This is the second lesson in my series on how to do very large projects using your Silhouette machine. You can find Phase 1 on setting up the file here. In today’s lesson, I’ll show you how I added my design elements and used the Layer feature (Designer Edition and up) to organize the pieces.
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.
We’ll go over using one of the Modify options to make your pieces nestle in right next to something like a door. And I’ll teach you some basic design principles and how I made a custom color palette.
The key to all this is to keep everything as organized as possible. By taking a little extra time in this stage, I kept from wasting material and getting frustrated as I was cutting and hanging the vinyl.
Remember back in school when you learned to write a paper using an outline for organizing your thoughts? We’re going to use the same principle here by creating layers, sublayers and groupings to keep organized. Using Layers requires Designer Edition and up. If you don’t have one of those, you can purchase them here.
Create a color palette
Use a new layer
As a reminder, I already had 2 layers — my original layer and one I added for the wall background pieces. I added a 3rd layer for my color palette. To add a layer, I clicked the + sign at the bottom of the layers panel and named it Color Palette (To name a layer, right click on it). Then, I made sublayers within that — one for paint color and another for the vinyl colors. To add a sublayer, you hover over the name of the layer, right click, and choose “Add Sublayer to <layer name>.” (I’ll show more on this below).
Notice the green check mark next to the layer name “Color Palette” in this next pic. That means I’m working in that layer, so any new shapes I add will be added in that layer. Make sure you’re working in the correct layer at all times. But if you forget, just click and drag your design piece into the correct one. It’s not a bad idea to add a layer and call it “Working Layer” as I have here. You can pull pieces in there, make any adjustments you need to, then put them back in their original layer. I’ll show you more of that as we go along.
Find the RGB values
I looked on the website for the home improvement store where we were getting the paint (more on that below) and found their RGB color values. I have an Oracal color guide with samples of each color which I find invaluable! It helped me decide which green colors would work with the paint colors. I found their RGB values on the Oracal website.
HINT: Be sure to check the website where you plan to purchase your material to see what they have in stock. For example, the company I ordered from still had some Green Tea vinyl, which had been discontinued. They did not have some of the newer browns yet.
Use filled rectangles
In that color layer, I drew lots of small rectangles and filled them with the RGB values for my paint and vinyl colors. Then I labeled each rectangle with the name of the color. You can do that with text boxes, or in the layers panel or both. Once done, I locked that layer.
The newest version of the Silhouette Studio software (4.3) allows you to add custom color palettes to your Fill panel. This is great, except that at this time you cannot name the individual colors, only the full palette. Since I was working with 9 greens and 5 browns, making a separate layer with the filled squares made more sense. But if you want to know how that feature works, see this post.
Add painted elements
Next, I wanted to add some hills and a stream. Those dictated where I placed my trees and animals. I used 2 hills for visual depth and 1 stream. For these, I cut contact paper for a stencil we could paint inside of. I could have freehanded when painting the hills, but I needed them to match the contours of some of my trees. I’ll show you in a later lesson more details on this.
Add a layer
I added a new layer for the hills and stream so that after I made them I could also lock them. That made it easier to move the trees and animals around without moving the stream and hills. The reason I didn’t want them in with the walls and doors layer is that I’m going to need to work with them together with the other design elements such as the trees and animals.
Draw a shape
Using my Draw a Curve Shape tool, I drew 2 closed shapes — one for each hill. You could also use the Draw Smooth Freehand tool. All you need is a rough shape. I filled them with my green paint colors and raised the transparency to around 35% to see through them to what’s behind.
HINT: You can have a shape fill with color automatically as you draw it, including transparency level. Make sure no image is selected on your Design area. In the Quick Access Toolbar or Fill panel, select a color from the menu. Any shape or text you create will have that fill color. That fill attribute remains in place for any shape or text you create on that file until you close it or close the software. In the Fill panel, you can also adjust the transparency before drawing the shape.
I used point editing to tweak the contours. I’m going to use some Modify options to further tweak them.
Name more pieces
I needed to use some of the elements in my Walls, Doors, Etc. layer to modify my hills. But it was getting confusing because all the pieces just said “group” or “rectangle.”
So, I decided to name them individually. Believe me, this is a great feature of the software and REALLY helps with keeping things organized. I highly recommend for a project this large that you keep track of things by naming your pieces.
You don’t have to unlock the layer to name the pieces, but it can be hard to know what’s what because you can’t select them. So, go ahead and unlock the layer temporarily. But since you still don’t want them moving around it’s not best to select them on the drawing area. Instead, you can select them in the panel. As long as the layer is unlocked, you can do that. This it selects them in the drawing area but it doesn’t move them. Here I’ve selected a “group” and I can see that it’s the left door.
So, I named it “left door.” I repeated that for everything in my “Wall, doors, etc.” layer.
HINT: My panel is covering some of my pieces. I can grab the panel by clicking in the colored bar at the top of the panel and dragging it to a new location. To learn more about how panels work, see this post.
Tips on naming pieces
- Even if you name pieces individually, if you then group them the set will then have the name “group.” For example, when I first drew my door parts I could name my larger gray rectangle “door” and smaller blue one “window,” but if I then group them I just see “group” as the name. That’s why I then needed to rename that grouping “left door.” You could instead create a new sublayer called that to put the pieces in.
- If you ungroup them again, they will still have those names that you gave them individually. So if I ungrouped my “left door,” it I would again see the labels “door” and “window.” However, if you then regroup them you’ll have to rename the group. If I regrouped the “door” and “window,” it would again be just “group” and not “left door.” In other words, it goes one way but not the other in retaining names.
- You can rename items even if they are in a locked layer.
I still wanted to make sure those pieces DID NOT MOVE while I modified my hills. So instead of using my original pieces, I copied what I need (my wall, doors and baseboard) into my Hills and Streams layer, then locked that wall layer again. For example, I selected the left door in the panel, used my keyboard shortcut CTRL+c to copy it (in some releases, this keyboard shortcut doesn’t work in layers — you can use the icon in the upper left or whatever other method you prefer). Then I went back to my Hills and Streams layer by clicking that layer in the panel and looking for the green check mark.
Once in that layer, I used CTRL+f to paste my door copy into the Hills and Streams layer. This keyboard shortcut puts the copy in the same location on the page as the original. It’s important that the door is in front. The doors and baseboard you see here in front of the hills are the copies. They are also also covering the original doors. Before continuing, I relocked my original Walls, Doors, etc. layer.
Use Modify options
Obviously my hill needed to sit flush against the doors. And the bottom needed to be flat and perfectly horizontal. To do that, I used some Modify tools. I used these same principles over and over when designing the project, so it’s a good thing to learn.
I wanted to have the door chop of the part of the hill that’s behind it. I selected the right door and the front hill, then clicked Subtract All in the Modify panel. What this does is take a shape in front to remove any part of any selected design that’s below/behind it. The door group cut downward to remove the portion of the hill that was behind it and the door didn’t go away. It doesn’t look initially like anything happened, but it did. The sides of my hill now nestles right into the edge of the doors, which you can see if I move the hill a bit.
I repeated the process with the front hill, but this time I used Subtract. The difference is that when it’s done, the door disappears. Remember that that was my copy, which I will no longer need, so that’s great. Yes, I could have just used the original door, used Subtract All each time and then moved my door back to my original Walls layer, but I wanted to be absolutely certain I did not move it accidentally. The door you see here is the original door, which I did move just for you to see it.
I repeated that with the door on the left side.
So far, my hills are nestling into my doors, but their bottom and sides aren’t and they aren’t yet nestling into one another. That’s what I’ll do next.
First, I’ll take my front hill and back hill and use Subtract All. The front hill will cut away the portion of the back hill that’s behind. I moved the front hill down a bit so you could see.
Notice the area that I’m pointing to with the red arrow. That’s part of the back hill that’s no longer attached to the rest. I can just ungroup that back hill and delete that.
I made 2 copies of the wall that I put in the Hills and Stream layer. I only want the portion of the hill that fits inside the confines of the wall. For that, I can use Intersect. What this does it to retain only those portions that are shared by all selected shapes. I selected one of my wall copies and the front hill and clicked Intersect. This will change the fill color, so you’ll want to change that back right away.
I repeated that with the back hill and a second copy of the wall.
And then I used a baseboard copy and Subtract to removed the portion of the hill that will sit right on the baseboard. Again, I’ve moved some of the pieces so you can see that.
I kid you not — understanding the Modify options is a HUGE help!
Once I had the hills, I drew a stream and followed all the same principles.
Check the shape names and relock layers
When you use Modify options, you using multiple pieces to make new ones from their overlapping areas. Notice I said “new pieces.” That means they no longer have their names. You will need to keep watching out for this on such a large project. Add layers and check names frequently.
One thing to note on my project is that my hills are now each in 4 separate pieces:
- Left of the left door
- Between the left door and stream
- Between the stream and the right door
- Right of the right door
So at this point, I created a new sublayer for each hills. I named the pieces by their location and grouped them.
I made sure the walls/doors layer and the hills/stream layers were locked before moving on.
Add some design pieces
Now I could begin adding my trees. These designs are part of the curriculum First Look by The ReThink Group/Think Orange. Because I have Business Edition, I can directly import the EPS files provided with the curriculum. I did have to do some editing, as the designs are mainly created for print and not for cutting.
Check the line thickness
Chances are you’re not working with EPS files. You may, however, be working with SVG files. In that case be sure to check the line thickness. If it’s over 0.0, what you think is a separate piece may actually just be a thick line around your shape. This looks like a purple circle and a larger black circle, but you’ll see there’s no option to ungroup or release the compound path to separate them.
If you look at the line thickness, it’s at 15. That means that this is just 1 shape — a purple circle with a black outline of 15 pt. thickness. If I needed to separate these, I could use my Modify option Detach Lines.
On mine, I also needed to look closely to make sure all the pieces fit right. Some pieces had very small gaps between them so I had to do some editing.
I can’t give you hard and fast rules because each design is different. Just zoom in to check them. You should also know that ANY of the Modify options will react differently if your line thickness is not 0.0.
Now back to our show…
I created a new layer for the trees. Remember, to do that I used that + sign at the bottom of the panel and named that layer “Trees.” Making sure I was working in that layer (remember: look for the green check mark), I added 1 of each type of tree (I had 5), placing them above the blue wall area. Since each tree is a group of body plus leaves or needles plus possibly trunk and branches, it helps to organize them further.
Sublayers and Sub-Sublayers
First, I added a sublayer for each type of tree. You add a sublayer by hovering over a layer, right clicking and selecting “Add Layer.” As long as you’re hovering over the layer name and not the file name that’s at the top of the panel, the new layer is added inside the current layer. Notice mine says “Add Layer to Trees.”
Because I already had a layer called Trees and hovered over that when I right clicked, the new layer adds in there. Notice that it looks like a writing outline. Each new layer has the default name “Layer” plus a number.
I added a sublayer for each type of tree and named them (but I’ll show you another trick later). So in my layer called “Trees,” I have 5 sublayers.
I copied each tree and moved it into the appropriate sublayer.
The trees other than the pine tree have a trunk and branches. I saved a good amount of vinyl and application time by cutting each separately (I’ll show you that in a later post in this series). So, under each type of tree (sublayer), I created a sub-sublayer called “Trunk and Branches.” I put the trunk and branches all in that sub-sublayer. I labeled them by number top to bottom and indicated if they were on the left or right of the trunk.
Then I regrouped each. I’ve collapsed the menu on some of the layers so it’s easier to see the layer I want to work with.
Seeing it in action
This can be confusing, but if I show you a video it will make more sense.
I’m going to jump to adding the animals and then show you how I moved both the trees and animals into place on my design.
Add more design pieces
Once again, I created a new layer, named it “Animals,” and added one of each to my design area below the page. I named each animal so I could keep things straight. Then I added sublayers for each animal and named them. I moved each animal into it’s layer, ungrouped the pieces, named the pieces, then regrouped them. It may seem like a good deal of work, but when you’re doing a project this large it actually saves time in the long run. It keeps you from getting or moving the wrong piece.
As before, I set the transparency on all my trees and animals to 35%. That helps me see “through” an element to the one behind it. I’ll show you in the next section and later lessons why that’s useful.
Before beginning to combine your elements, it helps to know some simple design principles.
If you overlap elements, it creates interest and depth. So some of my trees are behind the hills, some animals are behind trees, some trees overlap, etc. Just make sure the element that’s farther back visually is behind other elements on your design page. For more about creating interest in a design, see this post.
Going beyond the visual limits
Another way to create interest is to have elements go “off the page.” You want your eye to expand beyond the edges of the project. That allows your imagination to fill in some of the picture and the whole project seems larger. So, for my trees around the entrance doors, you only see the center of the tree.
Lightening the color
Colors tend to get lighter the farther away you are from them. So I made my front hill a darker green and my back hill a lighter version of the same green.
Varying the size
By making my trees different sizes and making mirrored copies of non-symmetrical ones, I got a much greater variety while still having continuity.
Thinking ahead to application
I was working around doors in my project. Putting a tree around the corner is tricky, so I tried to keep that to a minimum. For example, I didn’t create a tree that would need to start on the left side of the door, go over the top of it, then go down on the right side as well. I would have had to align to 3 different sides (left, top and right) of the door frame, so it would have had to be perfect. That ain’t me. The pine tree in the picture above was hard because I needed to align to the wall at the left, and to the top and side of the door frame. I made it easier by thinking ahead when dividing it into pieces (more on that in a future lesson).
For my project, it worked easiest to overlap an element with only 1 other. In other words, if I had a tree behind another tree on its left side, it didn’t overlap it on its right side. If I needed a tree to sit behind a hill, I tried not to overlap it with another tree as well. That made it easier to align things.
Moving elements around
Next, I moved my animals into place. I made copies of my trees to have more. I kept moving, adjusting sizing, playing with overlaps, etc. Sometimes I added 2 of an animal. Sometimes my trees or their trunks went partially behind the hills.
In this stage, I was only looking at placement and balance. Make sure to watch which layer you’re working in. And don’t worry about if an element is in front of another one you want it to be behind. That’s why we raised the transparency — so you can see what it will do eventually. If, for example, I put my hill in front of one tree, it would end up in front of all the trees because it would move it to the uppermost layer.
As I went forward in the project, I decided to add some waves and rocks on the stream and clouds. Be ready to stay flexible as you work on a large project, because there’s no way you can anticipate everything ahead of time.
Saving a mock-up
At this point, I wanted to see if our children’s pastor liked the direction I was going. So I created a mock-up. A mock-up is a picture of how a finished project will look.Not everyone is going to have Silhouette Studio to open a file. You need is an image that anyone can open. There are several ways to create one:
- If you have Business Edition, save your file as a JPG, PNG or PDF. I didn’t want to include pieces off the design area (such as my color palette), so I hid that layer. You could also select just the pieces you want and do File>Save Selection. Choose to save to your hard drive and pick one of those file types before you click to save.
- You can print the page as a PDF. Most computers nowadays have that option. You would do File>Print and then select your PDF option in the menu. This includes everything on the page, so watch out for that if you have extas around the drawing area.
- You can take a snip or screenshot.
You’ll notice I altered the order of my elements (see the trees behind the hills?) and set the transparency back to 0. For this, it helps to copy everything to a different page without layers, alter your order, then create the mock-up image. That leaves your working file intact with all those layers and order you worked so hard to create.
Once I had the go-ahead from our children’s pastor, I was ready to make my elements full size and tweak the design. I’ll show you how I did that in our next lesson. I’ll also give you some organizational tips for keeping track of all the pieces of such a large project.