12 Simple Tips for Getting Started with your Silhouette
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Are you new to the Silhouette world? If so, WELCOME! The combined power of your new Silhouette machine and the Silhouette Studio software will open up a whole new realm of creative possibilities for you – which can be both exciting and overwhelming. But don’t let the overwhelming part intimidate you! Follow these 12 simple tips for getting started, and you’ll soon be on the path to success!
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#1 – Be patient with yourself.
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Although the premise of the Silhouette is quite simple (the software sends a message to the machine which in turn tells the tool(s) where to take action), the number of different media types, the actions that can be performed, and the multitude of options available in the software mean that there is a lot to learn! You are not expected to know everything when you’re first starting out. I’ve been using my machines for almost 6 years (as of this writing), and I’m still learning new things every day. Celebrate your successes, learn from your mistakes, and keep moving forward.
#2 – Become familiar with your machine.
Take a good look at your machine. Pay attention to where the markings are that guide you in loading the mat. Lock/unlock the roller bar to see how different the mat feels when the bar is in the different positions. Make sure the blade is properly installed and locked down. Get to know your machine’s personality because each machine is a little bit different, even among the same models.
# 3 – Use the proper tools and accessories.
Each Silhouette machine has been designed to work with Silhouette-brand mats, blades, and other accessories. It may be tempting to use another brand of mat or style of blade, but doing so could result in mis-cuts, which will then lead to frustration. And remember – a new mat is a very sticky mat! It’s quite likely that your first project will tear when you try to remove it from the mat, due to the hold of the adhesive. To remedy this, de-sticky the new mat just a bit before it’s first use by lightly pressing the adhesive side onto your jeans or a cotton t-shirt a few times.
# 4 – Buy quality materials.
Not all paper is created equal. Not all vinyl is created equal. You’ll have a much better experience if you use high-quality media for your projects, purchased from suppliers you know and trust.
# 5 – Be prepared to waste some material while you’re learning.
You may be lucky enough to have a perfect cut the very first time you take your machine out of the box, but that is the exception rather than the rule. I’m not advocating that you throw caution to the wind and be wasteful with your supplies, but don’t beat yourself up if you ruin a piece of two of vinyl while you’re trying to cut something new. Even high-quality paper is not too expensive on a per-sheet basis and you should expect to sacrifice a few pieces as you become familiar with your machine.
# 6 – Practice on paper.
As mentioned in Tip #5, paper is relatively cheap – much less expensive than adhesive vinyl, HTV, or any of the specialty media types. For this reason, test out your designs on copy paper or cardstock before you cut out of a more expensive material. Just don’t forget to adjust the cut settings when you’re ready to move on from paper!
# 7 – Remember to check the preview in the Send panel.
When viewing a design in the Send Panel, the cut lines will appear in bold. If you don’t see these bold lines, it means that the machine will not take any action. Click on the design to select it and choose either “Cut” or “Cut Edge”, then the bold lines should appear.
# 8 – Learn to perform a Test Cut.
Make a habit of performing a Test Cut with each new material, new mat, or new blade. Even if you’ve used a certain type of media many times in the past, the settings may need tweaking if other factors such as the mat or blade have changed. Different brands of paper or vinyl may also require different cut settings. The Test Cut function will save you from unnecessary waste of time and materials.
#9 – Invest in a software upgrade.
The Basic edition of Silhouette Studio is available as a free download, whether you own a machine or not. It’s powerful software full of great tools and features, but only skims the surface of what Studio is capable of. There are 3 different upgrade options available – Designer Edition, Designer Edition Plus, and Business Edition. At a minimum, I suggest that you invest in Designer Edition, which will unlock a host of new features. The MSRP is $50, but it can be purchased for around $30 (oftentimes less!) from online vendors such as Swing Design and Amazon.com. It’s a purchase you will not regret and you’ll want to thank me every time you use it 😉 .
#10 – CTRL/CMD+Z (Undo) can be your best friend.
As long as you have not exited out of a design in Studio, you can undo each incremental step in the design process by selecting CTRL+Z (or CMD+Z on a Mac). If you have upgraded to Business Edition, there is a Multiple Undo/Multiple Redo option which will allow you to go back and forth as many steps as you like with only a couple of clicks of the mouse.
#11 – Take a class.
I may be a bit biased, but I am a firm believer in hands-on classes. YouTube videos and e-books are great, but there’s really no substitute for being able to ask questions from an actual instructor, in real time, while you are working on a project. Often the instructor will share tips that will save you time, money, and frustration. As a bonus, you’ll be able to meet people who share your interest in the Silhouette!
#12 – Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Join one of the many Silhouette Facebook groups or find a Silhouette buddy to call when you have questions. There are a lot of friendly people in the Silhouette world and most of them are very happy to help when needed. And be sure to return the favor when others have issues that you can assist them with!
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and that you’re soon enjoying your new Silhouette with confidence and enthusiasm! If you have any questions, please feel free to leave a comment below or come join my Facebook group. To read even more tips to help get you started with your Silhouette, be sure to check out these posts:
Silhouette Basics: Loading the Mat
Say what? A glossary of Silhouette terms
Silhouette Studio: Which Edition is right for you?
Silhouette Studio: Shortcuts to Success
10 “Hidden” Features of the Silhouette Cameo 3
10 Reasons Why Your Silhouette Cameo or Portrait Isn’t Cutting
Silhouette Studio: Taking the Fear Out of Version 4 – Send Panel
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Last but not least, if you’re in the East Texas area why not join me for Creative Cutters or one of my other classes? I’d love the chance to meet you in person!
Until next time,
Lycia is a lifelong crafter whose goal is to help others find value, confidence, and joy in whatever they create. She geeks out on using technology to supercharge craft projects with Silhouette Studio, Design Space, Glowforge, sublimation, etc.! Lycia teaches these skills and more through online tutorials and videos as well as in-person classes at both the local and national levels.