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Silhouette 'Subtract' & 'Subtract All' Tool Tutorial

Let's talk about the Silhouette Subtract Tool today.  I had a reader question about how to use it recently so I thought it was worth a quick lesson.  The subtract tool lets you cut out or subtract sections of designs so they perfectly align with other designs. In this example, a portion of the M and B are subtracted around the ampersand.

The secret to the subtract tool is layers. Depending on which layer of your design is in the foreground and which is in the background will determine what piece is 'subtracted.'

For this example, since I wanted M and B to have subtracted areas, I made sure the '&' was 'in front.'

Okay lets get started.
Open Silhouette Studio.

I used the striped ampersand (design #56769) that was one of the free designs offered during the Silhouette Online Store's sale recently.  Here's what it looked like originally. I ungrouped and released the compound paths to delete all the diagonal lines.  If you didn't get this design you can use any ampersand from a font or go download it now and come on back.

Once the ampersand was ready in Silhouette Studio, I added my M and B. I typed them each separately so I could position them freely without them being grouped.

I resized the letters and then overlapped them with the ampersand so it looked like this.

I then brought the & to the front (highlight the & only > right click > bring to front).  It's important to remember that the image(s) you DO NOT want sections deleted from need to be in the front.

Now it's time to start subtracting.  Click the 'Open the Modify Window' icon along the top tool bar. I highlighted my entire design at once and clicked 'Subtract All'.  You must highlight/select the foreground image and the background image at the same time for the subtract all or subtract tools to work. Highlighting only the image you want the cuts made from will not work.

Everywhere on the letters that was overlapped by the ampersand was deleted as you can see in this before and after.   You can work in small sections ie just the M and the ampersand or you can highlight all three designs at the same time when subtracting all.

I cut the letters on one paper and the ampersand on a coordinating paper  and then mounted them on another complimentary color to really make them pop.  I think this would be cute in a bedroom shared by siblings or for twins.  If you use more romantic or subtle paper it would even work for a master bedroom or as stationary. There are so many possibilities.

Here's a closer view at the subtracted area and how it comes together.

Now if you're wondering what the difference is between 'Subtract' and 'Subtract All' this is how the Silhouette manual describes each:

Subtract:  This option will remove all overlapping parts of images that are in front of
other images, so that only the image located in back will remain with the overlapping
parts removed.
Subtract All: This option will remove any portion of an image that is in back behind another image

I find a graphic more easy to understand so here's one I created to show the effect you get on a single design depending on what's in the foreground and background and whether you use the 'subtract' or 'subtract all' tool.  Note: The top images included two circles originally, but one of the circles is no longer visible after using the subtract tool. 

Thanks for coming to class today at Silhouette School.  If you like what you see, I'd love for you to pin it!

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  1. For this example, since I wanted M and B to have subtracted areas, I made sure the '&' was 'in front.' vinyl cut lettering online

  2. Great tip! Especially the front vs back positioning. Thanks :)

  3. THANK YOU!! This has been one issue I've been struggling with for awhile. And, as always, I appreciate your visual examples!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. So my sister and I have been trying to make a scalloped type background. We took multiple sized circles, grouped them together and then layered them on top of each other. We didn't want all the cut lines under the area that was below another set of circles so we used the subract all. It is fine if we only do two or three sets, but once we hit the fourth or fifth then the program locks up. We have used a Mac and a PC and it does it on both. Any suggestions?

    1. I have the same problem. I hate how glitchy this program is!

  6. so this still has to be cut as two different designs and layered right?


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