Today I needed a graduation card I could make quickly. I searched through my library and found one I really liked from one of my favorite designers, Lori Whitlock. It’s from the Silhouette Design Store and it’s #41562. It’s cute, easy and it has a pocket to slip in the check for the graduate. Super! There’s only 1 problem – the years only go up through 2016, so I needed to create a new one for 2018. I realized that would make a great beginner tutorial. So, I’m going to show you how a created a new one and made it into a single piece by altering the character spacing and welding.
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I’m doing this with numbers, but you can do it with any text in a block font. By overlapping them, you can make them into a single continuous piece. It works best with serif fonts (those that have the extra strokes at the ends of the letters), because it’s easier for the letters to still be distinguished from one another after you weld. But I’ll show you in one of the steps how to use a sans serif font (a font without those extra strokes) in a similar way.
This technique is also helpful when you have letters in a cursive font that don’t overlap like this:
Tutorial level: beginner
(This assumes you’ve gone through my Before You Begin and Software Basics series.)
Step 1 – Type your phrase
Click the Text icon in the left side icon bar. Move your cursor over to your Design area and click the spot where you want to start typing. Then type out your phrase.
We want to select our font now, and you can’t do that right here in text editing mode. That’s because within any given text box, you can have multiple fonts. Therefore, the software doesn’t know which letters you want to change the font on unless you tell it. There are 3 different ways you can do it–
- Click off the text box so that you exit text editing mode, then back on so that it’s just selected.
- Highlight the text within the box (click and drag over the word while in the text editing mode). Highlighted text is covered in light blue.
- Select the font BEFORE you click on the text icon. Then any letters you type will be in that font. That font selection stays in place until you choose a different one in the same manner, work on a different file or close the software.
You can choose the font in the Text Style panel, or in the Quick Access Toolbar.
Since we’re going to be making alterations to our text box, it’s a good idea to make a copy before continuing. That makes it much easier to start over as needed. Pull the copy off to the side of the mat area for safekeeping.
I normally recommend filling any design with a color so it’s easier to work with. However, we really want to be able to see the line colors well so I didn’t this time. If you do want to fill it now, just make sure to choose a light color.
Step 2 – Adjust the character spacing with kerning
We want our individual characters to overlap before we weld them. Look at the Text panel in the bottom section called “Character Spacing.” We start by making sure kerning is turned on. It’s turned on on your selected text box when the second “AV” is highlighted.
What is kerning?
When a designer creates a font (oooh – you’ll be able to do this yourself in 4.2 with Business Edition), each letter is made within the confines of a rectangle. If we look at a single letter here, you can see the selection box around it. That shows us that rectangle.
Notice that the box is larger than the actual letter. That’s because there has to be room around the letter for things like superscript (like x2), lowercase letters that dip below the line, etc. Fonts with lots of flourishes (like the every-popular Samantha) have a great deal of extra space. You’ll have noticed this if you ever typed out a word, resized it to a measurement and then cut it out. The size of your word is not equal to the size of the text box. For example, my letter “A” appears to be 4.25″ tall and 2″ wide, but if I cut it out it wouldn’t be that tall (the width would be close on this particular one).
Why is that?
When you type text, each letter has that imaginary rectangle surrounding it, and the rectangles are stacked together side by side and top to bottom. If you could see them all, they’d look something like this:
The rectangular bounding box for each letter is the same size. But there are some times when that looks funny. Let’s say you have the word “village” in a sans serif font. The letters “i” and “l” are thinner than the rest of the letters, so if the rectangle surrounding each letter was the same size, the distance between those letters would look too large.
Kerning fixes that. It’s built into most of today’s fonts. (They’re called proportional fonts). When you have thinner letters like that, the spacing is automatically altered so that it looks normal. In other words, those imaginary rectangles either overlap or shrink in width on thinner letters. Compare this one:
By default, kerning is on in Silhouette Studio. You can toggle it on and off at the bottom of the text panel. The icon there shows you an example of what it does. The first “AV” shows you that kerning is off, the second is on.
See how in the second the letters are closer together? That’s because the software recognizes that it’s smart to do this on these 2 letters because of their shapes – the right side of the “A” and left side of the “V” follow the same angle, so scooting them together looks better.
Since we want out letters to be close together, we want to make sure the kerning is on for our text box. This is going to affect different fonts in different amounts, since each font itself is different. But it’s the first step in getting the characters closer together.
Step 3 – Adjust the character spacing with character spacing itself
There’s another option in that “Character Spacing” in the Text panel that’s going to help us. It’s called, oddly enough, Character Spacing. It’s also called “tracking” in the typography world. When you adjust this, you are expanding or contracting the space between each letter by the same amount at the same time.
When you move the character spacing up, it’s like you are creating space side to side between the imaginary rectangles around each letter. Conversely, when you decrease the character spacing, you’re shrinking that space. The imaginary rectangles begin to overlap. Therefore, the letters themselves begin to overlap.
HINT: to adjust the space between the imaginary rectangles top to bottom, adjust the Line Spacing.
Adjust the character spacing until your letters begin to overlap. You’ll notice that some begin to overlap before others. Only adjust until some of the letters overlap. If you try to adjust until they all overlap, some will overlap too much and you won’t be able to read the individual characters. It’s okay — we’ll take care of the rest of the letters in the next step. We are just doing it in a particular order that’s the quickest way to get where we want to go.
You can adjust by moving the slider, clicking the up and down arrows, or backspacing out the number and typing a new one in. Use whichever one makes the most sense to you.
HINT: Each word or phrase is going to be different. Sometimes it works better to move until all the characters overlap, and then scoot just 1 or 2 back out in the next step. Just play with which one works best on your particular wording.
Step 4 – Ungroup to adjust the character spacing more
When you type text, you are typing a grouping of letters. In order to work with each one individually, you can ungroup them.
HERE’S THE WARNING!!!
Text is a special type of animal in Silhouette Studio because you can alter the properties of it. You can change the font, change the wording, change that spacing, etc. When you ungroup, you are changing that word or phrase from text to a normal image. That means it no longer has those special properties you can alter. This is the first reason we made a copy of the text box. Once we ungroup, you can only go back with your undo button.
HINT: Even if you don’t need to ungroup to adjust the spacing, you’ll still want a copy of the text box. Welding (Step 6 below) is going to do the same thing — change it to a regular shape instead of words.
Now that you understand that you can ungroup your letters. (I usually use the icon in the Quick Access Toolbar for that, but you can also use the right click menu, Object drop down menu or the keyboard shortcut CTRL/CMD+SHIFT+g). Then you can select each letter you need to move and scoot it move until it overlaps its neighbor. Here are some hints:
- If you want to keep all your letters lined up, use the left and right arrow keys on your computer keyboard to move your letters. That moves them in a straight line.
- Hold your SHIFT key as you use your arrow keys to move the selected letter in larger distance chunks.
- If you have several letters in a row you need to move, select them all and move them until the first letter of your selected group overlaps. Then de-select that one but keep the others selected. For example, here I need to move both the 1 and the 8 to the left. I select both and scoot them until the 1 overlaps the 0. Then I de-select the 1 and keep the 8 selected so that I can move the latter over more.
- Keep an eye out for any areas where you might create a spot that’s too small to cut easily. For example, I want to watch out for the area where the bottom of the 1 and 8 connect.
And I want to watch out for leaving an area that’s too thin here:
Here’s where my spacing is now:
You can group them if you like, but it’s not necessary. Do NOT create a compound path with them.
Step 5 – Visualize the finished phrase
At this point, I like to see how my piece is going to look before I do the welding. Here’s a great way to do that.
Fill your word with color. Choose a color that contrasts well with your white background.
Then set the line color to clear (choose the thing that looks like a chain link fence in your color palette).
If there’s anything that looks unreadable, you can adjust it now. This will also help you identify any potential problem areas that I talked about in the last step.
Step 6 – Weld or use cut edge
Once you’ve got all your pieces in place, select them all and weld them. I like to use the Weld icon in the Quick Access Toolbar for that because it’s, well, quick.
Let’s say you want to be able to use this the following year. If you weld, you’d have to do the same process all over again. If you use Cut Edge (or AutoWeld) instead, the pieces remain separate. That means you have fewer steps to take the next time.
What about sans serif fonts?
If you are using a sans serif font, it’s often hard to read the individual letters if you overlap and weld. Let’s look back at our word “village” as an example. If I don’t do something, the “i” and “l”s would all blend together:
Try moving the individual characters up and down to see if you get a better look. Some fonts and words work better than others for this. It also tends to work better on capital letters.
Or, keep the spacing a little wider and use a rectangle across the middle of the letters as the thing that will bring them together into a continuous piece. That works best if I wanted to keep my original font on “village.”
Step 7 – Adjust the size
Because you no longer have text but a regular image, the size you make your piece is the size it will cut. Adjust it to the size you need. I want mine to fit on the card I’m making, so I used one of the older years from Lori’s design as a reference.
Here’s my card (ya, not too fancy, but it’s for a teenage boy — ’nuff said):
That’s all there is to it! The beauty of this is that you adjust character spacing so you can customize designs you own when you need different wording. The key is remembering that all letters need to overlap before you weld them. It works great for shapes too!
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