Introduction: Custom Vinyl Decal With Silhouette Portrait Machine

About: Founding board member of theMakerStation, a new makerspace in Marietta, GA

The Silhouette Portrait Electronic Cutting Machine is a great little machine and there are several Instructables out there describing using the Silhouette Portrait for making decals, but they all seem to gloss over the details of using the Sihouette Studio software to generate the cutting lines and this is the step that I struggle with the most so I figured I should write my own.


Step 1: Design Page Settings

  1. Start Silhouette Studio on your computer
  2. "Design Page Settings" menu will be on the right panel of the screen
  3. Choose "Custom" Page Size
  4. Width: Set Width = 9 in
  5. Height: Set Height = 12 in (or whatever height you want based on your image and vinyl roll size)
  6. Cutting Mat = None

Your screen should look similar to the screenshot.
You are now ready to import your image.

Step 2: Import Image and Trace Lines

  1. Open: Click on File>Open or click on the "Open" Icon
  2. Navigate to your image file
  3. Click Ok
  4. Your image will be displayed in red
  5. Scale: Use the Scale Menu to resize image as desired
  6. Move: Use mouse to click to select and drag image to desired position

Your image file should be displayed on the page. You may need to scale and move your image to obtain your desired layout. You can also repeat the above steps to load in multiple images.

Tracing Images is a little tricky and usually takes a couple of tries to get it right. You will likely need to try a couple of different trace setting parameters before the file is ready for cutting.

Trace with Default Settings:

  1. Trace: Click Trace Icon to Open the Trace Menu
  2. Select Trace Area: click on the button
  3. Drag a selection window around your image
  4. The Red image will become outlined with heavy Yellow lines
  5. Click Trace Button and the Yellow lines will disappear
  6. Click on the image to drag it out of the way... This will leave the cut lines showing as red lines.
  7. Zoom in to inspect the lines. You may find that the trace lines are double lines that cut holes in large solid areas.
  8. If you don't like the lines, click undo until the Yellow lines reappear and see Custom Trace below.
  9. If you do like the cut lines, save your .Studio file

Trace with Custom Settings:

  1. Trace/Select Area/Yellow lines are showing
  2. Zoom in to an area where double lines were occurring
  3. Un-Check High Pass Filter to remove that option
  4. Threshold: Adjust the Threshold value until most solid areas of the image are Yellow with faint red outlines
  5. For this screenshot Threshold= 55 gave good results, but you may need different values depending on image
  6. Click Trace Button and the Yellow lines will disappear
  7. Click on the image to drag it out of the way... This will leave the cut lines showing as red lines.
  8. Zoom in to inspect the lines.
  9. Repeat above steps as needed until the red cut lines look like you want your decal to look like
  10. Once you like the cut lines, save your .Studio file

Step 3: Load the Machine & Test Cut

  1. Carefully center the vinyl between the rollers and push the load button on the machine
  2. Take care to make sure that the vinyl loads in square-and-parallel. Check that the edge of the vinyl is parallel to the reference lines on the cutter near the rollers.
  3. In the Studio Software, click the Cut Settings Icon to access the Cut Settings
  4. Cut Conditions = Standard
  5. Cut Style = Cut Edge
  6. Material Type = Vinyl, once you choose material type, scroll down to see Material Options
  7. Editing: Vinyl, Ratchet Blade should be set to 2 as show, check the machine and blade to make sure it is on 2
  8. Click the "Test Cut" Button

The machine will proceed to move the vinyl and blade to cut a small square with a triangle inside of it

  1. Click the unload button
  2. Inspect the vinyl to make sure that a clean square with triangle is cut only through the vinyl but not the backing paper
  3. You may need to hold the vinyl at an angle and up to the light to see the cut
  4. You can remove the square or the triangle to ensure a clean cut
  5. If the vinyl is scored but not cut, adjust the Ratchet Blade to 3 and try again
  6. If the backing paper is cut along with the vinyl, adjust the Ratchet Blade to 1 and try again

Once you are satisfied with the test cut proceed to reload the vinyl into the machine

Step 4: Cut and Weed Your Decal

  1. After tracing and test cutting is complete and vinyl is reloaded, Click Send to Printer
  2. The machine will proceed to make all the cuts
  3. After cuts are finished, push the unload button
  4. Carefully remove all the negative areas of the decal using your hobby knife, dental pick, and tweezers as needed.
  5. Only a decal matching your image should remain as shown

Step 5: Apply Transfer Paper

  1. After Weeding step is complete, cut a piece of transfer paper to be as big as the entire decal
  2. Start at one end of the transfer paper and slowly remove some of the backing
  3. Start to apply the transfer paper to the top of the decal
  4. Moving from left to right, apply the paper to decal while removing the backing... this will help minimize air bubbles getting trapped between the transfer paper and the vinyl

Step 6: Apply Decal

  1. Once the transfer paper is fully applied to the decal
  2. Slowly and carefully remove the backing paper from the vinyl
  3. The transfer paper should now be holding the vinyl in place
  4. Moving from left to right, slowly apply the decal using a wiping motion to help minimize air bubbles getting trapped under the vinyl
  5. Rub the vinyl and transfer paper smooth
  6. Wait a minute or two
  7. Slowly start to peel the transfer paper up off of the vinyl
  8. Be patient and take care that the small details don't come up with the transfer paper
  9. Enjoy your new decal
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