Here’s our 5th and final tab to explore in the Transform panel — Shear. If you haven’t read my posts about the Align, Scale, Rotate and Move tabs, I recommend reading those. There’s more in them than most people realize. The tools can save you a great deal of time and help you be more precise when working with shapes you already have in Silhouette Studio. Shear is going to help you mainly in the design phase.
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What is Shear?
When I say align, scale, rotate or move, you know those terms and why they’re useful. Shear is less familiar. Let’s look at this word outside the Silhouette world.
- Shearing sheep means to use sharp tools to separate the wool from the body. “Separate” or “divide” is the origin of the word. The word “shire” comes from the same root, as it was used to describe the division of territory in England.
- You may have heard of wind shear and how it affects airplanes. Miriam-Webster’s definition is “a radical shift in wind speed and direction that occurs over a very short distance.”
- They also define shear as “to cause (something, such as a rock mass) to move along the plane of contact.”
- It can mean to warp.
- It’s akin to “sheer” — a different spelling with a similar meaning and root word. That can mean almost see-through or pure. The most applicable definition of this spelling is one used by sailors: “to decline or deviate from the line of the proper course, as a ship when not steered with steadiness; to turn and move aside to a distance or turn to approach a place or ship.” This is the spelling we use to talk about something like a steep cliff that drops straight down, or changes direction drastically.
- Think back to geometry — it’s like turning a rectangle into a parallelogram.
- The easiest way is to think of Italic text — it slants toward the right.
(My son, the linguist, gets his love of language and etymology from me.)
See the bold words? Keep those in mind. We use Shear in Silhouette Studio to “tilt” or “skew” designs left, right, up or down.
These are the same rectangle. In the second one, I’ve sheared it right and upward.
Before we go any further…
There are some important things to know before you start applying this tool to your designs.
- Shear is a feature in Designer Edition and up. That’s why you might only have 4 tabs in the Transform panel. I will ALWAYS recommend Designer Edition — it has many fantastic extra features. You can buy it here. I’m going to show you many examples and I’ll bet you find it’s something you’d love to play with.
- I recommend you make a copy of your shape before you shear it. I’ll explain why that’s important later.
- I also recommend that you find the x and y axis location of the midpoint of your shape before you shear and make note of that. I’ll tell you more about this, but as you shear that may change and you might need to get it back to a precise spot. To review how to find or change the exact location of a shape, go back to the Move lesson in this series.
- Check your design to see where the green rotation circle is, as that is considered the top of the image. Sometimes even a design from the Silhouette Design Store has been rotated and the circle is at the bottom or side. When you use shear on a shape that’s been rotated, you may not get the result you’re trying for.
- If pieces of your design are grouped, the software will shear the group as a whole. Sometimes that’s not what you’re after, so double check that before you start. You’ll also want to know if your design is grouped or in a compound path, as that can make a difference as well. For a full explanation of the difference, see this post.
Horizontal and vertical
As in most of the panels, you have separate sections. This time, they are very similar — the only difference is in whether you are adjusting the shape sideways (horizontal — the top section) or up and down (vertical — the lower section).
Here are some rectangles again. In this set, I’ve played with the horizontal shear.
And in this one, I’ve adjusted the vertical shear.
Let’s look at one more thing. If I select one of those sheared rectangles now, you can see that the bounding box is tilted. That’s the tip-off that I’ve used shear on it.
Set and custom amounts
Default set amounts
One way of shearing your image is by using the set amounts in the panel. Those are -30, -15, 0, 15 and 30. This represents the number of degrees of the angle of the shear. A negative number slants to the left on horizontal shear, while a positive number skews the image to the right. On vertical shear, using the negative means the left side of the image goes up while the right side goes down and vice versa on the positive.
The mid point of the image stays fixed as the anchor point. In other words, the image skews “around” it. One side goes up (or left) while the opposite side goes down (or right) the same distance. Both the top and bottom of the shape would move side to side by equal amounts from the midline. All 4 sides of the bounding box move (I’ll show you this in a video below).
You can also choose the shear angle by using the arrows or slider. Those go up or down in increments of 5°. As you click or slide, the shape moves automatically. If possible, I recommend using the slider over the arrows. That’s because if you need to use Undo on the shear, you’ll have to click that once for every time you clicked the arrow. If you used the slider, it’s just once (but definitely keep reading to understand how things work when trying to go backwards in your steps).
If you need an angle between multiples of 5, you can input that specific number and hit ENTER on your computer keyboard. If you then move the slider or click the arrows again, it’s going to go up or down to the next multiple of 5. I actually recommend NOT doing it this way unless it’s absolutely necessary. The reason is that when you put in the number, the software remembers it and it gets really confusing. I’ll explain that more below.
No matter which way you use
The maximum number you can sheer is 60°.
Because you’re working with set numbers, it’s similar to “Rotate To” — clicking it repeatedly or inputting the same number is not going to continue shearing by that amount because you’re choosing a specific angle of degrees.
If you’ve sheared a shape in any of these ways and want to get it back to unsheared, you can click or input 0 in the panel. But keep reading, because there are implications to that.
When you want to shear shapes to the same amount precisely, do it here in the panel. But there’s another way to do it that’s more freeform.
The shear handles
Besides using the numbers, set amounts, slider and arrows, there is another way to shear your shape. It’s similar to the “free rotate” green dot that’s on the top of a selected shape.
Look at the bottom of the panel and you’ll see a box beside the phrase “Show Shear Handles.” Check in the box to toggle it on and off. When it’s on, you’ll see the handles on each side of the bounding box of the shape.
You can click and drag those to shear the shape. There’s a SIGNIFICANT difference when you use the shear handles that you need to know about. Remember how I said that when you choose the angle of slant in the panel that both sides move in equal amounts in opposite directions and the midpoint stays fixed?
It’s different when you use the shear handles. Instead, the side opposite the one whose handle you are using stays put as if it’s glued in place. The outer corners of the bounding box there are anchor points and only 3 sides move. When it does this, the centerpoint of the shape tilts with it instead of staying put.
It’s also good to know that when you use the shear handles on several selected shapes — even if they aren’t grouped — they shear as a set rather than individually.
That’s not very easy to understand by just reading my explanation. Here’s a short video that will help:
Why does that matter? Because if you are going to reset or rotate the shape, the midpoint affects that. When I do this, I find it very helpful to have the center of rotation turned on. Just be careful that you don’t move that unintentionally, or that opens up a whole other can of worms.
When to use or not use shear handles
Using the shear handles is a great option when you…
- …want to “eyeball” how much slant you need rather than putting in a specific number or using the sliders.
- …know you want 2 corners of your bounding box to stay put while you move one side. You can also make just one corner of the bounding box the anchor point by moving the handles on 2 perpendicular sides.
- …need to shear more than 60°.
- …want the midpoint to shift with the shape.
- …want to shear a set of shapes as a unit without having to group them.
One time it’s not a good option is if you might need to go back to unsheared. It’s very hard to get it back to 0, especially if you’ve sheared both horizontally and vertically. This is our first reason to make a copy — in case you use the Shear handles and need to start over.
To be aware of
I love the shear tool. There are some cool things I can do with it than no other tool can (I’ll show you quite a few later). But there are definitely some quirks you need to understand. You’ll see more reasons why I recommend making a copy and noting the location.
Some of this is technical information you obviously don’t need to memorize. But it’s something you can come back to for reference later when things go wonky and you want to know why.
When you shear a shape, it’s going to change the size — length of the sides of the bounding box. Otherwise, it would just be the same as rotating the shape. It won’t be the same height after you shear it horizontally, or the same width if you shear it vertically. You can keep an eye on the size as you tilt the shape because you’ll see that number increase or decrease.
The order you do it in matters as well. In other words, if you take a shape and shear it first vertically and then horizontally, it will be a different size than if you did horizontal and then vertical, even if you use the same angles. The second action is dependent on the result of the first.
Finding the number of degrees you used to shear
With Rotate, you are able to go into the panel to see the degree of rotation on any given object. Say you’ve rotated a design and want to rotate another by the same amount. You can look in the panel to see how much the degree of rotation is on the first object, then rotate the second to that amount.
This is NOT the case with shear. If you’re going to shear 2 designs by the same amount, I suggest using the panel. If you aren’t going to do subsequent ones right away, make a sticky note with the info of how many degrees you did.
Resetting to 0
Say you’ve sheared a shape in one direction and then want to get it back to where you started (not at all tilted). You can either use Undo, or input or click on 0 for the number of degrees. That’s ONLY for when you’ve sheared in ONE direction.
However, if you used the shear handles, the location isn’t the same. If you then reset it to 0, it does go back it it’s original size, but only as long as you only did vertical OR horizontal — not both. When you sheared it the midpoint tilted also, and it doesn’t move back. Resetting to 0 centers the design on this new location of the center and therefore it’s in a different location than it was when you started.
Shearing both horizontally and vertically
If you shear a shape in both directions, things can start to go weird. It can all be explained mathematically, but can still be confusing.
- When you shear it horizontally or vertically by a set number of degrees or by inputting your own number, then try to do the same number on the other, nothing happens.
- Okay, this is probably the one that will feel most bizarre and unpredictable. If you’ve sheared both vertically and horizontally, then set either back to 0, the shape returns to having an untilted bounding box. BUT — it’s not the same as your original shape. That’s because of several things I’ve already mentioned — the length and width both changed, and the midpoint might have.
- The shape will be rotated (the green rotation circle isn’t at the top).
- You can unrotate it, but it may not be back to its original size and position. The first shear direction changed the length of one side and the second changed the length of the other.
- It’s only the same size if you shear by equal amounts in opposite directions (30° horizontal and -30° vertical) and reset to 0 on the direction you sheared first. If you used the shear handles, that’s next to impossible because you don’t know the number of degrees you’ve moved it.
- If you used the shear handles, the midpoint shifted so it’s not in the same location even if it is the same size.
- The location is based on the midpoint, not something like the left edge. Because the size is different, even if you used the panel instead of handles, it may not appear to be in the same location. The center of the shape is, but none of the edges is.
Numbers held in panel
I said the software remembers the number when you shear in the panel. Here’s what I mean. If you shear a shape using the sliders or by inputting a number and then hit Undo, the shape does go back to unsheared. But the number stays in the panel. So when you then go to shear that shape again or another shape, you aren’t starting at 0.
Say you shear it to 30°. You click Undo to get it back to unsheared. If you click the up arrow 1 time, it shears to 35°, not 5°. Then you click on a different shape and click the up arrow just once. It’s sheared at 40°.
The same holds true if you initially use the arrows to shear. The only difference is that using Undo only tilts the shapet back down 5° at a time. But the number you had moved it up or down to is STILL held in the panel.
Remember what I said about how the rotation circle moves location when you shear a design? And that the bounding box also skews? Say you’ve sheared several designs, all by the same number of degrees. That means their boxes are all tilted the same way and the rotation circle is moved by the same amount. But if you want to rotate them all and so select them all, the GROUP is NOT slanted nor is the green dot. Therefore, when you try to rotate the group it won’t rotate the same as if you did them individually.
This is the case with any set of selected shapes, but since sheared shapes are already rotated it makes a bigger impact and may be harder to predict.
Yep, some of this is confusing. Let’s look at a video to see these quirks in action.
Examples of when to use shear
You may be saying to yourself, “Well, all that’s really cool, but when would I use the shear tool?” Let’s see some examples.
Here are some shirts I made recently. The designs had slanted open areas in the middle for wording. Vintage style logos like this are a trend right now, mimicking vintage hand-painted signs. I used vertical shear to match the angle of the design.
I could have just rotated the word, but it doesn’t look nearly as cool.
By the way, the frame and Mémé are part of the Troemys font. For the Pops shirt, I used Krasty for the word and a shield and offsets of it from this font.
To create italics
Often, you have a font like this one that doesn’t have the italic option. You can shear the word to make it look italicized.
You can even do that with words in a regular design you’ve purchased like this one.
Shear helps create perspective or depth on a shape. (Warp is also good for that). Instead of looking at the design straight on, you’re looking at it from an angle, which adds interest. Look at this book for example.
If the designer had drawn it straight on, it would just look like a rectangle. By adding a shear she was able to also show you the pages.
I’ve shown you quite a few rectangular designs, but you can do it on any design, such as this bird on a branch. I can make the branch bend upward, as is more natural on a tree. I wanted the left edge to stay put so that it’s still a vertical line that could nestle next to a tree trunk. That means I used the shear handles on the opposite side.
Say you want to combine 2 shapes on your project — one that’s looking straight on and one that’s angled. By using shear, you can make them match. Here’s how I can shear a title (font is Graphite) and clock for the front of that book.
I created shadow for the boy on this design, then used rectangles to make walls (pattern here) and the floor (wood pattern is default with the software). The pattern shears also (notice the wood floor) so watch out for obvious diagonal patterns.
You can add fun looks to a raster image like photos also (the fill pattern is here and the font is Amastery Script).
You can use it on something like a 3D drawing of a layout of a house. This is a case where you can use the isometric grid to help.
Done, but not done
This is only the tip of the iceberg. There are MANY more ways you can use shear in your designing.
If you’ve read this entire series, you’re now an expert on the Transform panel! I hope it helps you as much as it does me. I’d love to hear in the comments something new you learned that will help you as you navigate Silhouette Studio. As always, you can ask questions there as well.
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