You may not know this, but in Silhouette Studio you can make words go around a shape. That’s called Text on Path. New in version 4, you can also take a shape and use Object on Path to create duplicates of that shape around the contours of another shape. Either of these options — text or object on path — will change the cut styles on some of your shapes. Although this isn’t directly in the Send area, you need to know when something you do in your design phase changes what happens when you send the job to cut on your machine. (To start with Lesson 1 in this series, go here.)
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The first thing to understand is what a path actually is.
What is a path?
This part is a bit technical. I find it fascinating so I’m including it. I also think that it helps you understand Silhouette better, particularly if you’re not familiar with graphics software. There’s probably some “ah ha!” moments here for just about anyone. But if it confuses you or you just don’t care to read it, feel free to skim this first part of the lesson down to “Using a Shape as a Path for Something Else.”
I’m assuming we all know what a path is in real life. It’s a walkway, a route, a course. Keep that in mind as we discuss what paths are in computer software.
In graphics programs
In any graphics program, a path is a set of points (nodes) connected by curved and straight lines that act as a single design. It doesn’t, in and of itself, have any visual component to it. You can’t see it. Designs of this type are called vector images. You create vector designs in programs like Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw, Inkscape, etc.
Here’s one way to think about it. Pretend you are going to start at your house (point A) and walk across a field to a friend’s house (point B). You wouldn’t necessarily see a path before you start walking. There are many routes you could take. For example, if you see a mud puddle in the middle of the field, you can plot a course to go around it. So your path might be straight or it might not. When you scope out your route, you are creating a path in your mind, but you don’t see it on the ground.
Or think of connect the dots. There are an infinite number of ways to get from point 1 to point 2 using a straight line or a curved one. Normally, it’s a straight one because that’s going to make the picture the person who designed the puzzle set up. But you could choose anything really. When you visualize that connecting line in your mind, you’re seeing the path you’d make.
From concept to reality
If you add what’s called a stroke to the path, that gives it visual weight (you can see it). Or, you can fill a closed path with color and see it that way. If you do neither of those, printing the design would give you a blank page because there is no printable information there.
Let’s think about the field story again. After you’ve made it to your friend’s house, your footprints would be visible on the ground. Let’s say your child wants to come find you. She could see where you went by following the footprints.
Or with the connect the dots analogy, this is like putting your pencil on the page and drawing the line. Now someone else can see the path you devised in your mind. If you used straight lines to connect the dots, you should now see a picture emerge, even if you didn’t know before you started what it would be. And you can color inside the lines to complete your piece of art.
When you enlarge a vector image, it looks the same because all you are doing is stretching out the distance between the points. This is the go-to file type for many graphic and web designers these days because the image looks the same at any size.
Another image type
Contrast those with raster images. These are images such as photographs, clip art, etc. They are made up of many tiny squares, called pixels, that are filled with a variety of colors. When you put these altogether in rows and columns, you see an image. The more squares there are, the better the resolution of the image, because each square is a lower percentage of the whole. Think back to the old Paint programs if you are as old as I am. You could make pictures by filling each square individually with color.
You don’t notice the tiny squares unless you zoom in really, REALLY far. When you enlarge a raster image, you are making each square bigger. Once those squares get larger, you see them more clearly. The lines of the image look like a stairway. What’s going on is that you are seeing the corners of the squares. When this happens we say that the image is pixelated, because we’re seeing the pixels. The image looks fuzzy. That’s why these aren’t used as much any more by graphic designers, but digital photographs and clip art are still raster images.
Silhouette Studio is a vector-based graphics program. Like most graphics software, it uses both vector and raster images.
Silhouette interprets vectors as cut commands. “Start at this point, make a curved line to this point, go in a different direction and cut a curved line to here,” etc. Shapes you draw in the software, text you type and cut files you purchase from the Silhouette Design Store are all vector images. The design is a path — a set of points and lines — with no fill or stroke. The software helps you see the path by showing you the red lines — the path where the machine will cut — but there’s no visual component. If you double click quickly on the image to get into point editing mode, you can see and alter the nodes to change the shape of the design.
You may notice these all have a line thickness of 0.0. With no line thickness or fill color, there’s nothing to print. 0 = 0. If you’ve ever typed out a phrase and then tried to print it just like that you’ll know what I mean. So vectors cut but don’t print.
The only exception to this may be an SVG or DXF file you get from another source. They are vector images, but because they aren’t always created exclusively for cutting in Silhouette, the paths (lines) may have strokes (thickness) added. That makes sense, because you want to see the design to use it on a web page or a party invitation. In that case, they would print. These usually have fill colors also. Raster material has been added.
Silhouette can also open common raster file types like photos, jpgs, pngs, etc. When you do that, you have printable information but not cut information. Open one of these types and look at its cut style. You’ll see it’s set to No Cut by default. That’s because we don’t really have anything to cut. Just like when you send a vector file to your printer you get a blank page, if you send a raster image to your machine nothing cuts. Printers are for raster images, Cameos are for vector images.
Let’s say it’s a clip art image of an apple. What you have is a grid with squares of red and green and maybe brown for the stem. Around that, all the rest of the squares in the grid are filled with white (typical on jpgs) or no color (typical on pngs). Because Silhouette is a graphics program, you can put 3 of those apples on your drawing area and send that image to your printer from Silhouette Studio. The printed page will have 3 apples on it.
But even if you changed the cut style to Cut, the machine will just cut a rectangle — the outer edge of the grid. It doesn’t have any other vector information. If you wanted to actually cut the apple from red paper and the leaves from green and the stem from brown, you would need to create vectors. You do that using the Trace feature. But that’s a WHOLE other series.
Vector + Raster
Once you fill a shape (a vector image) with color or pattern, you’ve added printable (raster) information. Or if you raise its line thickness above its 0.0 default, you’ve added stroke material, which is also printable. That means if you send it to your printer, the page won’t be blank.
You can then add cut lines and cut around the design if you want. That’s what we call a print and cut. Again, that’s a whole other series.
Using a shape as a path for something else
Now, let’s talk about another way you can use paths in Silhouette Studio besides just cutting them or, with raster information added, printing them. You can take any shape or text and have it follow along the path of any other shape or text. What the heck does that mean? It means you make text or a shape curve around the contours of something else.
You’ve always been able to put text on path. You draw a shape. Then you type a word. While in the text editing mode, you grab the control point and pull the text toward the shape.
When the control point touches the shape, the word wraps around the shape. Most often, folks do this with a circle. But the text just needs a path to follow, so you can actually snake it around any vector (cut) image.
New to version 4 is a Replicate option called Object on Path. This allows you to take a shape and make multiple copies of it along the edge of another shape. For an entire discussion of Object on Path, see this post.
So what does this have to do with a discussion on cut styles? This is the main point: When you put text or and an object on a path, it affects the cut style of the path shape.
Text on path
When you bend text around a shape, the software assumes you are using the shape only as a path for the text to follow and don’t intend to cut it. The lines of the shape turn gray indicating that it will not cut.
If you select the shape look at the cut style in your Send area, you’ll see Cut for the selected shape.
But it actually won’t cut. The change of the line color to gray is a reminder that this is what’s happening. Notice also that the circle isn’t bold in the cut preview. That’s another clue. Remember that learning to read the cut preview will help in many ways.
Typically, this isn’t a problem because most of the time you don’t want to cut the shape. First, because you’re normally just using it to create a contour for the text. Second, because the shape would often cut into the bottom of the word. For instance, in my pic if I cut both the circle and the word on the same piece of material, the circle would cut off the bottoms of my “e” and “o.”
HINT: Letters with curves at the top or bottom extend further than letters that are flat.
Using the slider in the text editing mode, you can move the text away from the shape a bit. (In some releases of version 4, this part isn’t working correctly or is very difficult to use. It’s being worked on).
Now they have good space in between and the shape isn’t overlapping the letters. But even though they look separate, they are still tied together. That circle is still gray — it won’t cut.
What if you do want that shape to cut along with the word? In that case, you need to break the tie that’s binding them together by making the word an independent image. For this, you use a little-known option called Convert to Path. You’ll find this option in the right click and Object drop down menus. Select the word and then choose Convert to Path.
Alternately, you can choose the option Make Compound Path. You’ll find this option in those same 2 places, and also in the Modify panel. The keyboard shortcut to make a compound path is CTRL+e (Windows) or CMD+e (Mac).
WARNING: When you do this, you are making the words a normal shape instead of text. With text, you can change the letters, change the font, figure out what font you used, etc. Once you change it to an image, you can’t edit it any longer. For that reason, you need to either make a copy of your text box first, or write a sticky note in the software with the info on the font. Believe me, you’ll save yourself many headaches if you make this a habit.
With multiple text boxes
There’s one odd thing to be aware of here. If you have one shape and pull 2 text boxes around it, the shape will go to No Cut as we expect. HOWEVER, — if you pull only 1 of the text boxes away and leave the other, the shape goes back to Cut. Always read your cut preview to check on this.
Object on Path
Let’s turn now to Object on Path. When you use this feature, the path shape changes to gray just as with text.
If you do want to cut the path shape, just as you did with text, you need to separate the replicating shapes from the path shape. There are 2 ways you can do it.
–Select the replicating shape (so my blue rectangles here). Then use Object>Convert to Path. The right click option is not active.
–Select the replicating shape. In the Replicate>Object to Path panel, select Release Copies at the bottom of the panel.
The path shape line then turns back to normal to indicate that it has returned to Cut.
Hopefully knowing why a path shape doesn’t cut will help save you some confusion when you use Text on Path or Object on Path. In our next lesson, we’ll be back to looking at the Send area specifically. We’ll talk about managing your devices (machines) and connections.