When I first considered buying a die-cutting machine, I did some research on the types of machines available. I found the original Silhouette machine by accident in a web search and was thrilled with the possibilities. I loved the flexibility of being able to use any font already on my computer (I’m a self-professed font junkie) and design anything I could imagine.
Now, 9 years later, I can honestly say these machines have far exceeded my expectations. I am blown away every day by the projects I see being created and by how the machines are being used in so many different industries outside of just papercrafting. I originally purchased the machine to make cards. Now I also use it for personalizing just about anything with heat transfer material, vinyl and rhinestones, for jewelry-making, for creating my own nail stamping plates, for home décor, and so much more. If you are a creative type who wants to let your imagination soar and have a machine to help your vision come to life, I can heartily recommend the Silhouette line of machines.
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.
Now, let’s talk about some things you’ll want to know before you purchase a Silhouette machine.
All Silhouette machines use included computer software to design images and to send projects to the machine. Because of this, you want to be aware of the minimum recommended computer requirements. All Silhouette software programs (see more info below on what those are) will run on either Mac or Windows computers. Chromebook is not currently supported. The software will not run on a tablet such as an i-Pad, as they do not use the same operating system as a computer. There is an app in development, but it is not currently available and will probably be limited. You need a computer, not a mobile device.
Silhouette Studio is the software that is used for Portrait, Cameo and Curio cutting machines, as well as all older models. For Mac users, you will need OS X 10.7 or higher. Windows computers need to be Windows 7 or above. Although you can run a lower version of the software on an older computer, the newer machines require newer computers. For example, version 2 of the software can be run on a Windows XP computer, but the current Cameo models will not work from it. We are currently on version 4 of the software so version 2 is quite old by now. Plus, XP is no longer supported by Microsoft so it not safe or reliable. You want to check minimum requirements for both the software AND the machine.
Additional requirements are—
- 1 GB RAM (2 GB recommended)
- 2 GHz or faster processor. Be careful here! Even new computers can have older or slower processors, which makes the software sluggish. This is a powerful software — you need a good processor. Also watch for the memory speed.
- 2GB of memory on the hard disk for the program. This does not include additional memory that is needed for storing purchased or created designs.
- USB 1.1 port or higher
- Graphics card: no specifics given by the company, but older graphics cards or ones which have not been updated can cause the software to crash on start up, have display issues or run slowly. For more information on updating your graphics card go here.
- Cameo 3 and 4 and Portrait 2 machines can be used via Bluetooth as well as with a USB cord. For this, your computer needs Bluetooth 4.0 support.
You do NOT need an internet connection to run any of the softwares. You DO need a strong internet connection to–
- download the software and updates to the software or firmware. Once downloaded, you do not need a connection to install the update or use the software.
- upgrade to Designer, Designer Plus or Business Edition, but only for the short time it takes to do the upgrade (just a few seconds).
- access the Silhouette Design Store to voluntarily purchase images. Once downloaded, the designs are in your library on your computer. You do not need internet to use them and you own them forever.
- sync your library between multiple computers.
All these actions can be done when you choose. Firmware updates are required to make your machine run properly, and newer machines require later versions. Other than that, updates are optional but recommended, as they always fix bugs and add features.
The Silhouette Machines
Every machine includes—
- Power Cord
- USB cord to connect to your computer
- Software Basic Edition (downloaded from the website)
- Users Manual (very basic)
- 1 month free basic subscription to the Silhouette Design Store ($25 credit to purchase any designs you want)
- Blade (Auto or Ratchet, depending on machine)
- Fine and wide embossing tools (Curio only)
- Regular cutting mat (12” x 12” on Cameo, 8” x 12” on Portrait, 8.5” x 6” on Curio)
- Standard base and platforms on Curio (8.5” x 6”)
- Embossing mat on Curio (8.5” x 6”)
- Cross Cutter tool if applicable
- Bluetooth chuck if applicable
- 50 (Portrait, Curio) or 100 (Cameo) free designs, stored within the machine itself
If the machine says “Bluetooth included” on the box, the Bluetooth adapter is already in the machine. Some will say “Bluetooth enabled,” meaning they can run via Bluetooth but don’t have an adapter installed (more typically outside the US).
The Curio is no longer in production, but you can still find it sometimes so I’ll leave the info here.
Silhouette has 2 non-cutting machines–
- The Mint machine creates stamps to use with a special ink.
- The Alta is a 3-D Printer.
To bundle or not to bundle?
Silhouette America and online retailers often offer machines in bundles. These bundles include everything listed above as well as extras. I am often asked which bundle is best to get. The answer depends on what you will use. Here are some thoughts.
What do you plan to make?
Choose a bundle based on what types of projects you would most like to create. Think about both the materials and the actual items you think you’ll make the most.
Extras everyone needs
Extra blades and mats are always useful, as almost everyone will need both eventually and particularly paper crafters. The only exception would be for those who cut exclusively without a mat, which is rare. These bundles will often include tools as well, which are very helpful.
- Download cards, gift cards and software upgrade cards are great to have. I’ll teach you about all those as we go along in the series.
- The starter kits include pre-selected colors of things like vinyl, HTV, rhinestones, etc. They also include a card for some free designs, which are also pre-selected. Even if you don’t like the colors, they are good for practice.
Just the machine
Many like to just find the lowest machine price and pass on a bundle. If you don’t want pre-selected material colors or aren’t sure what types of projects you might want to create, this may be the best option for you. If you’re giving it as a gift, you can include a gift card or cash for the recipient to purchase materials.
- Cameo 4 on Silhouette America site
- Cameo 4 on Amazon
- Portrait 3 on Silhouette America site
- Portrait 3 on Amazon
–If you purchase just the machine and want to know what extras to get at the same time, I recommend an extra blade and an extra mat. It is helpful to always have these on hand, as it will invariably be late at night when the stores are closed that you need a new one. Be sure to get the right ones for your machine model by checking the description.
–If you intend to primarily cut materials like vinyl or heat transfer vinyl without the mat, it is also a good idea to have an extra cutting strip on hand at all times. Get these from the Silhouette America website under Replacement Parts.
Materials the machines can cut
Before buying a machine, you will want to know if it can cut the material you want to cut.
- In general, the Silhouette can cut paper, vinyl, heat transfer material (HTV), rhinestone template material, stabilized fabric, and other materials that Silhouette America sells.
- You can also replace the blade with a sketch pen or your own pen in the pen holder to draw or write instead of cut.
- For materials Silhouette America does not sell, there’s no hard and fast rule for what can be cut successfully, but the Silhouette Model Comparisons chart linked above gives you general guidelines. It’s only limited in helpfulness, however, because it’s not been updated for the Cameo 4. This new model has a much greater downward force and clearance under the bar, so can cut both thicker and denser materials. It also has a new mechanism for the blades and so can utilize some specialty blades. For more info, see this post.
- This page also has lots of info on it about which materials the machines can cut.
- There are many user groups on social media dedicated to using a Silhouette machine. These are great places to ask questions. For example, there are a large group of folks who use the Curio to cut metal clay for jewelry.
- No matter what material you use, ALWAYS do test cuts before sending a whole project to cut.
- You can contact Silhouette Customer Support to inquire about specific materials. In some cases, you may be able to send them a sample of a material for testing before you purchase a machine.
I’ve also got a lesson later in this series on materials.
The Silhouette software
All Silhouette machines use a software that is loaded onto your computer—
The Original, SD, Portrait, Cameo and Curio all use the Silhouette Studio software. The Basic Edition is free to anyone to download on the Silhouette America website. If you are thinking about getting a Silhouette machine and want to test drive the software first, I highly recommend doing this.
Silhouette Connect is not a separate software, but a plug-in used in conjunction with Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. It treats the machine in the same way as a printer, allowing you to design and cut directly through those programs rather than through the Silhouette Studio software. There is a charge for Silhouette Connect. Silhouette Connect works with all Silhouette cutting machines and will also work with the Graphtec Craft ROBO (CC100-CC300 series only). For this plug-in, you need—
—Adobe Illustrator CS4-CS6, CC, CC2014, CC2015 or CorelDraw X4-X7 (full version only – does not support Home and Student or Essentials editions or illegal copies)
–Mac OS X 10.6.8 and higher or Windows XP and higher (but remember – older computers don’t work with newer machines).
If you work in Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw or in InkScape, you can save the files as SVGs and open them in Designer Edition or Designer Edition Plus. With the Business Edition, you can open AI, CDr and EPS files directly without having saved them as SVGs.
Silhouette ModelMaker allows you to create 3d projects. This is a paid software, although you can download and use it for 15 minutes to test it.
Silhouette Go app
This app is for cutting on the go. It will NOT replace a computer for using with the Silhouette machines. The designing takes place in the full software on your computer. You can then save the file to your library, go somewhere with your machine but not your computer, and cut the file. It’s helpful if, say, your computer is in one room and your machine is in another, or if you want to take your machine to a craft fair but not your computer.
Look for the app in the app store for your smartphone or tablet.
For more information on software levels and types, see this post.
Ready to dive in?
If you’ve taken the plunge and are waiting for your machine to arrive in the mail, I can recommend several steps to take in the meantime. Go to Before You Begin Series #2 to start.