cricut Cartridge Fonts
Downloadable Fonts
(for SVG-compatible systems)
Plantin Schoolbook was invented to make textbooks more readable, but it has a smoother and more contemporary appearance than New Century Schoolbook.
The fonts included in the Cricut Storybook cartridge also work as Western fonts.
The fonts included in the Cricut Old West cartridge are exaggerated for comic effect.  The Roman font is the only one shown here.
These are a few examples of Western-style typefaces that you can easily download from the internet.  Click for bigger picture.

Cutting Lettering to Use on Your Trains

Admittedly, this works better for the larger scales. As examples:

  • Cartridge-Based Cricut - If you have an old Cricut with the Plantin font cartridge, you'll discover that Plantin can stand in for any number of train lettering typefaces.

    In the example below, the bottom line is Plantin - a great match for the Polar Express font and a number of real railroads.

    Plantin font (on the bottom) is a good match for a number of railroad fonts.

  • SVG-Compatible System - On the other hand, if you have a craftcutter/software combination that allows you to import .svg files, you can use a program like Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, or InkScape (a nice freebie) to use any font you like.

    The example below uses Railroad Roman, which Benn Coifman developed to represent the lettering on old turn-of-the-century trains. This and many other fonts useful to model railroaders are available for reasonable fees at the site.

    Railroad Roman was designed for modelers who wanted to imitate the lettering of the old turn-of-the-century trains.

    Note About Railroad-based Fonts - Benn Coifman and a number of other hobbyists have developed vintage railroad fonts for love of the hobby. Without their hard work, many of the fonts that hobbyists use ever day to make decals, etc., would not be available. Sadly, many of those fonts have been "borrowed" by other font pages that let you download for "free," but ask for a donation. But such "donations": go only to the page that "borrowed" the fonts - they never get back to the original font designer. On the site they do. If you like what they do, please support their work so they can keep developing new products to support your hobby.

Cutting Stencils for Scenery

Craftcutters are great for cutting stencils. I've only dabbled in that medium, but I've shared some thoughts in another article. What follows is a summary.

Obviously most projects along this line would require a system that allowed you to cut original designs or at least download SVG files. Also, this lends itself better to large scales. But there's no reason you couldn't cut stencils of, say, mountain ridges and or rows of trees to use for creating backgrounds.

As an experiment, I used the SVG files that I created to make storefronts with layers of vinyl to cut three stencils that would be necessary to make the arch-window building shown in that article. The plan was to make "buildings" out of scrap wood or other inexpensive materials that would be inexpensive and relatively impervious to the weather, once they were properly sealed. Potentially a good solution for people on tight budgets or setting up a temporary display railroad. Click to go to article

The truth is, I never got very far beyond cutting the stencils, though I hope to get back to it eventually. I put an article up about the project in case anyone else wanted to try it.

In the meantime, the photos below show the stencils I cut with my craftcutter. The article itself includes SVG files for two buildings and several business signs. .

Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo.
Layer 2: Window Trim
Layer 3: Window Frames
Layer 4: Window Panes
The following graphics are simply showing the steps you would take using the stencils above to paint your buildings a little bit at a time. The steps including adding signage that is cut from fonts that can also be cut as stencils.

Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo.
Layer 1: Wall Color
Layer 2: Trim Color
Layer 3: Window Frame Color
Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo. Click for bigger photo.
Layer 4: Window Pane Color
Layer 5a: Sign Background
Layer 5b: Sign Letters

The SVG files and further suggestions for this sort of project are contained in this article..

Cutting Out Lettering for Trainroom Signs

I used a craftcutter to produce the headers on a life-sized timetable for my workshop.  Click to go to the aticle.I've been used to printing my own trainroom signs for some time. But using a craftcutter and a sheet of adhesive vinyl to make a sign may provide a more professional appearance.

The picture to the right shows a full-sized railroad timetable I built for my workshop. I wanted the headers of the timetable to look professional, so I cut the lettering out of white vinyl with a craftcutter hooked up to a computer.

If you read my article about the project, you'll see that I hadn't used my craftcutter for years, so I did some experiments with the machine and my software first.

I strongly considered using the Cricut Storybook font cartridge, since my copy of DesignStudio was still working. But I found a font I liked marginally better online - the CF Wild West font you can see in the list of western fonts above. I cut that with a pre-lawsuit version of Sure-Cuts-A-Lot.

Again, if you have a machine that only cuts from cartridges, you will have a limited choice of typefaces. I'd recommend Plantin and Street Signs for 20th-century signs, and Storybook or Old West cartridges for 19th-century signs. However, don't spend more money buying cartridges than you'd spend buying an old, but working Silhouette Cameo and downloading their free software. That would give you access to literally more fonts than you'll every use in a lifetime.

For that reason and others, you'll have far more flexibility if your system allows you to import SVG files or even design directly with Windows fonts.


Admittedly, I've only dabbled in most of the applications mentioned above. Several folks I know have already taken the same ideas much further, and I'm hoping to be able to expand with their examples and photos.

Craftcutter Projects for Hobbyists - A collection of ideas and resources for folks whose main interest is some other hobby besides 'crafting.'  We're just getting started on these.If you want to jump right into some projects, check out the project index we've started in our "Craftcutter Projects for Hobbyists" article. You'll find a collection of ideas and resources for folks whose main interest is some other hobby besides "crafting."

In the meantime, I hope I've given you all some food for thought, some direction, and maybe some inspiration. In fact, usually when I post an article like this, folks take an idea, run with it, and create something I never could have envisioned. So stay tuned.

As always, we want to hear your suggestions, criticisms, additions, etc. Enjoy your hobbies, and especially any time you can spend with your family in the coming months!


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