In general, Silhouette cutting machines do not need maintenance. Keeping your machine clean around the mechanisms and along the bar is usually all that is required. But the cutting strip is one part that will sometimes need replacing. Let’s talk today about how to know when it’s time to change it, and then learn how to do it.
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What is the cutting strip?
The cutting strip is a white (or black on older models) tape-like strip located behind the roller bar, underneath the area where the blade goes down while cutting.
It’s there to keep your blade or machine from getting damaged when cutting materials without the mat, such as adhesive vinyl or HTV. The machine itself provides resistance against the blade, but you don’t want to cut into the machine platform. The cutting strip provides a barrier between the blade and the machine.
If you cut without the mat frequently, you will need to replace the cutting strip at some point. I used to be afraid to cut without the mat until I learned some tricks (learn all about that in this series). Once I got the hang of it, I sometimes hesitated because I didn’t want to pay to replace the cutting strip. It took me awhile to realize that a cutting strip is cheaper than a new mat, so now I cut without the mat whenever possible.
Once in a while you’ll have your blade exposed too far or the force set too high and the blade will go all the way through the backing of the material. Even if it doesn’t cut all the way through, too much force can still damage the cutting strip.
Sometimes you forget to actually load your material before you start the cut (yep – I’m guilty of that one). Or you don’t load your material straight, so it starts falling off the rollers and the blade is cutting right into the machine instead of into the material. The cutting strip protects the machine and keeps the blade from getting chipped.
If you always cut with the mat, there’s less of a chance you’ll need to replace the cutting strip. But it’s possible.
When do I need to replace my cutting strip?
The very first tip-off is that parts of your material are not cut through, going in a vertical line all the way down the page. You don’t want to look to a cutting strip issue as your first cause of cutting troubles. More often, the issue is cut settings or something else. Play with varying your settings for force. Also check all these things first:
Your blade needs to be fully seated and locked. If it isn’t, it bumps up as it goes over the rollers on the roller bar – particularly the ones in the middle (rubber on Cameo 1, springs on Cameo 2, plastic + springs on Cameo 3). Also check to make sure the blade cap is on all the way and that there is no debris inside the blade. If using a ratchet blade, face the fin forward so it does not catch on any mechanisms (more common with Cameo 2). And try a new blade before suspecting the cutting strip.
Blade lock lever
This is for the Cameo 1 and 2 machines, as well as the Portrait and older machines. You lock the blade with a lever you twist. First, make sure the lever is pointing to 10 and 4 on a clock when unlocked, 8 and 2 when locked. If it’s at 12 and 6 (straight up and down), it’s neither fully locked or fully unlocked. Inserting and removing the blade in this position can break the teeth of the blade holder and you then have a very expensive paper weight on your hands.
The other thing to check on the blade lock lever is that it is on correctly. The lever has a fatter and thinner part on the twisting handle.
When the lever is on properly, the fatter part is up. If the lever falls off and you put it back on upside down, the blade will bump up as it goes over the rollers and not cut in that spot.
We move the right white roller in to cut without the mat or to use a smaller mat. If you forget to move it back out to the right spot, when the blade goes over the roller it could bump up in that area.
You also want to make sure that right white roller is really locked. If it’s not in the groove, or you haven’t twisted it all the way back to the locked position, this will affect your cutting.
If your mat has deep grooves or cuts in one portion, that could cause inconsistent cutting.
When you cut without the mat, you need to leave margins on the sides and at the bottom. If you don’t have “Show Cut Border” checked in your page setup, you won’t know where those margins are. Always check that when cutting without the mat. If you are using a Portrait mat in the Cameo, you can’t cut all the way to the edge of the 8 ½” width of a letter-sized page. Again, the “Show Cut Border” will show you your usable area.
A textured material, such as a linen-finish cardstock, can be tricky to cut. The thickness varies so it’s hard to get the right settings to cut all the way through throughout the piece. However, you typically won’t see just a strip all the way down the page in the same spot that is uncut.
If you’ve checked all those things and still have a strip all the way down the page that does not cut through, inspect the cutting strip. Indentions are normal. Fraying, lifting or deep gouges are not. If your fingernail can go through the strip all the way to the machine, that’s a groove that’s too deep.
Here’s a look at my cutting strip. There are a couple of spots where the grooves look too deep that I suspect are causing inconsistent cutting. My pins are pointing to those.
I notice that once my cutting strip is getting really old, even projects I cut on the mat can have uncut portions in the area where the cutting strip is looking iffy.
Do a test
It’s a good idea to do a test. Get some material you don’t mind using (like that awful color of vinyl you used for just 1 small project but got a whole roll of). I acutally find HTV the easiest to test with, but since you don’t usually want to waste that it’s okay to use vinyl instead. Load the material without the mat and cut a full-page design. It doesn’t have to be a complicated design – just something that goes all the way across the page and goes down far enough to make a definitive test.
As you are weeding, notice the spots where the cutting isn’t all the way through – the spots where the part you are supposed to weed won’t separate from your design. What you are looking for is an area side to side, all the way down the page, that is causing trouble.
Here’s a piece of HTV that I cut and tried to weed. I marked some areas that weren’t cut through with a white pen. In other spots, I folded back the HTV at the spot where it didn’t cut and taped it down. See how the areas where it didn’t cut all the way through are in a line all the way down the page?
That line corresponds to where a gouge is on the cutting strip.
That tells me it’s time to replace my cutting strip.
Where can I get a new cutting strip?
If you’re looking for a cutting strip on the Silhouette America website, you may have trouble finding it. It’s not in Shop section where most of the products are. Click on the Support area and then Replacement Parts.
Here’s the direct link. They don’t make black ones any longer, but the white ones work just fine. If you have a Cameo, make sure to get that one as it’s longer. Portrait owners can cut down a Cameo cutting strip as needed.
You can also get a new cutting strip from many reliable sellers online, even on Amazon. Since the shipping costs on the Silhouette America website are pretty high, I usually go this route.
This is the way the current packaging looks.
How do I replace the cutting strip?
The package comes with instructions. You can also see the company’s directions here.
Here’s the process with photos.
Step 1 – Unplug the power cord
We’re going to be moving the motor box, which requires that your machine be off. Unplugging just makes sure you don’t accidentally turn it on.
Step 2 – Remove the old cutting strip
Peel up the old cutting strip. It may separate as you do this. The plastic top part will probably come off pretty easily. The adhesive, not so much. You may have to pick at that for awhile.
Here’s the plastic part of the cutting strip that I removed. In several places, you can see that some cuts go all the way through.
In others, it was fraying.
Both of those would cause an issue with cutting. I found it to be a fraying spot that was causing my problem.
Getting the adhesive off can be the most tedious and time-consuming part of the process. It does NOT want to come off easily. I used an old vinyl-removing trick to help. Using my embossing gun (you could also use a blow dryer), I heated the adhesive. I hit it for just 1-2 seconds on about 1” of the adhesive, pulled that up, then moved to the next section. Be careful not to get crazy with the heat as that could damage the machine. A pair of tweezers is helpful here. I also used the spatula tool. Just be VERY careful not to gouge the cutting strip area.
Once you get all the adhesive off, clean the area. I used rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab and paper towel. Make sure to get all the residue off. Work slowly and gently.
Step 3 – Uncover half the adhesive on the new strip
Start peeling the backing paper at one end of the new strip. When you get halfway, fold the backing paper back.
Step 4 – Adhere the first half
You want to start on the left side on your machine, but the motor box is in the way. Because your machine is off, you can safely move that box along the bar. Move it all the way to the right. Now, working left to center, lay down that half of the strip in the area where you removed the old one.
Step 5 – Adhere the second half
Now that you’ve got the left side, move the motor box back to that side so you can work on the right end. Work slowly so you don’t catch the strip with the motor box as it goes by – feed it under. It helps to take your blade out.
Peel off the rest of the backing and, working from center to right, lay down the second half of the strip. I like to work with it the way I do with vinyl – pull the backing a bit at a time with one hand while pressing down the strip with the other hand. Once it’s down, run your finger along it to make sure it’s adhered all the way across.
Step 6 – Test again
When you turn your machine back on, your motor box will move back to the correct starting position. Load another piece of material and do the same test as before to see if there’s a difference. I cut some HTV again and it weeded perfectly in all spots. That tells me I was right to suspect the cutting strip.