I spent most of last year dealing with health issues. It seemed like we’d NEVER find the cause or the cure. The day we did was the best day ever! Now I feel back to my normal self. I feel like today will be the same for many of you, because we’re going to cover one of the worst cutting symptoms — ripping and tearing. It’s happened to all of us at one time or another and can make you want to take a jackhammer to your machine. Today’s the day I share the cure (so put that jackhammer away!). I’ll also help you figure out why your machine may only cut portions of your material. Let’s get started! (To start with Lesson 1 of the Cut Doctor series, go here).
Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. You pay the same price. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials.
Symptom: Material is ripping, tearing or pulling
Material that rips, tears or gets pulled is far and away the most common cutting issue Silhouette users experience. I hear complaints about it every single day.
Diagnosis #1: Settings issue
And here’s the most likely cause of ripping and tearing — wrong cut settings. Let’s look at the settings individually to understand why the wrong ones cause ripping, tearing or pulling.
Here’s the way our minds tend to work: “Oh, the blade is ripping my material instead of cutting it cleanly. My blade must not be sharp enough. I need to crank it up to a higher number.” I thought that way as a newbie and would get SO frustrated. But the true cause is actually the opposite — it’s settings that are too high rather than too low. If the blade is ripping the material, it’s pulling at it too hard or is going too deep into it. On something like vinyl or HTV, it might even go all the way through the backing or carrier.
We’ve already talked about the awful noise the machine makes when your blade gets stuck in the mat and can’t move freely. If the blade is almost to that point, it’s still too far down and so tears the material. Your goal is to have the very tip of the blade just going through the back of the material. When it’s farther down than that, too much of it is in the material and the nice, sharp tip is in your mat instead.
A blade number that’s too high can also pull the material off the mat or backing. That looks like ripping.
Now, it is possible that if your blade number or force is too low you’ll get ripping when you try to separate the cut pieces from the background. But what we’re talking about here is when you see the ripping during the cut.
Blade number makes a significant difference, but it’s even more common for a too-high force setting to cause ripping. Instead of gliding gently through the material, the blade is being rather heavy handed and yanking through it. The material isn’t firm enough to fight back. You’ll notice that on materials with a low density, the default force setting is low and this is why. Force that’s too high can even pull the material up from the mat and that’s not good either.
Pulling at corners, even with Line Segment Overcut on, is a big clue that your force setting is too high.
Line Segment Overcut
I’ve already told you in a previous lesson that I love Line Segment Overcut almost as much as coffee (and, yes, that’s saying A LOT!). It’s a totally brilliant setting because it helps eliminate pulling as the blade makes a sharp turn. That pulling can also result in ripping and uncut areas at the corners.
The thinner the material, the smaller or more intricate your design, the thinner the pieces, the shaper the corners, the more difference it makes. ALWAYS turn on Line Segment Overcut.
Ripping, tearing and pulling at the corners can also be caused by using a speed that is too high for the material or design. Just like thicker materials need more force and a higher blade number, they also need a slower speed.
Think about a person driving a car at breakneck speed. It’s hard for the driver to control it, particularly on the corners. He doesn’t have enough time to react. It’s similar here. The slower you go, the more time the machine has to make changes of direction.
Speed is actually a setting you can always lower. You can cut too fast, but you can’t cut too slow. By taking the speed all the way down to 1, you automatically eliminate it as an issue.
Prescription: Use Line Segment Overcut at 0.1 for both. Lower settings for speed, blade number and/or force.
Diagnosis #2: Blade is clogged with debris
This one makes good sense. If gunk gets built up inside the blade, it’s not able to spin freely. That means instead of being pulled through the material as the proper angle, it may be going sideways a bit. That’s means it’s ripping at the material instead of cutting it.
Prescription: Clean blade.
Diagnosis #3: Blade cap issue
This is a crazy one, but I sometimes see folks who always remove the blade cap to cut. That one makes no sense to me, because it’s not the way the blade was designed to work. Having the cap on is an extra level of insurance that the blade isn’t going too far down into the material.
We talked about in our last lesson how if the blade cap is on crooked, you can get material that has no cut lines or isn’t cut all the way through. A crooked cap can also bind the blade and keep it from rotating freely. As we saw in the previous diagnosis, that can causing ripping.
Prescription: Ensure that the blade cap is on, is on straight, and is on tightly.
Diagnosis #4: Design too small or thin
Even with the perfect settings, there are just some designs you cannot cut in some sizes on some materials. On a tiny design the turns are sharper and the cut pieces smaller. The blade is constantly changing direction, which means it’s always pulling at the material. For example, you wouldn’t be able to cut this design at 1″ x 1″ from cardstock:
On a design with thin parts, the blade may be pulling in opposite directions on either side of a thin area. There’s not enough surface area of the thin parts in contact with the mat or backing paper to hold it securely. Even if you get it to cut without ripping or tearing, it can be hard to get it off the mat cleanly or weed it easily. Imagine trying to cut this out of paper and get it off the mat intact:
Or trying to weed this in a small size:
Every cut in the design makes fibers of the material less connected and therefore the overall piece less likely to hold together.
Prescription: Be realistic with the size and intricacy of designs based on the material you’re using. Use offsets when possible to thicken designs with thin sections.
Diagnosis #5: Poor quality material
This is continuing with the ideas in the prior diagnosis. A material that isn’t dense has fewer fibers that aren’t packed as tightly as a one with higher density. Since the material doesn’t hold together when force is exerted by the blade, it rips. It may even pull enough to separate the layers of the material.
Materials that have low density are cheap because it takes less raw material to make them and less binder to merge them together. The lower the density, the more likely the material is to rip, tear and pull.
Construction paper or specialty handmade paper are good examples of this. They rip very easily and you can easily see the fibers when you tear them.
A good quality cardstock, on the other hand, has more fibers and they are packed more tightly together. There’s less space between the fibers. When you tear it with your hands, you don’t see the fibers as easily because they are holding together better. That means less ripping.
It’s not as easy to see, but even materials like vinyl can have different densities. That means you may have to adjust the settings for that as well.
Prescription: Lower your settings. Test with a different material.
Diagnosis #6: Older mat
An older mat has fibers on it that are covering the adhesive. Therefore, the adhesive can’t do it’s full job of holding the material. The material or cut piece gets pulled along slightly during the cut, particularly at corners. That can result in tears or pulls.
Recently I was cutting a large number of butterfiles. I had already cut about 150 from the same good quality cardstock when I started getting pulling at the corners. I cleaned out the blade. Then I tried a new blade. I was using the same settings I had been all along, but I tried adjusting them anyway. Nothing helped. Since I knew the mat was getting older, I tried a new mat. That solved the issue immediately.
Even deep grooves in the mat can cause ripping and tearing. Because of the uneven surface, the settings would need to be different throughout. So while some areas cut perfectly, others will rip.
Prescription: Replace the mat.
Diagnosis #7: Blade is chipped
This one can be SUPER confusing, because it’s so rare and not one you’d think of. But occasionally you chip a blade by dropping it on the floor or in some other odd way. A chipped blade will rip and tear. Throw it away, because nothing is going to save it.
Here’s an example. The blade on the left is normal. The one on the right is chipped.
Prescription: Inspect the blade for nicks or chips. If found, replace the blade.
Diagnosis #8: Blade is old
Eventually, any blade will wear out. It’s not nearly as soon as you think, but it will at some point. If you’ve tried absolutely everything else, try a new blade. Sometimes it works wonders.
There are some folks who have great success with sharpening a blade by poking it repeatedly into a ball of foil. It doesn’t work great for me. Maybe I’m just too impatient and don’t do it enough, but I prefer to just get a new blade. I mention it because sometimes you need to finish something right away and either all the stores are closed or they are too far away. It doesn’t hurt to give it a try.
Prescription: Replace the blade.
Symptom: Portion of design is uncut
This in another puzzling one. Why would your machine cut well in some places of your page and not others? (Remember, if it’s not cut the same way throughout the entire page, we discussed that in our last lesson). The key is to figure out if there’s a pattern to where it’s happening on the page. That tells you where to hunt for the cause.
Always in same area of design
Diagnosis: Something is binding the blade
Let’s say that you notice it’s always happening in the same area of a design, no matter where you place the design on the mat. That indicates that something is binding the blade so it can’t move freely. It ends up not cutting through somewhere.
Here’s a small box that I was cutting and I needed 300.
I noticed that in the sharp turn of the > sign in the second R, the tip kept skipping there. I was using a cardstock of only marginal quality (hey, it was the color and price I needed). There were quite a few fibers building up in the blade, so I realized I needed to clean it out after every few cuts.
If that doesn’t solve it, try testing the blade to make sure it’s rotating and is inserted into the machine correctly. Replace the blade if you still have the problem after that.
Prescription: Clean out the blade. Press tip of blade on stack of paper to ensure it rotates freely. If it does not, replace the blade. Ensure that the fin is facing forward (ratchet blade) or is in slot (AutoBlade).
Always in same area of mat
Diagnosis #1: Grooves in mat
As I said above, once your mat gets deep grooves in it, the surface is uneven. You may even accidentally have your piece of the material in the wrong place when you cut and so the blade goes almost all the way through the mat in the area without any material. You can see a rectangle I cut here that way:
If the design has uncut portions in those areas, that can be the reason. It’s time to bite the bullet and buy a new mat.
Let me also remind you that the better you are at picking the right cut settings in the first place, the shallower the grooves will be so the longer the mat will last.
Prescription: Alternate putting the mat in from the bottom edge and the top edge (but not sideways). If cutting the same design repeatedly, shift it slightly and/or rotate it 90° with each cut. Replace the mat.
Diagnosis #2: Design outside of usable area on Portrait mat
On a Cameo, you can put a 12″ x 12″ piece of cardstock on the Cameo mat and cut to the very edge of it. (Just make sure you have Cut to Edge of Page checked in your Preferences>Defaults as we discussed in Lesson 14).
A Portrait mat is different. Although you can put an 8 1/2″ x 11″ letter-size piece of paper on it, you can’t cut all the way to the sides. It’s different for the different machines, so let’s look at them separately.
A Portrait mat with a Cameo
With this one, you can’t cut in about the first 2/10″ on the left edge. But since Cameos can cut up to 12″ in width, you can cut to the right edge. My cuttable area is in blue here, and the margin I’m talking about is yellow. And you can see the cut border in red:
You may be asking, “Since the Cameo can cut up to 12″ in width, how come it can’t cut all the way to the left?” It has to do with where the rollers are on a Cameo. When you load the mat, you use the blue line on the front edge of the platform as a guide for where to place the left edge of the mat. The roller is going to need to grip in that non-sticky margin on the mat, and the paper is in that margin. The motor box can’t move farther left than that, so it can’t cut there.
To use a Portrait mat, you have to move your right white roller in to grip the right side of the mat. Because the motor box CAN go past that roller location, the machine CAN cut on that right edge of the page. You just need to be aware that since the adhesive on the mat isn’t really gripping the material there, it’s not being held down so may not cut as well.
A Portrait mat with a Portrait
The Portrait machine itself has a maximum 8″ cutting width. That 8″ is in the middle of the page. So if you have a page that’s 8 1/2″ x 11″ on a Portrait mat, you can’t cut the approximately 1/4″ on the left and right sides of the page. The motor box doesn’t move outside of the right white roller, so the blade doesn’t cut there. Here again, my usable area is in blue here, the margins where it won’t cut are yellow, and you can see the cut border in red:
If that’s where you notice the design isn’t cutting, this is why.
Prescription: Check Show Cut Border in Page Setup panel.
Always in same spot side to side
Diagnosis #1: Deep grooves/gouges in cutting strip (most likely when cutting often without mat)
The cutting strip is a small piece of thin, black or white plastic with an adhesive on the back. It protects the machine from the tip of the blade, particularly when you’re cutting with the mat.
Every once in a while, you have a brain freeze and forget to load your mat or material before you send the cut to the machine. Or, you accidentally have your blade set too high and it cuts all the way through the mat or backing paper. That can make deep grooves or gouges in your cutting strip. Here’s a black one in one of my machines where you can see deep indentions:
And here’s a white one I’ve removed from a different machine, where you can see it cut through in several spots:
When that happens, the machine platform isn’t going to have the same amount of pressure against the blade side to side.
Indentions are normal, but deep ones or gouges are not. If you notice that the place where it’s not cutting your design in always in the same spot side to side, no matter which mat or piece of material you use, check out that cutting strip. To learn how to replace it, see my post here. I also show you more examples in that post.
Prescription: Inspect cutting strip for deep grooves or gouges. Replace as needed.
Diagnosis #2: Material that isn’t flat
If your material has bumps or wrinkles in it, there’s a high likelihood that you’ll have portions that don’t get cut through or rip and tear.
Because of how the material is stored
This can happen with material that is stored folded rather than rolled or flat. If you load it without a cutting mat, it’s not flat against the platform of the machine.
It can also happen with vinyl that is rolled too tightly. Since vinyl is thin and pliable, it stretches easily. Vinyl that is stored rolled tightly for long periods stretches out permanently. When you unroll it to load it, it doesn’t stay flat against the backing paper (has wrinkles) because the vinyl is now larger.
When you put a material with bump in it on the mat, the mat may not have enough adhesive strength to hold the material flat during the cut.
Because the adhesive isn’t good
Vinyl has a shelf life. As it gets older, the adhesive breaks down (gets less sticky). And vinyl of lower quality has a less effective adhesive to begin with. When the adhesive isn’t holding the vinyl down onto the backing paper, the backing paper can’t effectively do its job of holding the vinyl flat and smooth.
With any of this, the motion of the blade moving across the material can pull it along instead of cutting through it. In areas where the wrinkles are, the material may actually fold over on itself during the cut, so it either isn’t cut through or the contours of the design are off. It’s as if the material is of differing thicknesses, so the blade may not go through fully in some spots or may go too deep in other spots and rip.
Prescription: If you notice areas in your material that have bumps, try to flatten it out before cutting on it. On vinyl, use a squeegee to move the bubbles toward the edge. Or, if you have movable inner rollers (Cameo 3), position them over the bump area to try to keep it flatter there. Cut on a good cutting mat that can help hold it down. Store vinyl flat or rolled loosely on a large roll instead of tightly on a small roll. Try a different brand or newer piece of material.
In line vertically with fat part of white rollers
Diagnosis #1: Blade not loaded correctly or fully locked in
We’ve already talked about how if don’t load your blade correctly and lock it in fully, it doesn’t come into contact with the material fully. That can cause cuts that aren’t there at all or don’t go all the way through the material. It can also happen that you may get cuts in some places but not in line with the rollers. As the blade carriage moves over the rollers it can bump up, causing the blade to not come into contact with the material down the page in line with the rollers.
It can happen if…
- …you don’t have the fin on a ratchet blade facing the right direction when you load it. The fin can catch in the blade holder mechanisms and keep the mechanism from going up and down.
- …you don’t have the fin on an AutoBlade in the channel in the back.
- …the collar of the blade isn’t resting fully down on the blade holder. It’s especially tricky with the sliding lock lever because the blade has a tendency to bump up as you slide the lock.
- …you haven’t fully engaged the blade lock.
- …your blade lock is on upside down.
It’s most often a combination of several of those factors.
If you notice a strip all the way down the page in line with where the rollers are, check your blade.
Prescription: Ensure that the fin is facing forward (ratchet blade) or is in the slot (AutoBlade) and that the blade collar is resting fully down on the blade holder. Sliding lock lever: make sure you can see the blue dot through hole. Twisting lock lever: make sure it’s pointing to 2 and 8 on a clock. Ensure that a twisting lock lever is not on upside down.
Diagnosis #2: Aftermarket tools used
An aftermarket tool is one that is created by a company other than the original manufacturer. They may fit almost, but not precisely. Because of that, you can get 1 of 2 issues:
- The tool is too small for the holder. It slides up and down in the holder, particularly as the motor box goes over the rollers. We’ve already seen what that does.
- The too is too large for the holder. The user forces it in so that it “fits,” but the lock may not be able to close correctly. If it doesn’t close, the tool isn’t secure in the holder. The other thing a tool that’s too large can do is permanently widen the blade holder. Even when you go back to using a Silhouette brand tool, the holder won’t close all the way on it.
Prescription: Stick with Silhouette brand tools, or use extreme caution if you try other brands. If the tool is too loose in the holder, try wrapping electrical tape around it to make its circumference larger. Sometimes even a bit of washi tape does the trick.
Bottom or side of page when bypassing mat
Diagnosis: Project does not have adequate margins
We talked in Lesson 21 about how when you cut without the mat you have different margins. In that lesson, I was telling you that not knowing about the margins means your material might come out from under the rollers. But it can also mean that your full design doesn’t cut.
Here’s the picture again. The red line is the cut border. Even though my page size is 12″x 12″ (the area inside the gray), my usable area (the blue) is smaller. The yellow area indicates the margins where the machine needs to grip the material and therefore can’t cut. See how part of my design is in that yellow area at the bottom? That part of the design won’t cut.
Prescription: Select None on Cutting Mat and check Show Cut Border in the Page Setup panel to ensure the design fits into the usable area.
No discernable pattern
Diagnosis #1: Textured material
Material with texture, such as textured cardstock, anything with glitter or other finishes, has varying thickness. That means it’s not necessarily going to work with the same settings throughout the page. You can do it — you just make need to make some adjustments.
Prescription: Cut on the least textured side of the material, mirroring the design if necessary. Use 2 passes.
Diagnosis #2: Older mat
We talked above about an older mat having grooves in it. So with that, it’s your mat that’s not consistent instead of your material. You can do 2 passes if you like, but since an older mat can cause all sorts of problems it’s best to replace it.
Prescription: Replace the mat.
Diagnosis #3: Older blade
Again, this is last on the list. Sometimes an older blade is just wearing out and won’t cut the same throughout the project. Check for debris, check the blade cap, make sure you’re loaded and locked correctly. If you’ve tried EVERYTHING else, try a new blade.
Prescription: Replace the blade.
Symptom: Not all threads cut on fabric
Diagnosis: Nature of cutting fabric
Yes, you can cut fabric with your Silhouette. No, you don’t need a fabric blade, but it is most effective to use a new sharp blade. The only difference in the regular blade and the ratchet blade is the color of the casing. That’s so you can easily keep it separate to use it only on fabric, as materials like cardstock will dull it more quickly. It’s just like you keep your sewing scissors just for cutting fabric.
You also need to help the fabric by adding heavy starch or interfacing to give it more body, or by using a Strong Tack Mat.
Regardless, it’s highly likely not all the threads will get cut on a single pass. That’s just the nature of cutting fabric. Here you can see some threads that didn’t cut.
Do 2 passes just to make sure.
If you have the Cameo 4, it’s much easier to cut fabric by using the Rotary Blade.
Prescription: A sharp blade works best, so keep it separate from your paper blade. Use 2 passes. Cameo 4 owners — use a rotary blade.
Well, my dear patient, you are almost completely cured of your cutting ills! Understanding why your material is ripping or pulling is a HUGE step in overcoming many cutting diseases. I just need you to come in for one more follow-up visit where we’ll discuss difficulties you might encounter after the cut is done. And I’ll give you some reference material to print off and keep at home in case you ever have the same symptoms again. See you at our last appointment!
Note: This post may contain affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials. All opinions expressed are my own and are not tied to any compensation.
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