One of the biggest changes in version 4 of the Silhouette Studio software is the introduction of floating panels instead of windows on the right side of the software. It may sound like just a change in terms, but it’s actually much more.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials. All opinions expressed are my own and are not tied to any compensation.
What are panels?
In version 3 and below, selecting a feature with icons, drop down menus or keyboard shortcuts opened a window on the right side of the software. The window stayed put and ran the full length of the screen. You could only open 1 window at a time. In this picture of version 3, the Design Page Settings window is open.
In version 4, clicking an icon opens a panel instead. The panel is smaller, so takes up less of your drawing/design area. We’ll discuss this more below, but you can have more than one panel open at a time and you can move them around on the screen.You can also open panels using the Panels drop-down menu in the upper left. There are several keyboard shortcuts to open panels:
Spelling FN+F7 (Windows) CMD+F7 (Mac)
Grid CTRL+FN+F4 (Windows) CMD+FN+F4 (Mac)
Page CTRL+FN+F1 (Windows) CMD+FN+F1 (Mac)
Registration Marks CTRL+FN+F3 (Windows) CMD+FN+F3 (Mac)
*The back of the User’s Manual lists all the keyboard shortcuts, but some are misprinted there (specifically, all the Windows ones just mentioned).
Things to notice within a panel
When a panel is open, the icon for that feature is highlighted in the icon bar that goes down the right-hand side of the screen. Here, the icon that looks like a paint palette is the one for the Fill panel which is open.
Notice that the top of the panel may have 2 colored bar areas (it depends on which mode you are in, if the panels are attached or not, and if the software is acting up or not — we will discuss all this):
The upper one that has 2 up arrows on the left, 3 dots in the middle and a large “X” on the right.
The lower one that has 1 up arrow on the left, the name of the panel in the middle, and a small “x” on the right.
Pay attention to those 2 areas because they will make a difference in some things we do later.
As you zoom in and out in your view, the panel size stays the same and it remains in the same location on the drawing area unless you move it (more about that later). You Undo and Redo buttons won’t affect things you do with panels.
Streamlined features within panels
Features that are related to one another are combined within panels. For example, in version 3 there were separate icons for Line Color and Line Style, and therefore separate windows. If you wanted to work with both the color and thickness of a line, you had to go back and forth between 2 windows. Now in version 4, line style and line color are 2 tabs within the Line Style panel. That means less switching back and forth.
Here are the combination panels in version 4:
Page Set Up for Page Settings, Grid and Registration Marks
Fill for Fill Color, Fill Gradient and Pattern Fill
Line Style for Line Style and Line Color
Transform for Align, Scale, Rotate and Move
Media Layout Setup (Business Edition only) for Media Size, Matrix Copy, Media Nesting and Tiling
So if I’m drowning in the ocean a panel will save me? LOL – no! But it’s almost as exciting. Instead of windows that are static on the right side of the screen, panels can be moved around the drawing area. That means if a panel is covering an area of your design, you can move it around instead of having to constantly move the screen view around.
To move a panel, you’re going to hover your mouse in that colored bar area at the top. You know you’re in the right area when the cursor changes to a full hand.
That hand is always an indicator that you are about to move something. Once you see the hand, left click and drag to move the panel wherever you want in the design area. You can even move it over the icons and menus. When clicking to drag, avoid the area where the arrows and “x”s are. As long as you see the hand as the cursor and not the arrow, you’re good.
Just be careful when moving panels at the very bottom of the screen. The panel might “disappear” or get so low you can’t grab it anymore.
If that happens, don’t panic. Just click the icon again to close the panel. When you click it one more time, the panel will open again in the normal spot in the upper right.
Watch out for those 2 portions of the upper colored bar
Remember how I said we wanted to be aware of those 2 different areas at the very top of the panel? Here’s where they start to make a difference. When there are 2 areas (even if there aren’t supposed to be), the way you grab them makes a difference.
If you grab in the upper portion to move the panel, both the upper and lower portions are still there after the move.
If you grab in the lower portion, only the lower portion remains after the move.
Whether you need that upper portion or not will depend on features we’ll discuss later. For now, practice doing it both ways. If you don’t see both areas right now, just wait until you do further down in the lesson. I’ll remind you to be careful of which area you use.
Single, Multiple or Flexible panels
I am especially excited about the ability to have multiple panels open simultaneously. What that means is that if I’m working with more than one feature of the software, I don’t have to keep switching back and forth between windows as I used to. Here’s an example where I have both Trace and Fill Color open.
If I’m tracing a multi-color design such as this one, I would do multiple traces to get the various colors as pieces (the new Trace by Color in Designer Edition and above makes this MUCH easier). I can trace one area, fill it with the color I want, then move on to trace the next area – all without having to switch between panels. Both panels stay open, so I can use one feature, then the other, then back to the first, and so on back and forth without having to continually be selecting an icon to open each panel.
There are 3 different options for how many panels you can see and use simultaneously.
This allows you to open and use just 1 panel at a time and is the default. This is the mode with the least amount of change to what you are used to seeing if you are coming from version 3. When you open a new panel, the current one closes. If you don’t like having panels cluttering up your screen because you forget to close them, you can just leave it set on Single mode.
You can have as many panels open as you want – all at the same time. When you open subsequent panels, they open below the current panel as long as there is room and you haven’t moved the open panel (more later about what happens when you do move them). If there isn’t room below, they open to the left of currently-open, unmoved panels. In this mode, all panels stay open until you close them. As long as you haven’t moved them, they also attached, which we’ll discuss in the next section.
This is a hybrid of Single and Multiple mode. Here’s how it works:
If you open a panel with the icon, then click a second icon WITHOUT having moved the first panel, the first panel closes and the second one opens. That’s just like Single panel mode.
Let’s say instead you move the first panel before you click the second icon. In this case, when you open the second panel the first panel stays open, just as if you were in Multiple panel mode.
In Multiple or Flexible mode, you can move a panel on top of another panel, partially or fully covering it. To select a panel that’s behind another, click anywhere on the part of the panel that’s still visible, or move the upper one out of the way.
NOTE: if you are in Single panel mode, or in the other modes with only 1 panel open, that extra area may still be there at the top when you open a panel. This only seems to happen when something has gone wrong in the software — when it’s not acting as it’s supposed to. You can just ignore it if it happens. If it bothers you, move the panel, grabbing in the lower section, and that upper section will go away. Or restart the software and that should fix it.
Choosing your mode
To use Flexible or Multiple panel mode, you need to set that up in your Preferences. Once in the Preferences panel, open the second tab Defaults. The 6th choice down is Panel Mode. Your current choice will be showing. To choose a different one, select the down arrow at the end of the current selection to open the list of options. After you make your selection, be sure to hit Apply at the bottom. You will stay in the selected mode until you change it again here in Preferences.
Attaching panels and moving them together
Panels are “magnetic,” meaning that in Flexible or Multiple mode you can attach them to one another if you want. Do this if you want to have multiple panels open and want to move them around the drawing area as a single unit. Attached panels are treated like a group. Unattached panels are independent of one another. It’s in this area that those 2 different colored parts at the top of the panel are going to make a difference.
In Multiple panel mode
When you have 1 panel open in Multiple panel mode and leave it in place, then open a second panel, they automatically attach. Here I’ve got 3 panels, all attached.
When you move the first panel, or a set of attached panels, and then open another, they do NOT automatically attach. You can attach them manually if you want (see below).
In Flexible panel mode
Remember — in Flexible mode if you open a second panel without moving the first, the second panel replaces the first. If you want to keep multiple panels open and want to attach them, you need to move the first panel before you open the second one. Then you can manually attach them. Panels do not automatically attach in Flexible mode.
Manually attaching panels
You can attach panels manually in…
…Multiple mode when the panels did not automatically attach because you moved one or more.
…Flexible or Multiple mode when you’ve unattached them and want to stick them back together.
You attach panels by moving them to line up vertically or horizontally with one another.
To attach vertically, move one panel below the other. The top of the panel you are moving will attach to the bottom of the panel that’s sitting still.
To attach horizontally, move one panel to the left of the other with the tops aligned. The right side of the panel you are moving attaches to the left side of the one that’s not moving.
Things to know:
Once they are attached, whichever panel is at the top of a column will have both the upper and lower bar areas, even if it didn’t before the move. The upper portion is the “I want to tie these/work with these together” part, while the lower portion is the “I want these to be independent” part. When you attach them, you are putting them in that tied-together state so they need the upper bar area. You can see this in the picture above of the 3 attached panels.
If you open too many panels that automatically attach or attach too many manually, the set will eventually be too long or too wide for the screen. That means you won’t be able to see them all. Unattach, close or minimize some panels if this happens (more on how to do those things in a bit).
Separating attached panels
To separate panels that are attached to one another, use your cursor to grab in the lower bar area (where the name of the panel is). That moves just that panel and not all, so it separates the panel you grab from the other(s) it’s attached to. Once separated, individual panels should only have that lower bar area remaining (as long as all is working correctly, but it doesn’t always).
Moving attached panels together
You can move attached panels around as a single unit. Remember that I said that upper bar portion is the “I want to keep these together” area? As long as you grab in the upper bar area they stay attached and can be moved around together. If you grab in the lower area, only that panel will move, which separates the panels.
Collapsing and expanding panels
Now let’s learn about those arrows at the upper left of the panels.
When a panel is first opened it is expanded, meaning you can see all the options in the panel as normal. You use the arrows to collapse a single panel or several at a time. A collapsed panel is still open — you see the name of the panel, but that’s all you see. All the options are hidden for the time being, allowing you to see more of the design you are working on. This is especially useful when you have multiple panels open. You can collapse all panels except the one you are currently using without completely closing them. This makes it easier to use different features but be able to quickly go to a different one. Even in Single panel mode, it allows you to make the panel less obtrusive without shutting it altogether.
In Single panel mode, or any time you have only 1 panel open, you can click on either the single or double arrows (if present). Either will collapse the panel.
If you are in Flexible or Multiple panel mode and have several panels attached, there is a difference. Clicking the single arrow collapses just that panel. Clicking the double arrow collapses all panels in that column (not all open panels – just the ones lined up vertically).
Once a panel is collapsed the arrow turns to a downward one. That indicates that pressing it now will expand the panel(s), so you can see the options again. Again, with attached panels you see both single arrow and double arrow choices at the top of the column.
There are several ways to close an open panel.
In Single Panel mode, simply choose another feature with an icon, a drop down menu or a keyboard shortcut. The open panel closes and the panel for the new feature opens. That’s because in this mode you can only have 1 panel open at a time.
You can also close the single panel using the small “x” or the large “X” (if present) in the upper right corner.
In Flexible or Multiple Panel mode, you can still close an individual panel using the small “x.” If panels are attached, click the large “X” to close all the panels in that column.
In any mode, clicking the icon for an open panel closes the panel. If you opened the panel with a keyboard shortcut or from the Panel drop-down menu, repeating that does not close the panel. Click the icon or use a different option for closing it.
When you have several columns of attached panels and close an entire column, the remaining panels scoot right and all stay attached. If you have multiple panels, closing one that is unattached to others does not affect those others.
Panels stay open across files
When you have multiple files open in your software, the panels you open on one file also open on all the other files. So if you are working with the Fill panel on file 1 and switch to file 2, the Fill panel will still be open. Whatever you open or close in the file you are working on will also open or close in all other open files.
The only exception is when you start a brand new file or open a saved one. The same general principles apply.
Single panel mode — the Page Setup panel will automatically open, replacing the existing open panel.
Multiple panel mode — that Page Setup panel will be added to the panels already open. If the panels have not been moved, the Page Setup panel attaches automatically. If the panels have been moved, it does not automatically attach.
Flexible panel mode — the Page Set up panel will be either replaced or will add on to the other open panels, based on if and how you have moved panels.
A note of warning
I’ve mentioned several times that the software may sometimes act like it’s not supposed to, just like a child. And, just like a child, it seems to happen when the software is tired (has been used for a long time without restarting).
Here’s what I’ve experienced. Sometimes panels open with both the upper and lower portions of the bar, even if it’s only a single, unattached panel. That’s not supposed to happen, but when it does the way you move the panel(s) will make a difference.
If you move the panel with the hand cursor in the upper portion — so you still see the upper and lower portions after the move — any subsequent panels you open are still “tied” to the original panel, as if you hadn’t moved it. So in Flexible mode, that means opening the second panel closes the first panel. In Multiple mode, that means new panels automatically attach.
If you move the panel with the hand cursor in the lower portion — so you only have that lower portion remaining after the move — any subsequent panels you open are independent of the original panel. In Flexible mode, when you open the second panel it does NOT close the first panel. In Multiple mode, that means that new panels do NOT automatically attach.
Quick access toolbar
Another new feature related to panels is the Quick Access Toolbar along the top of the software. What shows in this area is determined by whether or not an image/text is selected, what type of design is selected and by what mode you are in. This is similar to the lower left (upper left in Business Edition) toolbar from version 3, but is expanded.
Here’s an example. Let’s say I have clicked on the icon in the left to type a word in the design area, or that I select a word I’ve already typed. The Quick Access Toolbar changes to give me options to select a font, choose a font size or format the text. Opening the panel gives me additional options, but the Quick Access Toolbar allows me to quickly perform the most common tasks for text. I can do those things without having to even open the panel.
Here are the various Quick Access Toolbars you’ll see:
Fill Color, Line Color and Line Thickness…
…are always there when you are in Selection mode (not in Point Edit mode). The artist pallet at the left indicates that this is active.
…options are all in the Quick Access Toolbar when you are in Point Edit mode. The only additional one that shows in the panel and not the toolbar is Convert to Path. The point connected by 2 curves shows at the far left when you are in Point Editing mode.
…options as described above are there when in Text Creation mode or when an existing text box is chosen. If the text box is grouped with another shape or text box, these options aren’t active. That’s because the software wouldn’t know which one you’d want to make selections for. The “A” indicates that this is in use.
Scale, Lock Aspect Ratio, Move, Front to Back Order, Weld, Offset, Duplicate and Delete…
…are active when at least one shape is selected. The diagonal arrow scale icon shows at the left in this mode. The fill and line options are still there as well. One change from version 3 is that the Weld icon is now active on text. In version 3, it was not. (However, I recommend using Cut Edge or Auto-Weld for cursive text instead of Weld, but that’s a story for another day).
Group, Ungroup and Align…
… are active when multiple shapes are selected. This looks just like the one described just above, with these additional options added.
Putting it all together
It may be hard to tell from just words and still images what I’m talking about with some of this. So I’ve create a video to show you the concepts in action.
Now you’re an expert in panels
This is a LOT of information to take in at once. But, as always, I like to give you all the instructions you need for reference. Think of my software posts like an encyclopedia. You aren’t going to memorize every bit of information, but you can look up the information when you need it. Once you get used to the panels system, it can make your work go much more quickly and I’ll bet you’’ll wonder how you ever got along without it.