I used to work in Customer Support for Silhouette America. I vividly recall taking a phone call from a beginner who was having trouble cutting her project. As I talked with her, I found out she–
- had never used a computer before.
- had been talked into getting a very high dollar Macbook Pro computer that no one she knew knew how to use.
- didn’t know anyone who had used a Silhouette machine or the software.
- had just started using the software that day.
- had not done any cut on her machine.
- was trying to create a design completely from scratch.
- wanted to do a print and cut.
- was trying to fit as much on the page as possible so was altering the print and cut registration marks.
- wanted to use shiny, patterned paper.
I cannot tell you how many things are wrong with that scenario. It’s basically a perfect recipe for disaster. This woman was trying to run a 100m dash in the Olympics without ever having walked 3 steps in her life.
The Successful Beginner Projects series is designed to help you get the best start possible with your Silhouette. These machines are wonderful tools, but too many folks try to start out with projects that are too difficult for a beginner and get easily frustrated. I created this series to take you step by step through a few cuts to help you gain confidence and have fun right off the bat. If you’ll work through these projects first, you’ll be well trained to tackle more challenging ones.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. You pay the same price. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials. I will always give my honest opinion of any products.
1st things 1st, my beginner friend
I highly recommend working through 2 other series of lessons before beginning these projects.
The Before You Begin series will give you all the info you need to know when you are a Silhouette beginner just starting out. Many of these things can be done before you even have a machine. The lessons take you through–
- what to know before you buy
- downloading and installing the software
- setting up an account with Silhouette America
- the Silhouette Design Store
- subscriptions in the Silhouette Design Store
- the Silhouette America website
- recommended materials to start with
- getting to know your machine
- updating your firmware
The Software Basics series takes you on a tour of the Silhouette Studio software. You can do most of these without a machine, too. These lessons walk you through–
- opening the software
- setting your preferences
- the icons
- starting a new project
- page settings
- grid settings
- the mouse and cursors
- drop down menus
- right click menus
- keyboard shortcuts
- miscellaneous navigation techniques
- the library
- getting your free shapes
- adding images to the page
- selecting, moving and resizing images
- basics of working with text
- making your first cut
- saving your work and shutting down
Once you’re familiar with the information in those lessons, you’re ready to start cutting these simple beginner projects.
All the projects in this series use the free shapes that come with a Cameo 4 or fonts already installed on your computer. (10-23-20: I’m in the process of updating this series, so you if you catch me in the middle of that just stay tuned). I recommend you stick to using the shapes I’ve listed. I’ve chosen them for very specific reasons to help you learn in a logical sequence. If you are using another machine, then I’ll give you tips throughout on what shapes to use. Look for those in green text.
Beginner Project #1 Materials
Cardstock — You can use plain or patterned cardstock for this project. I highly recommend starting with cardstock. It’s cheap, readily available and versatile. If you want to find out more about materials I recommend starting with, see this post. You want some for both the shape we’ll cut and the card base.
Adhesive — You won’t need to work with small pieces here, so any type of adhesive works well.
Embellishments (optional) — Let you imagination take over here, or grab whatever you have on hand.
Step 1 – Set up a new project
You want to have your page size set up for the size of paper you are using. In the Software Basics series I go through the Page Setup panel and how to get your new project set up. To check that, see this post.
Here are the choices we need to make –
- Machine – select your machine type.
- Cutting mat – again, select the appropriate one for your machine.
- Media size – Check the correct one for the size of the piece of cardstock you’re using. I’m going to use a regular letter-sized piece of paper.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not setting the correct page size and/or mat size.
Step 2 – Add the house to the page
Open your library and look for the design called Our First Home. Since it’s a free shape that came with your machine, you should find it in the folder called Free With Machine. Double click quickly to put the image on the page.
If you don’t have the Cameo 4, then look for a simple, solid shape with no internal pieces, skinny parts, or lots of sharp turns.
My design comes in filled with colors. If yours doesn’t have one, add a fill color .
Common Beginner Mistake: Working with unfilled shapes, which makes them harder to select with the mouse.
We’re only going to use the house from this design. So we’ll ungroup it and delete the wording. Don’t worry — you aren’t deleting it from the design permanently — only from this project.
Step 3 – Add the apple to the page
Now go back into your library. This time find the shape called Apple. Double click to put the apple on the page with your house shape.
If you don’t have the apple, look for one that meets the criteria I talked about for the house — simple, solid, no skinny or internal pieces, few, if any, sharp turns.
Well, this looks different! The thumbnails (little pictures) of designs in the Library and Silhouette Design Store show you how the finished project would look. But they will often come without fills, with multiple pieces, with several options, etc.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not realizing that images do not look the same when placed on the drawing area as they do in the library or Silhouette Design Store.
We have several pieces that for now are all grouped together.
- Left is a set of all 3 pieces of this design – apple, stem and leaf. They are filled with color and stacked up so that we can see how the assembled design looks.
- Upper right are the apple and stem connected and the leaf is a separate piece.
- Bottom right are the apple and the stem separately.
We are going to use the ones at the upper right, so we need to get rid of the other pieces. Ungroup one time and delete the pieces at the left and lower right. Our ungrouping separated the apple from its leaf, so select both and group them together for now.
This piece isn’t filled with color, so do that now. It doesn’t matter which color you choose – just don’t make it the same one as your house. This will help us see where all the pieces are and predict what our finished cut will look like.
Step 4 – Resize the pieces
We’re going to use this project as a card, so the mat needs to be the right size to fit in an A4 envelope (or if you’re in another country, the standard size for you). That’s 1/4 of an 8 ½” x 11” page, or 4 ¼” x 5 ½”. Since our shapes are bigger than that, we need to resize them.
Move your apple off to the side of the page for now so that you can work with just the house. Grab the corner box and move it in until the width is about 4.1″. That makes the height a little under 5” so the house fits well on the card front. We don’t need exact sizes – we’ll talk about those more in another project.
Common Beginner Mistake: Using the side or top and bottom control boxes to resize images, thus distorting the height-to-width ratio.
Now pull the apple back over so you can make it smaller also. We want to be able to put it inside of the edges of the house, toward the bottom. Use those corner boxes again to decrease the size. Don’t get too small – just small enough to fit with some space around it.
Common Beginner Mistake: Cutting projects with designs that are small or intricate before knowing how the machine works.
Step 5 – Align the pieces
You could eyeball it to make sure the apple is in the middle of the house, but I’m completely inept at that. That’s why I love the Align tool.
In the icons that go down the right side of the software, look for the one that looks like a bar graph – a thin horizontal line with vertical rectangles of various sizes on it. Click that to open the Transform panel.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not learning all the icons and features of the software and so making the design process harder and longer.
The first tab in this panel is for Align. Knowing how to use this panel is a simple way to make your projects much better.
We need to select both the apple and the house at the same time to align them. You can do that in one of 3 ways–
- Select one, hold the SHIFT key and select the other.
- Use the Select All icon in the upper left.
- Left click and drag a box around both shapes. As you do this, notice the software shows a box with a moving dotted line, which then goes away when you release the mouse. You’ll know both shapes are selected because you see the bounding box around your house, but also a dark gray box around your apple.
Once you have both selected, look for the Horizontal alignment in your Transform panel. Click the middle one, which will align the 2 pieces along their vertical centers. That may be confusing – it says horizontal but it uses the vertical axis. It looks at how the images lie side to side (which is horizontal) and puts their centers in line. Just check the little pictures – they’re a big help.
Step 6 — Move the pieces to a smart spot
Now, while both your images are still selected, move them up to the upper left corner of the page. Why? Because you want to make the best possible use of your material. If you cut right in the middle of the page, you aren’t. You’re like my kids when they were little – they’d cut all the way to the middle of the page to cut a 1” square. Just make sure to leave some margin above an to the left of your image to play it safe.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not being aware of the cut border.
Step 7 – Choose your cut settings
The project is all set up, so it’s time to tell the software what material and tool you are using. Click on the word Send in the upper right. If you haven’t been in this area of the software yet, then you will definitely want to read my post Making Your First Cut. Fully understanding this area of the software is CRITICAL to getting great cuts with your Silhouette and saving time, money and frustration.
Common Beginner (and non-beginner) Mistake: Not understanding cut settings.
The first thing to do is select Cardstock, Plain from the list of materials. You will then see the recommended settings.
Let’s read and adjust these settings:
- We’re in Simple cut mode, which means we choose No Cut, Cut or Cut Edge for each piece. As long as you didn’t do anything to your shapes, they are set to Cut. Don’t be fooled if you see No Cut highlighted when your shapes aren’t selected. The software can’t tell you the cut style if it doesn’t know which shape you are asking about.
If you click on the shape, this will change. But we can actually tell without doing that. The color and strength of the lines of your shapes also tell you their settings. That’s the Cut Preview.
- For the Action, choose Cut.
- For the Tool, choose AutoBlade. If by chance you have a different machine or are using a different tool, be sure to select the right one.
- The settings at the top of the screen are for Tool 1, the left tool holder on a Cameo 3, 4 or Curio. If you have another machine, you only have 1 section here.
- The default cut settings are blade 3, force 20, speed 4, passes 1 and Line Segment Overcut off.
I typically recommend always turning on Line Segment Overcut. It will default to 0.1 for both as long as you have the most recent software update. I am finding that on the Cameo 4 models it’s often fine, and sometimes even better, to leave it off. The only way you’ll know what’s going to work for your machine, blade and cardstock is to try it. Remember – we’re just learning for now.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not using Line Segment Overcut.
I also always recommend starting on the low side of cut settings. If you start too high, it will ruin your material. If you start to low, the worst that can happen is that you cut again.
Step 8 – Set up and load the mat
Make sure your machine is showing connected. If it’s plugged in and turned on but the software isn’t reading it, check the Silhouette America website.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not taking advantage of the extensive FAQ database on the Silhouette America website.
If you haven’t done the Software Basics series, then let me recommend again that you do that before going on. But if you’re a rebel and a daredevil and just want to plow right into things here, at the VERY least, read the section in Making Your First Cut on preparing your mat. If you don’t, you’ll be spending a lot of time cleaning up a big mess.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not unsticky-ing a new mat.
Put your cardstock on your mat, making sure it’s pressed down well.
Line up the left side of your mat with the correct guideline and load the mat.
Common Beginner Mistake: Choosing the wrong loading method (does not pertain to Cameo 3 or 4).
Step 9 – Do a test cut
By this time, I hope you’ve made a cut on the paper you’re using. If not, do that first (see my posts Making Your First Cut and Test Cuts). There’s no sense in wasting paper by not doing some testing first. If in doing that, you discovered you needed to tweak one of these settings, do that now.
Common Beginner Mistake: Wasting material by cutting an entire project without first figuring out the best cut settings.
Step 10 – Cut the cardstock
You’re ready to send the job to the machine. Here’s the checklist to go over 1 more time before you start–
- Roller bar locked
- Mat loaded
- Blade adjusted if not using AutoBlade
- Blade loaded and locked
- Cut settings tested and double checked
- Cut Preview checked
Common Beginner Mistake: Not learning to read the Cut Preview.
Then it’s time to hit Send at the bottom of the panel and watch the magic.
WAIT! What if something is going horribly wrong? Don’t worry! You can pause or cancel the job if necessary. See my post here for that (I told you the Software Basics series is highly recommended!).
Common Beginner Mistake: Leaving the room while the cut is going.
Step 11 – Check the cut and then unload
BEFORE you unload, make sure to check the cut. Once you’re sure it’s cut all the way through, then unload. If it didn’t cut, take the force up about 3 and send it again. Because you didn’t unload, it will cut in the same place.
Common Beginner Mistake: Unloading before checking the cut.
Step 12 – Remove the project from the mat
If your mat is still relatively new, then remember to flip the mat over and pull it off the cardstock rather than pulling the cardstock off the mat. That helps with curling. If your paper isn’t covering the whole mat, use the mat cover to protect the exposed sticky areas. You don’t want getting all the glitter and paper tidbits from your craft table all over your mat.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not being careful when removing the cut piece from the mat.
Step 13 – Cut the card base
I prefer to just cut my card bases with a paper trimmer since they are just a rectangle. I don’t see the point of spending time and blade longevity cutting it with the machine. My mats also last longer. If you do want to cut one with the machine, make a rectangle that’s 8.5” wide x 5.5” tall. It needs to be twice the width because we’re going to fold it.
Speaking of folding — fold that card base in half.
Step 14 — Assemble the card
All that’s left is to attach the house to your card base and add some fun embellishments. Here’s the great thing — you’ve done 1 cut to get 2 pieces. You can put the apple onto a different project. I chose a double-sided paper with red on the back so that would be easier.
Our original design was a home, but by using the apple we turned it into a schoolhouse. That leaf of the apple can be used for lots of projects.
Common Beginner Mistake: Not looking for ways to use designs in multiple ways.
Up Next: Beginner project #2
In project #2, we’ll learn about internal pieces, using the Quick Access Toolbar, getting the most from your mat, cutting 3 papers at once, understanding Cut Edge and more.