It turns out that the scrapbooking craze is a big benefit to do-it-yourself exhibit fabrication. Desk-top cutters designed for scrapbookers can give you the freedom of creating your own vinyl letters and graphics.
Before scrapbooking, if I wanted vinyl letters to place onto a wall or other surface as exhibit titles or text labels, I had to order them from a sign company and pay a pretty price. You can still do that, but the cutters created for the scrapbook hobbyist provide another option with powerful potential. The Cricut cutters are very simple to use (you don’t even need a computer), and are popular with the scrapbooking crowd. However, Cricut machines require you to purchase individual cartridges for different fonts and shapes. Other models, like the Silhouette (the one I use today) and the Klic-n-Kut (which I've used in the past) give you more flexibility -- the ability to cut larger items, use your existing fonts, and design in programs like Illustrator. Cutters range from about $250 to more than $1,000. The bigger the machine (to take wider vinyl) and the more options, the higher the price.
So, know your budget and skills, and research before you buy. Once you have your cutter, you can order your vinyl directly from sign suppliers (I use US Cutter out of Seattle). A 10-yard roll of 15-inch-wide vinyl will cost you about $14 plus shipping.
Can’t afford to purchase a cutter? Maybe a volunteer who is an enthusiastic scrapbooker already has one. And of course, these machines cut more than just letters and vinyl. You can make borders, logos, and graphics; and cut paper, cardstock, and a variety of other materials depending on the machine you choose. So experiment, have fun, and enjoy the freedom of vinyl!
(this is an updated version of something I originally posted in 2010)