Welcome back to the Cut Doctor’s office! We’ve been learning to diagnose cutting issues and prescribing remedies. So far we’ve looked at things that can happen before or during the cut. Today, we’re moving into the realm of looking at a completed cut job and analyzing problems. Because this is a MAJOR part of the series, we’re going to break this lesson into parts. Here in part 1, we’re looking at the causes of stray lines and drag marks. (To begin with Lesson 1 in this series, go here.)
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Symptom: Stray diagonal line cut or drawn back to origin point
Diagnosis #1: Firmware update needed (Cameo 2, Cameo 3, Portrait 2 and Curio only)
One reason for the stray line is if your software and machine aren’t speaking the same language. Pretend you’re traveling to France and are a native English speaker with only a bit of French in your language arsenal. You try to order fish at a restaurant — poisson — but you instead pronounce poison — which means poison. Ya, not a great meal that one. You didn’t get what you wanted because you and the server weren’t communicating well (and maybe you’re dead).
The language of your computer is software and of your machine is firmware. They need to be compatible. If they aren’t, it creates confusion between the two and you can get a stray cut line.
Prescription: Check the firmware edition on a Cameo by clicking the gear icon on the machine screen and selecting About. For any machine, click on the machine detail icon in the Send area to open the machine detail dialog box. Compare your version to the latest release version on the Silhouette America website. If the version on your machine is lower than the version listed on the website, download and install the update.
Diagnosis #2: Computer going to sleep or cutting paused too long
Here’s some HTV I was cutting one day. I wanted to babysit the cut because I had just barely enough material and wanted to make sure it wasn’t going to come out from under the rollers. Then my husband called. Instead of leaving the room so I could hear the call, I paused the cut job. My computer didn’t go to sleep, and my machine wasn’t set to sleep after a set amount of time, so something must have happened within the software to mess with the connection. When I chose Resume on the cut job, the blade cut a diagonal line all the way across the material and the machine said it has completed the job. It’s hard to see, but here’s the stray cut I got (outlined in red):
Prescription: Babysit the computer during the entire cut. If you suspect you may have paused too long, take the blade out before resuming the cut. That way your material doesn’t get ruined. As long as you don’t unload (and your cut settings are good), you can put the blade back in, send the job to cut again and it will cut in the exact same spot.
Diagnosis #3: Packet size set too high
We talked about Packet Size in Lesson 14. If you have it set too high, the machine sends too much information to the machine at a time and overwhelm it. The dreaded stray line is eon symptom of this.
Prescription: In Preferences>Advanced, lower Packet Size to 500 bytes.
Diagnosis #4: Poor USB connection or cutting via Bluetooth
Using a longer USB cord, running it through a USB hub or your monitor, using a dying USB cord or cutting via Bluetooth can all result in a communication error that leads to the stray cut.
Prescription: Plug the USB cord directly into your computer. Use the USB cord that came with you machine. Do not run it through a USB hub, monitor, etc. If you’re cutting via Bluetooth and have tried every other remedy, try cutting with the USB cord instead.
Diagnosis #5: Sketch pen chosen with problematic font
THIS! This is one of the most frustrating issues. There was a programming issue in earlier versions of the Silhouette Studio software that caused this. It’s pretty rare but it seems to pop back up occasionally so I’m going to mention it. I know that the programmers have worked on this, but it’s VERY difficult to figure it out. That’s because it only happens on some fonts in some sizes on some letter combinations.
I can attest to that because I’ve tested it myself. Note that this was done in version 3. In that version, you did not choose a specific action — only the tool. Sketch pen was both a material type and “blade” type. The software just read “Blade Type: Ratchet Blade” as Cut and “Blade Type: Silhouette Sketch Pen” as Sketch. If you look at the first and third samples, you can see the stray lines only happen on some letters and it’s not always the same letters.
This is only a small sample of the testing I did. I can tell you that none of the remedies you may read about elsewhere — make it all a compound path, convert the text to a path, ungroup and regroup, etc. — will solve the issue.
Prescription: Update to the latest software version. If it continues, you can use Cut instead of Sketch as the Action, as long as you understand this will produce a poorer quality sketch as the machine handles a blade differently than a pen.
The best option is to choose a different font.
We talked about all of these in our last lesson. If you overload the software’s memory, it can freak out and start talking gibberish to your machine. And that equals stray cut marks.
Diagnosis #6: Excessive amount of Auto-saved files (Recovered Documents)
Prescription: Routinely check the Recovered Documents panel and discard unneeded files.
Diagnosis #7: Excessive amount of images off mat in Design Area
Prescription: Remove excess designs from outlying areas. Or, move to a new file only the pieces to be cut on a single pass through the machine.
Diagnosis #8: Too many cut jobs in queue
Prescription: Keep the cut job queue from getting overloaded, especially if the files are complex.
Diagnosis #9: Too many files open
Prescription: Limit how many files you have open at a single time, especially if they contain fill patterns or raster images or if your computer has low memory.
Diagnosis #10: Packing tape not removed
This is another one we’ve talked about in a previous lesson. If the packing tape is still on the machine, it’s not letting the motor box move freely. So, it may cut the stray line.
Prescription: Look for and remove any packing tape on the machine.
Symptom: Cut or pen lines in areas where tool is moving to new starting position
Now that we’ve gone over stray lines from the origin point, let’s talk about stray lines or drag marks in other areas of the cut. The issue comes from the tool coming into contact with the material when it’s not supposed to. There are 3 different ways that can happen.
Diagnosis #1: Tool or pen is too far down in holder
This isn’t usually a problem with a Silhouette blade or sketch pen (but make sure to read the next 2 diagnoses). If you’re using a pen holder — the Silhouette brand or another brand — or a blade made by another company, it can be hard to get it set to the proper depth. When it sits too low, the tool drags across the surface of the material and makes stray marks.
Prescription: For the Silhouette brand pen holder, be sure to keep the cap on while you screw in the collet. You can find my instructions on assembling the pen holder here. For tools from other manufacturers, read their tips carefully and test on a material of the same thickness before working on your good material. Here’s a trick for getting close: slide a popsicle stick under the blade carriage and insert the tool until it just touches the stick. You’ll also need to do that on the older style Silhouette pen holders.
Diagnosis #2: Material is too thick
If a material is really thick, the tip of the tool can create the stray drag marks as it moves between areas of the design. Here are some leather earrings I was cutting and you can see that my deep cut blade was dragging.
Prescription: Use a thinner material if possible. Put a tiny rubber band on the blade just below the collar. This keeps it from resting all the way down on the blade holder. Or try this trick:
• Fill each piece of your design with a different color.
• Add small squares just outside each design and fill each with a different color (not the same as the ones in the designs).
• Cut by fill color and arrange your cut order so that the machine will cut a square, the design next to it, another square, another design, etc. End with a square.
• Add a pause between each color fill row in the order.
• When you start the cut job, keep the blade out. After the machine “air cuts” the first square, put the blade in and resume cutting. When it finishes that first design and pauses again, take the blade out and resume cutting. Keep doing that all the way through the list.
What you’re doing is keeping the blade out as the motor box moves to and from the origin point and from one design to another. It may still drag on the internal parts of the design and using a different material is usually the only way to avoid that.
Diagnosis #3: Mat or backing is not holding material
We’ve already learned that material lifting from the mat or backing causes lots of issues. This is another one. If the mat or backing isn’t holding the material firmly enough, it lifts and the tool can come into contact with it. That one’s pretty obvious, but let me show you one that isn’t.
I used my machines to address all the envelopes for my daughter’s wedding (you can read about that here). I noticed that the pen would frequently drag at the upper left.
That happened because the envelopes were 2 layers — front and back/flap. The return address in this photo was on the back flap. So not only was the top layer not being directly held by the mat, the bottom of the flap was completely loose. I was able to avoid that by pulling the flap up.
When addressing the front, it was the back of the envelope that the mat was holding. Since the stray lines most often happen as the pen moves from the origin point, I was able to minimize it by putting my envelope farther down on the mat and holding the sides down with washi tape.
Prescription: Ensure the material is fully adhered to the mat. Move the upper left corner of the material away from the upper left corner of the mat, as that is the most likely spot where the tool will drag and create stray marks. If you’re working on envelopes as I was, hold down the sides and temporarily close the flap with washi tape. Or, lift the flap up and flip the design as necessary.
That should clear up any issues you have with stray blade or pen marks. But we still have a LONG way to go in analyzing bad cuts. In our next lesson, we’ll talk about why your machine might go through all the motions of cutting but there are no cut lines on your material. We’ll also discuss why the blade might not cut all the way through the material, what’s happening when starting and ending points don’t meet up, why the size of the cut might not be right, and how to make adjustments when the left and right tool holders of a Cameo 3 or Curio don’t cut in the same spot.
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