Did you know you can significantly change the way a shape looks and cuts in Silhouette Studio by manipulating the points and lines that make it up? It’s called Point Editing. This post is the first in a series where I’ll teach you why you want to learn point editing and how to do it. In this lesson, I’ll give you an overview and teach you how to select a point. I’ll go over it in written detail, then I’ve got a video included to show you how it works.
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Tutorial level: Intermediate to Advanced
True confession time. When I got my first Silhouette machine, I was just like you – excited to get going right away with making beautiful things. I did what many folks do – I jumped off of the high dive into the deep end without actually knowing how to swim. So I floundered around. I did eventually make it through my first cut, but I didn’t take the time to try to learn all the features of the software. In other words, I didn’t learn how to swim correctly until much later. I don’t recommend doing it the hard way like that. I ended up frequently frustrated and wasted time and material.
Here’s 1 example. I didn’t realize the software had the offset feature to make a mat, or slightly larger shape behind my shape. This is what I wanted (my original in red, offset/mat in black):
I’d just make a larger copy and try to line them up. If you’ve ever tried that, you know it doesn’t work. This is what happens (red original, black is an enlarged copy of it):
Since I didn’t know I could just create an offset with one mouse click, I did it all by point editing. It took me FOREVER because I was doing a large project with multiple matting parts.
The silver lining
I know, cue the sad violins. The good news is, I learned all about point editing. Even better, this happened while I was working on a project for my son so I made him help me. I taught him the software and how to edit the points to create those offsets. Imagine that – I spent hours with my teenage son working in Silhouette Studio. He now uses my old machine and sells products he makes with it. #proudmom (Of course, when I told him about the Offset button he just rolled his eyes at me).
Since I spent so much time point editing, I’m quite experienced in it and can teach you all you need to know.
What is Point Editing & why do I want to use it?
The designs you create in Silhouette Studio, cut files you purchase in the Design Store or elsewhere, and fonts are made up of vectors. Vectors are straight lines and curves connected to one another at points. Unlike raster images such as clip art or photographs, when you shrink or enlarge a vector image you don’t lose clarity (resolution). If you want to learn more about the difference between raster and vector images, see this post.
Silhouette Studio reads vectors as cut commands – “Start here. Draw a curve to this point. Go in a new direction. Draw a straight line to this point,” etc. Using point editing, you can move, add, remove or adjust these points to–
- Alter the look of a design you draw yourself or purchase.
- Smooth out the lines of a trace or design.
- Connect broken lines in a trace or design.
- Combine parts of different designs into a single one.
- Decrease cutting time (images with lots of unnecessary points take longer to process).
What you do in Point Editing can sometimes be done with other tools but not always. Point Editing definitely gives you more precise control.
Grouping vs. Compound Path
The first thing you need to have is a good understanding of Compound Paths and Grouping. There are 3 really key reasons–
- If your images are grouped, you must ungroup them before you can edit the points.
- Separate images must be in the same compound path to join them with point editing.
- To edit points on text you type in the software, you’ll have to ungroup the letters. You want to understand the implications of that before you do it.
If you don’t have a solid grasp on the difference, see this post. I promise it will help you understand and remember it. Anyone who has followed my teaching for any length of time knows I say this over and over again, because understanding it really is a key to working successfully in Silhouette Studio.
How to begin Point Editing
To enter Point Editing Mode…
…select the shape you want to edit and do one of the following–
- Click the icon in the upper left, just under the Selection Arrow Icon.
- Double click quickly on the design.
- Right click and select “Edit Points.”
- Use the keyboard shortcut “a.”
Your shape then has a number of black dots along the cut lines. Those are your points/dots/nodes.
I’ll bet you’ve done that accidentally before and become very confused about what was happening. It’s okay – we all do in the beginning.
To exit Point Editing Mode…
…do one of the following–
- Click outside the design, on a different shape or on another icon.
- Right click and select “Exit Point Edit Mode.”
- Click the ESC key on your computer keyboard.
- Use the keyboard shortcut “v.”
When you’re in Point Editing Mode…
…the Point Editing panel opens at the right side with all your options.
You’ll see all the same options in the Quick Access Toolbar.
Or you can access them with a right click menu.
In this last one you’ll see a couple of extras–
- At the top you can Undo an edit you just performed (go back) or Redo an edit (Undo the Undo — so go forward again).
- At the bottom you can select Exit Point Edit Mode.
Those options aren’t in the other 2 spots (panel and QAT), but you can use the other icon bars or keyboard shortcuts to do the same things.
Use whichever one you are most comfortable with. They have the same altering options in the same order so it doesn’t matter.
Simplify and Convert to Path
Until you select a point, all the options are grayed out except for “Simplify” and “Convert to Path.”
You can click Simplify one or more times to remove excess points. This affects some shapes more than others. This is especially helpful in reducing points in a Trace and Detach image or for smoothing out curves. Just watch out for how it may affect your shape in general and curves in particular — sometimes it does too much. In other words, sometimes it removes too many points so that your image gets misshapen.
Convert to Path
Some shapes you create in Silhouette Studio have special properties.
- Rounded rectangles have red control points that you can use to adjust the amount of curve at the corners.
- Regular polygons give you the option to change the number of sides.
- Arcs have red control points to alter the number of degrees in the arc.
- Text is special because you can alter the font or the letters.
Notice here that even though I’ve got shapes selected and am in Point Editing mode, I don’t see any points.
That’s because they are all those types with special properties that could be altered. I need to remove those special features in order to be able to point edit.
When you select a shape or word and click Convert To Path, those special shapes are changed to a normal path shape. That means they are regular shapes with points you can edit. That also means the reverse. They no longer have those special properties that you can change–
- You won’t have the red control points to alter all the curves simultaneously on a rounded rectangle.
- You can no longer change the number of sides on the polygon.
- Arcs no longer have the red control points to alter the number of degrees.
- Text is now an image, so you can’t change or identify the font or change the wording.
Because of that, I recommend you always make a copy of the shape or text before you use Convert to Path. That way you’ll always have an original to go back to if you need it.
A special note about text
When you type something in Silhouette Studio it’s a grouping, even if it’s just a 1 letter. As I said at the beginning, you can’t do point editing on a group of shapes. Even though they are temporarily tied together, pieces within a grouping are still separate shapes (individual paths). You can’t edit points on a grouping because the software doesn’t know which piece of the group you want to edit.
We’ll talk in more detail about text in a future lesson in this series, but I actually prefer to just ungroup on text. If you use Convert to Path, you’ll still have to ungroup the letters after that. If you ungroup in the first place, it’s 1 step instead of 2.
When your cursor gets over a point, it looks like this:
Make sure it does, because the cursor to add a point looks very similar. You want to make sure you see that black square on the line of the cursor because we want to select a point right now, not add a new one. To select a point, hover your mouse over one of the black dots and click. You need to get right on the point — not just close. Here I’ve selected a single point:
If you hold the SHIFT key as you click on points individually, you can select more than one point at a time. You can also select multiple points by holding down the SHIFT key and dragging a selection rectangle around the points. The latter only works with consecutive points. If you’ve selected a group of points by dragging a selection rectangle and then try to add one from a different area of the design, the selection becomes only that extra one. This happens even if you’re holding the SHIFT key down.
Selecting multiple points at the same time means you can alter them together (for example, I’ll show you in the next lesson how to move them all at once). Here I’ve selected several points:
When you have at least 1 point selected, you’ll see that the options are now active (no longer grayed out).
Once the Point is Selected
After you’ve selected a point, examine it. You’ll see some things:
- The point’s square is now white instead of black. You’ll see that on the points I’ve labeled 1, 2 and 3.
- A red line indicates which line segment is selected with that point. That won’t make much sense right now, but it will make a big difference when we begin altering the points.
- 0, 1 or 2 blue boxes are connected to the point with lines of varying lengths. These are called Bezier Control Handles and that’s what we use to adjust the curves.
–0 control handles means that point connects 2 flat line segments. That indicates there are no curves to adjust. Point #1 above is this type.
–1 blue control handle means that point connects a curved segment with a flat segment. That blue handle will help us adjust the amount of curve on that single curved segment. An example of this is point #2.
–2 blue control handles means that you have curved line segments on both sides of that. We can adjust the curves on both sides of the that point, either concurrently or individually, depending on the type of point that one is. We can see this in point #3.
- The Point Editing panel, Quick Access Toolbar and right click menu tell you what type of point it is.
Types of Points
There are 2 types of points.
A corner is one that connects 2 line segments that are going in different directions (or trajectories). In our example above, points #1 and #2 are both corners. They look different because #1 is connecting 2 flat segments, while #2 connects 1 curve with 1 flat. But in each case, the segments go in different directions on either side of the point.
We’ll talk about this more in a later lesson, but when a point is a corner connecting 2 curved segments, you can adjust the curves independently. In other words, you can adjust the curve on one and the other stays in place.
I mistakenly thought when I was first practicing Point Editing that clicking this meant the software was going to smooth out my shape for me. That’s not the case. It just indicates the second type of point. A smooth point connects 2 line segments that don’t change general direction.
If a smooth point is connecting 2 curved line segments, when you move one the other moves in tandem with it. I’ll show you this all in more detail later.
Point #4 here is a node along a continuous curve. That makes it a smooth point. But not all smooth points are along a curve. My point #5 is a also smooth point because the line segment that comes into it and the one that goes out of it are both going along the same trajectory.
With either a corner point or a smooth point, the segments coming off of it can both be flat, both curved, or 1 flat and 1 curved. A smooth point with 1 flat and 1 curve is rare, but I’ll explain in Lesson 4 when and why this happens.
It always helps to see something in action. Here’s a video that covers what we’ve learned in this lesson.
Okay, that’s enough taxing your brain for today. Now that we’ve learned a little about points in general and how to select them, we’re ready to start learning what we can do with them. That’s our next lesson.