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Engraving with Silhouette: 7 Tips to the Perfect Engraving

 Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips
I have never been so excited to share a Silhouette tutorial with you. Not only have I been working on perfecting this engraving process for a week now, but I've quite literally tried dozens of combinations of settings and tools until I finally figured out the best way to get a clean, legible, centered, and (relatively) deep engraving.

So here are my seven tips for engraving with Silhouette...(Please read through the entire tutorial before you begin because unlike most of my tutorials this isn't as "step by step" since some things need to happen simultaneously as you'll see with steps 3 and 4)

1. Chomas Creations Engraving Tip 

The first thing you need to do is get yourself an Amy Chomas Engraving Tip. They're now sold on Amazon.

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, Amy Chomas, engraving tip

2. Finding the Right Surface to Engrave On

Once you have your engraving tool you need to find something to engrave. I wanted to make an Alex and Ani-inspired charm bracelet.   I found the charms (and the bangles) at the craft store. Michaels didn't carry them, but AC Moore did. I don't have Hobby Lobby in my areas, so I am not sure if they stock them....just throwing that out there since I know someone will ask.  You can also find a huge selection of charms of various sizes on Amazon.  Look for "blank stamping rounds" that already have holes in them.  The pack I got came with two sizes of charms 1/2" and 3/4".   If you like the dog tag look, Punch Place Plus has them.
TIP: With the Amy Chomas engraver you can engrave or etch on several different types of hard surfaces including metal sheets, acrylic plastic sheet, even clear and Core'dinations cardstock. The key is the material must be thin enough to fit under the rollers on your machine. 
3.  The Right Stuff Stick

I wasted at least four of my charms (some front and back), just figuring this one out.  You can have everything aligned perfectly and then the engraving tip starts moving and there goes your charm (FYI I'm going to keep saying "charms" throughout but it's relevant to whatever material you're engraving on) moving around the mat. Seriously, this happened to me like 12 times.  GRRR... the problem is unless you have a brand new mat, the stick may not be enough to keep your charm in place.

I also suggest you don't use a regular cutting mat. It's not that it won't work without the PixScan mat, but I strongly encourage you to invest in one if you plan to engrave and you'll see why in the next step.  The Pixscan mat has a sticky surface, like the regular cutting mats, but it's not as sticky and if you've used it at all I'd compare it to a light hold mat.  That's likely not going to be enough to keep everything in place.

Soooo...don't laugh when I tell you this BUT..what I did was use an HTV carrier sheet for added stick.  Obviously you don't want the HTV on there so go make a shirt or something or do what I did and pick up a piece off your craft room floor (just being real).  Now take the carrier sheet and stick it on your PixScan mat. You want the sticky side UP.  The carrier sheet should be a decent size. Lay it nice and flat on the PixScan mat. Then find a really sticky area of the carrier sheet and press your charm onto it.  It's stuck good now, isn't it?!

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, charm, Pixscan mat

The charms may be stuck on the mat now, but unless you actually line your design up exactly with your charms you may actually miss your mark which is why PixScan is key.   

 4. PixScan is Key

So here's the thing...PixScan makes this engraving process super precise. I first tried engraving with my regular mat and lining up my charm using the grid lines on the mat in Studio and my actual cutting mat.  It engraved on the charm...kinda, but not really.  My design was NEVER centered which drives me bananas. A few times part of my design was missing because the engraver missed the charm completely. When working with something this small - and these charms and designs are TINY at half an inch diameter - the margin for error is next to none.

This is where PixScan is an absolute lifesaver and worth every penny of $14.99.  If you're not familiar with PixScan you're gonna want to read my PixScan for Beginners lesson first because this tutorial will assume you know the basics of how to use Silhouettes' new PixScan Technology. 

Because PixScan keeps everything in exact proportions and uses registration marks to cut, it knows EXACTLY where to cut your design.  All I did was lay my HTV carrier sheet on the PixScan mat > put my charms on top of the carrier sheet (pressing it down really well)  > take a photo > upload to my computer > open up the PixScan image in Silhouette Studio.
Tip: Because you are using PixScan you can actually put several charms randomly on the mat at the same time and move different designs onto each charm in Studio.
At this point you'd usually trace whatever is on your PixScan mat. For for this project, we're actually just going to use the PixScan for placement and sizing. I had created a few different charm designs - a silhouette of my son, a monogram, an anchor and my anniversary date - so I opened them up and moved one right onto the charm in the PixScan image. Then I sized and positioned it.  This now tells Silhouette Studio 1) Exactly how large my design needs to be to fit perfectly centered on the charm and 2) exactly where to cut/engrave so long as my charm does not move which is why that extra sticky surface we talked about in #3 is so important.

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, charm design

5. Double Cut's Not Enough

When I tell you I tried everything to get a nice deep engraving I mean I tried everything. I double stacked my charms thinking the thicker material would put more pressure on the engraver to make a deeper etch, I literally added pressure on the engraving tip with my finger (bad idea as it cause engraving marks where they shouldn't be when the tip was trying to lift to move), I double cut and then double cut again...and again.

What finally worked was Studio I actually layered my design on top of itself three times.  (I'm filing the design in here so you can see easier.)  Basically I made my design and had it all sized to fit on my charm. Then I copied and pasted it twice so I had a total of three of the exact same design.

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, layer

Make sure you have cut lines around all of the duplicates.

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, cut lines

Then select all three of the designs at the same time and front the Align window click "Center".   Now it will look like you have only one design, but really you have three and they are just stacked exactly on top of each other.

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, align center

I suggest you group the layers (select > right click > group) in case you need to move them back into place slightly (as you can see I need to do here). So right now you are telling the machine to cut your design 3 times...once for each layer because you have cut lines around each layer.  In the next steps I'll show you how to tell Silhouette Studio to actually cut your design a total of six times.

6. Cut Setting

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, cut settingsWhen you're ready to cut, open up the cut settings window.  Since Silhouette America doesn't make an engraver, there's no default settings.  You can create your own custom material settings by following the general directions here, or you can do what I did and use the Coverstock settings.   The Coverstock defaults put you at a speed of 1 and a thickness of 33. The thickness is important because the thicker the material the more pressure that is put on the blade, or in this case, the engraver. You don't need to worry about the blade because you're going to replace it with the engraver. 

After you pick Coverstock, you'll get a second scroll bar. Scroll on down...

7.  Double Double Double

And check the box for 'double cut.' Remember you actually have three layers of your design so you're telling the machine to cut each layer twice for a total of six passes! 

Now that you have everything ready, load your Pixscan mat into your Silhouette.  Replace the blade with your Chomas Creations Engraver Tool, and send the design to be cut.
Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips, Pixscan mat
Hold your breath...And then let out a big ol' AMEN! You successfully engraved and you didn't get a gray hair in the process. (I think I saved you at least seven, right?)  Don't mind how dirty my mat is....

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips

Engraving, Silhouette, Silhouette tutorial, tips

Note: This post may contain affiliate links. By clicking on them and purchasing products through my links, I receive a small commission. That's what helps fund Silhouette School so I can keep buying new Silhouette-related products to show you how to get the most out of your machine! 

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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