Introduction: Making a Stencil With the Silhouette Cutter

Having my own designs as stencils frees up my mixed-media art quite a bit. I can cut cardstock or mylar with a craft knife, but it's a luxury to have a machine that cuts complex designs.

It's also a delight to go searching for lovely, irregular patterns in photographs online. Many Flickr users offer Creative Commons licenses for their images and the site provides a special search category for such licenses.

This Instructable won't give all the details about using the Silhouette Studio software or cutter.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Step 2: Find and Prepare an Image

  • On Flickr, search for images with a Creative Commons license.
    I searched specifically for commercial use licenses--since I may want to sell an artwork that I make using my new stencil--and picked a nicely contrast-y photo of a fern leaf by Tanaka Juuyoh.
  • Use, a free digital image editor, to prep the photo.
    I converted the photo to black-and-white and saved a couple JPGs with different brightness and contrast settings.
  • Make sure the shapes you want to outline for your stencil are light against dark.
    I don't know why, but when I tried this with a photo where the leaf shapes were dark against a light background, I couldn't get the Silhouette Studio software to trace it correctly.

Step 3: Import Image to Silhouette Studio and Trace It

  • Open a JPG in Silhouette Studio and resize it to fit the page you'll be cutting it from, leaving a pretty wide border.
    The wide border will lend strength to the stencil, both when you remove it from the adhesive cutting mat and as you store and re-use it later.

  • Go to the Trace tab. Mess around with the Threshold and High Pass Filter settings until the shapes you want to capture are outlined in yellow.

  • Click "Trace Outer Edge."
    When red lines replace the yellow areas, you can move the photo out of the way to see if the outlines capture the shape you want.

  • You can keep Undoing and trying again until you've traced the shapes you want.

Step 4: Cut It Out! (cardstock)

  • Lay cardstock on the sticky mat and insert it into the cutter.
    Don't forget to use the gridded insert button!
  • Try cutting with the blade setting recommended by the Silhouette software, but increase the blade depth if needed.
    I was pretty worried about wrecking the cutting mat, so I resisted a higher blade setting. But at the lower setting, when I tried to remove the waste areas, the cardstock came off in layers and I kept tearing parts of the the stencil.

  • Remove the waste areas from the adhesive mat before carefully peeling off the stencil.

Step 5: Cut It Out! (ye Olde Transparency Film)

  • Lay the transparency or mylar on the adhesive cutting mat and insert it.
    Don't forget to use the gridded insert button!

  • Use the Test Cut feature until you've found blade depth and thickness settings that work.
    This took me a while. I finally cranked the thickness setting all the way up to 33. That plastic is tough!

  • Unlike with the cardstock, carefully pull the stencil off the adhesive and then remove the waste bits.
    Removing the nearly invisible waste bits was a pain, but I think it's easier than levering them out while the stencil is still adhered.