Advice for Silhouette Beginners

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I have had my Silhouette for about six years now, and I have made so many mistakes in those years that I could write a pretty lengthy novel. Back when I first started crafting with my Silhouette cutter, there weren’t many blogs with online tutorials or YouTube channels with how to videos. I struggled to come up with techniques that worked for even the most basic of things. I love that electronic cutting machines have changed the world of crafting, even forged a new path for crafters everywhere. There are so many different methods to do one thing and what works for one person may not work for another. I wish I had some of the resources available to me that are available today, including experienced veterans to teach their ways! Although I now know my Silhouette machine and software backwards and forwards, I am still learning new things.

A fresh perspective is often all it takes to inspire others. No matter your level of expertise, you can learn something new or different from others. So, take a few minutes and learn from my mistakes! I have put together 5 tips for you that I wish someone had told me when I first began crafting with my Silhouette.


BACK-UP, BACK-UP, BACK-UP!

I cannot stress enough how important it is to back-up your designs AND fonts. Then back-up again! My luck with thumb drives, external hard drives, and laptops could seriously make some question how I make it through a day without breaking something. I have been through 8 thumb drives, 4 laptops, and 3 external hard drives. I lost thousands of files when my external hard drive failed. Luckily, I had saved everything into a folder on my desktop, but then just a few days later, I spilled coffee all over my keyboard and lost everything. I cried for hours when the data recovery specialist told me nothing could be recovered from either device. After that devastating adventure, I vowed to make a change. You would think I would have learned something from my mistakes before that, but in those experiences, it was never thousands of files. That time was different. Don’t let this be you!

I now use a Cloud-based personal network to store everything I create or purchase. Immediately upon saving to my own network, the files get backed up automatically online. So even though I do need to be connected to my home network to be able to access the files, if I am away from home, I can just log in to the Cloud website and access my files remotely (from any computer!).

There is even a mobile app I can use. In addition, I also back up everything to my computer weekly, and I back-up to my Dropbox account weekly. I also back-up anything I consider extra important to my Google Drive as an extra precaution. As a graphic designer and a crafter, if I ever lost thousands of files again, I would be devastated and don’t think I would ever fully recover from it. All that work is worth so much to me that I understand how important it is to protect it. Your fonts and designs are worth your investment to back them up!


EVERY MACHINE IS DIFFERENT

All recommended settings are just that, a recommendation! You will find suggested settings for everything from blade depth and speed to material thickness. These are starting points. Just because the manufacturer of your vinyl recommends a thickness of 6 does not mean this is the appropriate setting for your specific machine. Not all machines are the same.

You should do test cuts using scraps and expect that when you change your blade or even get a new cutter, that there will be differences in settings. My original Cameo would require higher blade settings than my current, newer model. It took some trial and error after purchasing my new machine before I got these settings right. You should also expect to need to make adjustments as your blade gets duller from normal use. Get into the habit of using the Test Cut feature when changing to a new material. It’s there to save you money on wasted vinyl costs!


DESIGN AND WORK IN COLOR

I am a visual person so when I am designing, it helps to be able to see my creation in color. I have watched hundreds of tutorial videos and have read my fair share of guides on various Silhouette topics, and it always amazes me the number of people who work with no color in their design (as outlines only) or their fill line is a different color than their fill color. Many will type out text and just leave it as the default red outline that Silhouette uses and never actually add any color to the text. It is so distracting to me when I see that, and it definitely takes away from the design (unless of course this is the look you are going for!). I also see this a lot in mock-ups, and as a potential customer, when I see a red or black outline around a beautiful design that would not have that outline when the product was created, it does turn me away from purchasing.

Working in color is the easiest way to ensure your design on the screen would look good on a physical product. Maybe you plan to use light pink and light purple vinyl in your finished item, but when you test the colors on your screen, you realize that even though there is minimal overlapping of the two colors, they just don’t quite go together and the design is difficult to read in places. In this case, using a dark shade for one color and a light shade for the other might be ideal. Now, yes it is true that your on screen colors may be somewhat different than the actual vinyl color, but you can select a shade close to what you need or even try out the tab for the advanced color options and select an even closer shade from there.

If working in color is not a big deal for you, then no worries! It’s not the end of the world if your ending design result is the same. BUT, I highly recommend that if you do create a mock-up image, make sure that you do use colors and the line color that outlines your design is either the same color or transparent so it does not show. It looks cleaner and is a better representation of your final product. More sales will come!


OFFSET IS YOUR BEST FRIEND

The offset tool is the best feature (in my opinion of course!) that Silhouette has. A lot of crafters do not use this tool enough. I use it in about 50% of my design work in Silhouette, especially for designs that will be cut smaller than three inches. In a nutshell, using the offset tool will allow you to thicken up a font, shape, or whole design. It is great for skinny fonts that are really difficult to weed. Even just a .003 inches offset in a small design will thicken the lines just enough that they weed smoothly. Many fonts don’t have an option to create bold text, so using this tool does it for you!

You can also utilize the offset tool to create a layered effect for just about anything. Just keep increasing the offset distance until you achieve the desired thickness. Oh, and make sure you weld that piece when you are done if anything overlaps!


UPGRADE TO DESIGNER EDITION AS SOON AS YOU CAN

The biggest take home point I stress to all Silhouette beginners is that the Designer Edition upgrade is worth the tiny extra required to purchase it. I have seen it as low as $19 on occasion, but it can usually be found for around $25. Do a quick internet search to find the best deal. It is a small price to pay for the features it unlocks. The biggest and best feature is the ability to use SVG files. Being able to open and use SVG files without needing to convert a raster photo file or tracing an image is seriously a lifesaver. Using the basic edition is perfect when you are just learning the software, but when you are ready to expand your horizons, the upgrade is worth every penny. Sure, you can always utilize the DXF files that many designers now offer, but not all of them do! I see posts on a daily basis from newbies asking why their SVG files won’t open for them. So, just avoid the headache of this happening to you. You won’t be sorry, I promise!

1 comment on “Advice for Silhouette Beginners”
  1. inspirebliss808

    thank you for the advice about backing up to a cloud based program… I will be making a Dropbox account right now!

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