Cutting Stencils using the Silhouette Cutter

Cutting Stencils using the Silhouette Cutter


I’ve used the Silhouette “Portrait” die cutter, or plotter, for about 6 months now. I got this not knowing how it would do. Fortunately the reviews were very positive, so I thought I’d give it a try. Most people are using this to make cards and crafty things, which is cool – but that’s not what I’m using it for. The Silhouette cutter makes great stencils to use with airbrush & spray paint.


The Silhouette with mat. If you are cutting vinyl, no mat needed, just feed media through. Media needs to be as wide as the roller grippers though (8″)


Two different models of the Silhouette Cutter

Silhouette makes two different cutters, the Cameo which is larger and the Portrait which is smaller. The Cameo accepts media that’s 13″ wide and the smaller Portrait accepts media that is 8.5″ wide. For what I do the Portrait works great. It can print up to 10 FEET long on vinyl, or frisket if you’re into airbrushing or shooting sprays like me. Nothing stops you from using these stencils to even use with a roller and paint.


transparency film stencils used on the silhouette cutter
I use transparency film or frisket to cut my custom-made stencils


duralar media for cutting stencils
Picked up this roll of Duralar from Amazon, great for making long stencils with text on it. This media is thicker and more durable than the less expensive and thinner – transparency film.


Before the Silhouette

Many moons ago, just after graduation, I used to airbrush motorcycle tanks and posters for extra income. As I got into the design industry, I sold my trusty Paasche gun. It wasn’t until I began embellishing my woodturning and carved wood forms in 2007 that I picked up an airbrush again after so many years. Then in 2015, I began using the airbrush on my paintings. Mostly just for patterned backgrounds like this, or to make the fog over the Golden Gate Bridge. Before the Silhouette, I was cutting my own stencils by hand out of sheets of frisket. Or I would buy stencils online at eBay. Both are expensive – after a while. Frisket can only be used once. You can also use shelf liner as frisket which is more cost-effective, but again you spend all that time cutting out your design and then you only use it once. If you cut out of transparent sheets by hand, those are more stable (thicker media) and you can re-use. But it’s much harder to control your knife with the thicker the material, especially around curves.


Text stencils. You can get really creative with mixed media using these!


Making your own designs

Hands down, the absolute best part of the Silhouette is making your own designs. Now the software that comes with the cutter is a little wonky and there’s a learning curve, but it does do an incredible job once you get the hang of it. Of course the Silhouette works best with vector images, but you can use a rasterized image and clean it up. I don’t have Adobe Illustrator, so I use Inkscape which is an open source software program that outputs to SVG format. Talk about a steep learning curve – right there! BUT, it is a very capable program and admittedly, I only use half of whats its capable of.


Using the Silhouette Software

Back to the Silhouette software, it is a very capable program that allows you to import your SVG images into it. From there you can layout your design and then select “trace”. The software will trace your design. Next, just send it to the cutter. Each media has different cut speeds and depth, which will need to be set IF you don’t use their brand of media – which I don’t. There is a bit of trial and error with the different media – but just write it down and save the cutting parameters and you’re good to go!

Silhouette software with stars pattern created in Inkscape


So many uses

I just finished a commissioned painting last week that had stars on it that were manipulated (skewed) in Inkscape. I was able to gang the stars into a pattern which saved a lot of time. You can see the stars template in the photo below – front right.

stencils made with silhouette portrait cutter
The yellow media is a design purchased on eBay. The other stencils are designed and imported into the Silhouette cutter.


airbrush on mixed media
Using an airbrush with your stencils


Not sure where to start?

If you’ve ever entertained the idea of making stencils for backgrounds or text, this tool will save you TIME. If you are adept at graphic design you will have little to no problems. A great site for information that will get you started is:  THE BEST info out there on the Silhouette Cutter – complete with screen shots.


Thanks for dropping by – have a great weekend. Open you heart – let love in and give love out – nature abhors a vacuum. Most of all, don’t forget to love yourself…



This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. clinock

    This is fascinating to me Deb as are all creative tools…however, as the years pass I find I want less and less to come between me and my creative expression. Thank you for all of your art related information posts, they are useful and used…

    1. Deb B

      John, I just pass along info in the hopes that it will help others. I spent a small fortune on stencils for words & backgrounds, etc. and with the money I spent could have had one of these cutters. I’m a purist in some ways, but not in others

  2. Otto von Münchow

    I had no idea what an silhouette cutter was. But it looks fun – and I see many uses for it. I might have to consider getting one. 🙂

    1. Deb B

      Hi Otto, there’s some great you tube videos that explore the different media that you can cut with this thing, foil, faux wood veneer, etc. There’s also some great ideas for their use in them too! Brilliant little tool!

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