I love the look of this week’s Free Design of the Week. It’s a phrase where each word is an outline only. Here’s what it looks like:
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I think there are SO many possibilities for a design like this. You could make the outline with a solid material and lay it over a patterned one or vice versa. Each word is separate, so you could customize the layout and spacing. The letters of each word are connected, so will cut as a single piece. That makes it easy to use with pretty much any material. You can find the shape in the Silhouette Design Store here.
I’d love to use this same outline concept with other phrases and even shapes. So, I’m going to teach you a simple way to do it yourself.
Step 1: Type the word
Type out your word and select any font you’d like. Look for a font with fat letters. I tend to think it works better with all capital letters on a block font (but I’ll show you some variations below). This one is LW Classic Font by Lori Whitlock.
I do recommend starting with a block font, as the steps are different with a script font. I’ll show you how to work with a script font once you’ve got the general idea of the technique with block fonts.
Step 2: Size your design
Normally, the size your design is won’t make a difference in how it looks. But I’ll show you in a bit why it does with this technique. Go ahead and make your image the size you’re going to want it on your project. You’ll still be able to tweak it later if you like, so you can just get close.
Don’t forget that the size of the text box ≠ the size the word cuts. For an explanation of why and how to figure out the true size, see this post.
Step 3: Raise the Line Thickness
Now you’re going to make the lines of the words thicker to create the outline. You can do that in the Quick Access Toolbar, or in the Line Style Panel. Just take it up to whatever looks good to you. Here’s mine with that raised line thickness.
Now let me explain why I said to make the design full-size in the last step. When you resize the design, the line thickness doesn’t change. When it’s 0.0 like it is normally on cut shapes, that’s no big deal. But when your line is thicker, resizing alters the proportion. In other words, when you make it smaller, that line is going to be a greater part of the whole because it stays the same thickness. Here’s my phrase in 3 different sizes. The one I showed you above is in the middle.
See how on the smallest one you lose definition on the hole in the middle? That’s because although the overall size has changed, the line thickness has not.
If you get to the step where you’ll cut your project and decide you don’t like the line thickness of the outline, you can adjust it again. It just helps to get close before you go too far.
Step 4: Adjust the spacing
This step is optional, but you need to do it if you want each word to cut as a single piece. (I’ll show you later how to make the whole phrase one piece). For this to happen, your characters need to touch.
In the Text Style panel, look toward the bottom for Character Spacing. This allows you to make the letters closer together or farther apart. Which one you want to do and how much depends on your font and your line thickness.
Here’s the trick — fonts in Silhouette Studio are proportional. That means the space each letter takes up isn’t the same. That’s a good thing — it helps keep the words from looking odd.
Let me explain. The letter “i” is much thinner than an “m.” If they took up the same amount of space side to side it would look funny. There’d be too much space around the “i”. Fonts that do that are called monospaced and are an older type used before proportional was possible.
Why it matters
Why am I telling you this? Because when you adjust the character spacing, it moves the letters together by the same amount. That means that some letters may overlap before others do. Here’s my phrase with the character spacing changed. Notice that some letters touch while others don’t.
I could keep decreasing the character spacing, but then some of my letters might cross over the line into the empty middle of the next letter. If that happens and you don’t like the look of it, you’ll need to ungroup the letters in the words (text boxes are just a grouping of individual letters) to adjust the spacing individually. You just need to know that ungrouping makes the letters image and not text. That means you can’t change the text or font later, or even identify the font. Get into the habit of making a copy of the text box first so you can do those things later as needed.
Here’s mine after I’ve ungrouped and tweaked the spacing.
You’ll also want to regroup the letters afterward to keep that spacing you just worked so hard to get perfect.
Step 5: Select the right cut style
Now we come to the key for this technique. You must choose the right cut style.
Normally, on a shape with 0.0 line thickness you don’t need to worry about this. No thickness, no problem. But when you raise the line thickness, it will definitely make a difference.
In Simple Cut Mode
Here are 2 identical straight lines with a raised line thickness. Notice that for the one on top, the machine is going to cut right down the middle of it. But on the bottom, it’s going to cut around the outside.
The difference is in what cut style is selected for each. For the top one, I have “Cut.” For the bottom one, I have “Cut Edge.” When you raise the line thickness, Cut will slice right down the middle of the line. Cut Edge will go around the outside. I can tell what I have for each by how the red cut line looks. Cut is bold but thin. Cut Edge is a thicker bold. (To learn more about cut styles, see this post).
In the latest versions of Silhouette Studio, when you type text it is automatically set on Cut Edge. That’s great, because you don’t have to remember to do something to script text so that the letters don’t cut into one another. Cut Edge means that as long an all the pieces are set on it, overlapping parts don’t cut. That doesn’t mean something like the middle of a letter “O” won’t cut. It will, because that letter is in a compound path. That middle is not a separate piece but a hole in the piece. So if you cut in Simple mode, you don’t have to do anything in this technique.
See how the cut line is going on each side of the raised line thickness? And how the letters don’t cut into one another where they overlap?
In Line, Fill or Layer Cut Mode
By clicking that icon, you toggle AutoWeld on and off. AutoWeld is the equivalent of Cut Edge when you cut by line, fill or layer.
Why not just do an offset?
You could just make an offset of your letters to get the same effect. But I prefer this technique for several reasons.
First, I feel like I can control it more easily. The arrow keys on line thickness seem easier to me than the slider in the Offset panel.
Doing it this way also means the words and their offsets aren’t separate pieces. If I create an offset, I’d have to go in and group each letter with its individual offset.
But here’s the big reason. Once I’ve created an offset, I can’t go back later and change the amount. I’d have to create a different offset. By just raising the line thickness instead, I can adjust any time I want.
Okay, now that you know the basics, let’s look at some other things you can do.
If you want to use a script font, you usually don’t use all caps as they don’t usually connect everything that way. You’ll just have to play with your chosen font to see how it looks. You’re going to follow the same concepts, but with a few alterations.
- Type out your words as with a block font.
- Resize the words, as with a block font.
- Script fonts are made in such as way that they are already overlapping, which means you don’t have to adjust character spacing. Sometimes letters aren’t overlapping (such as a capital at the beginning of a word), so you can ungroup and adjust those as needed if you’re trying to cut each word as a single piece. Depending on your font, this may or may not look great, so use your own judgement.
- You’ll need to weld your letters. This is one of the few times I recommend welding text. I prefer to use Cut Edge/AutoWeld instead (see more on that in this post), but it won’t work with this technique. As with ungrouping, that makes them image instead of text. So, don’t forget to make a copy of the text box first. Also, after welding any portions that aren’t connected, such as the top of the letter “i” will be a separate piece. Often you can scoot those pieces together and weld again to make the word a single piece. You can then group all the pieces together or just each word.
- After you’ve welded is when you raise the line thickness.
Here’s my example. The font is Melankolis by Kotak Kuning Studio. My original, unwelded copy is off the mat to the left.
And here’s my cut preview.
All one piece
If you want your entire phrase to be connected, you can adjust the line spacing as well as the character spacing. Again, this is going to work best with all caps.
If you decide to do this after you’ve ungrouped, then changing the line spacing won’t work. It’s not text any longer, remember? But it’s very easy to just move the words close together enough. Once they’re in place, just group everything so that it stays together. Yes, you could weld it all, but then you couldn’t go back later and separate the pieces. That’s why I prefer to use Cut Edge or AutoWeld when it’s possible.
You can do this with shapes also, not just text. Here are some tips for that:
- It works easiest with single-piece designs. By that I mean designs that you could lift off your mat all at once, not ones you have to glue together. Here are some examples:
- For the most part, stick with designs that are solid inside to begin with. You’re going to add those “holes” by using the technique.
- Your designs need to be in a compound path. If they aren’t, the Cut Edge won’t work right. To learn all about compound paths, see this post.
- Shapes will by default be set on Cut, so you’ll need to change them to Cut Edge or AutoWeld.
Different text looks
There are a few other ways to alter the look of text.
- Try moving the letters around so that they aren’t all on the same baseline. This is more casual and can also help if scooting your letters close together makes them too hard to read. It also helps to create more contact points between the letters and therefore makes the single piece stronger.
- Mix upper and lowercase letters.
- Alter the locations of the text boxes.
- Allow the outlines of letters to go into the blank space on the adjoining letter.
- Vary the line thickness.
Outline plus inner portion
Let’s say you’re loving this technique and want to expand the idea. You can use the outline pieces along with a secondary color for the inner portions with some simple steps. I’m going to do this without any overlapping letters, but you could do that if you like. Here’s my word:
I’ve made it into a single compound path and filled it with a color. Now I’m going to open the Modify panel and choose Detach Lines. Because I have that raised line thickness and have a fill color (those are BOTH necessary), that will separate those into 2 different pieces — the outline and the fill.
This is actually great for something like HTV to cover any gaps that happen when heat shrinks your material. You can see when I layer these up that the outline piece overlaps the inner piece slightly (I’ve raised the transparency so it’s easier to see).
That means the blue outline piece would cover the edges of the yellow piece. This is also great for doing something like cutting the inner portion from fabric and the outline from HTV. The HTV would seal the raw edges of the fabric.
Now that you know this technique, you can create your own designs with outline words.