This Silhouette beginner’s guide will teach you all the basics to get crafting with your Silhouette Cameo or Silhouette Portrait! I will explain what your Silhouette can do and how to make your first cut. (This post may contain affiliate links, which help to support this site at no extra cost to you.)
If you just got a brand new Cameo or a new Portrait (or if you got it a while ago, and it’s still sitting in the box!) and you are feeling a little overwhelmed, then this post is for you! Think of this as a quick start guide for Silhouette beginners. It’s not going to go into great detail or get you overwhelmed with too much info, but it should give you everything you need to make your very first cut!
Ready to learn how to use your Silhouette?
How to Get Started Crafting with Your Silhouette Cameo 4 or Portrait 3
For this post and video tutorial, I am focusing on the Cameo 4 and the Portrait 3. If you are curious about all of the different types of Silhouette machines, you can watch this video comparison of all the Silhouette machines. Although I am not specifically discussing them here, this guide will also give you the basics for getting crafting with the larger Cameo Plus and Cameo Pro.
You can watch my video quick start guide below, or keep scrolling for a written guide to Silhouette Cameo and Portrait basics. (Psst – be sure to subscribe to my youtube channel for more videos like this one!)
Let’s start by going over what kinds of projects you can make with your Silhouette machine.
What Can Your Silhouette Do?
Stated super simply, the Cameo and Portrait are cutting and drawing machines. Here’s a quick overview of what these machines can do.
- Cut. The Cameo 4 and Portrait 3 can both cut a wide variety of materials including paper, card stock, heat transfer or iron on vinyl, adhesive vinyl, sticker paper, tattoo paper, stencil material, and even thicker, denser materials like craft foam, shrink film, and light chipboard. The Cameo 4 is a more powerful machine that can use specialty tools to cut thicker and more difficult materials such as fabric, acetate, leather, and more. You can read more about what materials you can cut with your Silhouette here.
- Sketch. By replacing the blade in your Portrait or Cameo with a pen, you can turn your Silhouette into a drawing machine. Silhouette calls this feature sketching. You can use either Silhouette brand sketch pens or your own pens that fit in the pen holder. Sketching makes it easy to create custom labels, tags, cards and more without a printer. You can also use pens with special glitter or opaque inks to create unique designs. I have a full guide on how to sketch with your Silhouette machine here.
- Print and Cut. One of my favorite features of both the Cameo and Portrait machines is their ability to print and cut. This means you can print a design and then the machine can cut precisely around the design using an optical sensor. You can read more about how to use the Silhouette print and cut feature here.
What comes with Your Silhouette Machine?
When you get started with your Silhouette machine there’s a few things that come in the box that will help you make your first cut. Both the Cameo and Portrait come with the following things to help you make your first project right out of the box:
- Cameo or Portrait Machine
- Power Cord
- USB Cord
- Cutting Mat (12″ x 12″ for the Cameo and 8″ x 12″ for the Portrait)
- Adapters for Sketch Pens and Other Tools
- Silhouette Studio Software Download
With everything included in the box, you have everything you need to make your first few projects. You will just need some paper or vinyl to craft with.
A Few Notes About the Silhouette Studio Software
I want to mention a few things about the Silhouette Studio software quickly before moving on. In addition to the free version of the Silhouette Studio software, which you can download here, you can also buy upgraded versions of the software that offer more features.
Silhouette Studio is a really powerful design software that allows you to easily create your own projects using shape tools, allowing you to access any fonts installed and your computer, and so much more.
While the free version of the Silhouette Studio software has lots of great tools, one disadvantage is that you cannot open SVG files with the basic version of the software. SVG files are the most common cut file type used with electronic cutting machines, so when you’re looking for project designs on Pinterest or your favorite blogs, you will often see them called SVG cut files.
To make it easier to work with these designs and to give you even more amazing design tools, I generally recommend upgrading to at least the Designer Edition of the software, which you can do by purchasing a license key here. (However, if you don’t want to upgrade your software, you can absolutely still do tons of crafting with the basic version of the software. Check out this post all about the different file types you can use with different versions of the software for more information on this.)
Silhouette Go Mobile App
In addition to the powerful Silhouette Studio software, there is also a free mobile app called Silhouette Go, which allows you to craft using your Android or iOS device. The mobile app does not have as many features as the Studio software, but it could be a great option for a lot of projects. You can learn all about the Silhouette Go mobile app here.
Making Your First Cut with Your Silhouette Cameo or Silhouette Portrait
Once you have the Silhouette Studio software installed on your computer and you have unpacked all the elements from the box, you are ready to get started with your first cut. I will walk you through all of the steps of making your first project. For this example, I will be making a simple tag cut from card stock using a tag design that I downloaded from the Silhouette Design Store (Design ID 20965).
Step One. Connect Your Machine to Your Computer.
Start by plugging the power cord into the side of your machine and then into a power outlet. Push the power button to turn on the machine.
Next you will need to connect your machine to your computer using either using a usb cord or using bluetooth. I would recommend just plugging directly into your computer using the usb cord for your first project to keep things simple.
To connect to your computer via bluetooth, first make sure your computer has bluetooth on and is discoverable to devices. Then make sure your Silhouette machine’s bluetooth is turned on by pushing the bluetooth button and making sure the blue light is illuminated. Then, in the Silhouette Studio software, click on the “Send” tab in the upper right corner. At the bottom of the send tab there is a small icon of a machine. Click on that icon to see any machines that have been connected to your computer. If your machine is properly connected, it will show as being “Available” in this list.
Step Two. Prepare Your Design in the Software.
Next, it’s time to get your design ready to cut in the software. On the Page Setup menu, make sure you have the machine you are using selected as well as the cutting mat and media size.
After your page setup is done, there are a few basic ways to open or create designs in Silhouette Studio:
- Download Designs from the Silhouette Design Store. The first option is to purchase or download designs from the Silhouette Design Store. If you click on the “Store” tab in the software, your internet browser will open the store in a new window. The store includes thousands of designs, fonts, projects, and more perfectly suited to work with your Silhouette. You can find a free design every week or purchase the designs you choose. Any designs that you purchase in the design store will automatically be uploaded to your Silhouette library which you can access directly in the software in the “Library” tab.
- Open Files Directly in Silhouette Studio. The second option is to open up a cut file that you have downloaded from a cut file shop or blog in the software. (Refer to this post for more information on what file types you can open with your version of the Silhouette Studio software.) To do this, simply click on File > Open and then find the file you want to open.
- Create Your Own Design in Silhouette Studio. The third option is to create your own design using the design tools included in the Silhouette Studio software. You can use all the fonts you have installed on your computer to add custom text to your project. I have a detailed guide on using fonts with Silhouette Studio right here.
After you have your design chosen or created, you will want to scale and position it on your cutting mat. Drag the corner handle on your design to scale it up or down. You will see the dimension of the design in inches displayed around the object. Position your design where you want it to cut on your mat.
Step Three. Load Your Tool and Cutting Mat into the Machine.
When your design is all prepped in the software, it’s time to get the machine ready to cut. (If this if your very first time using your machine, make sure you have carefully removed any tape, foam, or other packing materials from inside the machine.)
First, insert your Autoblade into your machine. The Cameo 4 has two tool slots. The second tool slot is for more powerful blades, which you can use for later projects. The AutoBlade goes in the first tool slot in the Cameo 4 or the only tool slot in the Portrait 3.
With the flat side of the blade facing towards the back of the machine, push it down into the tool holder. Then push in the tab to lock it in place. After the blade has been inserted into the machine, you should see that the software detects the tool in the Send tab of the Silhouette Studio software.
From the material drop down menu in the Send tab of the software, select the material that you’re cutting from. For this project, I’m just going to cut a tag out of card stock. So I’m going to select “Cardstock, Plain.” I find this cut setting works best for very lightweight card stock. For heavier weights, try the “Cardstock, Textured – Heavy” setting.
Remove the clear protective cover from your cutting mat and place your material onto the cutting mat, smoothing it down with your hands. Load the cutting mat into your machine by lining up the left edge of the mat with the line on the base of the machine near the tool housing. Press the forward arrow button to feed the mat into the machine.
Step Four. Make a Test Cut.
I recommend always doing a test cut first to make sure the settings work for the material you’re using. After you have your material selected and your mat and blade loaded into the machine, make your test cut by clicking on “Test.”
The machine will cut a little triangle inside of a square in the upper left corner of your material. Press the forward arrow button to unload the cutting mat from the machine to check the test cut.
If you do not have a clean cut, then you will need to adjust the settings in the software. For example, if the test cut did not go all the way through the material, then you will need to increase the blade depth or the force. If the blade is digging into the cutting mat and getting stuck, decrease the blade depth or the force. After adjusting your settings, do another test cut.
Step Five. Make Your Cut!
When you are happy with your test cut, you are ready to make your real cut! Load your mat into your machine again and then click the “Send” button at the bottom of the send tab. (If it asks you if you want to mirror your image, just click “send as is.” That option is only for heat transfer designs.)
When your project is done cutting, unload your mat from the machine. Then carefully remove the project from your cutting mat. And that’s it! You made your first cut!
You can use these same basic steps to cut vinyl or heat transfer, sketch projects, and make all kinds of amazing projects with your Silhouette. If you are new to working with vinyl, be sure to check out my beginner’s guide to crafting with vinyl right HERE.
I hope this guide was helpful for you! If you have questions, leave them in the comments and I will do my best to respond. What other Silhouette tutorials would you like to see? Let me know!
Until next time, Happy Making!
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