Do you know about the offset feature in Silhouette Studio? If you’re a beginner, you might not (see my true confession below). But it’s an amazingly cool tool that can save you lots of time and frustration when working in the software.
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What is an offset?
An offset is a larger version of the selected shape that has the same amount of distance all the way around between the original shape and the larger shape. Think of it as a mat behind a shape, or a thick outline.
For perfectly symmetrical shapes, like a square or circle, you could just make a copy of the shape and enlarge it proportionally. That keeps that same amount of distance between the shapes.
But most shapes and letters aren’t like that, or our designs would be pretty boring. When you just make a larger copy of this type of shape and line it up with the original, you’ll notice that the distance between the original and the larger varies. That’s because the shape isn’t the same on all its sides to begin with. Notice how when I just make a larger copy and align these designs, the distances between the shapes and offsets varies.
For letters or shapes with internal pieces, the difference is even more pronounced. I also did a trick of raising the transparency on the fill color of the original shape so you could see the back one better.
As a beginner, I didn’t understand this and got very frustrated when trying to make layered letters or numbers. I ended up moving points 1 by 1 with point editing to even out the distances. True story. Believe me, it takes a LONG time and curves make it even harder. Had I taken the time to learn about offsets, I would have saved HOURS of work.
But on the plus side, this was for a large project that I was working on for my teenage son, so I taught him the software and had him help me. We spent many precious hours together working on it. He now uses my original machine for a business he started with some friends. So it’s all good. When I showed him the offset feature, after I learned it he just rolled his eyes at me. He he he.
How to create an offset
Let me help you learn from my mistakes. The Silhouette Studio software has a feature to do offsets automatically. Look for the icon at the right that looks like a star with a star outline – like the Dallas Cowboys logo (yep – had to get that plug in for my fav team).
Click that to open the Offset panel.
You can create offsets outside the selected shape, internal offsets inside it.
Let’s start with a regular external offset. Click the word Offset (the one by the star) at the upper left of the panel. Notice that the lower part of the panel that was previously grayed out is now active. You can play with the options there before you create your offset.
This is where you can set the amount of spacing between the original and the offset shape. The default on an offset is .125, or 1/8”. Try moving the slider bar around a bit and see how the size changes. Since there’s .125″ on each side, the overall size of the offset piece is .250″ larger than the original.
When you create the offset, you can choose to have sharp or rounded corners. It’s completely up to you. Just make sure you make a choice here of what you want. If you don’t, it will default to the rounded corner. Here’s a close-up of the difference (the red line is the offset shape).
Sometimes the sharp corners will flatten out. It’s just the nature of the software. You can see that at the top of the baby stroller.
In cases like this, it’s better to do an internal offset instead. That usually keeps those corners sharp. An internal offset works the same way but on the inside instead. BUT — you can’t do rounded corners.
Any flaws in the original shape will show and be magnified in the offset. And the larger the distance of the offset, the more you’ll see it. Look at this mat shape when I have corner selected and have a large distance setting. See how the offset looks odd?
That’s due to an imperfect original design. You can use the rounded corner option to keep that distortion to a minimum.
Or, do the internal offset as you’ll get a much cleaner image with that. Just remember you can only do sharp corners with internal.
If you decide you don’t want the offset, click “Cancel.” Or, once you’ve got it set the way you want, click “Apply,” or simply click on something else to apply the offset.
If you know you want a rounded, external offset of .125”, there’s a shortcut in the Quick Access Toolbar. Just click the offset icon up there to create an offset of a selected shape.
Fill the offset
Even if your original shape is filled with color, your offset won’t be. Since that offset will still be selected right after you create it, use the QAT to fill it with a color right away. Choose one that is different than the color of your original shape so you can keep them straight.
Here I’ve cut my mat shape out of a patterned paper and the offset from a coordinated one. You can find a step-by-step tutorial on that project here.
–You may notice that as you’re playing with the offset on words or designs with multiple pieces before you apply it, it appears like the software is going to create a bunch of overlapping pieces.
Don’t worry. Once you apply the offset, those pieces basically weld together.
–Pay attention to how the distance of the offset will affect internal pieces. For example, in my baby stroller above, the small ovals did not get created in the offset, because the distance of the offset from the original was more than the width of those pieces. In my word “offset” just above, the middle of the “o” does have a hole. That happened because the space in the middle of the “o” is wider than the distance of the offset. If you want, you can release the compound path on the offset and remove something like the middle of the “o.”
–If any of the pieces are so far apart that the lines of the offset don’t touch, each is a separate piece. Here I’ve expanded the character spacing on my word before creating the offset. Notice that my offset has several, unconnected portions (the bounding boxes tell you that). Since the 2 “f”s were so close, the offsets around those are just 1 piece. If you want to keep them together, group them or create a compound path right away.
There — now you’re a pro at making offsets!
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