The Silhouette PixScan mat is a great tool to help you with some atypical projects. However, there are some common misunderstandings about using this feature, so here are some things you need to know right off the bat.
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I receive a small commission. You pay the same price. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials.
You do NOT need a PixScan mat to make your own designs from raster images
This is a very common misunderstanding. Turning a hand drawn design or a printed photograph into a cut file only requires it, opening it in Silhouette Studio and tracing it. Digital photographs or images also only need tracing to create cut lines. If you want to cut out the ACTUAL drawing from the paper it is drawn on or cut the ACTUAL photograph or printed page, then that’s where the PixScan comes in handy. To learn more about tracing, see my series starting here.
You can use a smart phone camera or regular camera to take a digital photo, or you can use a flatbed scanner
The smart phone camera is easiest; the scanner has the least chance of having an issue with calibration. You aren’t going to print the photo out.
You may not have to calibrate
Contrary to some of the instructions you may find, you don’t necessarily need to calibrate before using your PixScan mat. You only need to do that if the software tells you it doesn’t recognize the camera you are using. Many smart phone cameras are already loaded into the background of the program. If you use a scanner, then you don’t need to calibrate.
The mats are machine-specific
For example, if you have a Cameo, then you must use the Cameo PixScan mat. The mats are available for the Cameo, Portrait and Curio machines and are not interchangeable. There are not PixScan mats for the SD, the Original QuicKutz or Mint machines.
You will not find the PixScan mat in the list of mats in the Design Page Settings window.
If you open a PixScan image, then the software knows you are using the PixScan mat.
Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about what you can do with the PixScan feature.
Cut materials that have already been printed
–Let’s say you have patterned paper or a piece of fabric and want to cut an element from it (fussy-cutting). The PixScan mat helps because you know exactly where that element is on the page. You can then create cut lines around it using tracing or the drawing tools. If you put them on a regular mat, then your cut might not be in exactly the right place.
–Photos that have already been printed can be cut into shapes or have elements within them cut out.
–If you want to print something professionally at a print shop and then cut it into a shape or cut a fancy edge on it, the PixScan mat helps you to get the cut in exactly the right place. This is helpful for things like wedding invitations. You could do a Print and Cut at home, but most print shops wouldn’t have a .studio3 file as a type they can accept to print since they don’t have the software (although you can save it as a PDF and that will typically work).
–A child’s drawings, your own hand drawn designs, a birthday card you received that you like – all of these can be cut into shapes with the PixScan. You can cut a frame around the image, or trace to cut the exact shape.
–If you’re a stamper, then you can use the PixScan to cut precisely around an image you’ve already stamped.
Use the entire page for Print and Cut type projects
When you do a Print and Cut within Silhouette Studio, you add registration marks to the page before adding your designs. Because the machine needs a clear area around each mark, the margins of your page are pulled in. That means you have a smaller amount of usable space in which to cut. If, say, you were doing wedding invitations, you would likely want them at a standard size such as 5 ½ x 4 ¼” so this wouldn’t work. If you use a PixScan mat, the registration marks are on the actual mat and so do not need to be printed on the page, giving you the ability to use the entire page for your printing and cutting. Even if you don’t need a specific size, if you are using a more expensive material then you minimize waste.
Do Print and Cut type projects on tricky material
Dark, colored, glossy or patterned paper would typically cause an issue with the machine being able to read the registration marks on a Print and Cut. Since the marks are on the mat and not the material, there is no problem with the reading of the marks.
Place designs precisely on odd-shaped pieces of material
Figuring out right where to place designs to cut on scraps of material can be tricky. If it’s an expensive material, then you want to get it right and use every possible piece. By using the PixScan mat, you know the exact size and shape of the scrap so that you can place your designs accordingly. You can use tracing or the drawing tools to make the shape of the scrap and then use the Nesting feature (Designer Edition and above) to place your designs within the shape most effectively.
Retain the exact sizing of objects to create cut files from them
If you have a hand drawn or printed pattern for something like applique quilting or sewing, then you don’t have to use the PixScan mat to digitize the pattern. You could scan it and then import and trace, or even snap a photo of it and use that to trace. The advantage of using it is that when you open the PixScan image, you know the size is exactly the same as the original. For pattern pieces, that’s important. With a regular scan or photo, it might be different depending on the settings you have with your scanner or camera.
You can also use it to ensure you have the exact size and placement of something like a chipboard piece with a hole in it and curved corners, a metal tag you are going to etch on, etc. In cases like this, I don’t even cut on the PixScan mat. I just use it as a tool to make sure I have the proper dimensions in the software. For a project using this technique, click here.
Super excited? I was when the PixScan first came out too, and I continue to find uses for it all the time. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how to use it.
Step 1: Put the material on the PixScan mat
You just need to make sure it is within the black outline.
Step 2: Use your smart phone, digital camera or scanner to capture the image
Smart Phone or Other Digital Camera
Many smart phones have their information already built in to the background of the software. Because of this, snapping a pic with your phone is a pretty easy way to get your image. If you don’t have a smart phone, then you can use a digital camera — you just may need to calibrate. The success of your PixScan project is heavily based on how good of a photo you take, so here are some tips:
Place your mat on a flat, horizontal surface such as a table or the floor to take your photo
Have the camera looking directly down on the mat, parallel to flat surface. If the camera is tilted, then the mat in the photo won’t be square and this can cause a distortion in cutting.
Get all of the mat in the photo with as little as possible of the background table or other surface
The mat is not the same proportions as a standard photo, so you will have more background on the sides than you do on the top and bottom. That’s normal.
Don’t crop your photo or use the Square setting on your camera
The software is expecting the photo to have a certain proportion based on the camera it recognizes that you are using (or based on the calibration you perform). Cropping can alter that and cause problems with the software being able to recognize the image.
Focus and clarity
The most important thing to have in focus is the registration marks — the square and brackets at the corners of the sticky area.
Lighting is key
You want consistent light throughout the photo, without shadows on any areas.
Take 4-5 photos just in case.
Transfer the images to your computer
You can do this with a USB cable, with an SD card if your camera and computer have that, or by emailing the photos to yourself. If you do email them, then be sure to keep them as the original size, then open the email and save the photos somewhere on your computer where you can easily find them (I have a folder specifically for my PixScan images).
SUPER SUPER IMPORTANT!!!!! Once you have taken your photos DO NOT REMOVE THE MATERIAL FROM THE MAT!
If you don’t have a smart phone or camera, or are asked to calibrate and have a problem with that, or just prefer to not mess with trying to get good photos, then you can use a flatbed scanner. Since scanners use a different technology than cameras and lens curvature is not an issue, you won’t run into a need to calibrate. You will be able to do this right in the software if your scanner has TWAIN support (if you aren’t sure, just try it and see). Info on this is in the next section entitled “Open your image.”
The entire mat probably won’t fit on the scanner bed, so you will likely need to do 2 scans. Place the left or right side of the mat on the scanner bed and do a regular scan. Save the image a jpg or other type of raster image. The software will be able to stitch the 2 together for you as you open them. Repeat for the other side of the mat.
SUPER SUPER IMPORTANT!!!!! Once you have done your scans DO NOT REMOVE THE MATERIAL FROM THE MAT!
Step 3: Open your image
If the PixScan window is not already open, then click on the PixScan icon in the upper left, or select File>Open PixScan image from the drop down menu in the upper left. This will open the PixScan window on the right side of the screen.
To open a photo
Select “Import from File” and then “Import PixScan Image from File.” This will open a dialog box in the upper left. You will need to navigate to the folder where you saved the image, select it and click Open. As the image is opening, you should see the words “Loading Image” on the blue scrolling bar, along with a note about which camera the software is detecting that you used for this particular photo. If you get any error messages, see the Troubleshooting section below.
To open scanned images
Select “Import from File” and then “Import PixScan Image from File.” This will open a dialog box in the upper left. You will need to navigate to the folder where you saved the images, select one (the scan for either the left or right side of the mat) and click Open. Once that image is open, repeat the process but select the other image. The software will stitch the 2 images together. If you get any error messages, see the Troubleshooting section below.
To scan from within Silhouette Studio
Choose “Import from Scanner.” The software will then show you a list of scanners that are either currently or previously hooked up to your computer. Select the one you are using, place as much of the mat as will fit on the scanner bed and then select “Import PixScan Image from Scanner.” Repeat for the other side of the mat. The software will automatically stitch the 2 images together. SUPER SUPER IMPORTANT!!!!! Once you have done your scans DO NOT REMOVE THE MATERIAL FROM THE MAT! If you get any error messages, see the Troubleshooting section below.
Step 4: Create cut lines
You will now be viewing your photograph or scan. You can trace or use the drawing tools to create the cut lines, or even use cut files from your library. Let me remind you again – do NOT remove the material from the mat, or you gotta go back to square 1.
Cut your project as you would do on a normal mat. If you are just using the mat for figuring out the size of a pre-cut piece and aren’t going to actually cut on that piece, I still suggest leaving the file open just in case. You can copy any shapes you create onto a new page that has a regular mat selected.
If you use a camera that isn’t preloaded, the software may ask you to perform a calibration. Because each camera lens can have different amounts of curvature or small imperfections, the software needs to know how much so it can adjust for that as needed. If the software doesn’t tell you it’s needed, you don’t need to bother. To calibrate, do the following—
Open the calibration area
If the calibration area is not already showing, click the arrow next to “Import from File.” You will then see the words “Camera Calibration” and can click on the arrow to open the calibration screen.
Click on “Show Calibration Test Card”
This will open a new drawing area/tab with the title “PixScan Calibration” and show a page with rows of black dots.
Print and place the test page
Go to the File drop down menu in the upper left and select Print to print the dot page on plain white paper. If you can print on cardstock, that will help as the page won’t curl at all. You’ll want to make sure your printer’s set up matches what you are seeing in the software. For more info on printer set up, click here.
Place the dot page on a flat surface. Here’s where many people make a mistake! You don’t place the page on the PixScan mat – just on a table or on the floor. A non-patterned surface is best. You can even tape it to the wall with a bit of tape on the back.
Take a photo of the dot page.
In this photo, you want:
–NONE of the background table or floor showing. All you want to see are the dots.
–Complete rows of dots. If you get only part of a row, that means the camera is crooked. It doesn’t matter if you cut off a whole row of dots. It just matters if you only get the left side of the row and not the right side.
–No zoom used.
–The camera held parallel with the page (this is where taping the page to the wall can help).
–Dots in focus clearly.
Transfer the photo to your printer
Once you have a good photo, transfer it to your computer.
Add the camera profile
If it’s not still open, click again on the PixScan icon and get to the calibration area.
Click on the + sign to add a profile for this camera. This will open a dialog box in the upper left showing the folders on your computer. Navigate to where you have saved the photo and click Open. The software will then try to process the photo. Once it has been successfully loaded, you can name it and the profile for that camera is now saved.
Trouble opening a saved photo
If the software is unable to open your saved photo, then go back over the tips above for taking good photos, try a different camera, or try a scanner.
Mark reading failure
If the machine is unable to read the marks on the mat, check the following–
–Is this the correct mat for your machine?
–Is the material obstructing any of the marks on the mat?
–Are any of the marks worn or blurred?
–Did you use the correct loading method (Load Mat)?
–When loading, is the left edge of the mat lined up with the correct guideline on the platform of the machine? Try also moving the mat slightly left or right, ensuring that the edges of the mat are still securely gripped by the rollers.
–Is there a stray piece of vinyl or other material obstructing the optical eye on the machine (located on the underside of the blade carriage)?
Cut happens in the wrong place
If your PixScan images open correctly but then cut in the wrong place, something went amiss in the set up. One reason could be if you are trying to use a Portrait PixScan mat on a Cameo machine. Another is that you might have the wrong camera profile selected. Using the steps above, navigate to the calibration area to with the different camera profiles. Make sure that either “Auto” is selected, or the correct profile you created is selected.
I’d love to hear your comments on what projects you have made with your PixScan mat!
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