I’m always surprised by the number of folks who have never heard of a Print and Cut. Put simply, a print and cut design is one that you print on your home printer (or send to a print shop) and then cut out with your Silhouette.
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I’m going to walk you through 3 print and cut projects here in our First Steps series:
- A simple, pre-made shape to cut from cardstock
- Temporary tattoos made from your own designs
- Planner stickers cut without the mat
I’ll give you lots of troubleshooting steps for print and cut projects, including some checklists. Once you’ve mastered these First Steps projects, you can move on to my series about more difficult print and cut projects.
Plain white cardstock
Why Print and Cut?
I’m frequently asked why you’d want to do a print and cut or what printable patterns in the Silhouette Design Store are for. After all, can’t you just cut from patterned material? Typically, yes. But there are time you want to print something yourself:
- You’re in a hurry and don’t want to pull out all your patterned papers.
- You accidentally bought a print and cut design from the Silhouette Design Store and really want to use it because you love it.
- There are some lovely printable patterns you see in the Silhouette Design Store that coordinate with one another and you want to use them together in a project.
- You download something like a sewing pattern and want to cut it out with your machine while retaining the written instructions on the pieces (FYI — you’d need to add cut lines).
- You want to use shadings in your colors.
- There’s a design that’s too intricate to cut on your chosen material.
- Your design needs to be really flat, like a card you mail.
- You’re using specialty materials you can print on such as sticker sheets, tattoo paper, shrink plastic, HTV or vinyl (remember, just special kinds), sublimation material, window cling, magnet paper, image transfer paper, duct tape sheets, fabric, and way too many more to name. (You can find many of these specialty materials from Silhouette here).
- And many more reasons you’ll come up with once you figure out how it all works.
How does Print and Cut work?
You design a print and cut project in Silhouette Studio using printable raster information (clip art, photos, color or pattern fills) and vector information (cut lines), add special marks to the page, then send the file to print. You put the printed page on your cutting mat and send the job to the machine. Your Silhouette reads the marks and based on their location knows where your images are. You have a shape that is printed and then cut around the outside.
I can tell you from my time working in Customer Support for Silhouette America that this is one of the top 3 issues people called about (the others are cut settings and tracing). And 95% of the time, the issue is user error. People don’t always understand all the variables and so don’t set up their print and cut projects correctly.
Have you ever seen the movie Apollo 13? That’s the one where the spaceship malfunctioned and everyone is trying to figure out how to get the astronauts home with very little power. The engineers are working on a plan, but it requires multiple steps to be done in a specific order. If they miss or mess up on one step, the astronauts won’t make it home safely. (If you haven’t seen the movie, then I highly recommend it. There’s one part that ALWAYS makes me cry, even in just thinking about it).
This is what print and cut reminds me of. There are a specific set of steps, and if one is wrong it messes up the entire project. In this series, I’m going to take you through all the steps. And at the end, I’ll give you a set of troubleshooting steps — questions to ask yourself to try to solve any issues that arise.
Getting Started with Print and Cut
I once spoke with a woman who was having trouble with her print and cut that she was designing herself from scratch. As I asked questions, I found out that not only had she never done a print and cut project, she’d never done ANY project with her machine. She had just bought her first computer ever and had just loaded the Silhouette Studio software. Going back to Apollo 13, that reminds me of this quote by Jim Lovell (portrayed by Tom Hanks) as another of the guys questions something in the rescue plan.
Now listen. There’s 1000 things that have to happen in order. We are on number 8. You’re talking about number 692.
This woman had jumped to step 692 on her first day with the machine. In other words, she needed to go back to square 1 (in fact, I’ll give you a tip later that is literally square 1). You don’t do a print and cut as your very first project with the machine, and you don’t design your own pieces without having practiced on some by professional designers. We start with baby steps.
First, we’ll set up the page, so open the Page Setup panel. We’ll go over each tab individually.
Tab 1 — Page Setup
Design Area Setup
- Choose your machine. Some earlier models have different types of marks, so it is important to choose the correct machine here. If you don’t, then the machine will get confused and either not read the marks or cut in the wrong place.
- Select the appropriate cutting mat for your machine. Print and cut is best done with a mat (but I’ll show you some tricks later in the series on cutting one without the mat). I also highly recommend using a Silhouette brand mat and not one by a different company. The latter usually has slightly different margins and that can cause a registration mark reading failure.
- It’s important to set the correct media size as well. If you forget to, the marks won’t print correctly, and then the machine either can’t read them or reads them incorrectly. We’re going to start with a plain ol’ 8 1/2″ x 11″ letter size. I recommend you choose Letter here (or an A size if you aren’t in the US) rather than typing in your size or choosing Auto, Custom or Printer.
For the Orientation, leave it in Portrait mode. That doesn’t mean it’s for the Portrait machine. Orientation is for if your page has the widest side at the top (like a painting of a landscrape) or along the sides (like a portrait of a person). Some people find that they have better luck with landscape orientation, but we aren’t going to start there. I’ll remind you in the troubleshooting to try that as needed.
Don’t rotate your page. It throws everything off because the entire page rotates. Your X axis goes to the side and your Y axis to the top.
Print and Cut Borders
Uncheck the Show Print Border. Even though you can technically print close to the edge of the page, you can’t cut there on a print and cut. It’s best to have it off so you don’t see it and confuse it for something else. You do definitely want the Show Cut Border checked.
That’s all I want you to do in that first tab. Leave everything else as is.
Tab 2 — Grid Settings
I recommend that you turn your grid lines off for now by unchecking the box beside Show Grid. They can confuse you because you won’t be able to see some of the things I’m describing.
Tab 3 — Registration Marks
This is where we set up those special marks I mentioned. They are called Registration Marks. Again, let’s go over each section in this tab.
Check the circle by On to put the Registration Marks on the page. You can also turn them on in the View drop down menu or with the keyboard shortcut m, but I’ll tell you in a bit why I don’t recommend either of those right now. When you turn them on, you’ll see several changes in your Design area:
- A square and 2 brackets (or 3 brackets with really old machines) in 3 of the corners. These are the registration marks and will print on the page along with your design.
- A gray hash-marked area along the top and at the lower left corner. This is the no-print zone. No printed or cut portion of your designs can be in this area. That leaves space around the registration marks so the machine can find them. Putting shapes in this area is the #1 reason the machine appears to read the marks correctly but cuts in the wrong place. That’s because the machine mistakes the printing for the marks. Think of this like a chain link fence saying “Keep Out!.” It’s usually okay to have designs in the indented area at the top. Be extra careful of designs with a white background. It may actually have a bit of gray or other very light color in it, and that messes up the mark reading. These hash marks do not print.
- Your red cut border moved in. Because you can’t print in the margins, you can’t cut there. (But see this post for tips about how to use up margin scraps of materials like white tattoo paper or shrink plastic).
This is a key area. Changes made here are one of the top reasons print and cut projects fail. If the marks are too small or thin, then the machine has trouble reading them correctly or finding them at all. Sometimes even a tiny adjustment can cause problems. A software update a few years back had the size wrong by just 4/100″ and most machines couldn’t read the marks. Just leave this alone for now.
Here you can adjust how far the marks are from the edge of the page. This is another HUGE reason print and cut projects fail. People pull the marks out really far and then wonder why the machine can’t find them. Again, I recommend that you leave these alone, particularly for your first project. Once you’ve gotten the hang of print and cut projects, you can experiment with moving them out and/or making them smaller.
Go ahead and click on Advanced Options. If you change the inset amount in the prior section, it changes all of them. Here, you can change them independently. This is something you might use if, say, you are only cutting a couple of small images and don’t want the lower left mark to print at the bottom the page. That, however, is not something I recommend for beginners. I just wanted to show you that it’s here.
This is an important box in this panel. If you’ve been playing around with the size or position of your marks, you can click this to take them back to the software’s recommended settings. I’m going to recommend you ALWAYS do this — on every single print and cut project.
Let’s say you change the marks and test a print and cut. And let’s say it worked that time. The next time you turn the marks on, they will be at this altered size and position. They may not work that time. That’s the reason I don’t recommend using the drop down menu or keyboard shortcut initially to turn on your marks. If you forget to check this, there’s a bigger possibility of print and cut failure.
Sometimes a software update messes with this and when you turn the marks on they aren’t the right size and position. So, get into the habit of always starting by resetting the marks to their defaults.
This flips the page and mat around 180°. Notice I said, “…and MAT.” The loading arrow for the mat is now on the bottom of the page, indicating that that is the side that goes into the machine first.
Let’s say you flip this around because those marks at the top of the page are distracting you. Then, you print your project. When you load it on your mat, you are most likely to put the page so that your design is right side up like you see on the screen. But then the marks are in the wrong place. The machine is always going to look for that square in the upper left corner. If it can’t find it, then you get the dreaded Registration Failed message.
For that reason, I recommend you not flip the page orientation.
Adding images to the page
We’ll start with just one easy shape. Some machines have print and cut designs in the set of free shapes included with the machine. Those are good ones to start with. If you don’t have one of those, look for something simple in the Silhouette Design Store. Print and Cut images have a P inside what looks like a box but is really a representation of registration marks. They have Print and Cut as the design type on the info page.
By simple, I mean one without intricate cutting lines. You can find a free one here. Here are some samples of other simple print and cut designs:
Notice that the printed portion isn’t necessarily simple. It’s that the cut lines aren’t intricate. I’m using this coffee cup. It’s a great one to start with because the cut line is pretty far out, leaving a white border. If the cut line is really close to the image, if the cut is the slightest bit off you’ll see it. (I’ll show you in a later lesson how to create a print bleed for that).
Put the shape on your page as you would with any image. Just be sure to stay–
- off the marks
- inside the cut border.
- out of the gray hash-marked area.
- I also recommend you not have any images off the page/mat area on your screen. Every once in awhile those cause problems, so it’s best to be careful here in the beginning.
I suggest putting it right in the middle of the page. Normally, I would recommend you make the maximum use of your page by filling it up. But in this case, we want to go VERY SIMPLE — 1 shape in the center of the page. That’s why we’ll use an inexpensive sheet of cardstock.
Sending the Project to Print
Once your design is created, you next print the page. I’m going to recommend for this first project that you print it at home, so you can control all the variables. I’ll give you tips in a later lesson about how to print it somewhere else.
Your printer set up has to match your project design. There are default settings on any home printer, so you need to check those. I have a Windows computer, so some of this may look different on a Mac.
- In the File drop down menu, select Print Page Setup.
- That opens a new menu. Check to make sure that–
- your paper size matches the material you are using.
- your paper’s in the correct paper tray.
- the correct portrait or landscape orientation is selected. It’s this last one you’ll need to watch for especially.
- Go to File>Print.
- That opens the dialog box for your printer. Check for these things–
- The printer you’re using is selected.
- The preferences. Clicking on Preferences will open another dialog box that may look different for each type of printer, so you may have to hunt for what you need.
- In the Layout tab, make sure it’s Portrait orientation.
- On mine, I tell the printer what type of paper I’m using.
- In the Print Quality, use something other than Draft. With that, the marks may not print solidly enough to be read by the machine.
- Make sure you’re printing in color if that’s how your design is.
- Look for the Advanced section. Again, this may look different. This is where I double check the paper size.
- Look for the option Print Borderless or Optimize (typically only on photo printers). You don’t want that on, as it can change the margins and/or stretch out the design. And since you can’t print to the edge of the page, there’s no reason to try to do that.
If you have trouble with this, then check your printer’s owner’s manual or contact the manufacturer. You may need to adjust the printer setup outside of the software.
Material to use
For your first project, you want to use plain white cardstock. Nothing too thick, nothing textured, nothing with a color or pattern, nothing glossy. I will give you some hints in the more advanced Print and Cut project tutorials for using some of these materials.
Loading the material in the printer
When loading the material into the paper tray on your printer, make sure that any moveable paper guides are snug against the sides of the material. If they are not, then the material may be pulled in at an angle, which causes the marks to print slightly angled and then the cuts may be off.
It’s best to send only one to print at a time. If you print multiples at once, the first one will typically work well but subsequent pages can be pulled in differently by the printer and cause the printing and/or cutting to be in the wrong spot.
Check the printout
Once you have printed the page, compare it to the design in the software to ensure that all the marks printed fully.
If any part of a mark is missing, or if the marks are not dark enough, then the machine will not be able to find them. Go back over all the steps listed above and see if you can locate the error (such as page orientation or paper size).
A good trick is to keep a page with the marks printed on it that you know worked precisely. Use a sketch pen to draw around the shapes so that nothing cuts. If the sketch lines are right around the shape, then you’re good to go. Use multple shapes scattered around the page (but not in the aforementioned areas to stay out of). You can line up both pieces and hold them up to the light to make sure the marks printed in the same spot on each page. Look particularly at the lower left mark.
Once you have printed the page, don’t make any changes to your design in the software unless you reprint the page. If you move something, the machine is going to cut at its first location.
Loading the machine
For best success, do the following—
Know Your Material Settings
Since all machines, pieces of material, mats, blades, designs, cutting strips and even local weather are different, you will want to make sure you know what cut settings will work for your material BEFORE you send your print and cut project to the machine.
You can test by placing small, unfilled shapes (so no printing) like a square or circle in the lower or right margins. Keep it outside of the red cut border, outside of the hash marks and not in upper or left where it could interfere with the reading of the marks. Turn off the registration marks temporarily while you test the cut settings. Just make sure to turn them back on before you are ready to cut around the printed design.
Use a Silhouette Brand Mat
As previously stated, mats from different companies have different margins and different thicknesses. That can cause a problem in finding the marks or cutting in the correct spot.
Cover the black border on the mat
There’s a thin black line around the sticky area on the mat. I’ve seen reports of machines mistaking those for the registration marks. Since they are very thin, the machine has trouble reading them. So, when you put your printed cardstock on the mat, make sure your material is placed so that it just covers that outer border.
I’ve even experimented with loading a blank mat into the machine. The machine thought it found the marks because it caught the lines on the mat, and began cutting. (Don’t worry — I unloaded my blade first so no damage).
Check Mat Placement
Make sure you are using the correct line on the platform of your machine as the guide for the left edge of your mat.
- Cameo — there are arrows pointing to it. On the Cameo 1, they are gray like the platform. Later Cameo models have them colored so it’s easier to see.
- Portrait — there are 3 short lines and you use the one farthest to the left.
- SD — has 2 short lines and it’s the left one.
- Original QuicKutz — the short line on the left.
Use the correct loading method
This is another top reason that Silhouette machines fail to detect registration marks.
- You can ignore this if you have a Cameo 3 or 4 or Portrait 2. The Silhouette Studio software tells the machine what you have on your Page Setup and pulls the mat in the correct amount.
- Earlier machines have different options for Load Cut/Cutting Mat and Load Media. You want the former, as the latter won’t pull it in as far and the machine won’t find the marks.
- Check the screen on a Cameo 1 or 2 or SD. If it’s a Cameo 1 or SD, use the arrow keys to get the black dot next to the correct option. The Cameo 1 has 4 arrow buttons. On the SD, hold the SHIFT key on the machine and use the up/down arrow keys to get the correct option showing. The Cameo 2 has different menu options for the loading method.
- For the Portrait 1, it’s the button with the grid.
- On QuicKutz machines, you manually load, so the top edge of the material, with or without mat, is always to be at the same spot.
Check the lighting
Although this is quite often pointed to as the cause of registration mark reading failure, it’s actually not as common a culprit as many believe. That’s why it’s last on my list of things to check.
Good light is recommended, but it doesn’t have to be super strong. Bright, direct sunlight can actually interfere with the reading of the marks. If you are working with something shiny (which you shouldn’t be right now), indirect light tends to work better. Rather than a light shining from overhead that may be creating a glare, indirect light from a sunny window works better. Leaving the lid of the machine up is a common way to cut, but if your machine is in very strong direct sunlight closing the lid may be better for a print and cut.
Sending to Cut
Once you’ve checked over everything, go to the Send area. Double check your cut preview so that the only thing that shows as cutting is a cut line around your shape.
Then hit Send as you would for any other cut job. The machine will move the motor box until it is directly over where the first mark (the black square) should be. There’s an optical eye on the bottom of the blade carriage and that searches for the mark by moving back and forth. You’ll see a red, laser-like light.
If it successfully finds that mark, it moves to the one at the lower left, then the upper right. As long as it finds them all, the machine begins cutting around your images as in any cut job. Once it’s done, unload and you’re done.
Here’s a video showing the process.
Registration mark reading failure
If your machine can’t successfully locate all 3 marks, it puts the mat back to the load-in position and you get the message Registration Failed. It’s both in the Send area and on the machine screen.
In the Send area notice it gives me the option to retry manually or retry automatically (it tries again in the same way). Sometimes there’s just a small glitch, so I recommend trying again automatically first.
If that doesn’t work, then you next want to try manually. You help the machine by telling it where the first mark is.
- Use the arrows in the Send area to move the blade over the square mark. On an Original QuicKutz or SD machine, position the blade carriage over the upper left mark when in portrait orientation, or upper right mark when in landscape orientation.
- Once positioned, click Register.
It’s hard to visualize that, so here’s a video–
If it still can’t find the marks, then something is wrong.
When the machine can’t find the marks
If your machine can’t find all the marks, something is wrong. Ask yourself some questions to try to figure out why.
- Are you using the most recent update of the software? You can check by going to the Help drop down menu on a Windows computer or the Silhouette Studio menu on a Mac computer and choosing About Silhouette Studio. This will give you the full version number. Compare that with the latest version listed on the Silhouette America website. Don’t trust the Check for Updates option in the software it rarely works correctly.
- Is your firmware up-to-date on your machine?
- Is your page size set correctly? Are you using Letter or an option in the A sizes rather than Automatic, Current Printer or Custom?
- Did you alter the length, thickness or insets of the registration marks, or forget to hit Restore Defaults before printing? If so, restore to the defaults and print your page again.
- Is any of your design outside the red cut border or in the gray hash marked area? Do you have any of your design in the indented area of the gray hash marks at the top? Are there images off the mat area?
- Is your material dark, printed, shiny or textured?
- Are your marks fully printed and in the correct place? If not, you need to check your paper size or printer set up.
- Are you using a Silhouette brand mat? Is the proper mat selected in the Page Setup panel?
- Did you try a different mat? Did you try using your mat with the bottom edge going into the machine first (with the paper still in the upper left as it goes into the machine)?
- Does the placement of your material on the mat match your set up in the design area of the software? Is your material aligned along the black lines at the top and left edges of the sticky part of the mat? Is it slightly covering the outer black line of the grid?
- Are you using the correct line on the platform of your machine? If so, try moving slightly left or right. On a Cameo 1, you may need to go slightly left of the line; on the Cameo 2, you may need to go slightly to the right of the line.
- Are you choosing Load Mat and not Load Media if necessary for your machine?
- Is the optical eye obstructed? Sometimes a piece of vinyl or even packing tape is covering the optical scanner. Look for this on the underside of the motor box next to the blade holder. With the machine off, you may safely move the motor box to the center of the silver bar to make this easier. I’m pointing to the area here with my weeding tool.
- Do you have sufficient light in the room? Is the light too bright? Do you have the lid of the machine up?
- Have you retried the mark reading automatically?
- Have you retried the mark reading manually?
- Did you try in landscape orientation?
- Have you checked to see if simple shapes cut? The best place to begin checking print and cut issues is to start a new file, set up the page as described, place a 2” square right in the middle of the page, fill it with a light color or pattern, and then try to print and cut that on plain white paper. If that works, place 1” squares filled with color in various locations around the page and test that on plain white paper. It’s helpful to use a sketch pen instead of a blade. These tests will give you a great deal information.
Which mark is hard to find?
You can narrow down the possibilities based on which mark can’t be read:
- Upper left — altered size or location or marks, software version, page size, printing in the gray hash-marked area, dark/textured/glossy/patterned material, using a mat by another company, wrong mat selection, paper not on the mat in the correct place, paper not covering black outline on mat, wrong guideline, wrong loading method, optical eye obstructed, lighting problem.
- Lower left — wrong page size, wrong printer setup.
- Upper right — wrong page orientation or size, wrong printer setup, printing in indented area on top.
When the machine cuts in the wrong place
Let’s say your machine seems to read the marks correctly, but then cuts in the wrong place. Check these things:
- Did you move anything around on the page after you printed?
- Are you using the latest software version?
- Is your firmware up-to-date on your machine?
- Is the correct machine selected in the Page Setup panel? Do the marks match the ones described?
- Do you have the correct mat chosen in the Page Setup? Are you using the correct mat and loading method?
- Is any of your design outside the red cut border or in the gray hash marked area? Is a very light background of any image in the no-print zone? Do you have any of your design in the indented area of the gray hash marks at the top? Do you have any images off the mat area on your file?
- Are you using patterned, textured, shiny or dark colored material?
- How is it off?
- By a tiny amount, always on the same side of the image all the way down the page? You may need to do a calibration (I’ll teach you how later). For now, let’s just get the general hang of print and cut and ignore tiny amounts.
- By a large amount? Correct on the first row and then getting worse as it goes down the page? Something in your setup is wrong.
- Worse by a small amount as it goes to the lower right? If so, did the marks print crooked? This is a common issue when the paper tray guides on your printer aren’t tight or you try to print more than 1 at a time.
HINT: Keep a copy of a page where the marks have printed correctly as a reference. You can check future printouts against it.
- Did you try a different mat, or try rotating your mat 180°?
- Have you checked to see if simple shapes will cut correctly? (See above)
I did a good many things wrong here to show you an example. I used a blue pen instead of the blade so it’s easier to see how off it is.
Because I made the marks so small and pulled them out, and because my paper isn’t in the upper left, the machine had trouble finding them. When I retried manually, I couldn’t even move the motor box over far enough. So, I then put the paper away from the edge. The machine interpreted the mat lines for the marks, and you can see the result.
Now that you’ve finished your first Print and Cut project (well done, you!), you’re ready to create some very simple designs on your own. In our next lesson, I’ll show you how to do that as I make some temporary tattoos.
Here’s my finished card — quick and simple once you know how.