Saturday, 14 November 2015

How to cut stencils with the Silhouette Cameo

One of the few tools that I kept from my scrapbooking days is my Silhouette Cameo cutting machine. I have thought about selling it, but I'm so glad I didn't because cutting my own stencils saves me a lot more money in the long run. In this post I'll show you where to find suitable images and how to convert them into cutting files.

Cutting materials

The Cameo will cut stencil materials like acetate and mylar sheets, but I much prefer using ordinary cardstock for this purpose. The main advantages of using cardstock instead of plastic is that it is cheaper and it will not blunt your blade as quickly.  Also, it is less slippery and I find the paint is less likely to seep underneath when using it on a page. I must mention here that I mainly use them with acrylic paints instead of spray inks, which I don't get on well with at all! Last but not least, I like the fact that I don't have to clean the paper stencils and each layer of paint makes them more durable, especially when used on the gelli plate.

Where to find images

Apart from commercially available cutting files, you can find lots of stencil images online that are suitable for cutting on the Cameo or you can even make your own! Here are a few ideas:

Google Images

I use Google images with the search term "stencil" and a keyword, eg. "wings". You'll end up with search results like this. You're looking for crisp, black and white images suitable for making stencils. The resolution is not very important because once you convert them to cutting files they will be vectorised and you can enlarge them as big as you want. I have managed to cut huge stencils from very tiny images! Make sure you choose images that are not copyright protected. Then again, if you use them in your personal journals, who's to know?


There are thousands of free fonts available on the Internet, some of which will be suitable for cutting stencils. Search for stencil fonts and install them as usual. They will be available within the Studio software (Silhouette's free design software) and you can literally cut any text stencils this way. You can cut words or you can cut the entire alphabet and use the letters individually or you can even make a cool text background. Here are some fonts suitable for this: overspray, new stencil, Lorimer No. 2, Pack'In, There are many more where these came from!


My personal favourites are dingbat font files, which you can similarly install, but instead of letters, you get images for each keystroke. Here's a birds stencil font. a sea life font and a safari font. Some of these tattoo designs might also work. You can make these images as large as you want, because they're vector based files.

Dover Pictura

If you don't mind spending a few pounds/dollars, you can also search the Dover Pictura website for stencil images. I've noticed that some of the dingbat images originated from here. These are mainly copyright free, so you can use them in commercial projects as well. (pssst, I even managed to use some of these straight from the screen!)

Design your own stencils digitally or manually

This is the most exciting way of generating imagery! You can do this digitally within the Studio software using basic shapes like circles and squares. Just put a bunch of  shapes randomly or arranged in a pattern on the page and bang! you've got your own background stencil ready to cut. Of course, you can also try and make more elaborate designs.

Another way to design your own stencils is to use a black marker pen and draw a stencil design on a clean sheet of white paper. You can then scan this in and convert it into a cutting file.

How to convert images to cutting files on the Cameo

Converting images to cutting files is a fairly simple process on the Cameo. I'll walk you through it:

  • Open the image you want to convert. File/Open.
  • Open the Trace Window (blue butterfly on a yellow background icon)
  • Select the trace area
  • Adjust the high pass filter until the dark parts of the image turn yellow. You might have to play with the other sliders too but this alone usually does the job. 
Your screen will look something like this:

  • Press trace
  • Separate the image (black) from the cut lines (red) buy moving it and delete the black selection. This leaves you with the red cutting lines.

  • Adjust your image to the desired size.
  • Your stencil is ready to cut! Insert a piece of cardstock in your Cameo.
  • Check that the cut settings are suitable for your sheet. I use textured cardstock.
  • Press Send to Silhouette. 
  • That's it! Your new stencil will be cut to perfection while you sit back and watch! Or you can go and make a cup of coffee or tea, or whatever rocks your boat!
Here are a few stencils I've made using the above methods. Some them I've already used. I haven't designed any manually yet, but I will. Nothing is more satisfying than designing your own. Let me know if you have any questions - I'll be happy to answer them if I can. 

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