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Silhouette Cameo Beginners: 10 Tips for Getting Started with Your First Cut

If you want to avoid being one of those Silhouette CAMEO beginners who leaves their Silhouette cutting machine in the box for days or weeks or months or years (yes, years!) because they don't know where to start....allow me!

Silhouette Cameo Beginners Getting Started First Cut

Having written now ten Silhouette beginner guides (some have even called them the Silhouette Books for Dummies) I know the struggles that newbies face when they first get their cutting machine. It's overwhelming!

You don't know what 651 or 631 or weeding or compound path or Silhouette Studio or any of that lingo means.  You're fascinated by the possibilities, but they stall you at the same time because there are just.so.many. Heck, you don't even know what's considered a Silhouette CAMEO beginner project.

For that reason on the eve of the third anniversary of when I received my first Silhouette cutting machine,  I'm sharing 10 Silhouette CAMEO beginners tips for getting started whether you have a Silhouette CAMEO 3, CAMEO 2, 1 or Silhouette Portrait.

1. Get It Out of the Box

No, seriously. The longer you leave it in the box, the longer you'll leave it there and this thing isn't going to cut itself. You know you wanted it for a reason, so get that sucker out of the box! I promise I'm going to show you everything from getting it out of the box to your first cut with Silhouette CAMEO.

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2. Get to Know What's in that Box

Even if you did not get a Silhouette CAMEO Bundle, your machine did not come by itself. Every machine comes with at least several other items.

Every Silhouette cutting machine comes with a cutting mat. When the blue protective cover sheet is removed the sticky surface of the cutting mat is exposed.  The sticky-ness is what will hold the material you are cutting in place.

The Silhouette cutting mats are known to be a little 'over' sticky when they're brand new which can cause vinyl and paper to rip or curl when they are being removed after cutting. To avoid this, de-stick the mat somewhat with a clean cotton t-shirt or pillow case before your first cut.

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Every machine also comes with a cutting blade.  The depth of the cutting blade is adjustable depending on the thickness of the material you are cutting.

If you purchased a Silhouette CAMEO 1 or 2, Portrait or a Curio, your machine will include a black ratchet blade. This blade needs to be manually adjusted. This can be done by placing the blade into the built-in ratchet on the front of the machine and twisting until the red line gets to the recommend blade depth (found in the Cut Settings window in Silhouette Studio).

If you have a CAMEO 3, your machine came with an Automatic Blade which is self-adjusting as long as you tell the software and machine that is the blade you are using. The Silhouette Auto Blade can ONLY fit in the left/red carriage of the CAMEO 3.  (All other tools, including the black ratchet blade, can also fit in that slot, but when the AutoBlade is being used, it must go in that side.)

Your machine also came with a small gray ratchet (CAMEO 2) or flat white ratchet (CAMEO 3) for adjusting the blade depth. 

Every Silhouette cutting machine also comes with two cords: a power cord and a USB cord.

Setting up your Silhouette CAMEO is easy.  The power cord is plugged into the right side of the Silhouette CAMEO machine and also into a power source.  The USB cord connects your computer to the Silhouette CAMEO machine. It is optional if you are cutting with a Silhouette CAMEO 3 that has Bluetooth enabled.

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3. Register Your Machine and Create an Account

Go onto the Silhouette America website do two things: 1) Register your Silhouette Machine and 2) Create a Silhouette Account.

Registering your Silhouette machine will activate the warranty and will also ensure you get the free Silhouette designs that came with your machine.  If you're wondering "Where is the serial number on a Silhouette CAMEO?"...it can be found on a small sticker on the back of the machine.

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Creating a Silhouette America account allows you to purchase designs from the Silhouette Design Store, submit help tickets, and access your Silhouette Cloud which is where designs from the Silhouette Design Store (and those free designs will be stored)

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4. Download Silhouette Studio


While you're on the Silhouette America website, download Silhouette Studio onto your computer. Silhouette Studio is the free software design program that tells your machine how, where, when and what to cut!

TIP: Don't worry about Designer Edition, Designer Edition Plus, or Business Edition yet. You can learn more about those one time paid upgrade software versions after you get started! 

A software CD is only included in Silhouette CAMEO 2 and older versions of the machine - but it can be outdated so it's best to download directly from the Silhouette America website to ensure you're getting the most up to date version.

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Silhouette CAMEO 3 and Curio will only work with Silhouette Studio Version 3.8 or higher.  

Silhouette CAMEO 1, 2, and Portrait users can download an older version of the software if they wish.

Attention Silhouette CAMEO 3 Beginners


Silhouette CAMEO 3 users: You must do the Silhouette CAMEO 3 Firmware Update before you make your first cut.

I would suggest for your first cut you use the USB cord no matter which machine you are working with. Once you understand the very basic Silhouette CAMEO fundamentals you can connect your CAMEO 3 with Bluetooth.

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5. Opening a Design to Cut in Silhouette Studio


Once you have successfully downloaded Silhouette Studio, launch the Silhouette software program, Silhouette Studio.  You'll need to sign into your Cloud account to access your Design store designs (and the free Silhouette designs that came with your machine.)

To open your Silhouette Cloud folder, right click on the "Local User Folder" and click "Add User."

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Sign in using the sign in information you created when you created your Silhouette America account.

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Once you do so, your Silhouette Cloud will appear in the lower half of the Silhouette Studio library window. If you click "Recent Downloads" your free Silhouette designs should be in there!

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To open a design in the work area, double click it.

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6. Adding Fonts in Silhouette Studio

All fonts downloaded and installed on your computer are accessible in Silhouette Studio. If you download a new font to your computer, it will be available in the Font Style list the next time you open Studio.

To add text to a design, click the 'A' text tool icon on the left sidebar and then click your cursor in the work area and begin typing.  When you click the text box so it has a selection box around it, you can then pick a new font style and size from the Text Style window on the right side of the work area.


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7. Silhouette CAMEO First Cut: Pick One Project...Keep It Simple! 

The biggest challenge for Silhouette CAMEO beginners is knowing what is actually considered a beginner level Silhouette project. My suggestion to you is to pick one project and keep it simple. Maybe it's not EXACTLY what you purchased your machine for, but working through a beginner project first will help you learn the process, the software, and your machine. And I promise you - it will limit frustration and shorten the learning curve (not to mention name calling and gray hairs).

If your Silhouette CAMEO machine bundle came with my 5 Silhouette Beginner Project Tutorials mini guide you are in luck! I created all of these projects with first day newbies in mind.  Pick one..and go.

If you did not get my 5 Silhouette Beginner Project Tutorials guide with your machine you can grab it here. In the meantime, I would suggest you pick a simple, solid and single-color design (NOTHING WITH TEXT) from your Silhouette Studio library.  Open it in Silhouette Studio by double clicking the design.  

Once open in a work area, select the design by clicking it and use the squares on the corner of selection box to adjust the size of the shape noting the dimensions along the bottom and side.

Select the design and move it to the top left corner of the work area so you are limiting the amount of wasted material.

That's it - don't do any other manipulation right now.

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Go to the Cut Settings window (little blade) along the top tool bar. With your design selected, click "Cut" to turn on the bold red cut lines. Without these your design will not cut.

Further down the window, pick the material you are going to cut. I would suggest you pick quality vinyl (such as Oracal brand) for your Silhouette CAMEO first cut ... if you don't have vinyl, card stock is a good second choice.

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After you pick the material from the Material List, scroll further down the Cut Settings window and note the recommended default cut settings.

Silhouette CAMEO 1, 2 & Portrait: In Silhouette Studio, note the default recommended blade settings. Manually adjust the ratchet blade using the built in ratchet. Twist it until the red line is at the same as the recommend Blade depth (1).

Silhouette CAMEO 3:  In Silhouette Studio, click the Blade Type drop down menu and select "Automatic Blade".

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8. Preparing the Silhouette Cutting Mat and Blade

Remove the blue protective cover from the Silhouette cutting mat. New Silhouette cutting mats can be too sticky so you may want to use a clean cotton cloth to desticky it a bit before placing your material onto the mat.

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Vinyl should be placed with the paper backing-side down and the vinyl side up.

Try to avoid any wrinkles and ensure the material is covering the same area as where the design is positioned on the virtual mat in Silhouette Studio.

Place your blade into the blade housing on the Silhouette cutting machine. 

Silhouette CAMEO 2: The fin on the black ratchet blade should be facing directly toward you. Make sure the blade is completely down into the carriage and then turn the lock to hold the blade in place.


Silhouette CAMEO 3: The CAMEO 3 Auto Blade must be placed in the left/red carriage. Make sure it's pressed down completely before pushing the locking mechanism all the way in.

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9. Having a Successful Silhouette CAMEO First Cut

Place the cutting mat on the machine so the left edge is lined up with the blue line and arrows. The top edge should be gently touching the silver roller bar.

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With the machine powered on and with the USB cord (or Bluetooth) connecting the cutting machine and computer, press "Load" on the touch screen. This will draw the mat and the material under the Silhouette CAMEO rollers in preparation for cutting.

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Go back into Silhouette Studio and click "Send to Cut". Your Silhouette CAMEO will now begin cutting the design on your material.

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When it's finished, the blade housing will return to the starting position and your mat and material will be partially unloaded. Click "Unload" on the touch screen to fully remove the mat and material.

You can now slowly remove the material from the cutting mat. If you cut on vinyl, you will now need to weed or remove the excess vinyl from around cut design.

To avoid wasting vinyl cut off a square from the larger sheet of vinyl.  Use your Silhouette hook to weed away the excess vinyl and expose your design.  Now you'll want to grab some transfer tape or transfer paper to move your design to the surface where you want to place the vinyl decal.

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Congratulations you just made your first cut with Silhouette CAMEO!!!   That wasn't that hard now was it?!  But I have one more piece of advice for you, my Silhouette CAMEO beginner friends...and it might be the most important...

10. Take Advantage of Silhouette School

Over the last three years I have built Silhouette School from a small blog with a few Silhouette tutorials into a full service resource for Silhouette crafters. We currently have more than 800 free Silhouette CAMEO tutorials (and Portrait, Curio and Mint too).  I would suggest newbies start with the "New? Start Here" tab and read through the beginner Silhouette tutorials for each type of material and process! Take advantage of the tutorials...and the powerful search box located in three places on the blog (top left, right sidebar, bottom right)!!

I have also written a series of Silhouette guide books. The Ultimate Silhouette Guide series currently includes 10 books - seven mini guides and three full-length reference guides (my original 160 page The Ultimate Silhouette Guide is what I highly recommend for beginners. It has sold more than 20,000 copies in print and ebook). Only the ebook version of The Ultimate Silhouette Guide includes a chapter on CAMEO 3.

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If you prefer to learn Silhouette through video tutorials rather than written instruction, I also offer several online Silhouette video classes on CAMEO 3, Vinyl, Heat Transfer Vinyl, Silhouette Curio and Print and Cut.
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Want all the videos for every level, an exclusive ebook on tracing in Silhouette Studio, one on one Silhouette tutoring and help, standing discounts to your favorite Silhouette suppliers? I'd suggest you check out Silhouette U. Our premium membership site offer three different membership length options. We add new video tutorials monthly to each of our four categories: beginner, intermediate, advanced and homework (put into practice what you've learned) along with a whole bunch of other amazing member benefits.

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And finally - if you would like live Silhouette help, training, and classes, consider joining myself and Terri Johnson for Silhouette School Live in March 2017 or at one of my other upcoming Silhouette events!

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Looking for more of my advice to Silhouette CAMEO beginners just getting started? Here's my best advice!

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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!


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