Making Test Cuts

If you’ve ever had a blade cut into your mat, or not get a clean cut, you know the importance of test cuts.

For years, I was a “fly by the seat of my pants” cutter.  I never did test cuts.  Not ever.  More often than not, I got a pretty good cut; but when I didn’t, it was a nightmare and totally frustrating.  I went to an All Things Silhouette Conference and one of the instructors made a point that the settings in the silhouette software are just really good educated guesses, and that in order to get a really good kiss cut, you need to do a test cut.  Not just every time you change material or your blade, but everytime you cut.

She explained that there are many factors that go into the settings and the software and the people who devised them can’t account for everything.  As an example; the humidity (or lack of humidity) can affect your cutting.

So to actually DO a test cut.  add the material you’re using to your mat and load it as normal.  Go to the cut settings window and choose your material, your action; and then the tool you intend to use; then scroll down to the bottom and choose “test”


When you’re done with the cut (it should only take a few seconds); unload your mat and grab your weeding tool.  In the top corner of your mat, you should see a square with a triangle inside.  Take your weeding tool and pick at the corner of the square, it should come away from the mat cleanly leaving the triangle stuck to the mat. There should be a very slight cut mark on your mat (but only a slight one).

If this doesn’t happen, then you need to adjust your cut settings.

Your cut settings are  midway down on the cut settings panel listed directly under the material, action and blade type. As you can see from the snip below; it lists the material and the action you’ve chosen and then the settings.

Cut settings

The dial is the blade, then next to it is speed (5); the force (10) and Passes (1).

Blade is the depth of the blade on a blade other than the deep cut, it goes from 0 to 10 (deep cut goes from 0 to 20).  The lower the number, the shorter the blade is.

The speed is what it says, the speed of the machine when cutting.  Depending on what you’re cutting, sometimes you can go a little faster, or you may need to slow the blade down to give a chance to get through the material rather than have it skip along the surface or try to drag its way through.

Force is the amount of downward pressure the carriage (or toolholder as some people call it) puts on the blade.  This is where minute adjustments are made.  the higher the force, the more pressure is applied.

Passes is the number of times you’re asking the machine to make that particular cut.

So, back to looking at the test cut we just made.  The blade adjustments are for large jumps in settings; and force is for small increments.  Start with force an when you’ve gone all the way up to 33 then jump up a blade setting and start from about midway (roughly 15) and continue test and adjusting the force again until you’re content.

Now here’s the bad news… after you’ve gone through all this and you have your perfect cut; keep in mind that this can change daily, weekly, hourly and even with different brands of the same material type.

Yes, it’s a lot to go through to get the perfect cut, or you can be content with “good enough”.  I’m okay with my blade marking up my mats, as long as there are no gouges or anything deeper than a scratch I’m good.

As with lots of other things in life, you have to find what works for you and what you can live with.  For me, life’s too short to worry about scratching up my mats.