One of the awesome things about a Silhouette machine is that you can cut some materials without a mat. That means you can create projects that are larger than even the largest mat (the 12” x 24” Cameo mat). However, there are definitely some tricks to cutting without the mat. If you don’t know those, you’ll get pretty frustrated and end up wasting lots of time and money. So today I’m starting a series of posts to help you avoid that.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I 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 be honest about my opinion of any product.
Fear is the #1 reason many folks don’t cut without the mat. If you educate yourself and learn to do it properly, it’s fantastically freeing. In fact, I personally prefer cutting without the mat whenever possible. I don’t have to worry about the mat being sticky enough to hold the material. I also don’t have to replace the mat as often. Did you know a new cutting strip is cheaper than a new mat? Plus I can cut longer pieces. I have personally cut as long as 9 feet in one cut.
Ready to learn all about it? Let’s go!
Tip #1: Know what materials you can cut without the mat
To understand when and why you need a mat is the first step to cutting without one.
Purpose #1: Holding the material
The purpose of the mat is to hold pieces in place after cutting. If you didn’t have one when cutting, say, cardstock, once you’ve cut the design all the way around it it’s no longer attached to the rest of the material. It moves around freely and gets caught in the mechanisms of the machine. Believe me, it’s not a pretty sight. Yep – I’ve seen someone do it (not me).
The common ones
Some materials, such as vinyl, have adhesive on them and a backing paper that covers that adhesive, so that it doesn’t get dirty or, well, stick to everything. The adhesive holds the material to the backing, even after it’s cut, so that backing can act like (i.e., take the place of) the mat. You are able to load the material itself, with its attached backing, into the machine. And that means that for those materials, you aren’t limited to the length of the cutting mat.
Most heat transfer material (other than patterned) comes on a plastic carrier. The adhesive is actually exposed on it, but it’s not a problem because it’s only activated by high temperatures (usually over 300°). The material is really thin and floppy, so the carrier gives it enough body for us to cut it and move it to a project. Once again, the carrier can take the place of the mat.
The less common ones
The most common materials we cut without the mat are vinyl and heat transfer material. But any material with its own adhesive backing can be cut without the mat as long as it fits the other criteria listed in this series of posts. For example, Silhouette America sells adhesive wood paper, but the size is 5” x 7”. That’s not going to fit our parameters (I’ll tell you why later in the series). But if you get some elsewhere that’s 12” x 12”, you could cut that without the mat. The 12” x 12” adhesive cardstock also works without a mat, as do rhinestone template material, sticker paper and many other materials.
HINT: if purchasing materials manufactured by Silhouette America, check the description on their website. It will always tell you if the material has an adhesive backing.
Purpose #2: Protecting the machine
The other thing the cutting mat does besides hold the material in place is protect your machine. You don’t want the blade cutting directly into your cutting strip or the platform of your machine. The mat provides a barrier between those and the blade.
On a material with an adhesive backing, that backing provides the protection. For something like vinyl, the backing is fairly thin, while on heat transfer vinyl it’s much thicker. What you always want is a kiss cut – one that goes through the material but not through the backing.
Always doing test cuts and learning about cut settings is the key to getting that right. If you cut too deeply or too forcefully, you’ll cut through the backing. When that happens, you lose the protective layer between the blade and the machine, and your cut pieces will get caught up in the machine mechanisms because they aren’t being held to the background material. Also, if you cut too forcefully your material can be harder to weed or get to stick to the transfer media. Particularly with vinyl, the material gets pushed into the backing and doesn’t want to release from it.
If you’d like a 2 ½ hour lesson on understanding cut settings, check out my class When Good Cuts Go Bad on Terri Johnson Academy. Although I filmed this in version 3 of the Silhouette Studio software, the concepts apply to any version. Or see my Cut Doctor series.
In the next post in this series, I’ll tell you about a setting you need to select in your software to cut without the mat.