Have you ever heard of aquagenic urticaria? It’s an extremely rare disease that causes an allergy to water. What about moebius — a genetic condition characterized by complete facial paralysis? These are actual obscure diseases. Today in the Cut Doctor series, we’re talking about a mysterious, little-known cut setting called Track Enhancing. As with the rare ailments, you may never need to know about it. But if you are an inquisitive type who wants to know what it is when you see it in the Send area, today’s lesson will satisfy your curiosity. And you might find a use for it you never thought about. To start with Lesson 1 in the Cut Doctor series, go here.
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.
What is Track Enhancing?
According to the Manual
Here’s how the Silhouette Studio Users Manual defines Track Enhancing:
Track Enhancing … will roll your material into the Silhouette and back out several times prior to cutting in order to create a track where the rollers are gripping the material in order to ensure the material stays on track during the cutting process. This option should only be used if it is already pre-selected for your material type or if you are having issues with a specific material type slipping during cutting and causing the resulting cuts to be misaligned.
Here’s the odd thing about that definition — THERE AREN’T ANY MATERIAL TYPES THAT HAVE TRACK ENHANCING PRE-SELECTED! I’ve clicked through every material in the list and it’s not chosen for any of them. So we need to delve deeper to understand it.
According to Silhouette’s FAQ
The Silhouette America website gives more information:
As material thickness increases, the rollers (dependent upon the material type and surface) may not grip as firmly on the material’s surface during operation. In such cases, it may be recommended to enable the Track Enhancing option. The action of feeding the material through the Silhouette several times prior to operation creates a “track” for the Silhouette to roll on and gain a better grip during the job in question. The feature attempts to ensure proper alignment of secondary passes performed and attempts to resolve potential mis-alignment concerns.
This option is only needed when cutting thicker materials where the material appears to be slipping during the cutting action, or when there is mis-alignment when using the “Double Cut” option.
What track enhancing does
So what this feature does is help keep your material in place on the mat when the pressure from the blade movement might cause it to shift. It does this by using the rollers to create a little indent in the material before the cutting starts. When you add the pressure from the blade, it’s easier for the material to stay in place because the rollers run inside the track. It would be harder for the motion of the blade to push the material around on the mat. That’s because it would first have to push it so that it comes out from underneath the roller where the rut is.
Another thing it does is bring the roller bar closer to the mat. Think about when you have a thick material rolling in and out. There’s going to be less pressure from the rollers because there’s more material between the roller and mat. When you use Track Enhancing before the cut, you create a rut by compacting the material a bit under the rollers. That in turn means that the rollers are closer to the mat so more likely to get a good grip during the actual cut.
Which rollers are we talking about?
Ah, that’s the big question that’s never fully answered in the explanations from Silhouette America. It also explains why this isn’t a pre-selected setting on any material currently. To understand the answer, we have to understand the current and older machine models.
Because Curio machines use a platform system instead of a mat system, they don’t have a separate roller bar — just the bar the motor box runs along. That means Track Enhancing has no use on those machines. The only potential reason you might use it is to see if the material is going to clear under the bar. But it’s easier to just take the blade or other tools out and pretend to cut a job. If you’re a Curio owner, you can skip the rest of this post. (Unless you are just in a mood to learn).
All machines besides the Curio have hard white rollers on the outer edges of the roller bar that hold the mat or, when bypassing the mat, the edges of the material. It’s those rollers that move the mat or matless material in and out of the machine.
There’s a second set of rollers in the middle of the bar. Those are different on different models.
- The original QuicKutz Silhouette Digital Craft Cutter, SD, Cameo 1 and Cameo 2 have firm rubber rollers.
- The Cameo 2 and Portrait 2 have wire rollers than coil around the bar and are attached at one end of the coil. The reason Silhouette America switched to these is so that they have some “give.” That means they are less likely to dent a delicate material like metal clay. Conversely, that also means Track Enhancing is less likely to help.
- The Cameo 3 has a combo hard plastic and wire middle rollers that you can move along the bar. This is the only machine on which the middle rollers are movable. They move so that if you are cutting one of those more delicate materials, you can keep the rollers from pressing in certain areas. The wire portion works the same as on the Cameo 2.
The purpose of these interior rollers is as a secondary means of holding the material down on the mat or backing, or holding pieces that have been cut. It’s NOT the primary means. It’s the mat itself or the adhesive on the material that has that job. If you have a wide, floppy material such as vinyl or HTV you’re cutting without the mat, these rollers help prevent bunching there in the middle.
So which rollers?
So in answer to the question of which rollers we’re talking about with Track Enhancing, it’s potentially, but not always, both sets.
- If you are cutting with the mat, the outer rollers should be on the mat only and should not touch the material itself. Track Enhancing does nothing with those rollers.
- When you cut without the mat, those outer rollers do grip the material itself. However, the materials you cut without the mat are typically only vinyl or HTV, which are very thin. That means Track Enhancing isn’t going to do much.
- No matter what you’re cutting and whether or not you’re using the mat, those middle rollers are probably going to roll over the material. So it’s here that Track Enhancing has the most potential use.
- Because the rubber rollers on the machine models I told you about above are more rigid, they will be the ones that make the most difference with Track Enhancing.
When and how should I use Track Enhancing?
What track enhancing doesn’t do
Let me make one thing clear right off the bat. Slipping material and misaligned cuts are most often a result of other factors. A mat that is no longer sticky is the biggest cause of material sliding around on the mat. And misaligned cuts are usually because the cut settings for blade number and/or force are too high. So don’t get tricked into believing that using Track Enhancing is going to solve those issues most of the time. That’s like diagnosing and treating yourself based on an internet search. Just like there’s no substitute for an exam by a real doctor, there’s no substitute for selecting the right cut settings.
What track enhancing DOES do
There are times Track Enhancing can be useful, especially when you’re using a thick material like chipboard or leather. It can do 2 things.
- It pushes the material more firmly onto the mat before starting the cut. That makes it less likely to shift during the cut. It’s like if you use sketch pens on cardstock before you cut. The material is already sticking to the mat better in those areas before you add the pressure from the blade.
- It creates that track or indention along the material. Once you add the pressure of the blade going through the material, the rollers have a greater chance to hold the material in the right spot. They are rolling in the track you created. Think of it like a lower track on a sliding glass door. The mechanisms at the top are the ones helping the door move; the track along the bottom keeps the door in place so it doesn’t swing out. (Not a great analogy, but I hope it helps).
It’s not easy to see, but here’s what a track looks like along a piece of Silhouette brand chipboard. I’ve outlined it in yellow.
What to keep in mind
There are just a couple of things to keep in mind for Track Enhancing:
- That indentation is permanent, so you want to position your material in such a way that the indent happens where you want it.
- If you have a Cameo 3, remember that you can move those inner rollers so they hit where you want them to.
- The machines with rubber rollers are going to use Track Enhancing most successfully. Since those are older models, that’s probably why it’s not a pre-selected setting on any material nowadays.
Some people use Track Enhancing to check to see if their material is going to roll in and out of the machine and stay under the outer rollers, or to see if there material will clear under the bar correctly. There’s a better way to do that — load as normal and then use the arrow keys on your machine. If you use Track Enhancing, the machine begins the cut right away after the rolling in and out. That means you don’t have time to adjust if it’s not doing what you want.
Now that we’ve talked about the obscure setting Track Enhancing, we’ll go back to something a bit more generic at our next appointment. It’s just for Curio owners, but of vital importance to them. We’ll go over the various platforms and how to combine them for the best success.
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