I’ve been wanting to try this for so long! I finally had a good excuse because I needed a gift for my great niece’s birthday. I used my Cameo to draw the design and numbers on canvas for a paint by number craft. Once you understand the general principles, you can do it with many different designs.
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You may ask, “Why did you do that? Couldn’t you just send it through your home printer?” Good question! Sometimes the canvas you want to use for your paint by number is too thick for your printer. Or you might not have a printer at home. Maybe yours is on the fritz and it’s late at night and you need a gift for tomorrow (yes, I totally resemble that scenario). Perhaps you just want the challenge of learning something new. All these make using your Silhouette a great option.
Plus, if you want to use some of your designs from the Silhouette Design Store, you’ll have to edit them first. That’s a big part of what I’m teaching you here.
Canvas – I used some canvas photo paper I’d had around for YEARS, but any canvas will work as long as it’s not too thick to fit under the rollers on your machine. You can test that by putting it on your mat, loading the mat and then rolling it in and out (find out how to do that here). Silhouette sells a printable cotton canvas. You can even remove a canvas from a frame – you’ll find them on sale frequently at craft stores.
Step 1 – Choose the right design for your paint by number
Here’s the big idea. You want a design that has just a single line that you can use as an outline for your pieces. Most designs aren’t like that because we’re cutting them out. We want 1 dimension, not 2. Let’s talk through some different types of designs and which ones work well.
It’s a good idea to start with something simple on your first paint by number. Here are the simplest types to create (and some are the easiest to paint):
This design has holes in the middle. It would be fairly easy to paint various colors for the rose petals and leaves, then use black in the areas that show purple here.
If you use any of these, you can skip right down to do Step #5, then jump to Step #8. For a more in-depth discussion of those, see this post.
You can also use layered designs. These usually have a base piece that all other pieces stack up on. But, unlike the stack-only designs, some pieces sit half on a lower piece, half off. Or they may sit half on a piece 2 layers down. Since some of the lower piece is hidden, there are lines that sit below the upper piece. In other words, the lower piece does not fully surround the upper piece as they do in my flower just above. I’ll show you in the following steps what I mean and how to use those. Here are some examples:
Designs to avoid
A single piece without holes is boring. (But it makes a great choice for a watercolor stencil).
This sketch design has too many lines. How could you ever figure out where exactly to paint? And a basketball is only 1 color.
A print and cut typically (not always) has just a raster image with a cut line around it. That basically is just a single-piece design.
Here are the ones I’m going to demonstrate with:
PRO TIP: I used the waves from a different design for my mermaid paint by number. Get into the habit of looking at all elements of a design for pieces you can use in combination with other designs.
Step 2 — Fill the pieces with color
This makes it easier to grab and move the pieces, as well as to see order and where you have groupings vs. compound paths.
- Ungroup until you have you pieces separated.
- Make or release any compound paths as needed.
- Fill your pieces with the colors you would use to paint. Make sure you fill pieces with white and don’t just leave those clear, as that will help in the next step. You may not get all the colors right, but in the next step you can change them as needed.
PRO TIP: Get a screenshot of the design from the Silhouette Design Store so you have a pic to follow or pull exact colors from. You don’t have to use the exact colors (notice my mermaid) — this just helps you see which pieces fit where.
Step 3 — Layer the pieces
Now you’re going to layer your pieces up on your Design area. Yep, I know you’ve got lines crossing over one another. We’ll deal with that in a bit. What you’re doing right now is getting an idea of what the final design should look like and making sure you have the correct order of pieces front to back. For example, I put my waves on the page last, which means they were in front but needed to be sent to the back. Change the order as needed and play with the colors if you like. I even deleted some pieces on my mermaid that were not absolutely necessary because I thought they’d be too small for my great niece to paint.
PRO TIP: Group pieces that you want to keep as a set before you begin layering. For example, I grouped the facial features and mermaid scales together on mine to retain the spacing.
Step 4 — Make a copy
We’re going to be using 2 different copies – 1 for printing as the guide for painting and 1 for sketching out the paint by number canvas. So make a copy of all your pieces.
Step 5 – Create the paint by number sample
On one copy, change the line color to black and raise line thickness to at least 1.0. (If you don’t want an outline on your final design, you can skip this). Group this copy. This is your sample picture for the artist to follow and we’ll print it off in a bit. We do want to keep it close so we can use it as a reference, so just pull it off to the side of the mat on your Design area.
Step 6 – Prepare the paint by number sketch copy
With second copy, remove the fills. I usually recommend working with filled pieces, but this is a time where we need to see the lines of every piece. And when you do some of the work with open paths in the next step, the fills will go away or look funny anyway.
Step 7 – Point Edit the sketch copy
This is the key step. If you haven’t read my series on Point Editing, I highly recommend you do because otherwise much of this won’t make sense. The piece for the paint by number canvas is going to need to look like a single line sketch, or a coloring book page.
Before you ask, yes, you could use the knife or eraser. But they are painfully slow and it’s hard to be precise with them. Sometimes the Modify options will help. I showed some ways to use those in this post. Often you can use a combo of those and point editing.
What we need
Normally, when we cut we use 2-dimensional pieces. Often designers create their designs so that some pieces overlap others. That’s the case here on my mermaid. Almost all the pieces overlap. Some pieces overlap multiple other pieces. For example, the star overlaps both hair pieces. I can tell because the lines make a mess, making it hard to see the actual design. The majority of your designs will be like this.
Sometimes you have pieces that lay on top of others without any overlap, as I do on my dog with the inner ears, eye and nose pieces.
But notice that the legs butt up against the body, as do the tail and leg folds. The body and front legs butt up against the face. See how the lines look slightly darker there? I like to eliminate those extra lines (more on that below).
That’s why we need to edit most designs for this project, unless you started with one of those simple types. If you’ve read my post on creating watercolor outlines, this is similar.
PRO TIP: Make sure you don’t have any small areas that will be difficult to paint. For example, I would move my waves and star around on my mermaid to make sure there’s not a small area of the hair my great niece will have to paint.
How to edit
The big goal here is to have no lines from a lower piece crossing over a higher piece. Visualize a paint by number canvas if you’ve ever done one, or simply a coloring page. Here’s the process:
- Ungroup the pieces.
- Give each piece a different line color. This really helps you see what’s what.
- If you have any pieces that overlap, make a sticky note or write down the order of pieces bottom to top. I did this with my mermaid. Because my dog only has pieces that butt up against one another without overlapping, I didn’t need that.
- Start with the bottom piece. Any time the line of that piece meets the line of a piece above it in the order, add a point and break the path right there. If it helps, you can fill the upper piece, but I would suggest you also raise the transparency so you can more easily see the lines of the lower piece. Open paths are going to be fine, because we are drawing and not cutting.
- Once you’ve made all your breaks, release the compound path on that bottom piece.
- Remove any of the portions of the lines that are on top of another piece.
My top waves are no longer covering the hair and face.
- Continue with the next piece up in the order and follow the same process. You shouldn’t have to do any editing on your top piece. Once you’re finished, you should be able to see your full picture without any lines crossing over another piece, like a coloring book page.
- I prefer to not have any lines at the edges of the page, and wanted my waves to not have the straight line across the bottom. So I edited out those portions as well.
What about lines that sit on one another?
Sometimes you’ll have pieces that are supposed to butt up against one another when you assemble the design. Or edges that lay right on top of one another. We don’t want 2 lines covering the same area.
Let’s look back at the dog. I’ve got several areas where the pieces meet up like that. Look at the lower edge of the face and the body and leg parts here.
Where the tail meets the leg is the same. And where the back legs and leg folds meet the front legs, there are 3 lines on top of one another.
This means if I don’t do something the lines will be drawn on top of one another. It’s not a huge problem, but I like to avoid that because:
- It wastes time in the drawing stage.
- I may not have the pieces lined up perfectly.
- The design may not be designed well and would leave a gap. My dog is like that at the bottom of the face. (This would actually cause a problem even with just cutting the design.
- The drawn line may look thicker in that area
So I edited the points so there’s only 1 line in each of those areas. My lighter brown piece that is the middle of the body ends up only being a line across the bottom.
This one’s up to you and your design. Play with it a bit and see what you like best.
Look back through your entire design up close, making sure your lines all touch. Again, this isn’t a huge deal, but I want to make sure my great niece can clearly see the outlines of each piece. And, since I’m having the outline in the finished product, I want it to look nice.
Step 8 – Group and Resize the sketch copy
Group your edited pieces. Resize your entire design to fit your canvas size.
Step 9 – Adjust the line thickness on the sketch copy (optional)
This one is going to depend on the size of your pen, your design and the size of your page. If you don’t want to have an outline show between the colors on the finished piece, you can skip this step. I prefer it for a child so they can see the outline of each piece clearly. On my dog, you can’t see the separation between the legs and body without it.
You pen may be thick enough to make those outlines wide. Mine wasn’t, so I added this step. (I love using the RSVP pens by Pentel because they work great for me every time).
- First, I made the line thickness for all my pieces 2.0. This will depend on the size of your design and page. That’s because if you raised the line thickness and then resize, the thickness of the line stays the same. That means it’s then out of proportion with the pieces. If you make the full design smaller, the lines may be too thick; make it bigger and you might not notice them.
- I changed the line color to a light one. Then I made a copy with CTRL/CMD+c and pasted it right on top with CTRL/CMD+f. I now have 2 exact copies sitting on top of one another.
- On this top copy, I put the line thickness back down to 0.0 and changed it to a color darker than my thick line. What I’m going to show you how to do is draw on each side of the thick line (my light blue one), and then also draw the thin line (my black one). That puts a line the width of 3 pens as an outline for each piece.
- If you’re using a single piece design with holes only, you may need to add more lines. Or, you can create an internal offset so that your lines are closer together and delete the original design. There’s no hard and fast rule because each design is different.
- Now pull this set to the side and bring the sample one (the filled one) back over.
Step 10 – Make and print the paint by number sample page
You need to print and sample page for your artist to follow. If you have no home printer, you can make an electronic PDF version and email it, send it on the Cloud, etc. Ooooh – how modern!
- First, place your sample from Step #5 on the page. If you want the lines to print, you’ll have to raise the line thickness. Lines with a 0.0 thickness we can see in Silhouette Studio, but they have no printable component. As soon as you raise the line thickness, there’s something that can print.
PRO TIP: There’s an option on the Line Style panel to Print Lines of Selected Shapes, but the lines are really pale if they are at 0.0 so you end up raising it anyway. Save yourself time by doing 1 step instead of 2.
- Assign a number to each color of your design. For white, you can choose to leave those areas blank as long as you indicate it. I do this to make sure the pen doesn’t show through the paint there.
- Create a text box showing the numbers and the corresponding colors.
- Draw small squares next to the numbers and fill them with the colors.
- Group all of these together.
- Print off the legend.
Step 11 — Add the numbers to the sketch copy
Now that you have a list of colors to follow, you’re going to add numbers to your sketch design. So bring that piece back front and center.
- Choose a sketch font (or a really thin one). Make it a small enough size to fit in your smallest piece, but large enough to still be read. Type the number 1.
- Make sure the line color is either different than all your other line colors, or the same as the thin one.
- Copy the text box so that you have one for each different color of your design. Edit the text boxes so they contain the appropriate numbers.
- Make several copies of your text box with the #1. Move those copies onto the pieces so that the number corresponds to the correct color.
- Continue until all your pieces show which color they should be painted.
Step 12 – Test your paint by number design
I have wasted enough craft material in my lifetime to cover the state of Texas. I have learned by hard experience to do some tests before doing the full project. So, the first time I did a paint by number like this I had my pens sketch just on a piece of cardstock first.
HINT: If you need to learn more about sketching, see this post.
For this, I used Action by: Line to cut by line color like this:
- For my numbers (black) and inner lines (red), I used just Sketch as the action. You want to make sure to do this, because the machine handles the pen differently than a blade.
- For my outer lines (light blue), I turned on Auto-weld. This is going to draw around the outside of my thicker lines. My end result will be a thin line in the middle with thin lines on each side of it — so 3 wide. That makes a nice size of outline for my taste.
I didn’t need to sketch the whole thing – just enough to make sure my font size and line thicknesses were good.
Step 13 — Sketch the paint by number design
After your test, you’re ready to sketch your paint by number design on your real material. I chose Cotton Canvas, Printable with the action of Sketch, but the material doesn’t matter so much. Even though your lines are different colors, you just need to use 1 pen color. The reason we made them different colors was to aid in designing and sketch with different options as described in the last step.
You can see in my dog here that the machine has finished drawing the outer (thicker) lines and is now working on the inner ones.
And here are my finished paint by number pieces. Notice that the dividing lines are nice and thick because I used that 3-wide trick. Although I LOVE watercolors, I wanted to make sure the paint would cover the pen marks so got a set of acrylic paints for my great niece.
Just like with my watercolor projects, it makes it easy to look like a real artist. Isn’t that what all those paint by number boxes promise? LOL! Wouldn’t this be fun to do with a family photo? I’d love to hear your comments and suggestions!