When I’m designing projects in Silhouette Studio, I never work with unfilled shapes. Filling a shape with a color makes it easier to grab it with the mouse, helps me see front to back order, and tells me immediately if a design is a grouping or compound path. Using a pattern fill is another fantastic design tool. I use it primarily to help in visualizing a project or for doing a print and cut.
Here’s the big news: you aren’t limited to only fill patterns that you buy in the Silhouette Design Store. You can use ANY raster image as a pattern fill. This saves you $ and gives you endless options. In this series, I’m going to show you 7 different ways to use raster images to add your own pattern fill to a shape. And I’ll tell you when’s the best time to use each method.
Tutorial Level: Intermediate to Advanced
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What is a raster image?
First, you need to know what a raster image is. If you already know, feel free to skip this section.
Raster images are things such as photographs and clip art. Common raster image types are jpg, png, bmp, gif and wmf. They are made up of many tiny squares, called pixels, that are filled with a variety of colors in rows and columns. 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. Because the squares are so tiny, you don’t realize that they are actually squares unless you zoom in really, REALLY far or make the image very large.
Let’s say it’s a clip art image of an apple. What you have is a grid with squares of red, green and brown. Around that, all the rest of the squares in the grid are filled with white (jpgs) or are transparent (pngs).
We define raster images in a set of numbers called resolution. Say you have an image and the resolution is 320×240. That means there are 320 rows and 240 columns. Multiply that and you get 76,800. That’s the number of tiny squares – pixels – in that image. If that same image was 1280×720, it’s made up of more squares so each square is a smaller percentage of the whole. The apple above is only 49×44 (not a standard size — it’s just for a demonstration). Even without the outlines of the squares, you’d still easily see their corners because there are only 2,156 pixels. It’s low resolution.
If I make it really tiny, you don’t see those corners as much, but you do notice the fuzzy edges.
More squares = better resolution = a clearer image. When you have the option, always choose an image with a higher resolution so that you can expand it without it getting unclear. That pertains to anything you do with the image in Silhouette Studio.
How do we use rasters in Silhouette Studio?
Silhouette can open common raster file types like photos, jpgs, pngs, etc. When you put a raster image on your design page, you have added printable information. But it doesn’t have any cut information. If you send the file as is to your machine, nothing cuts. That’s because it contains nothing that would tell your machine where to cut. Keep reading for more details on that.
Cut files you purchase in the Silhouette Design Store, SVG or DXF files you purchase elsewhere and shapes or text you create in the Silhouette Studio software are vector images. They tell the machine where to cut. For more information on vector images, see this post.
But if you can’t cut it, why would you want to use a raster image in Silhouette Studio?
Here are some good reasons:
–You can create your own print and cut projects with any pattern fill you choose, giving you tremendous creative flexibility.
–Using fill patterns helps you visualize your project better. I sometimes use generic ones, but with the method I’m going to teach you here I can use the exact patterns that are on the material I’m cutting. That means you can also create realistic mock-ups for customers.
–If I’m working on a project that I’m going to cut from several different patterned materials, then I use pattern fills to help me remember which pieces to cut from which pattern.
–You can open a raster image in Silhouette Studio just to use it as reference for a project, pick up colors from it, etc.
–Because Silhouette is a graphics program, you can use it for more than just cutting shapes from materials. For example, you can put 3 of those raster apple images I mentioned earlier on your drawing area. When you send that file to your home printer from Silhouette Studio, it prints those 3 apples on a page. And there are some simple image editing options in the Image Effects panel. So if you like to design something you’re going to print, even if you’re not going to cut it, you can design it in Silhouette Studio and use any pattern fill you want. There are other programs that could work better, but hey, this one’s free. Plus, some folks just like to use software they are familiar with.
–Using the trace feature, you can create cut lines based on the raster image. We’re not going to discuss that in this series, but it’s another way we use raster images in Silhouette Studio.
The bottom line
Here’s the bottom line: you can use ANY raster image as a pattern fill for your shapes. That means any photograph, any scan of a piece of fabric you have, any printable pattern you get from another source. As long as it’s a raster file type, you can use it.
HINT: Pattern Fill is the 3rd tab in the Fill panel.
Advanced pattern fill options
Any time a shape is filled with raster information, you can customize it in the Pattern Fill panel. Click the arrow next to the words “Advanced Options” to expand the panel.
–adjust the transparency (that’s actually in the basic section)
–mirror the pattern
–rotate the pattern by 90° increments or a custom angle amount
–scale the pattern (make it larger or smaller within the shape)
–pan the pattern (move it around within the shape)
HINT: You can even adjust the coloring in the Image Effects panel.
Pattern Fill Aspect Ratio
There’s one specific advanced option in the Pattern Fill panel you’re going to need to know about for today’s lesson – the aspect ratio.
When you fill a shape with a pattern by selecting it in your Pattern Fill panel, the default option is the first one: “Maintain Aspect Ratio.” What that means is that if you adjust your shape disproportionately – change the width without changing the height and vice versa – the pattern maintains its proportions. In other words, if you start with a square, then stretch out the width so it’s instead a long rectangle, the pattern within the shape isn’t going to stretch. A circular flower won’t become an ovalish flower. The scale of the pattern adjusts to the new size of the shape — both the height and the width of each flower increases. Here’s an example:
The second option is called “Stretch Aspect Ratio.” When you choose that one, the pattern in your square WOULD stretch as you make it a long rectangle. The height of each flower remains the same while the width increases.
You may never have noticed this, because the Silhouette Studio program is built in such a way that it assumes you want to keep that pattern the same without distorting it. That’s why it defaults to the Maintain Aspect Ratio.
Since you’ll need to know how to change it for some of the techniques in this series, I suggest you play around with that bit. Draw a simple shape, fill it with a pattern from the panel, change either the width or height only on your shape, and watch what happens to the pattern. Now change the setting to Stretch Aspect Ratio and do it again. Once you understand it, set it back to Maintain Aspect Ratio so you don’t forget.
Now you’re all ready to learn 7 methods to use your own image as a pattern fill. I’ll talk you through each one and let you know if it works differently in Basic edition vs. higher editions. Then I’ll show you a short video of the method in action.
Method #1: Add the image to regular library folders with drag and drop
This method works in exactly the same way with any level of the software. What you are going to do is copy an image from a folder on your computer to your Silhouette Studio library.
–Save the image to a folder on your computer where you can find it.
–Go to the library in Silhouette Studio.
–Leave Silhouette Studio running and go into the File Explorer on your computer to find the image you saved. You will need to minimize (make smaller) this window in order to see it and Silhouette Studio at the same time.
–Drag the image from your computer folder into any regular folder in the Local User library or the library under your user name. If you do the latter, that saves it in your cloud library. This doesn’t affect your original raster image — it just puts a copy of it into your Silhouette library. You can do this in the folder structure at the left, or in the area on the right where you see the thumbnails of your designs. You can also do more than just 1 image at a time by holding the SHIFT key (for images that are beside each other in the folder) or CTRL key (for images that are not side by side) as you select your images.
–Give it a name if you wish. You can even give it keywords for library searches. For more on this and the library in general, see this post.
How to use the image as a pattern fill
You can now add the raster image to a single shape, multiple shapes, or open it on its own page.
–Select a shape (or not) on your Design area.
–Open the library.
–Double click on the pattern, the same way you would with any design. I have noticed an oddball thing that happens in a Beta version I’m testing. I have not noticed it
–This is going to do 1 or 2 things–
1. Open the raster image as a new file page. The pattern will just be a square or rectangular shape filled with that pattern. The aspect ratio will be on Stretch, so if you’re going to use that you can change to Maintain as needed. If you don’t have any shapes selected, this is all that happens. Keep reading about the other methods and the Misc. section if you don’t want this extra file to open. But there are times when it’s useful, such as when you want to pull colors from an image or have it as a reference. And in Method #7, I’ll show you a great trick using the Modify panel.
2. Fill any selected shapes with that raster image. When multiple shapes are selected, it will fill all the images at the same time. The aspect ratio on those will be on Maintain. The scale of the pattern may be different within the various shapes if they are ungrouped or are combined as a grouping only. For the scale to be the same in all pieces, they need to be a single compound path. For more information on that, see this post on the difference between a grouping and a compound path. And keep reading because Method #7 will give you some more info on this as well.
I have noticed an oddball thing that happens in a Beta version I’m testing. It’s not something I’ve noticed it before and it may not stay. But I’ll explain it anyway in case you come across it and wonder what happened. It’s also something to keep in mind as you practice the various methods.
I found that when I had shape(s) selected and just did a single click on the raster image in the Library, then went back to my Design page, the pattern had already filled the selected shapes. It didn’t make a difference if it was a left or right click. If the selected images were separate or grouped, the pattern was at that variable scale.
Here’s a video of how Method #1 works:
Use method #1 when…
…you want to keep the pattern handy in your library but not in your Pattern Fill panel. It can take a long time for this panel to open in your software, so keeping fewer patterns in here helps. Plus some folks just don’t like to see so many options to scroll through.
…you want to add several images at once into your library.
Since I’m including videos with these lessons, I’m going to do each method as a separate post. Here’s a preview of what we’ll do in each method:
#2: Add the image to regular library folders with file import
#3: Add the image to the Patterns folder in your library with drag and drop
#4: Add the image to the patterns folder in your library with file import
#5: Drag and drop directly into a shape from your computer
#6: Drag and drop directly onto the page from your computer
#7: Modify options
And I’ll conclude the series with a post about important information to keep in mind when using any of the methods.