Basic (But Not Too Basic) Design Functions With Silhouette Studio

If you're ready to move beyond downloading a shape, resizing it and cutting then you will appreciate this post.  I just took some screen shots showing some of the things you can do with the Silhouette Design Studio - Group, Ungroup, Weld, Subtract, Offset, Knife/Slice, Compound Paths, Align and Curved Text.  Just basic stuff, but some neat tricks that might take a while to figure out on your own (I learned a lot of this by pouring through countless tutorials online, hopefully this saves you the trouble).

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You might need to click to enlarge the pictures.  Just so you know, everything in this post is done with  the basic free software (not the designer's upgrade).  Also you can access many of these functions by right-clicking but I have a Mac so I either use the menu or the sidebar.  Don't get overwhelmed - save (or pin) this post and come back to it when you're ready to try something new.  You will learn the most by just clicking around.  You can always "Undo" mistakes.  

This first example shows the Ungroup feature, from the Object menu bar at the top.  The pinwheel shape on the left is how it downloads from the library.  If you click on it and choose Ungroup, you can then move each piece of the pinwheel around individually.  This is helpful to move text around too.

Now I want to demonstrate Group and Weld, both found in the Object menu.  They are kinda similar but very different, technically speaking ;)  In the next screenshot I have made some designs out of circles. I welded the Mickey ears together to get rid of the overlapping lines. For the flower design, I dragged a box around the first flower and grouped them together so they don't lose all the intersecting lines, and they can be dragged around the screen as one shape. This is helpful for arranging and now you can easily duplicate the design using copy/paste if you need to. 

In the next screen shot, you can see my logo in the top right, which is made up of two fonts in different sizes.  This is where the Group function comes in handy.  After I arrange the letters and group it, all the pieces of the logo move together.     

In the screenshot above, take a look at the work "Silhouette".  Here is a cool and very practical use of the Weld tool, and a good example of why you sometimes need to use Weld and Group together. When you're working with text it's nice to have each word cut in one piece, it makes weeding and transferring much easier, and just looks smoother.  Type your text, in this case it's "Silhouette", and then Ungroup.  Now each letter can be selected individually.  You want to "nudge" the letters closer together so they overlap.  If you use the arrow keys and not the mouse then you don't risk accidentally moving the letters up and down.  Once all the letters are overlapping, drag a box to select everything and select Weld from the Object/Modify menu.  All the overlapping lines disappear and you're left with a nice single "path".  When you Weld shapes together, they will become one - but sometimes little things like the dot over the letter i in Silhouette are left out of the welding, so you need to drag a box around everything and Group them together so they stay together.

Also shown in that screenshot above is how you can make curved text (or "text on a path")- so cool!  For the example I just made a circle shape and wrote the words "curved text" next to it.  When you first type the text, or when you double click to edit the text you will have a green box and in one corner there a little X (like in the box that says "hello").  If you click on the X and drag it near the shape, the software will detect that you want the text to follow the curve of your shape.  Once it "detects" that, you can drag the text around to arrange it different ways. 

One more cool thing you can do with text is use the little green dot centered above the text and tilt the letters left or right.  You can also Ungroup the letters and tilt each letter individually.  This is a different green circle than the one that you use to make curved text - the one for tilting appears when you click on the text once (unlike the green circle with an x that appears when you double click the text and is used for making curved text).

Now let's look at the difference between the Subtract and Crop functions.  In the next screenshot I have downloaded the "spooky tree" and drawn/dragged a rectangle through it.  In the top before/after, I drew a box around the tree & rectangle and chose to Subtract.  The bottom one I used Crop.  You can see that Subtract removes what is inside the rectangle, and Crop cuts out what surrounds the rectangle.  Simple enough.  

Let's go a little more in depth with the Subtract and other similar tools.  In this next image I have a cluster (or Group) of geometric shapes.  If you choose to Subtract it will only keep the portion that has no intersecting lines, which is practically nothing.  To the right you can see that if you choose to Subtract All, Divide or Detach Lines it will separate each individual shape resulting from the intersecting lines.  (Nevermind the M/Maureen/Subtract All in the photo - I was just goofing around there!).  

This is probably a good time to show you the knife tool.  You can easily slice off part of a shape like I've done with the leafy twig thing in the next picture.  I zoomed way in so you can see better.  Just select the Knife (on the left below the eraser) and click/drag over the section your'e severing, then make sure to select the arrow again and you can move the detached pieces around.  

Let's do something easy.  Offset is a way to make an outline, or "inline" if there is such a thing, of your shape.  Making a double circle, for example, seems easy enough but it's much easier when you don't have to adjust the proportions and align it perfectly yourself - Offset does it with one click.  Offset can help turn a single line shape (like the purple circle) into something that can be used as a frame.  It's also helpful for layering in paper crafting or even heat transfers, like you see in the green "doggie bone" background.  

A very useful tool that's kind of hidden is Align.  Let's say you have several pieces that should be centered or lined up in a certain way, well if you select each shape and play with the tools in the Align window, it does it automatically - no guesswork or eyeballing.  I am normally using Align Center, like in this photo below:  

Since I don't have any design background, the thing that caused the most confusion for me was how to use Make and Release Compound Path.  The next screenshot shows what that does. 

*** UPDATE:  I have made some progress in understanding compound paths, read about it here!***

Say you layer two shapes, like the circle with Happy New Year in it... you can separate the shapes and cut them out of different color paper/vinyl etc. and layer them in your project.  Or maybe you just want the words cut out of the circle, well that is how Make Compound Path works.  You select both the circle and the text and "Make Compound..."(top right in photo above).  Another thing that keeps tripping me up is welding a circle (a ring) to text.  It's something I've seen in tutorials but even in the tutorials they don't explain well what is happening.  The way I detached a section of the orange ring on the bottom left there, is by making a circle, and using offset to make it a ring, then select both circles and "Make Compound..." and THEN you can use the knife tool to slice wherever you want.  If you don't make the circles/ring compound, the knife tool can only make cuts into the circle while still retaining the general circle shape.  I think I am finally getting a handle on it but I'm sure there's so much more to it.  That purple ring that say "frustrating" will be a whole 'nother tutorial!

I'm not covering the Trace tool because I don't have a handle on it yet.  You *should* be able to click Select Trace Area, draw a box around the image and choose Trace or Trace Outer Edge (which strangely gives you the exact same result).  There are some filters you can adjust but honestly, it is just still very awkward for me.  I'll update when I master it :)  From what I can tell, Trace is mostly used when you're importing your own images to use in the Silhouette software.  (UPDATE: also very useful is the "Trace and detach" if you 're trying to remove the white background from an image).  

Please, please, pretty please add any tips you have, or corrections, in the comments.  I hope this is helpful and encourages you to start using your Silhouette!  Stay tuned for many more Silhouette posts with project ideas, awesome design techniques, cutting troubleshooting and more.  Here is the link to follow by email:  Subscribe to Coconut Love by Email


  1. Thank you, very helpful.

  2. Thank you for this tute :) I'm also still trying to understand 'make compound path' too.


Comments are very much appreciated!