When I first considered buying a die-cutting machine, I did some research on the types of machines available. I found the original Silhouette machine by accident in a web search and was thrilled with the possibilities. I loved the flexibility of being able to use any font already on my computer (I’m a self-professed font junkie) and design anything I could imagine.
Now, 9 years later, I can honestly say these machines have far exceeded my expectations. I am blown away every day by the projects I see being created and by how the machines are being used in so many different industries outside of just papercrafting. I originally purchased the machine to make cards. Now I also use it for personalizing just about anything with heat transfer material, vinyl and rhinestones, for jewelry-making, for creating my own nail stamping plates, for home décor, and so much more. If you are a creative type who wants to let your imagination soar and have a machine to help your vision come to life, I can heartily recommend the Silhouette line of machines.
Now, let’s talk about some things you’ll want to know before you purchase a Silhouette machine:
All Silhouette machines use included computer software to design images and to send projects to the machine. Because of this, you want to be aware of the minimum recommended computer requirements. All Silhouette software programs (see more info below on what those are) will run on either Mac or Windows computers. Chromebook is not currently supported. The software will not run on a tablet such as an i-Pad, as they do not use the same operating system as a computer. There is an app for tablets and phones called Silhouette Studio Mobile, but it is very rudimentary and still needs to connect to the machine via an app on your computer.
Silhouette Studio is the software that is used for Portrait, Cameo and Curio cutting machines, as well as all older models. For Mac users, you will need OS X 10.7 or higher. Windows computers need to be Windows 7 or above. Although you can run a lower version of the software on an older computer, the newer machines require newer computers. For example, version 2 of the software can be run on a Windows XP computer, but a Cameo 2 machine will not work from it. We are currently on version 4 of the software so version 2 is quite old by now. You want to check minimum requirements for both the software AND the machine.
Additional requirements are—
1 GB of RAM (2 GB is recommended)
2 GHz or faster processor speed. Be careful here! Even new computers can have older or slower processors, which means the software can be REALLY sluggish. You also want to watch for the memory speed.
2GB of memory on the hard disk for the program. This does not include additional memory that is needed for storing purchased or created designs.
USB 1.1 port or higher
Graphics card: there are no specifics given by the company, but older graphics cards or ones which have not been updated can cause the software to crash on start up, have display issues or run slowly. Specifically, the Image Effects feature cannot be used with some graphics cards. For more information on updating your graphics card see here.
Cameo 3 and Portrait 2 machines can be used via Bluetooth as well as with a USB cord. For this, your computer needs Bluetooth 4.0 support.
You do not need an internet connection to run any of the softwares. You DO need a strong internet connection when you–
–upgrade to Designer, Designer Plus or Business Edition, but only for the short time it takes to do the upgrade (just a few seconds).
–access the Silhouette Design Store to voluntarily purchase images. Once downloaded, the designs are in your library on your computer and you do not need internet to use them.
–sync your library between multiple computers.
All of these actions can be done at a time of your choosing. Firmware updates are required to make your machine run properly, and newer machines require later versions. Other than that, updates are optional but recommended, as they always fix bugs and add features.
Every machine includes—
–USB cord to connect to your computer
–Software Basic Edition (downloaded from the website)
–Users Manual (very basic)
–AutoBlade (Cameo 3 or Portrait 2)) or ratchet blade (all other machines)
–Fine and wide embossing tools (Curio only)
–Regular cutting mat (12” x 12” on Cameo, 8” x 12” on Portrait, 8.5” x 6” on Curio)
–Standard base and platforms on Curio (8.5” x 6”)
–Embossing mat on Curio (8.5” x 6”)
–Cross Cutter tool if applicable
–Bluetooth chuck if applicable
–50 or 100 free designs, stored within the machine itself
If the machine says “Bluetooth included” on the box, the Bluetooth adapter is already in the machine. Some will say “Bluetooth enabled,” meaning they can run via Bluetooth but don’t have an adapter installed.
The Mint machine creates stamps to use with a special ink. The Alta is a 3-D Printer.
Silhouette America and online retailers often offer machines in bundles. These bundles include everything listed above as well as extras. I am often asked which bundle is best to get. The answer depends on what you will use. Here are some thoughts—
–Choose a bundle based on what types of projects you would most like to create.
–Extra blades and mats are always useful, as almost everyone will need both eventually and particularly paper crafters. The only exception would be for those who cut exclusively without a mat, which is rare. These bundles will often include tools as well, which are very helpful.
–Download cards and Designer Edition upgrade cards are also great to have.
–The starter kits include pre-selected colors of things like vinyl, HTV, rhinestones, etc. They also include a card for some free designs, which are also pre-selected. Even if you don’t like the colors, they are good for practice.
–Many like to just find the lowest machine price and pass on a bundle. If you don’t want pre-selected material colors or aren’t sure what types of projects you might want to create, this may be the best option for you. If you’re giving it as a gift, you can include a gift card or cash for the recipient to purchase materials.
If you purchase just the machine and want to know what extras to get at the same time, I recommend an extra blade and an extra mat. It is helpful to always have these on hand, as it will invariably be late at night when the stores are closed that you need a new one. If you intend to primarily cut materials like vinyl or heat transfer vinyl without the mat, it is also a good idea to have an extra cutting strip on hand at all times. Get these from the Silhouette America website under Support>Replacement Parts.
Materials the machines can cut
Before buying a machine, you will want to know if it can cut the material you want to cut. In general, the Silhouette can cut paper, vinyl, heat transfer material (HTV), rhinestone template material, stabilized fabric, and other materials that Silhouette America sells. You can also replace the blade with a sketch pen or your own pen in the pen holder to draw or write instead of cut.
For materials Silhouette America does not sell, there’s no hard and fast rule for what can be cut successfully, but the Silhouette Model Comparisons chart gives you general guidelines. This page also has lots of info on it. No matter what material you use, ALWAYS do test cuts before sending a whole project to cut.
There are many user groups on social media dedicated to using a Silhouette machine. These are great places to ask questions. For example, there are a large group of folks who use the Curio to cut metal clay for jewelry.
You can contact Silhouette Customer Support to inquire about specific materials. In some cases, you may be able to send them a sample of a material for testing before you purchase a machine.
I’ve also got a lesson later in this series on materials.
The Silhouette software
All Silhouette machines use a software that is loaded onto your computer—
The Original, SD, Portrait, Cameo and Curio all use the Silhouette Studio software. The Basic Edition is free to anyone to download on the Silhouette America website. If you are thinking about getting a Silhouette machine and want to test drive the software first, I highly recommend doing this.
There are options to pay to upgrade to Designer, Designer Plus and Business Editions. These upgrades add features within the Silhouette Studio software.
The Mint machine uses a different software, the Mint Studio. This is also free on the website.
This is for use with the Alta and is free on the website.
Silhouette Connect is not a separate software, but a plug-in used in conjunction with Adobe Illustrator or CorelDraw. It treats the machine in the same way as a printer, allowing you to design and cut directly through those programs rather than through the Silhouette Studio software. There is a charge for Silhouette Connect. Silhouette Connect works with all machines except the Mint and will also work with the Graphtec Craft ROBO (CC100-CC300 series only). For this plug-in, you need—
—Adobe Illustrator CS4-CS6, CC, CC2014, CC2015 or CorelDraw X4-X7 (full version only – does not support Home and Student or Essentials editions or illegal copies)
–Mac OS X 10.6.8 and higher or Windows XP and higher (but remember – older computers don’t work with newer machines).
If you work in Adobe Illustrator, CorelDraw or in InkScape, you can save the files as SVGs and open them in Designer Edition or Designer Edition Plus. With the Business Edition, you can open AI, CDr and EPS files directly without having saved them as SVGs.
Silhouette ModelMaker allows you to create 3d projects. This is a paid software, although you can download and use it for 15 minutes to test it.
—Silhouette Mobile allows you to create some basic designs on a tablet or smart phone and then send them to your machine. To cut, you still use a computer, utilizing Silhouette Link. You don’t have to have the Silhouette Studio software open to cut these projects. Silhouette Link acts as a “translator” between the mobile device and your Silhouette machine. Both Silhouette Mobile and Silhouette Link are free.
–PixScan Mobile is an app for use with the special PixScan mat. You can find it in the Apple app store or Google Play store (but don’t expect much from this or Silhouette Mobile).
For more information on software levels and types, see this post.
Ready to dive in?
If you’ve taken the plunge and are waiting for your machine to arrive in the mail, I can recommend several steps to take in the meantime. Go to Before You Begin Series #2 to start.
 If you already own a Cameo 1 and purchase a Cameo 2, the 100 will be 50 of the designs from the Cameo 1 and 50 additional ones. In other words, it’s not 100 new designs. On the Cameo 3, it’s 100 unique designs.
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.