In this lesson, I’m going to show you the process for starting a new project. (To start with Lesson 1 of Software Basics, go here.) We’re going to go over page sizes and mat selection. You may not need every bit of information on this page right away, but I like to be thorough and give you reference material for everything. Remember that you don’t need to memorize all of this. Some of it will only make sense as you become familiar with the software, so just skip over any parts you don’t need at the moment. Once you read through it all, you know the info is available and can come back as needed. It will also help to practice doing each step as you walk through the lesson. We learn best when we do it.
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Starting a project
When you first open your software, it creates a new file and the page size is a generic default. The Page Setup panel opens on the right. You’ll see a tab along the upper left that says “Untitled-1.”
Untitled means you haven’t yet saved this project so it doesn’t have a name.
1 because you can have multiple documents open at the same time and this is the first one. (Let’s stick to just 1 right now).
After that, each time you start a new document the size will either be the size you last used or is based on what machine is plugged in and detected. For now, you don’t even need to have a machine hooked up. There is an option to walk through starting a new project called the New Project Wizard. We’ll go over that at a later date.
The Page Setup Panel
The very first thing you need to do is choose some size settings for your project. If the Page Setup panel isn’t already showing on the right side of the software, click the icon in the upper right to open it. You can also open it with the keyboard shortcut CTRL + F1 (Windows) or CMD + FN + F1 (Mac), or in the View>Show Design Page Settings drop down menu.
Notice the 3 icons at the top left of the panel. Those are 3 tabs for different features related to how your page looks. In this lesson we are only going to work in the first tab.
Size, width and height
This is typically the dimensions of the piece of material you are going to cut. There are several ways to set the size of your page.
–Select a preset option by clicking on the down arrow in the box labeled “Size.” This list contains the most common sizes. Choose a size by scrolling through the list and clicking on one. Use the gray slider at the right to go down to more choices.
Connected Cutters — Automatic will detect which machine is currently or most recently hooked up and set the page size accordingly.
Printer – Current Printer will set the page size based on the settings for your home printer, most often 8 1/2″ x 11″.
Common has presets for letter size (8 1/2″ x 11″), 12″ x 12″ scrapbook paper and the stamp mat.
A Series has sizes more common in countries outside the U.S.
Custom can be set to any numbers you want. You don’t have to actually choose this on the drop down menu to put in a custom size, so just ignore it.
–Use the slider bar or arrows beside “width” and “height.” Those move slowly and are harder to get set accurately so I don’t recommend them.
–Backspace out the numbers for width and height and put in your own. When you do this, the size will then automatically read “Custom.”
It is possible to design a project that is larger than the size of your material. We’ll talk about that at the end of the lesson.
If your material size is the same in both width and height, the option to choose Portrait or Landscape is grayed out. But if they are different, you can choose the orientation. Either one is fine — you just need to be sure that what you set up here matches how you actually attach your material to your mat. Here are 2 pictures of a letter-sized page. In the first, I chose Portrait orientation, while in the second I selected Landscape. Notice how the paper looks different on the mat.
You can also toggle between Portrait and Landscape modes by right clicking anywhere on the drawing area (when no image is selected) and choosing the option you want to use in the menu that pops up.
When you set your page size smaller than 12″ x 12″, the software always places it in the upper left corner of the mat. There isn’t a way to change that, but the next lesson I’ll show you a trick to help you utilize other areas of the mat.
The darker gray rectangle on your drawing area is your mat. It looks just like your mat with writing and an arrow and lines and numbers. This helps you see how to place your material on the mat and how to put the mat into the machine. It’s an area that trips up lots of folks so be careful here.
Mat or No Mat?
With Silhouette machines you are able to cut without using a mat when your material has its own adhesive backing. The purpose of the mat is to hold the cut pieces in place once they are detached from the background. Without the mat, the pieces wouldn’t be holding onto anything and would just go flying off and get caught up in the mechanisms (AKA, bad news). Materials like adhesive vinyl, heat transfer material (HTV), adhesive-backed cardstock, etc., have an adhesive that holds the material to a backing paper or plastic carrier. That means it also holds the cut pieces in place — the backing acts like the mat.
The advantage of cutting without the mat is that you can cut pieces much longer than the length of the mat. We will talk more in later lessons about bypassing the mat and the things you need to know to do that successfully. What you need to know for now is that you HAVE to tell the software whether or not you are using a mat and which one you are using.
Making the Selection
You are once again going to select one by clicking the down arrow and choosing an option from the list.
None means you are going to cut without the mat. When you choose this, the mat doesn’t show on the cutting area.
Portrait is for the mats that are made to go with the Portrait machine. You can use a regular Portrait mat in a Cameo, but you can’t use a Cameo mat in a Portrait, SD or Original machine.
Cameo comes in options for both the 12″ x 12″ and the 12″ x 24″.
Curio — Although Curio machines use the same software as the other cutting machines, they don’t use mats in the same way. They use a base platform with a series of other platforms and either a cutting mat or embossing mat. If you are using a Curio, you’ll want to see my posts that are specifically written for that. Just remember to choose the correct type and size in this menu.
Stamp is for the special stamp mat that must be used for the stamping material.
Original is for if you somehow have a really, really old mat style that came with the original machines. It has different margins so it’s important to select the right one.
A4 is for the mats that come with the machines in some countries outside the U.S.
The adhesive mats have a grid and numbers on them like rulers. We’ll talk about adding an adjustable grid to your drawing area in the next lesson, but you can also use a setting here to see more of the mat. As you move the slider bar on Reveal to the right, your material becomes more transparent so that you can see the lines. Here’s a picture where I’ve moved the reveal to 45%. You can partially see through the letter-sized paper on the mat.
This option allows you to twist the mat around on the page to view it differently. Here I’ve got Portrait orientation on the page, but I’ve rotated the view. Notice how the arrow on the dark gray portion is now pointing to the right instead of straight up. That arrow is going to be important when we go to cut. You can also do this in the View>Rotate Page drop down menu.
Sometimes the view will rotate on its own. It does it when you have “None” selected on cutting mat type and you have a 9″ and 12″ combination for your page dimensions, or when both dimension are larger than the mat. Just remember to always pay attention to the arrow and to the look of your page size on the screen.
The problem with rotating the view is that the X and Y axis rotate as well. That doesn’t mean much right now, but definitely comes into play later. So just keep that little tidbit tucked away in the back of your brain.
Print and Cut Borders
Did you know that sometimes you can’t use the whole page for your project? These Show Print Border and Show Cut Border boxes help you identify your usable area based on your printer and your mat selection.
Show Print Border
There are times you may want to print from your software — on a print and cut project, because you are familiar with the program and like to design all types of projects with it, etc. For that you will need to know the available printable area, which is based on what set up you have for your home printer. Some are able to print borderless (all the way to the very edge of the page); others are not. If you have a page size of 12″ x 12″ but your home printer can only print 8 1/2″ x 11,” you can’t print the whole project.
Checking this box places a faint gray rectangle on your page so that you can see how your printer is set. If you aren’t doing one of these types of projects, keep this box unchecked so it isn’t distracting. Here I’ve got the print border showing and it tells me I have my printer set letter sized paper in portrait mode. It’s also showing that I’ve got a margin on the outsides where it won’t print.
The keyboard shortcut for Show Print Border is CTRL + SHIFT + p on Windows or CMD + SHIFT + p on a Mac. You can also choose this in the View>Show Print Border drop down menu.
Show Cut Border
This is a box you will almost always want checked. The cut area changes depending on whether or not you use a mat and on which mat it is. When you check the box, a thin red line shows the outer borders of where you can place your designs. If you have this checked and don’t see a red line, that means you can go all the way to the edge of the paper. (There is an option in the Preferences>Defaults to set this). Here I have a 12″ x 12″ page size set and the cut border is at the edges of the page.
Here I’ve chosen a Portrait mat. See how the cut border is closer in on the left? That’s the way this size of mat works.
Now I have set my page back to 12×12” and chosen “None” on cutting mat. Notice that you don’t see a dark gray edge behind the paper and you can see that the cut border has pulled in on the sides and bottom.
Why did that happen?
Here’s why: the mat has a sticky middle area and non-sticky margin around it. It’s those non-sticky margins that the white machine rollers grip when cutting. The blade can reach the entire sticky area (12″ x 12″ on a Cameo).
When you bypass the mat, your adhesive vinyl or HTV or whatever doesn’t have those margins. The machine grips the material itself, which is why you need to move your right white roller in when cutting without the mat (more on that later). That means the blade can’t go all the way to the very edge on the left or right. On the bottom, you have to leave about a 1″ margin for the rollers to have something to grip onto. If you don’t, the material rolls in so far that it goes past the white rollers and the machine isn’t holding it at all. You can imagine that leads nowhere good. It is CRITICAL that you keep the Show Cut Border box checked when cutting without a mat.
The keyboard shortcut for Show Cut Border is CTRL + SHIFT + l on Windows or CMD + SHIFT + l on a Mac. You can also choose this in the View>Show Cut Border drop down menu.
Designing projects larger than the mat
This isn’t really beginner stuff, but I just want to show you that it’s possible. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it right now.
You do have the option to design a project that is longer and wider than your mat. You can set the size for width and length as high as 196.850″ (almost 16 1/2 feet). We’ve already talked above about how to work without the mat to cut longer. You just need to choose None on cutting mat and be aware of your cut borders. Stick with me in the lessons for tricks on how to cut really long pieces without a problem (I’ve personally gone up to 9 feet in one cut).
You can’t actually cut something that is wider than the mat or material, but you can design it that way. Why would you want to do that? Let’s say you are designing a large vinyl project for a wall and it’s going to be 4 feet high and 9 feet wide. You can set that size as your page size and then design the full project. That allows you to see the complete layout. Once you’ve got the full design, you can then move the pieces into the usable area, cut the project in chunks, and assemble it on your wall.
A picture is worth 1,000 words
Here’s one I did recently. We used 3 colors of vinyl and the total size is 4’x9.’ By setting a large page size, I could see how the whole thing would look. I made sure I liked the layout and sizing, then cut it by phrases. (Yes, this was a BEAR to put up but I’ll teach you some neat tricks later).
Here’s another example. For this one, the total size was about 5 feet square and it was all one color. Notice how I set the page size at 70″ x 60″. Also notice that the arrow is now on the left instead of straight up.
I laid out the full project, then used the Tiling option in Business Edition to break it apart into chunks (the light blue rectangles) with overlapping margins (the red areas). I cut this from vinyl and we used it as a stencil for painting. You could also just overlap the vinyl pieces or butt them up against one another on the wall.
When you are designing this way, it helps to set your cutting mat to None and take your Show Cut Border off. One you have finished designing portion, you can turn the Cut Border back on to help set up the cut.
And one more
Here’s a photo of a HUGE project I did in the kids area at our church that required designing for 10 feet tall by 25 feet long. Don’t worry — I won’t challenge you with something like this quite yet!
Is that your brain I hear frying? If so, you aren’t alone. This is a LOT of information to process. Just remember you ALWAYS want to visit the Page Setup panel as your first step in setting up a new project. Come back to this page any time you need a refresher. When your brain has cooled down, you’re ready for Lesson 4: Choosing How Your Drawing Area Looks (Grid Settings).