Advancing The Hobby- Using a Cutting Machine
I recently picked up a Silhouette Cameo 3 cutter. This will cut/score/scribe all sorts of materials including vinyl, stickers, fabric, magnets, and various thicknesses of styrene. There is a steep learning curve, and I plan on posting a series of articles detailing my experiments.
I received the machine last Friday. It came as a bundle with all sorts of materials to try out. Setup was very simple. I installed the software from the manufacturer's website, and plugged the machine into power and an available USB port.
The machine has a color touch screen on the right, and blade storage on the left. It has a slide out drawer with space for "weeding" tools. There is a sliding paper cutter device on the back of the unit. You can see the plotter head in this image. The 2 cylinders at its front are what make the magic happen. The left one is a blade. It automatically sets the correct cutting depth depending on the type of material you are cutting. The left slot has a black pen which can draw lines, and do various fills. The bundle came with 24 different pen colors. With multiple passes of the same material, you can do multi-color drawings, and then cut them out! There is also a tiny scanner in the unit that can read printed registration marks so you can cut items that you have printed out on a standard printer. Any material you want to feed into the machine needs to be placed on a cutting mat. These mats have an adhesive surface to keep the cut materials from slipping around.
My father-in-law asked me to add lettering to the back of this boat model. I decided that this would be a perfect first test for the cutting machine. I used the design software to type letters, and even added an oval around them. I had the machine cut these out of vinyl. Here's where I ran into my first problem. The back of this boat is 2 inches by 3/4 inch. The letters were VERY small. after cutting, you use a small hook tool to "weed" the vinyl away from the cut letters that you want to keep. This took me 8 tries before i was successful. The letters were cut perfectly each time. I think practice will make this process much easier.
After weeding the letters, you cover them with a piece of transfer paper. This paper has a low tack adhesive and is designed to move the material to its permanent home. Once covered, you use a credit card or other piece of plastic to smooth out any bubbles and make sure that the letters are attached to the transfer paper. Next, you carefully remove the backing from the vinyl, taking care not to move the letters from their spot on the transfer paper. Finally, you place the whole thing on its final resting place, and use the plastic card to smooth out the help the vinyl to adhere. Carefully remove the transfer paper, and you're done! I decided to remove the surrounding oval from the letters because it just didn't look very good.
For my next experiment, I created a window sticker for my wife's car. I found this White Sox image via Google, and used the software's trace function to automatically trace the image and create the necessary cut lines. After I had the cut lines, I reversed the image so it would look correct when adhered to the inside of a car window, and sent a piece of black vinyl through the machine. It was much easier to weed the extra vinyl from this larger design. I used a piece of transfer paper to attach it to the window.
The next day, I made some magnets to give out when I went to see Rogue One with some friends. This was a much tougher project. I created the design and printed it out on a laser printer. I affixed the whole sheet to an adhesive backed magnet sheet. My plan was to use the machine's "PixScan" feature to speed up the cutting prep. This requires the use of a special "pixscan" cutting mat. It has the registration marks on it for the machine to read. The idea is you affix your project to this special mat, and take a photograph of it. You can load the photo into the software, and make your cut designs as usual. Then, you load the special mat into the machine, and it reads the registration marks, compares it to the photo, and cuts in the correct places.
This did not work. I wasted half a day and 2 magnet sheets trying to get it to work. The machine was never able to read the mat's registration marks.
After hours of frustration, I decided to try it a different way. I printed the designs and had the software add registration marks to the printed page. I then affixed it to a magnet sheet, and used the standard cutting mat. The machine read these marks perfectly, and cut each magnet with no issues. It is possible that my PixScan mat is defective, I will need to reach out to the company for assistance.
My final weekend project was to crank out some more window decals to stuff into holiday cards. I went back into the design document for the Sox logos, and duplicated the original design in different sizes. I weeded them, and added the transfer paper. After cutting them around the edges, I was done! The Cubs logos were a little difficult to weed because they have some tiny parts that are free floating. Out of the 9 I cut into one sheet of vinyl, i had 5 keepers.
My next goal is to do some experiments with the sketch pens. I want to see how fine a line they can draw, and how detailed I can make things.
Hopefully the potential for hobbying is clear. I plan on making airbrush stencils, posters and artwork with sticker backing for terrain, and eventually full plasticard buildings. Look for part 2 of this series soon!