2D Design with Silhouette Studio and Silhouette Cameo

Silhouette Studio Software is a free vector-based design software that allows you to prepare designs to be cut on the Silhouette Cameo paper/vinyl cutting machine. It can be accessed as a free download on Silhouette America website.

The Silhouette Cameo Paper/Vinyl Cutting Machine can cut thin materials, including cardstock (blade=3-4), fabric (blade=8-10), vinyl (blade=1), heat press vinyl (blade=1), and craft foam (blade=10). As you are using the Silhouette Cameo machine, remember that you must input your material type in Silhouette Studio’s “SEND” menu and you must manually adjust the Silhouette Cameo’s blade to correspond with the blade depth needed for your chosen material/media.

We’ve listed some basic tutorial videos below but you can learn more about the tools at the Silhouette Studio YouTube Channel or the Official Silhouette Blog.

MAKE Kirigami with Silhouette Studio Software

Kirigami is the art of paper cutting which dates back hundreds of years. This technique has inspired expressions from cultures all over the world, including, Chinese Jianzhi and shadow puppets, Japanese Monkiri and Senga, Polish and Ukrainian Wycinanki, German Scherenschnitte, and Mexican Papel Picado. You can view our Prezi, For the Love of Paper, to see a visual overview of kirigami from around the world. You can also explore modern uses of kirigami and new media techniques with real world connections with another Prezi, Modular Paper Engineering.

We love to being Kirigami explorations by discussing where we see the technique in our everyday lives. It can be seen in fabricated decorations (i.e. laser CNC metal signage, slidetogether lighting sculpture, Dia de los Muertos decoration, and even in clothing design cutouts). You can explore these digital fabrication techniques using Silhouette Studio software, which is free vector-based design software, and Silhouette Cameo machines, which have a small blade that can trim fabric, foam sheets, paper, vinyl, and more.

Try some of our Kirigami activities:

AET Makerspace at NAEA 2016

We had an amazing time presenting an interactive makerspace at NAEA! Participants got a chance to discover 8 engaging makerspace activity stations that explored new media, engineering, and computer science. They got to learn to create with arduinos, 3D printers, sewable circuits, free design software, etc. Here is the list of all 8 presenters’ resources. We hope that everyone enjoyed it as much as we did and that it provided inspiration to take back to your own art classrooms! Thanks to the ArtEdTech (AET) group for sponsoring the session!

soft_circuit sewncircuits3  snapcircuits

Mathematical Puzzle Sculptures

Three-dimensional mathematical puzzles are a fun way to develop problem-solving and visual reasoning skills but they can also turn into beautiful works of art. Whether using everyday objects (such as popsicle sticks and straws), origami (paper folding), or kirigami (paper cutting), you can create something awesome while you also apply some cool math.

Check out our posts for some inspiration:

Cultural Kirigami

Kirigami is the art of paper cutting which dates back hundreds of years. This technique has inspired expressions from cultures all over the world, including, Chinese Jianzhi and shadow puppets, Japanese Monkiri and Senga, Polish and Ukrainian Wycinanki, German Scherenschnitte, and Mexican Papel Picado. Using new media technology tools, this tutorial will teach you how to design your own cultural kirigami in Silhouette Studio software and use a Silhouette Cameo machine to trim and perforate a variety of thin media.

GATHER MATERIALS: (Vendors – Silhouette America)


  1. Think about cultural symbols that you identify with.
  2. Locate a high contrast image file of one of the symbols online using Google Image Search.
  3. Save the image in a basic raster image format (such as PNG, JPG, BMP, GIF, and TIF file types).
  4. Open the file in Silhouette Studio (File > Open option). Once in the software, the image then needs to be converted into a cuttable image that has lines present for the Silhouette Cameo cutting machine to recognize as cut lines.
  5. Click on the Select Trace Area tool.
  6. Draw a box around the image that is desired to be traced.
  7. Adjust any of the tracing filters as desired. Filters include the following:
    1. High Pass Filter – Allows the trace lines to be set beginning from the outside of your image and then works toward the inside of the image as the filter setting is adjusted up. This is a nice option if you are trying to create a basic cutting frame for a more detailed image. If you do not wish to create a frame outline for your image, you may wish to turn this option off.
    2. Low Pass Filter – Does the opposite of the High Pass Filter where tracing begins at the center points of your image parts and then works toward the outside of the image as the filter setting is adjusted up.
    3. Threshold – Determines how broadly you wish to apply the trace filter to your image beginning with the darkest colors for low settings and applies lighter color parts as well as you move to larger settings.
    4. Scale – This setting controls the smoothness of pixilated edges of your image. It is only necessary to use if the image in question is of a low quality and highly pixilated.
  8. Once you’ve selected the area to be traced, the trace filter will show a yellow area covering the image. This yellow area is a preview for where your cut lines would be created. Adjust filters as necessary.
  9. Select one the tracing methods under Apply Trace Method. The available trace options are as follows:
    1. Trace – This option will trace all outer and inner lines. This is generally preferable if you are attempting to create a regular cut image with multiple parts and specific details to be cut.
    2. Trace Outer Edge – This option will create a cut line only around the outer edges of your image. This is generally preferable if you are attempting to create a Print & Cut image.
    3. Trace and Detach – This option will punch out the image from the white background space. It is only used when you specifically removing the white background so that you can have select images overlap or be closer for Print & Cut jobs.
  10. Save your file (the software does not automatically save; therefore, you have to routinely save).



  1. Select the Text Tool and type a word or phrase that corresponds with the symbol you’ve traced.
  2. In the Text Styles window, you can adjust font style, justification, text size, character spacing, line spacing, and kerning. Experiment with these features to overlap the text.
  3. With the text selected, right-click on the text and select Weld. This will turn the overlapping text into one solid piece to be cut.
  4. Resave your file (the software does not automatically save; therefore, you have to routinely save).



  1. Click on the Cut Settings tool.
  2. In the Cut Settings window you can choose a variety of options, including Cut Style for Selected Shape (solid cut line or perforation), Material Type (ranging from fabric, paper, to vinyl sticker). Double-click on “Cardstock” from the materials list to select it as your choice.
  3. Scroll down the Cut Settings window to see the technical details of the Cardstock setting, which include what level to set the ratchet blade at (Level 1, 2, or 3) and the default settings for cutting speed, thickness of material, and advanced features.
  4. Connect the Silhouette Cameo cutting machine to the computer and check that the ratchet blade is set to the appropriate blade level. You can take the blade out and twist the bottom to point to the appropriate blade level then replace it into the machine by locking it in place.
  5. Check the Cutting Mat to ensure that it has the appropriate cardstock material securely in place. Place the cutting mat into the machine by aligning the edges of the mat under the rolling wheels. Alignment is important because the grid on the cutting mat corresponds with the grid in the software.
  6. Once you’ve checked the machine and cutting mat, go back to Silhouette Studio and select the Send to Silhouette tool. Click Start to send the digital design to the machine.


  • Consider welding the symbol and text together to create one solid piece.
  • Use the shape tools and weld feature to add interlocking embellishments to the design.
  • Use the shape tools to subtract from the design (Modify > Subtract).


  • Use the kirigami design as a stencil. Use non-aerosol fabric paint to stencil the design onto a t-shirt or use paint to stencil the design onto cardboard. Experiment with vellum as a reusable stencil.
  • Curve the kirigami design and tape the end to create a luminaria tea light holder.
  • Transform the kirigami into a mask and experiment with thin craft foam.
  • Write a persuasive narrative about why you chose the symbol and help others’ understand what it means to you.

Modular Kirigami Puzzles

Using the art of paper cutting (kirigami), you can transform multiple copies of 2D shapes (modules) into clever 3D objects by connecting or combining them in different ways. Mathematical sculptor/designer (and engineering professor), George Hart, uses this technique to create amazing mathematical puzzles constructed as sliceforms and slidetogethers. These sculptures are not only beautiful, but are also concrete physical explorations of abstract mathematical concepts that can address mathematical knowledge and visual reasoning skills. He has many publications that discuss this basics of modular kirigami (i.e. read this article that discusses an overview, create a “tunnel cube” out of a deck of cards) and he has great resources to help teachers integrate these concepts to “make math visible” in the classroom.

Based on Jessica Jones’ design, you can connect 12 identical copies of this simple flower piece to create a unique 3D flower sphere that is based on pentagons. No adhesive needed; the only ingredient is paper! We like to cut ours out on colorful cardstock paper using by duplicating the design in Silhouette Studio software and then cutting them out on our Silhouette Cameo machine. Then we turn them into jewelry, lampshades, and ornaments.


You can vary the design of the piece to create other unique designs too, such as this one that is based on the Loomi lampshade design:IMAG1358

Learn more about the historical and cultural background of kirigami: For the Love of Paper (Prezi)

Lights, Camera, Shadow Puppets!

Shadow puppets have a long history, dating back to China over 2,000 years ago. Their unique technique, called “shadow play,” involved intricate puppets which were moved between a screen and a light using sticks, regional folk music, and theatrical lighting (for more information, view the Chinese Shadow Puppetry documentary on YouTube, 10:07). Though the technique is still used today in its original form, people all over the world have entertained themselves through manipulating shadows with creative silhouettes. This activity uses both digital and non-digital design tools to explore line, shape, and contrast through the creation of shadow puppets that can perform on a stage.
hand shadow puppet OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Materials needed:

  • black cardstock paper (or other dark colored paper)
  • sticks (i.e. craft sticks, chop sticks, wooden skewers, sticks, etc.)
  • paper fastener brads
  • white copier paper or tissue paper
  • cereal box (or small cardboard box)
  • scissors
  • tape and/or glue
  • table lamp
  • Silhouette Studio software (optional)
  • Silhouette Cameo machine (optional)
  • video camera (optional)


  1. Begin with the end in mind. Consider how you want to construct the puppet. This decision will impact the way you create your silhouettes. Also, consider where you will perform. What light source will you use? Where will your “stage” be?
    1. Do you want it to be a solid piece that easily glues to a stick and has static movement?
    2. Do you want to more options for controlling the puppet’s movement through the use of interconnected joints using paper fastener brads and sticks?
  2. Skeleton Shadow Puppet DesignCreate the puppets. This can be done by drawing by hand on cardstock paper then using scissors to carefully cut out the shapes, or this can be done by creating digital designs in Silhouette Studio software and then trimming the designs out of cardstock paper on a Silhouette Cameo machine. Either way, the silhouettes must have a strong sense of line to provide contrast. Affix puppet pieces using chosen materials (i.e. sticks, paper fastener brads, etc.)
  3. Build the stage. Stages for shadow puppets and shadow play can be constructed out of anything. Whether you cleverly use the sunlight to cast shadows on the ground or you build a high-tech stage for formal performances, the key to success is a strong light source (i.e. sun, lamp, projector, etc.) and an area to cast shadows (i.e. ground, white paper, white bed sheet, etc.). Check out this easy upcylcled cereal box stage. Or if you want a real challenge, check out this high-tech fancy stage idea.
  4. Put on an awesome show. If you don’t already have an awesome story in mind, try out a story generator to get started. Once you have your idea, you can formally write a script or improv your way to a great performance. Don’t forget to invite others to share in your awesomeness and add in a simple video recording so you can share your performance with the world.

WANT MORE? View the Shadow Puppet Lesson, which is focused on 3rd grade English Language Arts and Visual Arts. In the activity, students will create an original video that will highlight their own story, music, shadow puppets, and stage design. Students will begin by writing a short story in response to book or a prompt. They will consider mood through the creation of original music using found objects to accompany the short story. They will then explore line, shape, and contrast as they create shadow puppets and a stage. The performance can then be performed in front of an audience of other classes and parents or video recorded to share with others beyond the school community. This activity can me managed and modified to take under an hour or be spread over multiple class meetings.

Multidisciplinary connections:

Additional resources: