I’ve shared with you recently a couple of things I made for a baby shower — some table decorations in which I used a custom plaid pattern I created. There’s one more thing I want to share. I bought some large chipboard letters, cut patterned paper in the shape of the letters, used Mod Podge to attach the paper to the chipboard, then attached the letters to a pallet wood frame. We displayed the sign on a stand on the food table, then gave it to the couple for their nursery. What I want to show you today is how I was able to cut the paper to match the chipboard letters I purchased. I did it using a PixScan mat.
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.
What is a PixScan mat?
A PixScan mat is different than regular mat. It has the same sticky area in the middle and non-sticky border around the outside, but it has some very special markings in those outer margins.
If you’ve ever done a Print and Cut the marks may look familiar — it’s the same square and 2 brackets as the registration marks you use on Print and Cut. The machine reads the marks and then knows precisely where to cut. The difference is that instead of you having to print the marks on the page, they are already there on the mat for the machine to read.
I feel like Silhouette America hasn’t done a great job in describing PixScan, because it has many more uses than the few they talk about. Here are some things you can do with it:
- Cut materials that have already been printed such as photos, a greeting card, a child’s drawing, an element on a patterned paper or fabric, etc. You do need to add cut lines by tracing or using the drawing tools.
- Cut around an image you’ve stamped.
- Print a design at a professional print shop and then cut a fancy edge on it.
- Use the full page. On a normal Print and Cut, you have margins around the outside where you cannot print or cut.
- Do a Print and Cut type project on tricky materials such as colored, patterned or glossy papers.
- Know the exact size and shape of something. That means you can use up odd-shaped scraps of an expensive material like glitter HTV and know just where to place your images to cut.
It’s that last one that’s going to be useful to us today.
How does a PixScan mat work?
First, you should know that you need the mat that’s specific to your machine. If you have a Cameo, you can’t use the Portrait PixScan mat.
You place your material onto your PixScan mat. Then you either take of it or scan it. It’s easiest to do the latter if you can, as it eliminates some issues. Once you’ve done that, you do NOT move the material.
There’s a special icon for the PixScan in the right side icon bar. It’s pretty easy to spot because it says “Pix” on it. You click that to open the PixScan panel. Once there, you open your saved photo or scan. If you have a scanner with TWAIN support (most do these days), you can initiate the scan directly from there.
What opens is what looks just like your photo or scan. You see the mat and your material on it. Then you add your cut shapes and load your mat. The machine is going to read the marks and, based on where those are, it knows exactly where your material is and therefore where it should cut your shapes.
That’s the general overview. I have a full tutorial on using the PixScan mat here. Now let’s look at how I used it for my project.
Step 1: Take a scan or photo of the chipboard letters on the PixScan mat
I put the first letter onto the mat. It’s important that you keep your material or item within the black border so the software can see the marks clearly.
I decided to use my scanner because I find it easier. When you take photos, the software can be finicky about opening them. Since a scanner bed is nice and flat, you also don’t run into problems with your photo being angled slightly, which can then throw your cuts off slightly. It’s also always in focus.
Many scanner beds are limited to letter (8 1/2 x 11) or legal (8 1/2 x 14) size. That means you may have to take 2 scans, since the PixScan mat is wider than that. That’s perfectly fine — the software stitches them together for you. I have a large format printer so am able to get my full mat in a single scan.
If you’re taking a photo, you can get it all in the pic. The key is to get all of the mat but as little of any background as possible. Good, even light is also necessary. Do NOT crop the photo. I’ve got lots more tips in the post I linked above.
I saved the scans to a folder on my computer.
Step 2: Open the scans
In Silhouette Studio, I clicked on the PixScan icon and selected “Import PixScan image from file.” I navigated to the folder on my computer where I saved my image and clicked on it to open. Here’s what it now looks like on my Design area screen:
What I’m using the PixScan mat for is to get the exact size and contours of my shape. That “J” I see is at full size and I can see just where the curves are.
If, and only if, the software tells you it doesn’t recognize your camera profile, you’ll need to do a Calibration. The tutorial I linked above tells you exactly how to do that.
Step 3: Create Letters
Next, I used my drawing tools to create the “J” shape. I used the Draw a Polygon tool and just made it really rough.
You could use a couple of rectangles welded together make a “T.” Or, type the letter in a font that’s close and tweak it from there.
My PixScan image is still be on the screen and I want to be able to see it so I know where the edges of the letter should be. So I set the transparency to around 35%. See how I can see through my “J”? That’s going to help in the next step.
Step 4: Edit Points to tweak the trace
The trace or shape you create isn’t going to be perfect. I used Point Editing to clean mine up.
If you typed your letter, you’ll need to Ungroup so you can change it to a regular image that has points. Yes, you have to do this even on a single letter. (For more info on why, see this post). Make a copy first, as otherwise you can’t go back. Once it’s a regular image, you can no longer edit it as text. You also can’t change the font or even identify it.
Step 5: Test with scrap paper
I’m not cutting on the PixScan mat. I’ve only used it as a tool to find out the exact size of the letter. I cut the paper on my regular mat.
I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to test things before using my good material. I had just 1 sheet of each patterned paper I wanted to use. So after I tweaked my letter with point editing, I cut each one from plain cardstock and compared it to the piece of chipboard. That showed me areas where I needed to adjust more. Here are some of my tests.
We actually did end up using those as a banner on the gift table.
Step 6: Cut the patterned paper
We bought a super cute paper set by Lori Whitlock for Echo Park called That’s My Boy. I used a different paper for each letter of the name.
Step 7: Finishing
I used scrap wood to make the base for the sign. It’s helpful to add hanging hardware before attaching the letters.
To finish the sign, I worked on 1 letter at a time. I brushed the letter with Mod Podge, then put the paper on. I used a craft knife to trim tiny areas that were still hanging over. Then I brushed more Mod Podge on the top, let dry, and glued them to the boards. I used a plate stand to set it on and tied some balloons to the back of the stand.
I got busy at the shower and forgot to get a photo of the plain letters we made into a banner for the gift table. Maybe next time….
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