I used to work in Customer Support for Silhouette America. I vividly recall taking a phone call from a beginner one day 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 a 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 a really successful start with your Silhouette cutting machine. These machines are wonderful tools, but way too many folks try to start out with projects that are too difficult for beginners 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 some fun right off the bat. If you’ll work through these projects first, then you’ll be well trained to tackle more challenging ones.
First things first
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 first 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 projects.
Beginner Project #1 — Butterfly Card
Cardstock — You can use plain or patterned cardstock for this project. I highly recommend starting with cardstock. It’s cheap, readily available, versatile. If you want to find out more about materials I recommend starting with, see here. 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.
All the projects in this series use the free shapes that come with your machine or fonts already installed on your computer. If you are following these lessons and don’t have the same shapes because you have a different machine, then just look for something similar (I’ll give you tips).
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 here. I’m going to use a regular letter-sized piece of paper.
Common Rookie Mistake: Not setting the correct page size and/or mat size.
Step 2 – Add the mat to the page
Open your library and look for the design called “Mat.” Since it’s a free shape that came with your machine, you should find it in the Recent Downloads of your Local User folder if you haven’t moved it. Double click quickly to put the image on the page.
If you don’t have the Cameo 3, then look for a simple, solid shape with no internal pieces or skinny parts.
Mine comes in with a tan fill color. If yours doesn’t have one, add that.
Common Rookie Mistake: Working with unfilled shapes, which makes them harder to select with the mouse.
Step 3 – Add the butterfly to the page
Now go back into your library. This time find the shape called “Butterfly.” If you don’t have that, look for one that meets the criteria I talked about for the mat — simple, solid, no skinny or internal pieces. You especially want to avoid lots of sharp turns on the design. Double click to put the butterfly on the page with your mat shape.
Mine comes in with a green color. If yours doesn’t have a fill color, add one. Just don’t choose the same color as the mat piece – makes things easier.
Common Rookie Mistake: Working with unfilled shapes, which makes the project harder to visualize.
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. 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.
I moved my butterfly off to the side of the mat area for now so that I can work with just the mat. I grab the corner box and move it in until my width is about 4 ¼” or a little smaller. That makes my height a little over 5”. That will fit, so I’m good. We don’t need exact sizes – we’ll talk about those more in another project.
Common Rookie Mistake: Using the side or top and bottom control boxes to resize images, thus distorting the height to width ratio.
Now I’ve pulled the butterfly back over so I can make it smaller also. I want to be able to put it on my mat shape. So I’m going to use those corner boxes again to decrease the size. Don’t get too small – just small enough to fit.
Common Rookie Mistake: Cutting projects with designs that are small or intricate before knowing how the machine works.
Step 5 – Align the pieces
Move your butterfly onto the lower edge of the mat shape.
You could eyeball it to make sure the butterfly is in the middle, 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 Rookie 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 mat and the butterfly at the same time to align them. You can do that by–
- Selecting one, holding the shift key and selecting the other.
- Use the Select All icon in the upper left.
- Left clicking and dragging 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 mat, but also a dark gray box around your butterfly.
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. We’ll talk later about cutting all the way to the edge of the page, but for now we want to play it safe.
Common Rookie 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 Rookie (and non-rookie) 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 these settings:
- We’re in Action by: Simple, 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. The color and strength of the lines of your shapes also tell you their settings. That’s the Cut Preview.
- Action is Cut.
- Tool is the AutoBlade. The settings at the top of the screen are for Tool 1, the left tool holder on a Cameo 3 or Curio. If you have another machine, you only have 1 section here.
- The settings are blade 3, speed 4, force 20, passes 1 and Line Segment Overcut off.
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 Rookie Mistake: Wasting material by cutting an entire project without first figuring out the best cut settings.
I also HIGHLY 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.
Common Rookie Mistake: Not using Line Segment Overcut.
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 Rookie Mistake: Not taking advantage of the extensive FAQ database on the Silhouette America website.
Step 8 – Set up and load the mat
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 Rookie 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 Rookie Mistake: Choosing the wrong loading method (does not pertain to Cameo 3).
Step 9 – 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
- Blade locked
- Cut settings tested and double checked
- Cut Preview checked
Common Rookie 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 (told you the Software Basics series is highly recommended).
Common Rookie Mistake: Leaving the room while the cut is going.
Step 10 – 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.
Common Rookie Mistake: Unloading before checking the cut.
Step 11 – 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 Rookie Mistake: Not being careful when removing the cut piece from the mat.
Step 12 — Assemble the card
All that’s left is to attach the mat to your card base and add some fun embellishments. Or, cut another mat in a contrasting paper without the butterfly and make a flat card.
Here’s the great thing — you’ve done 1 cut to get 2 pieces. Make sure to save the butterfly for project #2 — Butterfly Gift Bag Decoration.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials. All opinions expressed are my own and are not tied to any compensation.