Welcome back to the Cut Doctor’s office! All bodies have most things in common — we all have the same organs, all need to eat and sleep, etc. But we may have certain dietary restrictions or may need glasses to see better. Silhouette machines are like that. They are mostly the same, but each one will have some slight variations. That’s our topic today — how knowing your individual machine can affect your cuts. We’ll also talk about things that can happen during the cut with machines that you need to understand, some little-known features, routine maintenance for machines and the one part on a machine you may need to replace. (To start with Lesson 1 in the Cut Doctor series, go here.)
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.
The Cutting Strip
Let’s start with that last one because it’s probably a new term to you. The cutting strip is a white (or black on older models) tape-like strip behind the roller bar, underneath where the blade goes down while cutting.
The cutting strip keeps your blade or machine from getting damaged, primarily when cutting materials such as vinyl or HTV without the mat. 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’ll need to replace the cutting strip periodically. I used to be afraid to cut without the mat until I learned some tricks (learn those in this series). Once I got the hang of it, I sometimes hesitated because I didn’t want 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 load your material before you start the cut (yep – I’m guilty of that). Or you don’t load your material straight, so it doesn’t stay under the rollers and the blade is cutting 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.
How do I know when to replace it?
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. Just know that you don’t want to look to a cutting strip issue as your first cause of cutting troubles. More often, it’s cut settings or something else.
While indentions are normal in the cutting strip, deep gouges are not. If there are gouges, the blade isn’t getting the same resistance there so doesn’t cut through. As you are weeding, if you notice 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 — that could indicate an issue with the cutting strip. 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.
Here’s that cutting strip removed from the machine. You can see the holes in it.
For more info on the cutting strip, including how to replace it and where to get a new one, see this post.
Routine maintenance for Silhouette machines
There’s very little maintenance Silhouette machines need on a routine basis to keep it running well.
- When you aren’t using your machine, keep the lid down or purchase a dust cover.
- Periodically check for debris like bits of paper or vinyl, pet hair or lint. Look especially on the rollers and roller bars and the edges of the motor box. Those can keep the motor box from gliding smoothly. I keep a very soft paint brush on hand to remove anything I see. With the machine off, you can rotate the roller bar to check all around it.
- Look under the blade carriage for bits of vinyl stuck there.
- Use a cotton swab with a dab of rubbing alcohol to clean the roller bar and cutting strip.
- Very rarely you may need to oil the roller bar. That’s only if you are using it non-stop and the motor seems to be struggling. You always want to check cut settings to see if that’s the issue. A great way to do that is to remove the blade, pretend to load a mat and send a simple shape to cut. That tells you if the issue is really with the machine or not. If you still get the noise, here’s how to lubricate the bar:
- Turn the machine off and move the motor box to one side.
- Put a paper towel under the bar so you don’t get any oil on other parts of the machine.
- Put a drop or 2 of household oil on the bar and move the motor box back and forth a few times all the way to the ends.
- Let sit for at least 30 minutes.
- When you turn the machine back on, the motor box should move back to its normal starting position.
Pausing to adjust settings or cancel the job
Did you know you can pause Silhouette machines during a cut (all except the very first QuicKutz machines). That’s helpful if you see things starting to go bonkers during a cut. You can pause it, take a deep breath, and decide what to do –adjust the settings and restart the job or cancel it. I’ve written about pausing and canceling cut jobs in this post. Here are some highlights:
- There’s a correct procedure for restarting a job after you pause or cancel it.
- The motor box does NOT go back to the origin point (the upper left corner of the mat/material) if you cancel the job. If you then send a new job without unloading, the machine uses that stopped spot as the origin, not the upper left. Your cut starts in the wrong place on the page.
- Say you want to abandon the cut but don’t want to cancel because that would mean unloading and you’re hoping to cut again right in the same spot. You can simply take your blade out and resume the cut. Because you didn’t cancel, it will roll back out to the load-in spot. As long as you don’t unload you can send the job from the software again and it will cut in the correct place. You can usually salvage at least part of your material this way.
- If you absolutely have to stop the cut immediately, it’s safe to turn the machine off. If your cut is ruined anyway, why not try to minimize the damage/loss? You won’t be able to start the cut again in the same spot because you’ll have to unload the material, but you can often save a portion of it. With the machine off, you can pull your material to get it out of the machine.
Advance to Crosscutter
Another feature of the newer Cameo machines (starting with the 2) is the crosscutter. They have channel in the back that the crosscutter tool can run through.
Here’s the channel:
And here’s the tool:
This is for when you’re cutting without the mat. In fact, you’ll only see the option when you have None selected as the cutting mat in your software. When you have to keep unloading and reloading after a cut, you waste time. You also always want a cut edge that’s parallel to the side. The crosscutter is a solution for that. It allows you to feed the material farther through the machine after the cut and slice it off with the tool. Here’s my vinyl fed through using Advance to Crosscutter.
You use it in conjunction with the Feed option in the Advanced Cut Settings. If you don’t, when you advance it to the crosscutter it only puts the upper edge of your material aligned with the channel. That’s not much help. So set a distance there first. Theoretically, it should advance the material to where the lower edge of where your design cut is as far past the channel as the distance you’ve set. I find it doesn’t go far enough. I set my distance at 1″, and you can see that the bottom of my cut isn’t 1″ below the channel. It’s more like 1/2″. So you may have to experiment to get the right distance.
Here’s how it works
After the machine finishes cutting, you’ll see the normal Job Summary on the screen:
When you hit Continue, you’ll see the Job Complete menu that has the normal Unload option. Below that you see the option Advance to Crosscutter.
When you press that, the material feeds through. Then you put the tool in the channel and slide it along to slice through the material.
When you’re done, your machine screen now has a Crosscut menu with 2 options — Unload and Return to Origin.
Click the latter and your material feeds back out to where it was when you loaded it into the machine. You can start your next cut without having to unload, and you can start weeding the first job while the second cuts.
Some folks have reported that their tool just rips the material instead of slicing it cleanly. You can see that mine works fine. I’ve heard that office supply stores carry similar tools that some prefer. It can be tricky to get your cut even, because the tool wiggles a bit in the channel. That’s why this feature was improved on the Cameo 4.
The tool separation test
This is only for Cameo and 4 and Curio machines, as those are the ones that have 2 tools holders. It’s pretty rare that you’ll need this, but folks who cut metal clay sometimes need this for precision. It’s for adjusting your machine if a tool in the left holder doesn’t cut in the exact same spot as one in the right tool holder.
To do the test, you hover over the name of your machine in the Send area, right click and select Tool Separation.
That opens up this dialog box:
You put a blade or pen in each holder (I think a blade is more accurate) and load your mat (I prefer to use cardstock to test). I also suggest moving your blade down and to the right some, because it seems to sometimes want to cut in the upper margin of the mat. Then click the white box that says Tool Separation Test.
The machine cuts vertical and horizontal lines with each tool holder. With the left tool holder, it makes them at the outer edges of a “+” sign. The right tool holder cuts in the middle. You compare the 2. I’ve exaggerated this for demonstration purposes, but see how on the vertical portion the outer marks are farther right than the inner part?
If they aren’t exactly aligned, you adjust the slider for the X and/or Y axis. The adjustments are very small. Then move the blade carriage over to a clean area and test again. Keep doing that until they are cutting in the same exact spot. Here mine are aligned correctly.
It’s CRITICAL that after you do this, you move your motor box back to the upper left corner before cutting your project. Otherwise, your machine starts cutting in the wrong place.
I asked fellow All Things Silhouette Conference instructor and metal clay artist Cindy Pope what she does for the tool separation test. Here’s what she does:
- In the Preferences, change the unit of measurement to mm.
- Draw a circle.
- Make an offset of the circle at the default amount (2mm).
- Change the line color for one of the circles.
- In the Send area, cut by line color, assigning one to the left tool holder and the other to the right.
- Use a pen to draw both circles.
- Check the result. What you’re looking for is to see if the distance between the circles is consistent all the way around. If it isn’t, that indicates you need to adjust your tool separation.
- When adjusting, do just 1 direction (horizontal or vertical) at a time, as doing both x and y axis in the same test gets confusing. Cindy prefers a pen for this. An adjustment of .1 to .3 mm seems to work best.
- Keep testing by drawing new sets of circles. Adjust until the circles are equidistant all the way around.
- Make note somewhere (in your personal notes, under the lid of the machine itself, etc.) the adjustment that works.
Knowing your machine
Don’t ever fall for the line, “I always use my blade at # and force at # and it cuts perfectly every time.” What works with my machines or your friend’s machine may not work the same on yours. I know that each of my machines need a slightly different amount of force. The key is not discovering 1 magic cut setting for each material that’s always going to work, but analyzing a cut and knowing what to adjust when.
Therefore, you want to ALWAYS test cut just to be on the safe side. I promise you’ll save yourself time, money and frustration in the long run. Take some time every once in a while to play with different materials and settings to see how it affects your cuts.
Here are some things I’ve learned about my machines:
- My Cameo 2 is the one most likely to have an issue with the material catching when I’m loading or getting caught in the crosscutter. When I’m cutting without the mat on that one, I always use the “riding on cardstock” method. I put a piece of painter’s tape across the crosscutter channel so rolled vinyl doesn’t catch in there.
- When I’m doing a print and cut, I need to move the mat slightly left or right on my various machines so that the optical eye can pick up the registration marks.
- If I’m cutting a delicate material, I use my Cameo 3 as it has the movable inner rollers.
- My Cameo 1 sometimes has a problem with the motor box cover shifting so I always check that (more on that later). It needs lubrication more often.
Knowing all this comes from experience and experimentation. Your machine has its own quirks and you need to get to know them.
Okay, now that we’ve gone through all the variables that go into getting good cuts, it’s time for some troubleshooting. Imagine that up to this point, the doctor has been telling you how to eat right, exercise, get enough rest, watch your posture, etc. There are still times you’ll need to go into his office because you’re sick. He’ll diagnose the problem and give you a treatment plan. In our next lesson, we’ll start to talk about cutting issues, their causes and solutions. I’ll give you prescriptions for each cutting disease.